A Structurally Sound Library: Supporting ELL Students

Learn how to help English language learners make the most of the school library with advice from middle school librarian Tammy Byram.

I like to think of our library as a load-bearing wall in our middle school. As an extension of the classroom, the library becomes one of a school’s most important “load-bearing” elements, helping to reinforce foundational skills learned through content.  In our school, one of our most vital needs lies in supporting our ELL (English Language Learners) classrooms.

As the librarian, I have been working with our ELL staff to determine how our media center can best reinforce what they are doing in the classroom and meet the needs of the students.  Here’s where our brainstorming led…

Feeling Included

Our ELL students need to feel included.  On my end, this includes having quality books and resources. How do I go about this, though?  

  • Weeding the very tiny Spanish section of our collection (Hispanic students make up the bulk of our ELL classes). The books there were old and uninteresting to the students.
  • Surveying our ELL students as to what they would like to see in their library.  I worked with their teacher to create a simple survey and compile their responses.
  • Researching current titles to add to our collection. I found this challenging at times because I didn’t know where to search for what I wanted. I turned to online resources like blogs and vetted lists.  Some I found helpful were:
    • The AdLit Project This site gave me a start to looking for more diverse books for the collection.
    • ¡Colorín colorado! An educational service of WETA, serving educators and families of ELL students.
    • Lee & Low Books A small, family-run publishing company focusing on multicultural book titles.
    • Publications like School Library Journal have some articles and reviews.
  • Different book formats, like graphic novels, verse novels, and even large-print books (I found that suggestion from this article:  How Large Print Books Increase Students’ Reading Confidence).

Visual Appeal

The library needs to feel welcoming to all students and staff. I have:

  • Increased signage in the library in English and Spanish. In addition to that, though, I have added these wonderful “The Library is for Everyone” signs in a lot of different languages from the Hafuboti blog (which I found on The Wise Librarian’s Blog)!
  • I found the Dewey Decimal in Spanish from SOL (Spanish in Our Libraries), an older newsletter site. It also has some helpful signs and basic library lingo in Spanish. If they are trying to learn English, the least I can do is try to learn a little of their language to help them feel more welcome and comfortable.
  • Increased the square footage housing our books in Spanish, plus a new location. It seems simple, but placing our books in other languages in a larger bookcase sends the message that there’s room to grow our collection and that they are an important addition to our library.

Instructional Help

  • When I am doing an activity in the library that I know involves step-by-step instructions or a written assignment, I will type up the directions and use Google to translate them.  I have copies for anyone who may need them, but especially for the classes that have a larger number of ELL students.  These classes often have a para helping the students, but the translated directions are helpful for all of us.
  • I have purchased a Listenwise subscription to use with the ELL teacher.  She is going to send students into the library in small groups to use this podcast platform as an added resource for practicing their English reading and comprehension skills.  It can be scaffolded to meet the students where they are. Some students need to practice listening, reading, and answering questions all in English, while others listen in English, but the follow-along transcript can be in Spanish.  
  • CEREBROedu collection of short videos focusing on the brain’s structure, found on eMediaVA.  I really like this collection because even though it is talking about brain functions, it also features professionals from the Latinx culture, and is targeted at Hispanic middle school students.  It is great for career path research.

I’m hoping that some of these additions and changes in our library will make it more structurally sound for all of our students, and help to highlight it for the essential foundation that it is.

Tammy Byram is a library in Spotsylvania County Public Schools and an eMediaVA Ambassador.

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