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CSI: Library

AUTHOR: Lynne F. Burk
TITLE: CSI Library--Collaborate, Support, Integrate
SOURCE: Teacher Librarian 34 no2 34-5 D 2006
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    What does a hit television series that has spawned several successful spin-offs and a school library program have in common? Well, at McKnight Elementary in the North Allegheny School District in suburban Pittsburgh, the CSI acronym represents a concise way to focus on the overriding goals of the library program--to collaborate with teachers, administrators, parents, and students; to support building and district initiatives; and to integrate the teaching of literature, information literacy, and technology skills into the subject area curriculums.
    McKnight Elementary is a K-5 building of approximately 635 students. Fellow teacher-librarian Kristin Falkner and 1 see each class for a weekly 45-minute library period, but the district schedule also allows for additional classes integrated with the classroom curriculum on a flexibly scheduled basis. The schedule allows the best of both worlds--the time to work collaboratively with teachers while still being to able to ensure that the objectives of the library curriculum are being delivered to every student in the school. In addition, we coordinate the schedule of the two computer labs connected to the library so that homeroom teachers can schedule their classes for learning activities to enhance mastery of curricular and technology skills.
    The CSI philosophy permeates all aspects of our library programs as we constantly investigate opportunities to demonstrate the value of collaboration between classroom teachers and teacher-librarians. Numerous studies since 1990 as well as personal experiences confirm our belief that collaboration with classroom teachers supports active and engaged learning, differentiates instruction, facilitates the use of a variety of resources, and, ultimately, influences student achievement. We have also found that sometimes it can be a challenge to develop these collaborative projects. Standards-based education and high-stakes testing have put increased demands on classroom teachers and their time. A feeling may develop that there is no time in the curriculum for "extras." We know that our role as effective teacher-librarians is to demonstrate that we understand these challenges, know the curriculum, and are familiar with the benchmarks that our students must master. If the destination is collaboration to enhance student learning, it is our job as teacher-librarians to provide the road map.
    Participating on curriculum teams, presenting at faculty meetings, and sharing resources and ideas with staff have all been effective. But one initiative has been particularly successful. Over the past few years, we have designed a variety of collaborative library projects that tie directly to the themes and objectives of our school's reading program. We examined the themes, learner outcomes, and stories of the reading program at each grade level. We identified objectives and standards-based benchmarks that matched library-learning objectives in the areas of literature, information, and technology literacy skills. Then, we developed collaborative learning experiences and projects for each theme, explicitly identifying the standards-based benchmarks met by the learning activity. At grade-level and faculty meetings, we shared this document with our staff and even placed it on our web page. The result is a road map that has increased collaboration, encouraged use of resources--especially in the area of technology-- and enhanced student learning.
    Figure 1 shows an excerpt from our list of suggestions for third grade. The teachers can clearly see the benchmarks met, the delineation of responsibility, and the amount of time involved. With the roadmap in place, the trip can begin! We found that this project was very well received. When the students came to the library, the teacher-librarian reviewed the note-taking form that we had prepared, the list of waterfalls from which to select a topic, and the available resources. The classroom teacher reinforced note-taking skills and introduced the format of a friendly letter in the classroom. After the library research phase was completed, the students used their information to compose friendly letters about their waterfall trip in the classroom (see Figure 2). One third-grade teacher even came up with the idea of having the students print a three-by-five picture of their waterfalls, which she then laminated so that they looked just like photographs. The students were thrilled with the final project and enjoyed debating the relative merits of Angel Falls as opposed to Victoria Falls. Here the power of collaboration is clearly demonstrated: Students enthusiastically engaged in active learning; the integration of information, technology, and writing skills occurred; multiple standards benchmarks were addressed; and even a lesson in geography took place as students compared the locations of the waterfalls they had "visited."
    One successful and fun fourth-grade collaboration came from the project suggestion seen in Figure 3. The story "Cendrellion" is a Cinderella-variant folktale set in the island of Martinique. In the library, the students selected a country and used a form that we developed to locate such information about their country, such as the names of cities, types of food and dress, basic products, native animals, and even basic vocabulary in the language. After completing their research, the students used the story outline that we provided to write their original Three Little Pigs parodies in the classroom, creating such classic gems as Los Tres Cerdos and Les Trois Cochons (see Figure 4).
    Of course, not all of our suggestions have led to successful collaborations; some of them have never even been implemented. But overall, the quantity and quality of collaborations have increased, and some exciting learning experiences are being provided to our students while important standards-based benchmarks are being addressed.
    Just like any successful voyage, the journey to collaboration takes preparation and planning. Know your destination and the goals of your journey. Map out the route and decide everyone's responsibilities. Gather the necessary resources and spell out the timetable necessary for a successful trip. Then, all aboard for active learning that supports student success and integrates the development of those information and technology skills so important for success in our 21st-century global society. Perhaps this example and the philosophy of CSI Library-collaborate, support, and integrate--may provide a partial solution to the mystery of developing successful collaborations between teacher-librarian and classroom teachers. Just like the television show, your library program may be renewed for years to come.
    Lynne F. Burk is an elementary : teacher-librarian at McKnight Elementary and the Library Department chair in the North Allegheny School District, Pittsburgh, PA. She has served on numerous district curriculum; and strategic plan teams. She is a staff development trainer for the district and has presented at local and state library conferences. McKnight Elementary hosted a site visit during the 2005 American Association of School Librarians national convention in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at