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School Librarians as Writing Collaborators with Five Times the Superpower.

School librarians are often underutilized when it comes to writing instruction, especially when teachers need help in specific areas of the writing process. The following are two differing, yet actual, scenarios:

Scenario 1:

I, Tamra, recently was asked by a district superintendent to introduce the writing workshop to his faculty. During the training, I led a group discussion about using mentor texts to teach techniques such as voice, word choice, organization, point of view, etc. One teacher asked how she was supposed to know how to choose mentor texts for teaching those techniques. I responded, "Use the school librarian. That is his/her area of expertise. Those are the superpowers. " The teacher looked confused and said she had never thought about conferring with the school librarian about instructional resources.

Scenario 2:

I was invited to observe a writing workshop at a local middle school. When I arrived, the students were in the midst of the workshop in the library. There were two teachers, one who had invited me and another I did not know, walking from group to group listening, teaching focused mini-lessons, conferencing, and having conversations about writing and the craft of writing. This, I thought, is exactly how a writing workshop should be run--students actively engaged in writing and teachers supporting their endeavors. It was like watching a beautiful symphony of creativity where the two teachers worked in unison to orchestrate a focused and intentional writing environment. When the students were gone, I was introduced to the teacher I did not know, who was actually the school librarian. I suppose I had a surprised look on my face because she laughed and told me that she wished more teachers would use her to coteach or even help with writing because that is "just what we do. " She was using her superpowers.


As these two scenarios show, if all educators were familiar with the roles of the school librarians, they would have a superhero in the form of a liaison with five times the superpowers at their fingertips. It is the goal of the writing workshop to help students develop the identity of "self as writer. " They need to be able to move through the nuances of their craft with a sense of ease and deliberateness. This is easier said than done. For most teachers, just saying the words "writing instruction" makes many students want to shout and run away. Teaching writing is no easy task, but teachers need to know that they do not have to work in a silo in order to obtain success. They have someone with superpowers in the building to help. All they need to do is ask.

Teachers want students to write using proper grammar and punctuation or incorporating figurative language, and to self-identify as writers. They hope students will learn to "read" the world like writers and be able to collect ideas with thoughtfulness. They want them to be able to develop a sense of the craft, genres, and forms of writing and to prepare their writing to be published and sent out into the world. The library is a gold mine to find examples of all of these concepts and a plethora of resources, and the school librarian is the superhero to help guide both teachers and students through the mine.

Librarians can help students find books that have, for example, a clearly identifiable voice, an especially good lead-in, or a specific writing genre. They can curate resources to find information on a persuasive topic. It can be a daunting task, for sure, but the school librarian is already familiar with the library's collection and can guide the process.


The five roles the school librarian fills--based on the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL, 2018b)--are teacher, program administrator, leader, instructional partner, and informational specialist. Through these roles, the school librarian contributes to student learning, including acquisition of literacies necessary for today's learners to be college, career, and community ready. Close examination of each role reveals very relevant, engaging activities that the school librarian can provide to improve writing literacy through teacher/ school librarian collaboration. The AASL Standards Framework (2018a) sets forth four domains where the school librarian is committed to guiding students as they (1) think, (2) create, (3) share, and (4) grow, especially for writing instruction. As we examine the roles, examples of collaborative writing activities that guide students within each of the five roles are included.


The school librarian is a master of collaboration. The teacher and school librarian together can design instruction that supports equitable access to information and within copyright and fair use guidelines. They use systematic instructional-development and information-search processes to improve integration of writing into the curriculum.

According to Ray and Laminack (2001), students should have intentional time to practice the craft of writing, and "writing should be a content into itself" (p. 53). When teachers are not sure how to negotiate a specific area of writing instruction, the school librarian can be the resource to help design writing time each day to zero in on a particular part of the craft.

An example of a collaborative writing project is the English language arts teacher and librarian designing a shared Google doc platform for completing a multi-writing-genre research report on an assigned novel, chapter, or picture book. Students read the assigned text and begin to think about how to report their learning through poetry, narratives, letters, and other forms. Each group member uses a unique font color, so that the teacher and librarian can identify authors. They can also follow members as they record comments from peer reviews, make revisions, or address copyright issues on each other's work. Students grow as they discuss deep meaning of the text, examine various viewpoints of fellow classmates, and share their work to benefit from a "community product" (Chandler, 2016).


Many educators do not realize that the most obvious librarian superpower concerns contributions to writing instruction in the role of teacher. The librarian is trained in how to present understanding by merging reading, writing, information, media, and technology literacies. The school librarian can effectively design instruction that has writing literacy at the heart and bridges other literacies into the learning.

Scenario 2 above shows an ideal opportunity for the school librarian and classroom educator to teach a collaborative writing project in tandem. For example, following the AASL standards (2018a), students think about how they wish to incorporate poetry into their multi-genre research project. The school librarian could teach a particular type of poetry using mentor texts chosen specifically to give examples to the students and then model as she writes one with the students. They, in turn, create a poem using the example modeled to place in their report. The students grow as the school librarian and teacher lead them through the writing process of prewriting, drafting, editing, and revising their poems until they finally publish their report.


Students experience enhanced opportunities for long-term success when technology is integrated into instruction. As a trained information technologist, the librarian can assist in designing writing instruction that integrates appropriate technology resources and tools. As an information specialist, the school librarian curates and provides appropriate resources for specific instructional activities that provide a wide range of viewpoints and ideas.

School librarians as information specialists help students choose relevant and timely issues or topics. Students work in groups and think about specific items or issues they would like to share about the topic. The "cybrarian" assists as students gather information on the topic through database and web searches using an inquiry-based learning approach. Groups gather resources to share and collaborate using such tools as MindMeister or Amazon Storybuilder. Using the writing process, the students create a script with credits for a one-minute public service announcement (PSA). They decide if the genre will be persuasive or informational and work together using a graphic organizer, such as spider map or cluster/word web, to organize thoughts. Finally, students grow as they record their PSA using Screencast-O-Matic, Adobe Spark, Explain Everything, or another video production tool. See an example PSA on cyberbullying by Judith Uhrig at https://www.


In order to meet their educational needs, students need access to a materials collection of sufficient breadth and currency to be pertinent. School librarians establish and maintain a collection in all formats that supports diverse developmental, cultural, social, and linguistic needs of students. They set a shared vision with the school, establish relevant goals, and implement policy that addresses procedures for handling material challenges. As program administrators, they ensure confidentiality and promote unimpeded access to appropriate materials for collaborative writing activities. Most are familiar with the writing process and know where teachers can obtain materials that can facilitate student learning. An inviting, open, flexible space is provided to offer an atmosphere that motivates student and teacher groups to explore, create, and collaborate.

As reflected in the AASL (2018a) standards, students think, create, share, and grow through access to a current, relevant, inclusive collection that is based on goals and adequately provides materials needed for collaborative writing activities across the curriculum. Since school librarians have access to every single teacher and student in a school, they help choose mentor texts for focused mini-lessons and can share with teachers what other teachers are doing across the school. They can support the writing process for not only teachers but also, more importantly, students! Many teachers find teaching writing a daunting task. If teachers only realized they did not have to venture into this abyss alone, they might approach writing instruction in a meaningful, authentic way that develops students' higher-order thinking. When teachers see the beauty and ease of writing, they will begin to see a difference in students' writing across all content areas.


Finally, school librarians communicate the entire media program to the learning community. They provide essential professional learning that equips teachers with a solid foundation on how best to deliver writing literacy instruction in the classroom, as well as guidance on a myriad of other timely topics for educators.

Students think, create, share, and grow when the school librarian provides formal and informal professional learning to assist teachers as they guide students to develop a "self as writer" identity. Through contributions to writing workshop development, training on a variety of online tools for writing activities, and collaborations in instructional design, the school librarian can indeed contribute to developing students' writing skills and become that secret weapon that can make all the difference. Jacobson (2016), a school librarian, describes what she sees as the leadership qualities of the school librarian regarding writing instruction: "From my perspective, what the library can offer to aspiring and reluctant writers alike is the opportunity to pursue a project without limits" (para. 8).


Think back to the scenarios first recounted. What is the disconnect in the first scenario that sets this training up for failure? Likewise, in the second scenario, what is the "magic" that happened to make this experience so much more productive for the students?

School librarians are perfectly poised to reach every student in the school. They are in a unique position to provide services and activities that extend beyond one classroom or one subject area. Through strong collaboration, the teacher and the school librarian can develop instruction that focuses on every aspect of the writing process. In the first scenario, there could be many factors contributing to the decrease in writing scores, but one obvious missing resource that could help address this decline is the service of the school librarian. The school librarian is professionally trained to provide expertise in curriculum design and teaching strategies. Without teacher-librarian collaboration, the powerful contributions that could be made by such a trained educator go unrealized.

The second scenario reflects student writing success. With a team of educators planning, creating, and teaching--together and where thorough collaboration takes place--students become engaged and experience very positive outcomes. The school librarian and teacher both offer training that compliments and supports instruction in very specialized ways. This professional combination of educators is a guarantee to move writing literacy to the next level.

One of the major duties of the school librarian is to promote a culture of literacy that extends into every aspect of the library program and across the curriculum. The librarian fosters opportunities for students to demonstrate curiosity and creation of knowledge as they explore and problem-solve in a safe environment.


American Association of School Librarians (AASL). (2018a). AASL standards framework for learners. Retrieved from https: // /uploads/2017 /11 / AASL-Standards-Framework-for-Learners-pamphlet, pdf

American Association of School Librarians (AASL). (2018b). National school library standards for learners, school librarians, and school libraries. Chicago, IL: ALA.

Chandler, A. R. (2016). How I finally figured out collaborative writing. Retrieved from https://www.middleweb. com/29785

Jacobson, L. (2016). Strategize: Great ideas for library writing programs. Retrieved from https : //

Ray, K. W, & Laminack, L. L. (2001).

The writing workshop: Working through the hard parts (and they're all hard parts). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Dr. Tamra W. Ogletree, PhD, is an associate professor and program coordinator of the Language and Literacy Program in the Literacy and Special Education Department at the University of West Georgia. She is the founder and former director of UWG's Cherokee Rose Writing Project, which is an affiliate of the National Writing Project. Her research focus includes literacy education, social justice and equity, and qualitative methodology.

Dr. Phyllis R. Snipes is a professor in the School Library Media Program at the University of West Georgia. She received the 2018 University of West Georgia Online Teaching Excellence Award, the 2017 Georgia Library Media Association William E. Patterson Award for her leadership in the development of the School Librarian Evaluation Instrument system, and the 2014 Georgia Association for Instructional Technology Juanita Skelton Award for service to K-12 school librarians. Her email is
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Title Annotation:FEATURE ARTICLE
Author:Ogletree, Tamra W.; Snipes, Phyllis R.
Publication:Teacher Librarian
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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