Connect & Collaborate to Create Teen Learning Experiences

The fourth competency area in YALSA’s Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff is Learning Experiences. With all the other responsibilities of our library jobs, it’s a tall order to “use a broad collection of effective teaching strategies, tools, and accommodations to meet individual teen needs, build on cultural strengths, address learning differences, and enhance learning.” So how does a librarian find new ways to make learning fun and relevant for teens? Recently, I spoke with Cathy Castelli, school library media specialist at Atlantic Technical College and High School (ATC) in Coconut Creek, Florida, about strategies that she uses to continually excite and engage her students in meaningful learning experiences

As any fan of Saturday Night Live can tell you, a “Celebrity Guest Host” adds new excitement to a show’s routine. And since Ms. Castelli is an aspiring YA novelist, she has been able to connect and collaborate with several local YA authors, who make “guest appearances” at the school to teach creative writing workshops. Students listen with rapt attention, write and share enthusiastically when authors such as Stacey Ramey (The Sister Pact, The Secrets We Bury), Gabby Triana (Summer of Yesterday, Wake the Hollow), Steven Dos Santos (The Culling trilogy), and Melody Maysonet (A Work of Art) speak about their career paths, discuss their novels, and inspire creativity with stimulating writing exercises. Teens are learning how to express themselves while discovering the joys of reading and writing.

The Broward County Public Library has also been a source of “celebrity guests.” Bob Anstett, Coordinator for Digital Initiatives for Broward County Libraries, spent a day in the ATC Learning Commons demonstrating the Main Library’s Virtual and Augmented Reality gear, including an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the Microsoft HoloLens. ATC juniors who are enrolled in the computer programming and machining classes learned about future careers in augmented reality as well as the resources and programs available to them at the Main Library’s Creation Station and the Teen Studio such as an Introduction to Virtual and Augmented Reality class; a guided Virtual Reality Tour of the Harlem Renaissance; plus open access to graphic arts, music and video production equipment.
But the “bread and butter” of a school librarian is collaboration with her teachers. In this, Ms. Castelli truly excels. While working with a sophomore Critical Thinking class, Ms. Castelli created a lesson based on a book from the school’s collection, The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.

To make the concepts more accessible to the students, Ms. Castelli modified the book’s personality analysis quiz based on the simple question, “How do I respond to expectations?” After taking the quiz, students were grouped by their answers and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of their tendency as revealed by the quiz. They then used the library’s MediaScape technology to create and share a presentation of their conclusions.

Ms. Castelli also empowers ATC students to take the lead by suggesting and implementing activities. Last year, many students fell in love with the YA novel, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. The book’s main character appears to fit the portrait of an ideal teenager, but she hides a secret that threatens to destroy her. She finds solace and understanding in a hidden room in the school where students meet to share their poetry. Inspired by this book, a few students approached Ms. Castelli and asked if they could create a “Poetry Corner,” in the library where they could meet each month and share their own poems. The Poetry Corner has grown to become an exciting place for students to learn and explore new types of poetry. Last month, they wrote ekphrastic poems based on artworks found in the library’s art book collection; this month, students will write “Black-out” poetry using pages copied from a variety of books: Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier; Liars by Paula Stokes; The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, and others. Students will select words from a page, then black out everything else on the page using markers. What will emerge is a type of “found poem.”

Poetry Corner has become so popular that one of the math teachers asked Ms. Castelli how she could make a literary connection to her classes. Often using TED talks as a stimulus for learning activities and just in time for Valentine’s Day, Ms. Castelli found the TED talk, “A Love Poem for Lonely Prime Numbers.” Students in the Algebra I class wrote poems based on their favorite prime numbers, and are now planning a “Poetry Slam” where students across the school will perform their original poetry.

Ms. Castelli found that by connecting and collaborating with teachers and students, the job of creating learning experiences to meet student needs and interests became less of a task and more of a joy!

Cathy Castelli, ATC Media Specialist

Learn more about the ATC library’s learning connections at their LibGuide.

About Margaret Rohrbach

Margie Rohrbach recently retired after 32 years as a high school librarian and English teacher in Broward County, FL. She is interested in exploring how school and public libraries can work together to help teens explore and grow as learners, creators, and citizens.
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