Make a difference (MaD) - Spotlight on teacher librarians

‘Make a difference (MaD)’ shines a spotlight on the diverse and innovative ways teacher librarians respond to the teaching and learning needs of staff and students.

In this MaD compilation, teacher librarians share insights into their professional practice, learning spaces and library initiatives and how this can make a difference to student learning and engagement.

Lizzie Chase, teacher librarian at West Ryde Public School, shares some successful strategies for enabling students to respond informatively to authors’ and illustrators’ work and become confidence text creators.

How can we launch into a rich discussion after reading a Premiers Reading Challenge (PRC) picture book together?

In this article, I will share key aspects of a recent visual literacy discussion, based on ‘The Building Boy’ by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield, which inspired students to experiment with their own illustrations back in their classrooms. I always aim to build a bridge into creating new texts after reading, so that students see themselves clearly as authors and illustrators learning a craft.

Building Boy cover

PRC – Elements of an illustrator’s style

As the teacher librarian at West Ryde Public School, I read the Premiers Reading Challenge books to the students in Kindergarten, Year One and Year Two. The Stage One students experience the same books each week, while I read different books to Kindergarten. Reading time and discussion about the books takes up twenty minutes of an hourly lesson and this time needs to be purposeful, so I have found the English textual concepts very helpful in determining which aspects of the book I would like to focus on.

I am often interested in discussing the author’s or illustrator’s style. We have a repeated question and answer, each time we have noticed something wonderful.

Q: Why am I teaching you this?
A: So we can use this technique in our own drawing/writing.

I look through the book, before reading it to the students, to notice signature elements of the illustrator’s and author’s style. Students become adept at noticing any elements of style which are repeated across a number of books by the same authors and illustrators.

We begin every book reading with partners doing a See–think–wonder from the front cover, and by reading the blurb and checking out the end pages for clues.

Double page spreads, extreme close ups and OTS shots

We recently discussed David Litchfield’s illustrations in ‘The Building Boy’ and noticed that he uses many double page spreads. I asked why the students think that an illustrator has used that technique. Students commented that it made the book feel like a movie. I said that double page spreads are often used for scenes that are important, so that we pay a lot of attention. I asked students to draw double page spreads for a key scene in a future story and to explain to their teacher why they have done this. I send out emails to teachers giving a dot point summary of our key terms for each lesson, so these can be used in literature discussions.

Students enjoy knowing and using correct terminology during their discussions. It’s no surprise that these terms are now familiar and used regularly.

  • illustrator
  • technique
  • double page spread
  • extreme close up
  • over the shoulder shot
  • positioning the reader/viewer.

Double page spreadIn the double page spread above, the boy has created a grandma robot and is instructing her to wake up. I taught the idea of an extreme close up and when you would use this technique. We learned about the over the shoulder shot making us identify with the boy.


What would he be thinking?
What would he be feeling?
When could you use this technique of an extreme close up and an over the shoulder shot in your drawings?

After reading

At the end of the story, I asked why the boy had created a school for young architects and this elicited a number of key themes. We also rated the book – thumbs, up, down or neutral and students explained their rating to a partner. This term, students have followed this session with silent reading, in the cave. At borrowing time, they often mention to me any double page spreads or extreme close ups they came across in their silent reading time.

Students have become interested in noticing author and illustrator techniques in other books and use these in their own drawing and writing.

Many teachers report that students use the key terms in class literature discussions and are building bridges to create their own texts.

It is exciting that students are learning to see themselves as authors and illustrators learning a craft.

How to cite this article – Chase, L. (2019). Build a bridge to create new texts. Scan, 38(9).

by Victor Davidson, teacher librarian at Birrong Girls High School

Strap this on and fly

It may be a story, it may be a book, it may be the library itself as a flexible learning space, the message for each girl is to find her own wings and learn how to fly under her own power. The dedication on the title page of Astrid Scholte’s young adult fantasy novel, ‘Four Dead Queens’, highlights the importance of narrative and empowering students at Birrong Girls High School.

At every opportunity there is a story; either as an oral performance or a Japanese Kamishibai paper theatre show.

Kamishibai paper theatreKamishibai paper theatre show

Every Year 7 class visits the library multiple times each term with their KLA teacher to build and tell oral narratives that incorporate the key vocabulary that underpins the particular Stage 4 syllabus. The content is negotiated with each head teacher before I construct the BlogED for each lesson.

There are also show and tell lessons on the miracle of reading, and opportunities to read and record books for the Premier’s Reading Challenge. Multiple BlogED sites are used by students to create, compose, research and present.

Finally, the rewards are sweet as the Wizard of Fudge doles out soft magic in the form of delicious fudge treats. As you can see in the following image, there are a few left to share.


Flexible learning spaces

The library has always been a flexible learning space. Furniture is regularly rearranged according to the needs of the staff. As for classroom teachers being on board, all Year 7 teachers from history, English, geography, maths, visual arts and science bring classes to study elements of their Stage 4 syllabuses via narratives. Bibliographic records are accessed through Oliver and recorded in the information literacy skills workbook. The Milestones Management Plans for the aforesaid faculties mandate their commitment to the Information Literacy and Narrative Structure course for Year 7 that is conducted in the library. We also have a range of activities during roll call for reading promotion and at lunchtime for STEM.

Story – connection and stimulus

Regular incursions take place for creative writers to critically hone their work. Visiting authors are given opportunities to interact with students. For example, in June, the British Jewish writer and poet Yvonne Green gave a workshop in the library for students. They undertook a poetry exercise. The theme was heritage and connecting with the past. Among many evocative and touching poems one, by Zara Jalloul, called ‘Home’, brought out powerful emotions. Here is Zara’s poem:

I feel my ancestors calling me
To join their warm circle
To come back
Relive the moments we never had.
I feel my elders calling me
Telling me to pour the tea
And to offer it to others.
My family
Holding me close
This is where I live
This is my home.

Visiting authors have included Nadia Jamal, Will Kostakis, Helen Thurloe, Queenie Chan and Susanne Gervay. We are also pleased to welcome Paul Macdonald of The Children's Bookshop each year to speak to students about the importance of reading and to give us reviews of all the new publications.

Nadia JamalVisiting author, Nadia Jamal, spoke to Year 10 about her latest novel, ‘Headstrong Daughters: inspiring stories from the new generation of Australian Muslim women’

BlogED – create and collaborate

The department’s recently upgraded BlogED tool enables collaboration for a whole raft of learning outcomes. At Birrong, students use multiple BlogED sites to create, compose, research and present. One of the favourites is Fan fiction. For me, the key to the Fan fiction BlogED is the ability to build a sensitive and interactive community.

The final exercise this term is to critique and appreciate peer creative writers. The following post, from a Year 7 student, is quite sophisticated.

‘For me Julie Ngo who wrote ''Behind the doors'' is an amazing writer. When I read her story I felt that I was watching over the scene and that I was being included in the written piece. Her description of the maiden was immaculate, the way she described her lifeless body, and her motionless lips with such detail was astounding in so many ways. Julie has helped me learn that the best way to express anything is to provide utter detail of everything happening in the current scene. I also loved how her story was haunting, yet subtle. And I totally encourage her to master on in the way she is writing because I feel that this can impact on a bigger, brighter future.’

Our principal, Zena Dabaja, is keen for us to expand student work across media platforms to publish creative writing, recordings and Vlogs.

Finally, our students continue to test their wings and learn to fly under their own power. Immersing themselves in storytelling opportunities, engaging with visiting authors and connecting with peers in real time and online has enabled these students to gain confidence and skills.

If you want to empower your students and build a sensitive and interactive community, try some of the activities mentioned and give BlogED a go.

How to cite this article – Davidson, V. (2019). To the Birrong girls – strap this on and fly. Scan, 38(9).

Jade Arnold, teacher librarian at Galston High School, outlines her step-by-step guide to setting up and maintaining a successful student librarian team.

A student librarian team in a secondary setting might sound impossible but, with the right approach, patience and enthusiasm, creating an actively involved student body in a secondary library is achievable. Over the last three years, the student librarian team at Galston High School has evolved from a single student helping me with shelving to a team of 32 students with four distinct committees.

How can you establish a library-based leadership team from nothing?

Step 1: Start small

Like any new project, you can’t expect success overnight. Any new team will likely start out quite small. The discussions you have with students can provide insight into potential student librarians. Your regular users and borrowers are great targets. My first unofficial student librarian complained that the manga series were out of order, so I asked if he would help me fix them. He enjoyed taking ownership of this space and, after praising him for his assistance and awarding him a merit, I had my first unofficial student librarian. You will likely have some students with library monitor training from primary school. This is a great opportunity to build your team.

Step 2: Brand and incentivise to attract

Branding in a secondary setting is an essential component of success. As the term ‘library monitor’ is heavily associated with primary schools, consider other names that provide distance from this, such as library leaders, library ninjas or student librarians. This also clarifies that your leadership team’s role goes beyond circulation desk duties.

Obviously, establishing a library leadership team greatly benefits the teacher librarian and school library service. It’s also essential to communicate to students what benefits they will gain from joining the team. Heavily advertise the skills they will develop and reward their contribution to their team. After all, they are sacrificing their free time to help you run a more effective library service.

Incentives can include:

  • merits for every shift completed
  • permission to eat in the library office
  • first priority for author visits/workshops either for free or at a discount (depending on your budget)
  • a ‘thank you’ morning tea at the end of the year.

Ask your senior executive to recognise your student librarians as a formal leadership team. A formal induction ceremony and attendance at leadership camp elevates the status of the student librarian team to equal standing with the SRC and house leaders, and provides prospective prefects with an alternative way to gain leadership experience.

Female student with adult

Step 3: Create a formal application process

Students should apply for the role of student librarian. A formal application process allows you to select committed students who are likely to bring the most to your team.

At Galston High School, prospective student librarians receive an information package which outlines:

  • the role of the student librarian team
  • the qualities a team member needs to be a successful candidate
  • the benefits of joining the team.

Interested students:

  • explain why they want to be a student librarian
  • obtain a short, written reference from a peer or adult
  • supply a reference from their English teacher (to confirm wide reading commitment).

Prepare formal acceptance and rejection letters ahead of time. I had 40 applicants for the 2019 team, so visiting each student individually was not feasible!

Male student with adult

Step 4: Manage your team

Established your team and manage them effectively. Remember, it’s essential to assist other students during break times.

If possible, start the year with a training session that covers the basics of the role. Our first training session always covers:

  • basic circulation desk training in Oliver (loans, returns, reservations and basic troubleshooting)
  • shelf ready processing for new books (barcoding, genre labels, stamps, tattle taping etc.)
  • an overview of the Dewey Decimal system and genres in our collection
  • an overview of our digital subscriptions
  • performing a shelf check and creating face-out displays.

Students at bench

Each student librarian is also assigned to one of four committees that were created to address areas of need. The current teams are:

  1. Physical displays – help design and create themed displays to promote books in our collection.
  2. Digital library – promote our digital platforms and help create content for the library’s Instagram page, @galstonhslibrary.
  3. Student engagement – brainstorm ways to increase student use of the library through events, activities and competitions.
  4. Makerspace – help create challenges and assist during Makerspace club.

Find the types of teams that meet the needs of your library.

Makerspace group of students

The Makerspace library team after their formal induction

Step 5: Establish clear leadership

A clear leadership structure helps me manage these teams effectively. Each committee has a Director and Sub-director who are in Year 10 or above and must have at least one previous year’s experience as a student librarian. This experience ensures they have the ability to filter ideas from other student librarians for efficacy and suitability, and the confidence to help guide and manage younger students. Their role also requires outward-facing duties including presenting at assemblies and greeting visiting authors and parents.

Seeing older students in leadership positions benefits younger students. It helps with engagement and retention, as they aspire to holding a senior position in the future.

Step 6: Establish routine

The shelves are always neat, vibrant and constantly changing.

Students are rostered onto one shift per week to perform returns, shelving and loans. They also conduct shelf checks and update face out displays for their own portion of the collection. A task sheet next to the roster allows students to take initiative and assist with other tasks beyond circulation desk and shelving duties.

Routine is important to ensure you’re not constantly micromanaging your well-intentioned student librarians.

Step 7: Reap the benefits

A leadership team that develops students’ skills and confidence to share their passion for reading and learning will transform your school library into a vibrant and energetic place.

Empowering students to take greater ownership of a space designed for them enriches your school library in surprising ways – collection development, events and physical space will better reflect the needs of your student body.

Establishing a student librarian team requires time, energy and patience. The rewards are worth the effort!

How to cite this article – Arnold, J. (2019). How to establish a student leadership team in a secondary setting. Scan, 38(9).

Return to top of page Back to top