Last year, my 5th grade students volunteered 10 minutes after school to help in the library mainly shelving books, but also with other needs as they arose, including labeling and stamping books, sharpening pencils, straightening the books on the shelves etc. Most of the students in the class regularly volunteered throughout the school year. While my initial purpose was to fill my selfish need for help, I quickly realized that the students profited from this work as well.
This year, I decided to take things up a notch. I distributed an application form to both 3rd and 4th grade students (at only half the size of last year’s class, this year’s 5th grade is too small to volunteer in the library on top of their carpool duties) calling for Library Leaders. Students had to commit to any or all of the four school quarters and were required to answer three questions:
- Why do you want to become a member of the Library Leaders team?
- What qualities should a member of the Library Leaders team have?
- What do you think will be the most important thing you do as a member of the Library Leaders team?
The application had to be signed by the student, a parent, and the classroom teacher.
There were 12 applicants for this first quarter (our K-8 student population totals less than 130) and I already have several more lined up for the next quarter. Because there are so many volunteers, each student is able to work only one afternoon a week.
We spent our first week in-training. The students each practiced shelving skills using the Order in the Library game produced by the University of Texas.
It was quickly apparent that we need to work on alphabetical order! So for these first weeks, I’ve assisted all my Library Leaders shelving books. I’ve been gradually releasing some students as they are becoming more independent. But especially some of the 3rd graders still need a lot of help.
So, you may wonder, how is this helping me when I have to do the work with the students? I guess I realized that as students are volunteering, I am still teaching. And that’s wonderful. As students are “digging deeper” into library organization, they are taking ownership and becoming independent users of the library. From my experience with last year’s group, I learned that eventually these 3rd and 4th grade students become role models, able to assist other students. For now, I am amazed how seriously some of the kids and their families are taking the Library Leader role. For example, one family filmed (!) and cheered their student as he entered the library on his first day of volunteering. Another parent told me that her daughter was “so proud” to be shelving books. Here is what surprises me: Despite how meager a programming effort this really is and the very little time it actually takes me, students and their parents really latched on to it. It shows that our young kids are hungry for opportunities to distinguish themselves and raises the serious question: are we providing enough of these opportunities and should we develop more?