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A few months back, I began reading Building the Learning Commons: A Guide for School Administrators and Learning Leadership Teams. Much of what follows is a summary of the book, the impact that it has made in transforming our library at John Oliver and the importance of the Learning Commons as a “hub” or centre of learning in our school (and the district). It is a facility that will be characterized by “hum and hub, not hush”. @tlspecial will tell you that in the JO Learning Commons, observers will encounter:
- A welcoming, service-oriented, tech-rich environment that is open for extended hours on a regular basis and that invites students and the community in to find resources and services that support their work.
- Students actively engaged in the work of the Learning Commons and consulted on the policies and procedures for its operations.
- Comfortable reading areas that attract young people to books and to developing the lifelong habit of reading.
- Comfortable working areas that enable different groupings of students to work, from independent learners to pairs and small groups to whole-class instruction.
- 24/7 access to digital resources and services as well as a pared-down but robust and dynamic collection of print resources all supporting curriculum and reading.
- The Innovative Teaching Centre, an area that would invite teachers, student teachers, authors, artists, and students to work with “an audience” (a class) and with the support of the teacher-librarian or technology leader to integrate technology with instruction and to present multimedia or other performances.
- The Multimedia Centre, an area that would provide students and teachers with opportunities to learn more advanced technology skills and create more complex digital products.
- The district’s Technology Educational Development Centre that would be available for teachers to work in groups in workshops or “sandbox sessions” to learn new skills or collaboratively develop new resources, tools, or instructional capacity
- The first refurbishment of a school library and the creation of an example of what investment in the Learning Commons for Vancouver school
In short, the JO Learning Commons would be the impetus for a cultural sea-change that would enable every student and every teacher, as well as parents, teachers from other schools, and other members of the community to share in the 21st century learning experience.
What is a Learning Commons?
Keechlin, Rosenfeld and Loerttscher define it as “a learning “space” that is both physical and virtual – a place to experiment, practice, celebrate, learn, work and play. But, it’s more than a room. It calls for the creation of new environments that improve learning. It is about changing school culture and about transforming the way learning and teaching occurs. It is a transformation that calls for physical, virtual and pedagogical changes as well as a shift in mindset for all players.
It provides student centered, flexible spaces that promote higher order thinking, encourage participatory learning and with librarians serving as learning coaches and knowledge brokers (with technology as a tool and not the “driver”) designing high level work that moves beyond reworking of data and requires learners to think critically and creatively.
Every day someone is writing about 21st century learning and where schools should be “moving”:
- From teacher directed to process and active learning
- From simple information assignments to individual and collective knowledge construction (what I like to call the move from finding to discovering)
- From classroom learning to networked and global learning
- From test driven to learning that explores big ideas and concepts
- From teachers working in isolation to collaborative teaching partnerships
Lots of proclamations of what we should be doing but no ‘road map’ to help us get there. Koechlin et al. provide a guide that we are using here at JO to find our way:
The Learning Commons is a real world whole school approach to creating such a new collaborative learning model. In joining the collaborative dynamics of the school library with technology-rich labs and expertise and providing a seamless portal of flexible physical and virtual learning resources and spaces. Top that with relevant participatory learning experiences and students will be energized to make meaningful connections and develop strategies for successful learning.
What will the JO Learning Commons look like?
- It will involve all school members as equal active players in the drive for excellence
- It will be the classroom extension just down the hall that provides opportunities, space, technology, information resources, and adult specialists not usually available in the contained classroom
- It will be a part of the classroom and is accessible not only during the school day but at any time on any device where students and teachers are connected
- It will be an interactive learning and meeting space, a common classroom, a common office and a think tank
- As the hub of action research it will be the best spot in the school for a community to measure real teaching and learning growth
- It will be a place where everyone in our community (school and district) can multitask with a variety of digital devices and work collaboratively to create content and publish it widely
In the end, we will provide students with not only the deep understanding of various disciplinary knowledge but also with the transferable skills that boost their critical thinking, problem solving, decision making and communicating abilities. And, through this “space” we will impact delivery within the school as a whole and ultimately provide the “street lamps” that help guide us along in our 21st century learning journey.