Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Think-Aloud Librarian

Over the weekend, I helped an 8 year old girl find a "Jack and Annie book." I led her to the Magic Treehouse books, talking the whole time: "Oh yeah! The Magic Treehouse books. I know exactly where those are. They are in our Chapter Book section, under O. The author's last name is Osbourne. So here's books by authors who start with N.... Okay, O! Here we go, Osbourne. Right here."

Sound familiar?
You're a Think-Aloud Librarian.

Why Do We Do This? 
It sounds like we're talking to ourselves, right?
In the education world, we call it the "think-aloud": a little tidbit that helps students follow your train of thought or reasoning; or, in a student-directed lesson, help you understand the student's train of thought or reasoning. In either instance, it's a chance an opportunity for learning.

So are we going to get on the Story Time Goose meme, or what?! Also Slender Man is totally creepy

YS Librarians do this already, they might just not know that they do it. Mostly, one might see this during  a story time:
"We're going to start with the same song every week, because at this age your kids are craving routine." --tidbit for parents in a baby/toddler story time
"It looks like ______ is the author of this book. I know this because their name is on the front of the book right under the title." --tidbit for kids during toddler story time
"What do you think might happen next? How do you know?" --This question in preschool story time might need to be used sparingly. They may talk forever. I may write another post based on this thought alone.

Like an old wives' tale, thinking aloud might come naturally to some. You do it and you can't remember why. Maybe you picked something up at ECRR training that has you thinking aloud more for vocabulary building than comprehension development (side note: has anyone ever read that literature review?) which is also okay but is not harnessing the true power of thinking aloud.

We need to think aloud all the time.**

What Good Is It? 
Today I had the pleasure of hearing Joan Frye-Williams lay down some webinar law when it comes to libraries and communities. And, this post half-written three days ago, the following note resonated with me:
Upselling is more scalable than bibliographic instruction. Teach when they need it.
Basically, kids--all people, really-- need information when they are ready for it. This is where librarians can thrive: a class is great, but knowledge queried right now is a lesson learned and internalized. And since it's not school, kids' brains might turn off when they hear, "let me show you how" or let me teach you". But if you just start talking your way through it? Their brain will soak it up like a sponge.

This isn't do-all-end-all, and they won't leave the library knowing alphabetical order or how to search everything on the Internet or in the catalog. They might need to hear it 8 times. But the little, teachable, think-aloud moments are tiny tidbit of authentic, meaningful learning that they will get with varying success in school. Librarians hold a powerful key: segments of uninterrupted time with kids who may be struggling readers. The kind of time teachers are always told they should be having, and might only dream about getting. And we get it. The kids come to us, and ask us questions. They invite us into their brains. It's up to us to make those little moments as deliberate as possible.

The Deliberate Think-Aloud Librarian
I've done enough talking for today so I'd like to open up a discussion. Seeing each of these as deliberate teachable moments, what could you say or do to make their visit the most meaningful it can be?

1. A kid asks for help on the computer. He doesn't know how to get to the Internet. Or alternatively, he knows how to get to the Internet but doesn't know how to get to his favorite site.

2. A child comes in saying "My dad told me I need a book for a third grader."

3. A kid wants "books about dogs."

4. A child is  using the catalog or self-check-out by him/herself, does not ask for help but is clearly having trouble.

What would you do? Do you have any success stories with thinking aloud with kids at the library? Think out loud in the comments!

**This reminds me of the Florida State Marching Chiefs motto: "Marching Chiefs All the Damn Time!" but it was the South so for shirts and stuff it would just say MCATDT.
Side question/stroke of genius: if I made merchandise that said TAATDT would anyone want it? Maybe have "I Talk to Myself" on the back? Shirts? Lanyards? Destiny's Bounty? Did you need to Google that last one or have you been doing last post's homework?!


  1. I love this post! I am completely a Think Aloud Librarian--I even do this with adults. I want a Tshirt, will pay cash.

    I personally love how thinking aloud lets you slip in little questions to involve the kids. Like, "Hmm. Well, you're looking for information about apple trees. I know there's information about trees in a section about forests, and some in a section about farms. Which one should we try?" Some kids will always be apathetic, but a lot of kids really appreciate the opportunity to figure things out alongside you.

  2. I have been thinking of my talking to the kids when wandering away as just filling what would otherwise be awkward silences, but I like thinking of it this way much much better!

  3. One of the biggest thing that I do, along with thinking-aloud, is turning my computer screen so that the kids can see what I'm clicking. (I'm lucky enough that my desk is super low to the ground and the computer screen is at eye-level for a child standing.)

    Especially with your #3 scenario, I'd definitely start at our webpage, click the catalog, and talk through the process of searching.

    "First, we type in dogs because that's what you want to see. Then, we make sure to click our library's name here so we only get our library's books. Which book looks good? We click on the blue title to see what shelf it's on. Great! Now, we write it down so we can find..."

    You get where I'm going with this, right?

  4. Thanks for you input, ladies!

    Katie, that helps a lot! What you're doing with your computer is actually part of a researched way to help kids learn, the to-with-by method:

    Yet another thing us YS librarians do to help our kid patrons that really feeds their brains!

  5. Mel-- I have a feeling even the apathetic kids get something out of it in spite of themselves.

    Anne-- yup, leave it to me to make everyone feel like what they're doing is actually smart ;)

  6. This post is very insightful! I find myself thinking-aloud often when I'm helping kids, but I never really realized that what I was doing was helping the kids learn. I love Mel's idea about including kids in on the thought process, and I think I'm going to try to make more of an effort to include that in my thinking-aloud. Great post!

  7. Neat! I never knew that -- and it's an awesome fact!

  8. Like Melissa, I do the Think Aloud thing with all comers. I want a T-shirt, too!

    I love your blog because I learn all kinds of science about the stuff that we do. I never knew there was a name for "to-with-by" or that there was research to support it. I just know it works!

  9. Hi Andrea! I love hearing from new people in the comments. I hope you continue to find my blog useful! I, too, think it's so fascinating how librarians' instincts are so fine-tuned to actual research. I'm glad I have a place to talk about it!

  10. Big fan of "thinking aloud," but I think that comes from my training as a middle school teacher. Or I'm just a "think aloud" kind of person. I think it adds to the level of customer service you are giving as well. You are not only filling that awkward silence between the walk from the desk to the books, but you are also giving the adult/child an interesting fact. You are right, though, they may not get it in one may take several times but eventually something will resonate with them and they will find what you have told them interesting or useful.