“Teaching the Reciprocal Brain”— The Librarian’s Role in Education
Brain-based learning in schools is often implemented in multiple ways. On the one hand, teachers say, “All the new children need to learn early math,” and provide math instruction in a way that makes sense from the child’s perspective. On the other hand, the teacher (and parent) might have concerns that may affect “grammar or literacy” in a child’s learning style.
But all of these factors — decisionmakers, students, teachers, parents, and an aging population with cognitive gaps — connect us to the “teaching brain,” says Susan Curvatel, a librarian, author of Headstrong for All Ages: Children and the Balancing Act of Learning: A New Approach to School, the home, and the community, and an associate professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
As the curriculum is rapidly changing (not only with the implementation of Common Core State Standards and personalized learning, but also with the ever-expanding connected world), the librarian will soon play a more prominent role in managing content and ways to support reading and math classes. Curvatel maintains that with the shifting landscape of the teaching brain, “The only tools we know for measuring students’ learning is through the library.”
When it comes to defining, implementing, and tracking reading comprehension skills, not many things correlate to the child’s reading, reading comprehension, and corresponding math skills as much as reading for pleasure. Knowing this, Curvatel puts a lot of focus on adding excitement to reading for pleasure. To do this, schools should invest in alternative reading materials, such as those that are healthy for young brains.
Here are two ideas about how librarians can play a vital role in supporting literacy instruction:
1. Use concepts through social media and blogging. The digital learning landscape is daunting, but librarians can get creative with classroom teachers. For example, Curvatel used her blog and Twitter account to share her unique experiences growing up. She shares pictures, turns copies of pictures she finds, and even got the Madison Common Council to conduct a talk about learning to read at a local library.
Reading and reading instruction is crucial.
2. Create connections with older students. Curvatel suggests that an older teacher could introduce online resources to younger students. For example, setting up a brief video-game-inspired exercise in which students build a structure and coordinate others to help them reach their destination. She adds that an older teacher could explain to younger students why they are trying to accomplish these concepts, as well as how successful older students had been at the subject. “In each of those instances, a younger student can learn from this older one’s experience.
Curvatel also advocates for an approach that uses advanced technology to connect students to an older generation and their experiences. “My question is, ‘Do you have teenagers?’
I have to say I do, and yes, I do, because we need younger generations of leaders, and librarians have an important role in guiding these teens and adults. The ability to connect them to the reading experiences of older people, you cannot build that skill out of poring over stacks.”
In order to extend the joy and enjoyment of reading, Curvatel says the librarian has to be accessible to teachers. This is a key aspect of her career, she says. In order to learn from her mistakes, she consults with several different schools, and when learning from them she puts all of the information that she learns into an online database to track curriculum. “I want to make sure we know what’s working and what’s not working.”
She adds that she has young students who think she’s their age, and her experiences offer a lot of valuable opportunities for them to identify changes in the way older people think.
“My advice to teachers and librarians is to really take control of the library, so we can support learning at all ages.”
For more information on how reading for pleasure can be better incorporated into education and children’s lives, please check out Headstrong For All Ages: Children and the Balancing Act of Learning: A New Approach to School, the Home, and the Community, available for purchase at Amazon.com and is available for download in PDF and eBook format as well.