IST's Literacy Lab - a great example of a "sustainable, student-staffed and managed learning center"

I have always wanted a writing center in my secondary school library. A maker-space for language and texts. Back in 2012 I saw one in the library at the International School of Tianjin (IST) in China, but I never managed to get one started back in Singapore, despite buying books like Richard Kent’s “A Guide to Creating Student-Staffed Writing Centers, Grades 6-12” (2006/2017).

Then last November at the Bangkok Librarians’ Knowledge Sharing Workshop, Eleanor Surridge did 5-minute slam session summarizing the history and growth of IST’s writing center, which has developed since 2011 into a full-blown Literacy Lab, led by students, rather than teachers, and offering support for five activities: Reading, Writing, Note-taking, Presenting, and Discussing — in five languages — during lunch breaks and after school. It is based out of the library as that is considered a hub of learning (of course).

As a follow-up, four IST high school student leaders attended the Taipei EARCOS Librarians’ Weekend last month and gave a more in-depth presentation, entitled “Establishing a Sustainable Student-Staffed and Managed Learning Center” (see PDF of their slides), about their Literacy Lab and how it works.


The IST Literacy Lab is based on several well-known models — Cognitive Coaching, (Teachers College) Writers Workshop, and the work of Peter Elbow (who popularized “free writing” through his book “Writing Without Teachers”). The approach is basically about asking questions and having genuine conversations. Note it is a teacher-free zone — it’s just students helping students. And of course this volunteer work counts as part of CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service, as per the IBO) for the student coaches.

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In Taipei the student leaders were accompanied by Joe Schaaf, MYP/DP English Teacher, N-12 Curriculum Coordinator, and Literacy Lab Advisor, but the session was all theirs — just as the coaching, management, and supervision of the Literacy Lab is all done by 45+ students (out of a total of 277 Grade 5-12 students).

I’m so excited about them coming to Bangkok to train our students next year. This PDF outlines what a two-day (4 hours/day) training schedule might look like.

Watch this 2017 video which introduces the Literacy Lab to IST students.