Traveling Library Lessons: Tips for Teaching on a Cart

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There are a myriad of reasons that educators end up teaching on a cart. In middle and high school, there is a huge amount of movement by both teachers and students through different learning environments, but even in elementary school, occasions arise where teachers are asked to become mobile. As a school librarian covering weekly specials classes for students, this happens pretty frequently throughout my school year. Honestly, I feel lucky that this is a sporadic occurrence. With drastic COVID cuts and the constant fight to meet student needs on shrinking budgets, there are many librarians and other school staff who lack a home base and spend all their time traveling.

While it’s clear to most that a library is the most productive place to teach book handling skills, conduct book studies, explore Makerspace materials, tackle digital citizenship, and in general meet the standards that school librarians impart, it’s possible to make it work on the road. Below I’ve gathered some tips that have helped me be successful teaching on a cart. Whether I’ve been displaced by state testing, professional development, or some other disruption, these ideas have allowed me to support my students and be flexible, no matter the reason.

Have Cart, Will Travel

Even if teaching outside of the library is only an occasional thing, having a dedicated vehicle for all your materials can take a lot of stress out of this nomadic situation. Of course, if your cart life is all the time, the specifics of how you get around become even more important. In the past, every time I needed to travel,  I would empty a huge cart (think: the kind that used to house televisions and laserdisc players) that was used for storage. This meant that while being displaced I was also returning to a huge mess. I’ve also used empty book trucks to travel — this is a little more manageable as far as steering. However, if we’re being honest, I also never have all my books shelved, so clearing a book truck still leads to disorganization.

My latest solution to this problem is a small, dedicated crafting cart. These three-tiered carts are everywhere and you can find them as organizational inspiration all over the internet. High sides on each level mean I can easily house tons of books, papers, and materials. The dollar store sells small cups that clip onto the sides, creating instant pen and cellphone holders. I’ve even decorated a bit with reading-themed magnets. Having a cart that is easily accessible and kind of cute takes some of the sting out of having to be out of the library.

Take It Outside

Typically, when I’m not hosting classes in the library, I have to meet them in their classrooms. In elementary school, students have been in this room for the majority of the day. I truly hate to remove one of the chances for a change of scenery. For this reason, I’ve gotten very crafty about finding places around the school to hold class.

My first thought is always, “Can this happen outside?” There are, of course, mitigating factors. Is the weather agreeable? Is the area we’re meeting accessible for all students? What is your Emergency Rain Plan? If you can answer all these questions, it’s definitely worth the effort to teach in the fresh air. I have had great luck with a fenced courtyard in front of our school with a covered walkway we can scoot under in a pinch. I’ve also held lessons on auditorium stages, in empty computer labs, and even our school’s spacious lobby entryway. Sometimes, a little different can even be fun.

Plan Wisely

I know you always do. I’ve found certain types of lessons work way better when traveling, and circumstances can change all the time. Every fall I am displaced during a round of standardized testing, and I had an amazing lesson that was my go to — it involved emojis and book response and worked across grade levels. It was gold. Except this fall, COVID mitigation rules had removed all meeting rugs from each classroom. The read aloud and group discussion part of this lesson were much less engaging when students were required to stay at their desks. 

I was able to pivot, and having students relate emojis to their feelings about the book worked just as well in small groups that could happen without students needing to gather as a class. I’ve also found that Mock Caldecott and Geisel votes work well as traveling lessons — students can preview books by rotating them through groups and easily vote on the favorite as an exit ticket as I move on. This lines up nicely with the time in January when I’m typically booted. Even though it requires a little more planning and some help from students when I’m transitioning, I’ve even carted large bins of building materials (LEGO, IO blocks, Magnatiles) so that students can have Makerspace session. This is especially helpful if I’m seeing classes more than one time while I’m displaced — you can only read and respond so many times in a row.

Say You’re Sorry

This one is simple but impactful. Whenever our routine is disrupted and students miss out on a chance to travel to the library, I start class with a basic apology. I tell them I’m sorry that we can’t meet in the library, acknowledge that it can be hard to have specials in the classroom, and thank them for welcoming me into their space. I can’t change the situation, but treating my students with respect is free, requires no planning, and goes a really long way.

Hopefully you’ve found something above that can you live your best teaching on a cart life! If you’re looking for more ideas as a school librarian, try Play in the Elementary School Library.

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