Deep Learning Experiences within a Fixed Schedule

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Fixed schedule got you feeling trapped? This week, we’re featuring a few favorites from our archive, after Sue Kowalski put in a request from #ALAAC16 for some resources to support our many colleagues on fixed schedules. Today’s article from Julie Green and Laurie Olmsted  focuses on creating deep learning experiences for second graders within a fixed schedule. Subscribers will find dozens more relevant resources at our online home and can also look forward to a great new article on this topic by Ernie Cox in the August/September 2016 issue of the magazine.

Two and a half years ago, elementary school librarians in the Birmingham Public School district had to change to a fixed schedule for half the day with kindergarten through second grade students. This change was due to cutbacks and the need for common planning time among classroom teachers. School librarians found themselves scheduled for 45-minute class periods in a four-day rotation.

As a result of this change, school librarians at the lower elementary level typically saw one kindergarten, one first grade, and one second grade class each day. After the first year, school librarians realized that they needed to develop more meaningful learning experiences for students to meet curriculum objectives and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards. Because they saw these students often and consistently, it became a rare opportunity to go beyond the basics and develop deeper concepts.

A Jump-Start

Last year, elementary school librarians identified an inquiry and research focus for second graders. In this way, student experiences in the school library could be enriched and a foundation for a district initiative focusing on those skills identified in AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner could be developed (American Association of School Librarians, 2007). School librarians began the year using picture books as well as an inquiry model introduced in Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller (2008). The model and a resulting science lesson were featured in two School Library Monthly articles, “Jump-Start Inquiry: How Students Begin When They Don’t Know” (Fontichiaro and Green, 2010) and “Using Picture Books to Jump-Start Inquiry in Elementary Learners: The Tiny Seed” (Green and Fontichiaro, 2010). These lessons proved to be a solid start and led to scaffolding student learning experiences to build skills. It was clear that there was still work to be done to achieve true inquiry. Students had difficulty reading nonfiction texts, taking notes, developing questions, and synthesizing their knowledge—all skills that are an essential part of the inquiry process.

Further Research

School librarians in the district used their research skills to try to find answers. Starting with The Daily Five (Boushey and Moser, 2006), Reading with Meaning (Miller, 2002), and Teaching with Intention (Miller, 2008), it was determined that there was a need for routine and scaffolding experiences. The workshop model outlined in Debbie Miller’s book Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades gave the structure needed to consciously support student learning (2002). The next step was to use the workshop model to create a knowledge base focused on learning and thinking skills. The book Growing Readers, by Kathy Collins, extended the knowledge of the workshop model and provided concrete ideas for the mini-lessons students needed to tackle nonfiction texts.


Second graders were told at the beginning of the new school year that a literate environment was being established that would go beyond the school library and the books and technology found there. The concept of what “good readers do” when in the school library was revisited (Miller 2002, 29-30). This provided the opportunity to discuss expectations for student behavior and establish routines for instruction. The first lessons of the year focused on routines typical of many of the students’ regular classrooms. One example was creating a gathering or meeting place in the school library. This involved beginning class with a greeting for each other and discussing expectations for lessons and participation. Literacy centers were created with activities to engage students in reading and writing after they had checked out books. Each class concluded with students returning to the meeting place, sitting in a circle, and discussing the reasons for choosing a particular book (AASL Standards 4.3.1 and 4.1.3). Students consistently said they enjoyed this part of the routine and expressed disappointment if time ran out before they had the opportunity to share.

After establishing routines, the next step was reinforcing how good readers select books. The book The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades, by Boushey and Moser, was used as the basis for teaching this skill (2006, 30). This concept mirrored the work of classroom teachers in helping children understand what they need to do to become better readers. One of the lessons involved students finding two books: one that was a good fit and one that was not. Students had to communicate to the class why one book was a good fit and the other was not (AASL Standard 4.4.6). Instead of sharing what features of their books led them to make their selections (interesting illustrations, interesting subject), students shared why they thought the book was a “good fit” for them, demonstrating their ability to self-select appropriate texts.

The study of nonfiction, as recommended in the book Growing Readers: Units of Study in the Primary Classroom by Collins, started with helping children distinguish between fiction and nonfiction through reading aloud a fictional story like Officer Buckle and Gloria (Rathman, 1995) and comparing it to a selection about police dogs in a nonfiction book about working dogs (2004, 208). Discussion ensued not only about differences in the two books, but also about the difference in how fictional text is read from beginning to end versus reading only the portion of interest in the nonfiction text. Students were also immersed in nonfiction texts through a “nonfiction museum” in one of the literacy centers (Collins 2004, 208). This version of the “nonfiction museum” consisted of a collection of newspapers, magazines, game instructions, a recipe, cereal boxes, and various other nonfiction texts that students were encouraged to explore, view, and read. These items, displayed in the “museum,” helped make students aware of the nonfiction sources in the world around them.

Before students delved into nonfiction text, features of the text were modeled through read-alouds to show how the text helps uncover information the reader is seeking. These read-alouds also served to encourage the selection of nonfiction texts. Students could make good selections by looking at appropriate books easily accessible in book boxes (Boushey and Moser 2006, 34-35). Books from different subject areas and reading levels were placed in boxes around the school library, and students could easily search for the books most engaging and understandable to them. The “Position Statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading” by AASL states, “position(s) school librarians in leadership roles in developing reading comprehension strategies and in promoting free independent reading” (2010). Both traditional nonfiction texts with features that include a table of contents, index, captions, and section headings and nontraditional selections such as What Do I Do with a Tail Like This? (Jenkins, 2003) and A Seed Is Sleepy (Aston, 2007) were included.

Beginning skills and different features of nonfiction texts, based on a cornerstone of the workshop model, were used in mini-lessons. Some of these skills included how to use the table of contents or index and how to identify different helpful features in the book. After each minilesson, students worked in pairs with one nonfiction text so that they could practice the skill just modeled. There was to be no writing or recording in these first weeks. The intent was for students to simply go through the acts of exploring the books, forming questions for curiosity’s sake, and using the features to attempt to find the answers so that they were learning “to read nonfiction for authentic purposes,” such as reading “to learn how to do something” (Collins 2004, 207).

The information and questions that students shared with the group were encouraging. Students were, of course, asking questions like “What color is a Gila monster?” but they were also asking more robust questions like “What makes a rattlesnake’s rattle rattle?” or “What are a boa constrictor’s hobbies?” and they were using what they had learned about nonfiction text features to locate the answers. Students said that they used features like the table of contents as a starting point to find answers.

The goal has been, and will continue to be, to do more than help “children understand how to use the features of nonfiction texts” (Collins 2004, 207). Students need to see nonfiction features as tools to find information accurately and to answer their questions. Increasingly, a common topic of educational literature is the necessity of teaching students to be able to learn, question, create, and think for themselves. Being nonfiction-literate at the beginning of the year lets them focus on essential inquiry skills in later units. This facilitates the experience of delving deeper into something that truly interests them, of finding answers to their questions, and of finding information and applying it to demonstrate their learning. They first needed to build a common base of prior knowledge and have the capability to use available tools and resources.

The plan at Birmingham Elementary School continues to evolve. Second graders need to continue moving through the inquiry process by scaffolding essential skills for their everyday lives as information seekers. They can then build on this basic skill level to venture into skills such as how to transfer the nonfiction print literacy to the online environment with digital reading and how to take notes in a logical way. There is still a long way to go, but with the proper scaffolding and a common understanding in place, little second graders not only can answer self-generated questions, but they can dig a little deeper, take ownership of their learning, and be excited about it!

greenJulie Green is the school librarian at Pembroke
Elementary School, Birmingham Public Schools,
Troy, MI.



Laurie Olmsted is the school librarian at Quarton Elementary School Birmingham Public Schools, Troy, MI.




American Association of School Librarians. “Position Statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading.” (accessed January 7, 2011).

American Association of School Librarians. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. American Library Association, 2007. Downloadable for free ( ).

Aston, Dianna H. A Seed Is Sleepy. Chronicle, 2007.

Boushey, Gail, and Joan Moser. The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Stenhouse, 2006.

Collins, Kathy. Growing Readers: Units of Study in the Primary Classroom. Stenhouse, 2004.

Fontichiaro, Kristin, and Julie Green. “Jump-Start Inquiry: How Students Begin When They Don’t Know.” School Library Monthly 26, no. 5 (January 2010): 22-23.

Green, Julie, and Kristin Fontichiaro. “Using Picture Books to Jump-Start Inquiry in Elementary Learners: The Tiny Seed.” School Library Monthly 26, no. 5 (January 2010): 6-7.

Jenkins, Steve, and Robin Page. What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Miller, Debbie. Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades. Stenhouse, 2002.

Miller, Debbie. Teaching with Intention: Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action, K-5. Stenhouse, 2008.

Rathman, Peggy. Officer Buckle and Gloria. Putnam, 1995.

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