The Role of the Librarian in Facilitating Project Based Learning
Digital Education Leadership Graduate Student
This workshop was developed as a practicum project study for the Digital Education Leadership master’s program at Seattle Pacific University. The content includes commentary on my collaboration with my school librarian as well as a action steps for further promoting project based learning.
Table of Contents
Project Overview 2
School Characteristics 3
School Culture and Library Program Overview 3
School Demographics 3
Standards for the 21st Century Learner 4
Project Based Learning 6
What is Project Based Learning (PBL)? 6
The Role of the Librarian In Promoting PBL 6
High Quality Student Work in PBL 7
Practicum Field Experience 8
Interview with School Librarian 8
Interview Questions 8
Interview Response 9
Summary of Interview 11
PBL Resources 14
The final project for my master’s program in digital education leadership is called a practicum, the scope of which is quite broad. For this project, I had the option to complete research on a specific topic or take part in a job shadow. Like most of the work that I have done in my master’s program, I had a difficult time narrowing my focus as there is so much I would like to learn more about and so many projects I would love to facilitate at my school. Ultimately however, I had to make a decision so I chose to both job shadow my school’s librarian and to learn more about project based learning as I explored the guiding question: what is the role of the librarian in promoting and facilitating project based learning?
To conduct this project, I spent some time shadowing my school librarian, Cyndi. After getting a general sense of her “typical” day, I interviewed her, asking questions about her role as a librarian and an educator, how her role has changed with increasing access to technology, and what some of her future goals are, among other questions. This project opened up many rabbit holes, various paths that I wanted to travel down. While my work on this project is ongoing and I have a lot more exploring to do, I attempted to “resolve” this project, for now, by summarizing my experiences working with Cyndi and by laying out some ideas for how a school librarian can promote and facilitate project based learning experiences.
Cavelero Mid High School in Lake Stevens, Washington is, by many standards, a very impressive school in an innovative and forward-thinking district. As a classroom teacher I have been impressed with our focus on collaborating across subject areas and in the importance put on powerful professional development. We have a great culture for learning at Cavelero but I believe, as is often the case, that we have some programs and employees that we do not fully take advantage of. One such example is our librarian. Our school librarian, Cyndi, has been working at Cavelero since the school opened in 2007 and has been working in the district for twenty-nine of the thirty-eight total years she has been teaching. Our school library is typically used for book talks or educators take advantage of the computer lab, as it is the last lab in the school since all students are 1:1 with Chromebooks. While I am interested in how to fully utilize the library, but that would be out of the scope for this project. Instead, I will work to narrow my focus how our librarian can interact across all subject areas by facilitating project based learning experiences.
Cavelero Mid High has been educating all eighth and ninth grade students in Lake Stevens for the past ten years. Our population has steadily increased each year and with the growth comes shifts in our demographic. One noticeable change is that Lake Stevens is steadily becoming more diverse. While we are not comparable to ethnic makeup of Washington state, our growing diversity opens opportunities for greater global awareness and collaboration. Additionally, as our demographics shift and new generations come through our schools, we realize that our student’s interests, needs, and abilities are also changing. Below I include the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) school report card data on Lake Stevens’ demographics for the 2015-2016 school year along with demographics for Washington state as a point of comparison.
Washington State Lake Stevens, Washington
While working on my library media endorsement I had a chance to create an information literacy program proposal. Creating this proposal gave me the chance to look at various information literacy approaches as well as familiarize myself with the Standards for the 21st Century Learner developed by the American Association of School Libraries. These standards, summarized as the 4 C’s, suggest that it is the role of the librarian to promote communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
Another prominent framework for school librarians is the Partnership for 21st Century Learnings’ Frameworks for 21st Century Learners. This framework, detailed in the infographic below, stresses the importance of instilling students with various skills necessary for the 21st century, including information, media, and technology skills. This graphic also shows how these skills fit into the school infrastructure. These skills, along with the 4 C’s, appear to be the leading standards for librarians and will therefore be the guiding standards for my work in determining the role of the librarian in promoting project based learning.
Additionally, Cyndi shared her Danielson rubric for librarians with me. This rubric is currently being collaboratively developed by the librarians and instructional coaches in our district. While it is still a work in progress, it provides an idea of the expectations our district has for the role of the school librarian, which strongly align with the standards for 21st century learners.
It is essential to understand that project based learning is not simply facilitating a project. As explained by Thom Markham in the article “How PBL Can Fulfill It’s Promise to 21st Century Students” PBL is not a “thing” but rather “a process of discovery driven by design principles” (2017). Markham goes on to explain that “the secret sauce is in the method; it’s the set of attitudes, beliefs, and skills that a teacher brings to PBL’s process of investigation, collaboration, and synthesis” (2017). In other words, what makes PBL work is when a teacher takes on the role of a guide, instills students with the skills needed to conduct a project, and supports them as they produce high quality, relevant products.
When I began learning about PBL I immediately thought of the school librarian. Since there are a base set of skills students need for PBL to be successful, why not make someone an expert? And, since these skills are aligned with the teaching standards and instructional goals of a librarian, why not make him or her that person? It is suitable for a librarian to facilitate project based learning because the driving force of PBL requires information, media, and technology skills and innovative and relevant learning opportunities. As discussed in standards for the 21st century learner section, it is the school librarians role to promote and facilitate these skills. But, how can a school librarian make sure that all students are accessing instruction on these skills across all grade levels?
The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) has been my go-to for resources and information on PBL. I reflect on and share many of these resources in my summaries and next steps, but one in particular that stood out is John Larmer’s post titled “How to Get High Quality Student Work in PBL” as I think this information is essential to understanding how to start to create a PBL learning experience. In the infographic to the right I summarize his tips and insights on the topic. I created this in hopes of having it as an easy-to-follow resource for educators.
Several months ago I had an informal conversation with my school librarian, Cyndi, where she shared some of the demands of her job with me. She expressed a concern that she felt like certain tasks--in this case, specifically, Chromebook maintenance--took away from her ability to collaborate with teachers to create and deliver instruction. In addition to feeling sympathetic that she didn’t feel like she was in a position to carry out important parts of her position, this comment also got me thinking--what exactly is the role of the librarian to create and deliver instruction? How much time is spent, or is available, to collaborate with classroom teachers?
In another conversation, Cyndi and I discussed the prevalence of makerspaces in schools, often facilitated by librarians, as well as the push for project based learning. As she expressed interest in exploring these types of learning environments, I developed my research question to hopefully help guide her on next steps.
Before conducting my interview with Cyndi, we had another discussion in which I shared my research question with her and asked her what she wanted as a “resolution” to my project. She explained that she would love for some basic resources on project based learning along with some “selling points” to being conversations with teachers about how she can help facilitate such PBL experiences. Below, I include my interview questions, along with Cyndi’s response, and in my “resolution” I include resources that I hope will be fitting to what Cyndi needs to bring PBL to all students at Cavelero.
What tasks take up your day. In other words, describe your “typical” day.
What do you see is the librarians role in regards to creating and providing instruction?
It seems like I used to have more time to work with direct instruction and it seems like teachers don’t have as much time to incorporate research using library resources. Nowadays it seems like people think everything can be done on the internet. Even if this has changed things, it is important that students still know how to use library resources and online databases. I have less time to work with teachers now because of responsibilities with managing overdue books and Chromebooks. There is also less emphasis and time given to independent reading so some teachers don’t use the library to check out books with students as much. I think teachers also don’t have time to use the library as much because their curriculum is so packed.
How much time do you spend working with other teachers to create and/or provide instruction?
Probably about 65% of my time, but more at certain times of the year. For example, I’m busy with book talks and book tastings at the beginning and middle of the year and it can take me about a month to get through all 8th and 9th grade student orientation at the start of the year. Twice a year, 2-3 weeks is taken up for Body Systems research with 8th grade health classes.
Do you collaborate with certain teachers more than others? Certain subject areas? If so, why do you think this is the case?
Definitely. There are probably 10-15 teachers that I work with very frequently. Some areas, such as math, PE, technology, music and foreign language and Science rarely. Science is going to be adopting new curriculum and I have talked with the Science TOSA numerous times about helping them incorporating research into their lessons.
What opportunities would you like to have to further collaborate with teachers? What professional development opportunities would you like to participate in?
In the past it seemed like there was a lot more time to collaborate, even up until the last few years. Lately though it seems like more and more time is spent on whole-school staff meetings with a lot less time for collaboration with individual teachers and departments. I am looking forward to opportunities to collaborate on independent reading in the future.
Are you familiar with project based learning? If so, please tell me what you know about it. (If not, I will share the article How PBL Can Fulfil Its Promise to 21st Century Students and then follow up on this question and #7).
**Cyndi was familiar with the idea of project based learning but read the article to modernize her definition. This then guided our discussion on how PBL fits for our students and how she can facilitate it as the school librarian.
What do you see is the role that a librarian can play in facilitating project based learning experiences?
Engaging students in real topics--I like that the learning should be aligned with standards but that’s not the central focus. I think the librarian is someone who can become a master of the process needed for project based learning to be successful. It takes the weight off of the classroom teacher and opens opportunities for collaboration.
How has your role changed with the increase in access to technology?
I spend a lot of time managing Chromebooks- talking with students about Chromebook issues, providing loaners, and communicating when repairs are completed. This has taken a large amount of my time. As I said earlier, I also think teachers don’t realize some of the resources that are available to students in the library because they think that they can do everything on Chromebooks.
What method do you use to teach information and technology skills (i.e. Big 6, Information Search Process, Research Cycle Model)?
I have used the Big 6 model in the past in that I directly referenced it with students, had the posters up, but it didn’t seem to stick. I have continued using this model to guide my planning and instruction but no longer directly mention it to students. Usually they only do a few parts of the Big Six in the library.
What goals do you have in regards to your role as a librarian?
My interview questions were intended to gauge Cyndi’s readiness as well as to get her thinking about how she can facilitate project based learning as the school librarian. In the table below I reflect on some of the main points from our interview and out time spent working together on this project. The artifacts shared in the “PBL Resources” sections further on were gathered based on our collaborative experiences.
Summary & Recommendations
What is Project Based Learning?
Cyndi explained that she was familiar with project based learning and had heard it mentioned at various times throughout her career. However, she felt that she needed more information on PBL and wanted to modernize her understanding. I would suggest that Cyndi participate in professional development opportunities on PBL to better understand what it is and how it fits her role as a librarian.
Trial Run of Project Based Learning
In our conversation, Cyndi was eager to try out a PBL learning experience to have a better understanding of what it looks like and how she can facilitate it. Her and I plan on planning and trying out a PBL learning experience together next year.
Information Literacy Approach
Cyndi explained that she has used the Big Six information literacy model in the past, but has not used it directly or shared it with students. Since she is familiar with the Big Six, I suggest that she revisit it with PBL in mind.
Since our students are now 1:1, all having district provided Chromebooks, this has had a major impact on Cyndi’s role. She expressed that she now spends a large portion of her time managing Chromebook issues and repairs, eating up time to collaborate and provide instruction. I suggest that she advocate for herself by meeting with the building principal or the librarian instructional coach to brainstorm other options for Chromebook repairs and maintenance. Cyndi does have a full time educational assistant working with her, could she make her assistant responsible for Chromebooks?
Cyndi expressed that she feels like she would need more time to collaborate with educators if she were to be able to facilitate project based learning experiences. I suggest that she discuss this need with the school administrators who may provide paid time for collaboration or may give her time during a staff meeting to lead professional development on PBL or to share other resources and assistance she is willing to offer.
Collaboration Across Subject Areas
Cyndi also explained that she works with some teachers and some departments much more than others so a staff meeting might be a great place to offer her desire to collaborate with all staff. If time is not given, another option may be to send out a survey to staff either offering ideas for opportunities to collaborate together or gathering feedback on how educators would like to better utilize the library and as well as Cyndi herself.
Project Based Learning Resources
Cyndi was very interested in learning more about project based learning and wanted resources to both learn more and to begin facilitating PBL experiences. I suggest Cyndi start on the Buck Institute for Education website as it offers a ton of excellent resources, training options, and information on PBL. Since this site can be overwhelming, I have put together a list of resources, mostly from this site but some from other sources, to get Cyndi started.
The resources shared in the table below were gathered to provide Cyndi with enough
Understanding PBL - These resources offer a quick method to better understand PBL or to inform others on the topic.
Video Introduction: Project Based Learning Explained
Video Introduction: PBL. Am I doing it right? How do I know?
Article Overview: How PBL Can Fulfill Its Promise to 21st Century Students
Information Literacy Approach - the Big 6 model serves as a framework for designing learning experiences to support project based learning.
Infographic: Big 6 Components
PBL Project Ideas - these sample projects are appropriate for students at our school and can be used to begin planning or provide professional development on PBL.
PROJECT SEARCH - this is an incredible tool for finding project ideas specific to a subject or grade level.
Project Resources - These resources are appropriate for students at our school. The Buck Institute has so many great resources it was difficult to narrow my list. Find more here!
Infographic: How to get High Quality Work in PBL
PBL Professional Development - These look to be the most promising upcoming opportunities for PBL professional development.
LSSD Professional Learning Portal - there are currently no courses on PBL specifically but I suggested that one be added in the “recommendation” menu.
Driving Questions Webinar. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Larmer, J. (2013, October 1). PBL Blog: How to Get High-Quality Student work in
PBL. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Larson, T. (n.d.). The 4Cs Research Series. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Markham, T. (2017, May 08). How PBL Can Fulfill Its Promise to 21st Century
Students. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Miller, A. (2014, May 20). PBL and STEAM Education: A Natural Fit. Retrieved June
02, 2017, from
Project Search. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Recharge Learning Blog. (2015, April 06). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Waters, P. (2014, July 09). Project-Based Learning Through a Maker's Lens.
Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
What is Project Based Learning (PBL)? (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2017, from