Sunday 11 November 2018


The majority of school librarians in the UK, unlike in the USA or Australia, do not have any teaching qualifications. And yet most of us do teach – whether directly through regularly booked formal lessons or on an ad-hoc basis - to whole classes as well as individuals. If you’ve taken the teacher route before moving into librarianship, then it is possible to obtain both academic and professional librarian qualifications in your own time. However, if you’ve chosen librarianship as your career and then find yourself working in a school environment where a teaching qualification would be useful, about the only way to obtain one is to give up your job and study; not a course of action open to most of us.

It seems crazy to me that school librarians can’t get any sort of recognised teaching qualification whilst “on the job”. I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s a reflection of what the role used to be like – very traditional, focusing on stock rather than services. This is definitely not the case today. I also think it’s partly to do with librarians often being grouped with admin staff within the school structure and thus the assumption by those who have no idea what we actually do is that the roles are very similar. Nothing could be further from the truth!

 In my last job I delivered a range of library and research lessons from year 7 through to year 13. I inherited these when I started the job and to begin with I sort of followed my instinct, talking about books, creating activities to encourage and promote reading, and working with students on a range of information literacy skills. I like to think they were fun, interesting and useful but, on reflection, they were probably a bit haphazard.

After a while I decided I wanted to bring more pedagogy into what I was doing in the library. If my lessons were going to be taken as a serious part of the students’ timetable they needed to be more aligned to the methods used in the classroom. I did investigate obtaining a teaching qualification which proved impossible (that story is another blog!) so I decided to do the next best thing – undertake my own CPD into what I could bring to my library lessons from a teaching point of view.

I was already in a position to observe lessons. I asked teaching staff for advice*, and I undertook some reading and research. (*Most schools should be delighted to help you – if not then I would question why they don’t want to assist you improve your service).

There are several things you can do:

Ø  Create an overall Scheme of Work for the whole year, thinking about long-term outcomes as well as short-term goals. This might feel like a lot of work but it really does help to put everything into perspective. Having an overview means you can ensure your library activities link with the School Development Plan and its targets. Knowing what you are doing helps with planning and resource requirements, and you can see how activities relate to each other.

Ø  Have a lesson plan for each lesson with an introduction, realistic learning outcomes, activities and evaluation/assessment. A lesson plan should describe the learning for the lesson, give timings, information about methods and required resources. Knowing what the learning outcome of the lesson is will enable you to ascertain if it has been achieved. Again this might feel a bit daunting so start small. Create a template to follow for each lesson and create plans a term in advance.

Lesson plan – clearly defined goal
Targets in SPD
Resources required
Prior knowledge
Differentiation required
Introduction – what will students be learning
Direct teaching/guided instruction/activities
Closure – summarise lesson

Most of us don’t deliver lessons on our own but usually have a teacher present (whether they participate or not). Share your lesson plan with them so they know what you’re doing and can support you. This sends the message that whilst this might seem like a fun-filled session talking about books, there is a learning outcome linked to school targets.

The bonus about having lesson plans is that you will be able to reuse them – albeit with revisions – plus they will help to reduce stress by keeping your lesson on track and making it more efficient.

Ø  Be aware of student needs and abilities, and involve a range of techniques within the lesson such as whole group discussion, group work, guided learning and individual work. Not all of these will be suitable for every lesson and not all of them will be suitable for every student but try to ensure, for example, that not every activity is group work.

Ø  Following on from this you need to consider differentiation for varying abilities. Sometimes this will be needed within a lesson depending on whether your classes are streamed or not.  Differentiation doesn’t mean more or less questions but at a different level. For example, when writing book reviews more able students could use the Carnegie Kate Greenaway Awards criteria whilst you could create flash cards with descriptive words on for lower ability students to select from.

Ø  Scaffold student learning with prompts, questions and challenges. Break learning into chunks and discuss key vocabulary. Model the steps involved. In the previous example about writing book reviews, this would mean going through a review with the students, explaining about what you expect to see in each section and showing an example of a review that has already been written.

Ø  Build on students’ prior learning and experiences, and relate the lesson to their own lives as this will engage them more. For example, if you are delivering a lesson on copyright, using real life examples of people they know who have been prosecuted and fined for breaching copyright will have more impact. Likewise find out what authors and genres are popular, and what previous books they have enjoyed reading, before any book talks so you can link books you mention to these

Ø  Focus on higher order skills. Create tasks and activities that encourage questioning, connect concepts and ideas, use inference and creative thinking. Involve student voice – this empowers them and gives them ownership of their learning.

Ø  Incorporate assessment for learning (also known as formative learning). This is an on-going process and helps students stay motivated. It also encourages them to be active, to see where they need to go in their learning and how to get there. If you can see how students are doing, you can determine if they understand or not.

Ø  Finally, plan but don’t be too rigid – expect the unexpected! Some of the best learning outcomes I’ve had have been when I’ve had a totally unpredicted question and grabbed the chance to engage the class. Sure, I’ve gone off plan but I just carried on with it the next lesson. Some opportunities are too good to miss!