Unlocking the third space – Activating your library

Julie Grazotis share her thinking and planning in creating a library as a third space at Banks Public School

Portrait photo of Julie Grazotis
Image: Julie Grazotis is a Teacher Librarian at Banks PS located in Western Sydney. Julie seeks to challenge the traditional role of the school library through development of a flexible learning team teaching based K-6 program. Julie is passionate about the impact the library can play in transforming today's learners into tomorrow's future thinkers, creators and problem solvers.

In today’s crowded curriculum the library stands ready to step up and contribute to the delivery of school initiatives, meeting curriculum requirements and addressing student learning outcomes. The question is - How does the library space and its resources, including the teacher librarian, contribute effectively to a school’s ‘big picture’ without conflicting with or compromising classroom practice?

The answer lies in viewing the library as a ‘third space’. Leslie K. Maniotes (2005) defines the third space as the teaching space where the teacher seeks to bridge the gap between the informal learning world (student knowledge) with the curriculum based world of school (deep knowledge and understanding).

Learning and teaching spaces

1. First space is student centred where personal experiences and knowledge are central.

2. Second space is teacher centred where experiences and knowledge are curriculum based.

3. Third space is where the student connects with the curriculum through information seeking and sharing (interest based research). Teachers must tap into the interests of the learner within topics for learning to be authentic.

With minimal effort, the library environment can become a unique third space, providing a setting and resources for collaborative instruction and research based learning. Subsequent learning experiences are designed to blend student interests with curriculum requirements in flexible physical and digital spaces. This learning zone becomes a valuable space where the teacher librarian, classroom teacher and support staff engage with collective efficacy to meet the range of student learning outcomes.

Redefining the learning space

This transformation has occurred at Banks Public School, redefining the library from the traditional RFF support format to a functioning flexible learning space with a collaborative team teaching approach. This process has developed over seven years. The library is now a learning space where collaborative teaching aims to

… build learning and literacy capacity … [through] actively engaging students in 21st century skills.

Wall & Bonanno, 2014, pp. 18-19

A number of components were foundational to the acceptance and support of this repositioning of the library as more than a reading or research space. Key players to the process were considered and the library’s program, timetable and staff, are aligned to meet the department’s ministerial initiatives, the school plan and professional development plans. Three key components of this alignment are:

1. delivering targeted intervention to boost foundational literacy and numeracy skills - Banks has been an early action for success (EA4S) school for the past four years. In 2016, the school was selected for the Bump it up (BIU) Premier’s initiative targeting students in years 2-5 to increase the percentage of students in the top two bands of NAPLAN in Reading and Number.

2. explicitly teaching skills and strategies, feeding back and forward to students using learning intentions and success to improve student writing – identified as a whole school focus in our school plan (2015-2017).

3. identifying staff development needs - in 2017, the school executive identified differentiation as a professional development goal for all teaching staff.

As the BIU initiative targets the students working above the average, it is necessary to provide teachers with opportunities and strategies to grow these students. The teacher’s role within the team teaching space was reviewed to ensure that all stakeholders are positioned to offer support to the student learning process rather than hovering and correcting errors and behaviour. A 360 degree view of student ability provides timely support, valuable feedback and quality assessment.

While the previous timetable arrangement provided for team teaching to two stage aligned classes, the opportunity for target cohort intervention was not addressed. By supplementing the timetable with an additional teacher the student cohort is aligned to deliver differentiated practices and strategies to support student writing experiences. Library sessions require the class teachers and teacher librarian to target one of three cohorts. These student groups are determined through identification and analysis of the Literacy continuum writing cluster markers.

By combining the writing cluster markers with Stephen Heppell’s Help-lead-stretch example for teaching roles, we developed a strategy for grouping students according to the assistance or feedback they needed from specific teachers for specific purposes.

In Heppell’s model, the first teacher leads the session, the second teacher helps when students falter and the third teacher is focused on differentiation. Our model is adapted so the student group bears the label that reflects the support or guidance required to complete the task. The teacher, being assigned to a specific group, is aware of the skills and strategies needed to develop and grow the knowledge and understanding required to complete the task.

lead (below cluster) – conference with students to identify, clarify and modify thoughts, feelings and actions related to experiences and events

* help (at cluster) – assist students with format, spelling, sentence structure, writing goals and ideas

* stretch (above cluster) – conference with students to extend and modify stories to improve language, events, character development and publishing design.

The library learning space has been designed to model a flexible physical and digital learning space like the one outlined by English teacher, Bianca Hewes (2013). Our learning space offers not just physical alternatives but also mental spaces for students working collaboratively or independently. As a consequence, teachers can moderate their engagement with students by observing student interaction and work practices, explicitly teaching smaller groups or working one on one to support and direct students towards their learning goals. Over the four years that this learning environment has been established, the teacher librarian has delivered challenging, inclusive and engaging learning experiences alongside colleagues working to meet the learning needs of students.

Framework for learning

In order to support the development and differentiation of writing from Kindergarten to Year 6, it was necessary for the library to design a framework for learning. This framework addresses the writing related outcomes of the English syllabus as well as the cluster markers within the Literacy continuum. This framework informs teachers of students’ progress without contradicting classroom collected results and data. Students can track their performance against the framework and identify areas for improvement and guidance.

It stands to reason that the English syllabus sits at the heart of the library program. However, to ensure that the library reflects a true third space and delivers authentic learning experiences, programs incorporate the content and outcomes of key learning areas such as history, geography and mathematics.

It is now standard practice for the library to identify a theme for the year and, each semester, select a different focus for all student learning K-6. Reading, digital and visual materials are matched to learning experiences as a means of connecting students to the topic and to build vocabulary and knowledge to grow their understanding and interest.

Currently the library program at Banks is delivering a geographical writing program based on the NSW Department of Education’s publication ‘Human Society and Its Environment: Guide to Using Picture Books in Geography K-10’. This is a prime example of how the third space can support the delivery of a KLA, while contributing to learning experiences in order to meet student learning needs. We adopted the ‘six Cs’ strategies and expanded them by using the ‘21CLD Learning Activity Rubrics’ (ITL Research, 2012) in order to address a range of proficiency levels across the stages.

The ‘six Cs’ are intervention strategies developed to assist students through each stage of learning in the information search process for a guided inquiry (Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K. & Caspari, A. K., 2012, pp. 37-29). The six Cs are:

* collaborate – work jointly with others

* converse – talk about ideas for clarity and further questions

* compose – write all the way along, not just at the end, keep journals

* choose – select what is interesting and pertinent

* chart – visualise ideas using pictures, timelines, and graphic organisers

* continue – develop understanding over a period of time.

We adapted the six Cs strategies and skills, and the 21CLD rubrics, for the library skills framework to differentiate content, process and product in order to cater for the range of levels within a student cohort.

Finally, these skills are aligned to the marking criteria of the NAPLAN writing assessments, providing the teacher with a clear picture of the strengths and areas of focus for students within a writing task. The skills are presented as a checklist and are used by students and teachers to track student progress as they engage in writing tasks.

Tracking rubric

As a mechanism applied in the third space, this checklist allows the teacher to observe which skills students are transferring from the formal classroom lessons to the flexible library space. The teacher intervenes and effectively plans to address areas of need, making the writing experience more authentic and engaging for the student. In relation to the ‘stretch’ (above cluster students), the teacher is able to identify students who are not naturally working to their potential and offer them guidance. As a result, the student is ‘bumped up’ to be better positioned to perform more competently in writing tasks.

Differentiation is the key

Differentiation is key to meeting the learning needs of all our students. Often the demands of the classroom outweigh and complicate the opportunities to engage with our more capable students. The use of the third space affords the teacher the opportunity to observe and support not only the ‘stretch’ students in their class but those within the stage aligned cohort. Using the skill aligned English outcomes and cluster markers, the teacher is able to identify ‘where to next’ for this cohort and provide direct and timely instruction during the task. The teacher’s role is focused on impacting the learning rather than correcting the errors.


There are a number of advantages to utilising and acknowledging the library as a third space. These include:

* providing opportunities for graduate and early career teachers to observe experienced staff as they engage with a student’s delivering differentiated strategies and skill development

* offering mentoring opportunities, for example, TAS teachers deliver explicit guidance to target cohorts of students

* enabling collaborative teaching to ensure that all students’ learning outcomes are addressed consistently across learning environments

* designing innovative programs in a flexible learning space that is supported by a number of staff allows for greater inquiry-based units of work

* fostering peer to peer engagement, within and across groups, positions the student as both a learner and a leader in their areas of knowledge and expertise

* delivering differentiated instruction within this group arrangement means students receive the guidance required to better demonstrate their skills

* supporting quality learning and teaching - reflected in the increased engagement by students in smaller targeted groups, and in greater opportunities for students to build deep knowledge of topic and strategies related to areas of need.

Staff feedback

Feedback from staff engaged in the third space indicates that they are developing a greater understanding of their students' learning styles, their capabilities and their areas of need. This is reflective of teaching standard 1 from ‘Australian Professional Standards for Teachers’ (NESA, 2017, pp. 8-9).

Here are some teachers’ responses to the question: What knowledge about your students have you gained as a result of working with a cohort: lead, help, stretch?

‘Lead: The differences in capability and desire to achieve even with smarter students.’

‘With my stretch student, they needed to hear that it was ok to extend their thought/ideas more and add details/extra information to their writing.’

‘Very curious and want to know more information.’

‘I have learned that my stretch group often forget to reread, revise and edit their work and see their first attempt as their best attempt. I have seen that my help students are more likely to accept constructive criticism and reflect on their work as a result.’

‘Their development in sentence structure and grammar, choosing more interesting vocabulary.’

‘Ability and where the student needs to go next. What they are capable of.’

In conclusion

The library as a third space does not require all the above elements, yet each contributes to the big picture that is today’s complex and multifaceted school environment. It acknowledges the role of the teacher librarian as a specialist while building the professional capital of the collective to the meet the educational and wellbeing needs of our students.

References and further reading

Curtis, J. 2017, ‘Value of using picture books in geography’, Scan, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 15-30.

Heppell, S. 2017, ‘Superclasses’ , Heppell.net, accessed 22 October 2017.

Hughes, B. 2013, ‘Using archetypes to match learning spaces with physical and digital spaces’ , Connections, issue 85, Term 2, pp. 3-5, accessed 22 October 2017.

ITL research 2012, 21CLD learning activity rubrics , Innovative Teaching and Learning, accessed 22 October 2017.

Kuhlthau, C. C. 2010, ‘Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century’, School Libraries Worldwide, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 1-12.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K. & Caspari, A. K. 2012, Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school, ABC-CLIO, pp. 37-39, accessed 22 October 2017.

Maniotes, L. K. 2005, The transformative power of literary third space, ProQuest Dissertation and Theses, University of Colorado, CO.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Browse by cluster’, Browse literacy continuum K-10, accessed 22 October 2017.

NSW Department of Education 2017, Human society and its environment: Guide to using picture books in geography K-10, accessed 22 October 2017.

NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) 2018, Australian professional standards for teachers, (revised ed), accessed 22 October 2017.

Wall, J. & Bonanno, K. 2014, 'Learning and literacy for the future: Building capacity. Part Two', Scan, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 18-30

How to cite this article: Grazotis, J. 2017, ‘Unlocking the third space – Activating your library’, Scan, 36(4), pp. 34-35

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