the censor’s hat

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Putting on this hat is one that does not fit well for many teacher librarians.

Is restricting access to some resources censorship or duty of care?

 

Certainly it is a question that raises its head frequently on the teacher librarian networks, moreso in the US where the ALA has very clear policies and statements on the freedom to read which is “essential to [their] democracy”.    In terms of Australian libraries the closest I could find to a similar statement was the ALIA Statement of free access to information .

While these are critical statements that govern a library’s right and responsibility to provide resources regardless of an individual’s perspective or preference, as teacher librarians we must remember that we are in a school situation and as such, we have an official duty of care to the students in our care.  We cannot not set ourselves up to be paragons of virtue or the moral compass of the community, but what we do and offer must reflect the values and attitudes of the school community we serve.

Unlike the US where censorship seems to be alive and well - ALA state that there were at least 464 books challenged in 2012 alone but they also say that probably 70-80% are not reported- such censorship does not happen in Australia. The last book banned here was Portnoy’s Complaint. We do not have a Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom of speech but that’s not to say books aren’t challenged – recently one person complained of one word in Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” which was selling in a national supermarket chain and the chain’s reaction was to pull the entire stock off the shelves!  The resultant publicity resulted in their selling more books than ever!

However, there is still the issue of what is appropriate to a particular audience and who decides.

The answer comes down to our professional knowledge about the development and maturation of the students, their reading needs, interests and abilities, the curriculum the collection is required to support, the underlying ethos of the school and its community and collection development practices.

In the ideal situation, that collection is built up in consultation with the teachers and selection aids, including reviews and recommendations, are used to guide choices.  Given that most teacher librarians have more contact with children than the average parent, they are more likely to have a deeper knowledge of what is appropriate, although parents should be able to make suggestions but these should always be measured against the selection criteria of the Collection Policy. The TL is also in the position to have the broad overview of what is happening in the school regarding teaching, learning and the curriculum as well as being the most likely to have a knowledge of what is available and suitable to support this.  TLs are also highly connected and so they can find out what else there is very quickly and get suitable suggestions from a range of other professionals.  They can put their leadership hat on top of their censorship one.

Censorship, to me, is when a book is not added to the collection because of the personal prejudices of the librarian, principal or someone else.   The most recent widespread controversy I can think of is when many schools banned Harry Potter because of the witchcraft/magic aspect and while many may have justified their decisions because of their personal interpretation of the tenets of their faith, denying children access to that series is censorship.

Conversely, NOT selecting a Jodi Picoult novel (for example) for a K-6 school is about knowing what is developmentally appropriate. It is not about being the Book Police. Teachers and parents rely on us using our professional knowledge to make the call, BUT they always have the option of purchasing titles or borrowing them from the public library if their child wants to read beyond what we acquire.

No school library can acquire every resource that is available for its target age group – that’s why the Collection Policy is such a crucial document and needs to be tailored to the individual school.  A one-size-fits-all-policy copied and pasted from elsewhere cannot reflect the unique needs of a particular school because the demographics of each school are so diverse.  This policy should identify who the readers are; the goals for developing the collection for the next three years (such as a focus on a format or curriculum area); and have specific selection criteria that will guide choices so they are in alignment with achieving the goals. But most importantly, it is underpinned by the needs, interests and abilities of the collection’s users based on the professional knowledge of those who are teaching them.  A Collection Policy developed by the TL and ratified by the administration is also the best defence if a selection (or lack of) is questioned. Demonstrating how it meets the selection criteria (or not) of a formal policy is hard to argue with.

Censorship is not always restricted to titles that might seem obvious because of their focus on sex, violence and other unsavoury practices.  These are some recently challenged in the US…

  • True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
  • Color Purple
  • Year of the Jungle
  • It’s a Book
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Of Mice and Men
  • A biography of Oprah Winfrey
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
  • Forever
  • Killing Mr. Griffin

Even Bob Graham’s Let’s Get a Pup is on the US list. And I’m sure many of us are familiar with stories of Mr McGee’s penis being hidden by white-out in Mr McGee and the Biting Flea when teachers or parents have been offended.

lets_get_a_pup

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Censored and Banned Books: From John Steinbeck to Dr. Seuss

Recently there was an issue in a primary school I know where a pre-school child selected a book from the Junior Fiction section as a class read-aloud and it was clearly not suitable for that age group.  It happened because someone had decided that because it was in picture book format then it was Junior Fiction, something we know not to be true.  This has prompted a formal collection appraisal and evaluation of the collection, judging the location against an authoritative list and making changes where appropriate.  We also established a Senior Fiction classification (identified by a sticker on the spine)  acknowledging that some students are intellectually and emotionally mature enough to read materials that might be considered YA and their needs should be catered for just as those of children who are not yet reading independently are catered for.

This was not censorship – it was duty of care exercising our professional judgement to cater for the individual needs of the students.  While students have access to the entire collection, identifying those that might be cause for concern because a young person does not have the requisite maturity to deal with the content (particularly in collections that cater for a wide age group) is showing responsibility not restriction. Until our students are old enough to take personal responsibility for their choices  (and the Child Online Privacy Protection Act would deem that to be 13)  it is our role as teachers to provide the scaffolds to help them and we must never step back from that.

Of course, there are always going to be individuals who disagree with your selection and location of resources and that is why having a Challenged Materials Policy (scroll to the end)  as part of your Collection Policy is vital.  Such a policy means one person’s agenda cannot drive the development of your collection. It provides a formal way for a complaint to be made and considered while also showing that an individual can only dictate what their own child/children can have access to – they cannot make decisions on behalf of other parents. It requires the complainant to specifically identify the focus of the objection rather than relying on hearsay or gossip.

Nevertheless, censorship in itself can be an interesting topic and it offers much scope for investigations…

However, ultimately we must see our selection of the collection as guidance not censorship.  Hopefully, the hat will sit more comfortably now.

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the reporter’s hat

hat_reporterAs Australia’s school year draws to a close, many are thinking about writing reports, summarising in a few lines all that has happened over the school year so parents can see the learning journey their child has undertaken.  This examination and accountability is occurring in school libraries too as more and more teacher librarians are being asked to report on the individual progress of students (my opinion of the validity of this is for another piece) as well as to the school community as a whole as evidence is required to show where all the dollars have been invested and the new budget is submitted.

 

In my opinion, the end of the year is too late.

The reporter’s hat should be one that is worn constantly with every opportunity to share a story from the library taken.

Over the years there have been a number of investigations into and reports about the impact of quality school libraries staffed by qualified teacher librarians and offering targeted teaching programs on student learning particularly since Keith Curry Lance  turned the spotlight on in 1994 and has continued to do so.  But what has been the impact of these studies?  Have they changed the perception of the school library and the teacher librarian’s role within it so that the provision of such a facility, fully staffed and fully funded is a given, a non-negotiable in the learning landscape?  Given the constant queries to TL lists such as LM_NET and OZTL_NET, I think not.  For, despite all this credible, authoritative, well-documented evidence the role of the TL is still misunderstood and under fire.

 

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Old-fashioned and narrow though it may seem, the most effective change comes from the ground up where those who are most directly affected start to own a concept or  a vision and want to move towards it.  Despite their being nearly 400 submissions from the best brains in the business and 12 media releases when an Australian federal government inquiry into school libraries was conducted in 2010, there was very little public notice taken and very little action was recommended or taken when the final report was released in 2011. Therefore, wearing the reporter’s hat, the teacher librarian is in a perfect position to be educating the community about the importance of the school library, the services it offers and the TL’s role within those.

There are six key groups who need to know what we do, how we do it and why…

pupils

Our students are the reason we are there.  We want to help them develop informed, information-literate, well-read adults who can contribute positively to society both now and in the future.  They are the grass-roots users of the library’s services and given there are more of them than any other sector of the community, they have the loudest voice.

parents

Parents can be your strongest allies and your greatest critics.  You start on the common ground of wanting to provide the best education for their child; they volunteer in the library doing a myriad of tasks that free the TL to teach; and they raise many of the funds that are used to build the library’s collection.   They also have a powerful weapon – they vote! 

They vote when

  • they ring the principal to praise or complain
  • they put themselves on P&C and other school-based committees
  • they chat to the parents in the carpark, the most powerful grapevine of information and mischief yet invented
  • they go to the local, state and federal ballot boxes

They have a voice with the most important power-brokers and purse-string holders in your professional lives.  And it’s a loud voice – louder than the whisper of one teacher librarian amongst a staff of 30 or more; louder even than the murmur of all those TLs who wrote submissions and the thousands who didn’t but still backed the Inquiry. 

peers

These are our classroom colleagues whom we know are so swamped with administrative paper work, reporting to parents, curriculum design and delivery, student social work, and extra-curricular activities that they don’t have time to take on board what they perceive to be the extra task of collaborative planning and teaching, and information literacy particularly, as just another subject to try to squeeze into a frantic timetable.

They perceive the teacher librarian to be the provider of the resources and when they want them they want them now.  They may well have had no experience of a teacher librarian who can offer so much more, so we need to show them that we can lessen their load, not add to it.

Research demonstrates that the greatest influence on a student’s use of the school library is that made of it by their teacher. But they won’t use it if they don’t know what it can offer.

principals

The most common theme in  messages to teacher librarian lists is that “the principal doesn’t understand the role of the teacher librarian” and there is a belief that as principal, he/she should make it their job to find out what it involves.

But, just as we acknowledge the workload of our peers, we must also acknowledge the workload of the principal, particularly as new policies and programs are thrust on their shoulders and they are required to do more with less.

More and more, principals  have the say over the configuration of their staffing and every position will be up for review.  If your principal’s perspective is that the teacher librarian is the “keeper of the books” and “who needs a library when you have the Internet” and the whole job can be done more cheaply with a clerical, then your job will be on the line.

pre-service teachers

As far as can be ascertained, there is no requirement for Australian  pre-service teachers on prac or their internship to have to demonstrate they have even visited the school library let alone collaborated with the teacher librarian.

 However, these are the teachers who will take education forward and be teaching our children and grandchildren.  They are the decision-makers and the teachers of the decision-makers of the future and given it’s our future they are making decisions about, we need them to be as informed as possible.

If a pre-service teacher understands the particular, specialist professional knowledge, expertise and experience that the teacher librarian has then they are going to be looking for and demanding it when they are in their own classrooms.

Nurture them!

politicians

Politicians hold the purse-strings – they are the people who direct educational authorities to implement the big-picture changes like National Partnerships, teacher accreditation, new curricula and so forth.  They tie their demands to funding to ensure they get their way. In 2004, then Prime Minister John Howard and Education Minister Brendan Nelson mandated that every school would fly the national flag and have two hours of PE each week or they would miss their share of a $31 billion federal schools package.  

They are driven by power, economics and votes (and remember the parents have the voting power) but despite public appearances, most are genuine and busy.  The role of the teacher librarian is not at the forefront of their responsibilities and many have perceptions based on what they remember of their experiences, however long ago that was.  In the US, the Federal Communications Committee is thinking of spending $200 000 000 to train  a “digital literacy corps” so there is someone in every school and leisure organisation who can show the students how to use computers properly so they are not ‘time-wasting’ on games and entertainment, even in their leisure time. 

While that federal inquiry did raise awareness of the role of the teacher librarian amongst some federal politicians , governments and their members them come and go and policies, programs and funding  put in place by one are just as quickly overturned by another as is evidenced by the Gonski reforms in Australia 

But if local politicians, actual and would-be, who are the local decision-makers or opponents of them, are kept informed of what it is the teacher librarian adds to the education experience of their constituents and they can see there is the likelihood of votes from parents then they can be powerful allies. 

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McKenzie’s interpretation of the role of the TL

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Buchanan’s interpretation of the role of the TL

In her blog Library Grits Dianne McKenzie has examined the role of the teacher librarian by using Joyce Valenza’s Manifesto to create a pictorial representation of the TL’s role. In the same post she has also included Ruth Buchanan’s interpretation which has a different set of words which reflect the human side of what we do.

How can we tell others about what is obviously such a complex role?

  1. Know your audience, their interests and needs.
  2. Use social media

Each audience has different interests and needs which shape what you will tell them about, while social networking tools  make it easier for you to tell them about it.

pupils

Pupils have three key requirements…

  • resources which support their current ares of study
  • suggestions for leisure-time reading
  • information about events in both the school and the community

How to create an awareness of these depends on the age of the students, particularly the use of public social media where those under 13 are not permitted to have accounts.  But teaching them how to use the OPAC; how to access Learning Paths or hotlists that are available via the school library’s website; creating and displaying posters of events; creating displays of new resources are all ways that you can spread the message to young students.  Older students may access and contribute to a blog for reviews of the latest releases; access and contribute to a wiki that supports their current curriculum; create and access online posters for events and so forth.

Involving students in the selection process and having them review their choices or involving them in the hosting of an event and then being the Junior Journalists who report it for the school newsletter not only spreads the workload but also helps them develop a sense of ownership of the library.  It becomes an integral part of their school experience.

parents

Parents want to know

  • what their child is learning
  • how they can support that

So

  • Have a prominent presence through your newsletter, website or social networking and keep them regularly informed of what each class is undertaking while in your care; events; new releases of books or movies and their suitability.  Parents are particularly subjected to pester-power and may not realise that something while popular, might be unsuitable.  Make yourself or your presence their go-to place for information. 
  • Provide homework support with links to curriculum-related websites, YourTutor, safe game sites for each age group; interesting sites that will engage them like Kid’s National Geographic
  • Provide a parent information lounge both on your website and in your library with information about the school, child development, supporting their child’s literacy and numeracy development, cybersafety, local services and entertainment for children (collect brochures or link to sites), help lines such as the Poisons Information Centre or Lifeline, even appropriate authors, titles or series for each age group for birthday or Christmas lists.
  • Support parent participation programs with literature and practical advice such as how to read with their child; the art of reading aloud; the information literacy process or any other initiative that is happening. Interpret the professional literature so parents understand new pedagogies or programs.  Be the pivot on which the relationship between the home and school balances.
  • Review new titles and old favourites (or find them) and share these through your social networking outlets.
  • Encourage students to be Junior Journalists and report on library events, new displays, new releases and so forth
  • Open the library during all school events so parents can wander in and see what’s happening.  Consider offering it as a child-care space during concerts and so forth.
  • Speak at P&C meetings about what you do so the word spreads that the school library is a very different place from that which they might remember.
  • If you are required to write on the reports of individual students make sure your comment is defensible if a parent want to seek an interview.
  • Keep a diary of notes,quotes and anecdotes so you can prepare an annual report that shows them how their child’s learning has been enhanced and enriched and the value they have had for the money invested in the library, its resources and its staff. That is the focus, not stats about circulation and loss rate and so forth.

peers

Classroom-based teachers want

  • resources to support their teaching
  • ideas for integrating information literacy and ICT
  • suggestions for class read-alouds
  • information about professional courses and events

So

  • Conduct an Information Needs Audit and find out what their priorities are and how they would like them delivered.
  • Provide them with a booklet that outlines the key services of the library and how these can be accessed and utilised
  • Be pro-active and take every opportunity to find out what’s coming up in their program that you can support this with physical and online resources – develop learning paths, pathfinders and hotlists, and give them catalogs to browse for suggestions for collection development. Let them know what you have gathered and how these can be accessed. Offer to write a statement about how the library has contributed to students’ learning for reports.
  • Be their professional learning scout. Co-ordinate a program of professional learning opportunities to develop information literacy and ICT skills, such as how to use the databases. Provide a summary of instructions or a list of Web 2.0 tools that support a particular strategy or Bloom’s Taxonomy  Help them understand the SAMR model so they can prepare more effective lessons.  Introduce them to tools such as online scheduling apps that will make their administrative tasks easier. Share teaching tools that will assist their planning such as this Teacher Planning Kit for Bloom’s Taxonomy or this new take on the KWH chart.
  • Monitor listservs and other professional services for information about upcoming events, conferences, professional learning opportunities, programs and competitions their students could be involved in and so on and email these details to individuals directly.  
  • Use your non-teaching time to go into the classroom and booktalk the bulk loan, new releases, the PRC titles, the upcoming Book Fair or Scholastic BookClub titles, authors, series or themes.  Watch the interest grow and the teacher’s problems with sustained silent reading diminish
  • Offer the library as the venue for displaying the class’s work on a theme or invite classes to develop a display on a mutually agreed theme. Look for ways that student work can be seamlessly integrated into what is happening in the library.  Whenever the media or politicians go to a school, they always go to the library – have it loaded up with student work.

principals

Principals need to know the big picture of what is happening and how money is being spent so keep them informed by

  • preparing a detailed budget in advance of the preparation of the school’s budget identifying the priorities and how these have been determined.  Apart from demonstrating your professionalism, it enables the principal and those allocating the money to be aware of your needs so they can make informed decisions.
  • organising events like Literary Luncheons, author visits, Book Week celebrations and so forth.  As protocol ask permission and keep the principal in the loop.  Invite the media to such events -it always makes the principal look good.
  • sending a weekly email which keeps them in the loop of
    • the events happening in the library
    • collaborative planning and teaching opportunities;
    • comments about individual learners – you know who;
    • individual achievements like who has reached their PRC goals so he/she can congratulate them;
    • significant new purchases;
    • anything that shows the range of duties you undertake that is not a load of meaningless statistics.
  • becoming their personal information specialist and send information aboutsetting up a professional Facebook account and subscribing to the pages of  library-based organisations such as ASLA, ALIA, iCentre, Children’s Book Council of Australia and a host of others which are continually sharing interesting articles about libraries, reading and learning that principals should know about and may choose to share with staff
    • research they should know about
    • publications and articles they should read
    • events (school and local) they should attend
    • promotions and programs the school might be involved in
  • submitting policies, plans, proposals and so forth for approval and ratification so he/she is aware of your professionalism, the scope of your role and the seriousness you devote to it.  Act with integrity, dignity and respect and it will be reciprocated
  • offering to co-ordinate a Principal’s Reading Challenge that allows students to set and meet their own targets and be acknowledged for their efforts with a certificate from the principal. If you use a prescribed list of must-reads, ensure that the books are available from the library, that the students have input into the list, and that they are not restricted within it by arbitrary levels or lexiles
  • co-ordinating a school-wide professional reading program that meets the requirements for inclusion in teachers’ professional learning documentation

pre-service teachers

Because pre-service teachers are in the school for such a short time we really need to get in early, but they are often on information overload with their head moving like Noddy’s. So greet them on their tour of the school and give them an information pack that has the essential information about what you offer, how they borrow and so forth.

Include anything that will help them understand what you do, how they do things, things they might use on this prac or at a later date

  • a formal invitation to discuss their prac assignments with you,
  • any forms for booking the library
  • access to the school’s computer network and the significant folders and files they need
  • a diagram of the information literacy process that you use
  • a library map
  • a summary of what the spine labels cover (eg if you have your PRC books colour-coded for stages explain this)
  • pro-formas for book reviews that they might be able to use
  • a list of titles, authors and series that are appropriate for each age group within your school
  • a form they need to fill out to get borrowing privileges (so they are responsible for what they borrow not their associate teacher) which includes contact details for after prac is finished.  You might also want to make it clear that their prac report won’t be signed until all loans have been returned.
  • a link to  Doug Johnson’s 10 Things a Baby Teacher Should Know which has become a seminal article that helps during those few weeks
  • include a bookmark or some other freebie (even a chocolate frog), to add to the atmosphere of friendliness.

Set aside a time (even if it’s a recess) early in the prac when they can show you what they need to achieve and how you can help them do this, either with resources, ideas or collaborative planning and teaching.  Make sure they know that the resources are not limited to print and that services are not limited to circulation. This may be their first experience of working alongside a teacher librarian and if you do it well, they will be looking for the same support in their next school and when they have their own class for the first time – knowing that there is a colleague whose core business is to collaborate and support can be the rock on which they base that first year on.

If you live near a university which offers a B.Ed program, get to know the staff and offer yourself as a guest lecturer to explain and demonstrate information literacy.  Given that the new Australian Curriculum has its inquiry aspects built into each strand, teachers are going to need to know the language we are speaking to the students so that there is uniformity and conformity not confusion.

politicians

Politicians love to be seen as being ‘in on the action’ which is attracting their constituents.  They love an opportunity to be seen and talk and getting them on your side is imperative.  Be apolitical and put your personal preferences aside.  Don’t limit yourself to the sitting member – wannabes need to get their names into the community so people recognise it on that election sheet, and those in Opposition love to be informed enough to ask Questions in the House.  Build up a positive relationship so when the politician needs a school for a photo opportunity, a launch, a place to place funds, it’s your name and face that come to mind.  But first, make yourself aware of any school or education-authority protocols that need to be observed and adhered to.

  • Invite them to any library-based function you have but look for unusual celebrations – the Unique Selling Point that will make your event stand out – such as a student-organised Literary Luncheon, a poetry reading by a local poet, a book launch by a new author or illustrator – anything that is also likely to attract the media so they can have a photo opportunity
  • Invite them to be guest readers, bloggers, speakers, artists or presenters, especially celebrating students achievements based on library challenges. Do a lot of the legwork for them such as
    • booking well ahead, including information about the importance of the event with the invitation, sending a reminder with a background brief and an indication of what they are expected to do – it’s about getting them to value the library not necessarily save them work.  They will come again if you are PROFESSIONAL 
    • selecting the book and getting it to them in advance to practice
    • suggesting the focus of the blog post such as their opinion of a particular hot topic relating to education
    • have them be a focal point of your citizenship studies so they talk about what they do
    • if you know they have a passion for poetry, drawing, music or whatever invite them to perform as part of a school-based event.  It doesn’t matter if it’s not library-related, it’s about reinforcing the connection
  • Email, write or phone them  to let them know how decisions affecting the employment and deployment of teacher librarians affects the teaching and learning in the schools in their electorates – let them know that the parents are the voters who will keep them or not
  • If there is a particular policy or program that is really going to impact on the teaching and learning at the school, make an appointment and visit them. Be prepared and demonstrate how the issue will affect the families in the electorate rather than your employment.  Keep in mind that votes talk and there are more parents than teacher librarians.
Australia's Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister of Education at a local primary school

Australia’s Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister of Education at a local primary school

 

Putting on your reporter’s hat is not an added extra – it’s about taking yourself and the things you do in the course of your day beyond the library walls.  Many teacher librarians seem to have covered themselves with Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and when you say you’re a teacher librarian even those who should know look blankly and move on because they’re not really sure of just what it is you do.  Be subtle but be VISIBLE and be seen to be promoting teaching and learning rather than your own employment barrow and you will be acknowledged. It is YOUR responsibility

Be PRO ACTIVE

Be PREPARED

Be PROUD

Be part of your own future

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the paperwork hat

hat_paperwork

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paperwork can be a pain – so much so, it often gets left at the bottom of the in-tray or filed in the too-hard basket.

However, I believe it is an essential part of our job as we are so often the only one of us in the role in the school and there is much that we do that is a mystery to those who are unfamiliar with the L side of TL. Paperwork allows for continuity and consistency of policy, procedures and practice even when the personnel changes.  It can be used to explain and defend decisions by showing that they are based on accepted best-practice in library circles.

Paperwork also provides possibilities to explore and to reflect.  As we construct policies , procedures and programs and align them to fit the specific situation we are in there is an opportunity to examine why we do what we do and, if necessary,  explore other ways to do it.  For example, many are choosing to switch their shelving arrangements to one driven by genre rather than author and while there are many questions that need to be satisfied before that, or any other major change, is made, nevertheless it provides the motivation to consider different practices. 

But paperwork is so much more than a Collection Policy and a Procedures Manual glanced at occasionally and amended every now and then.

Purpose

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us to “begin with the end in mind” so all the steps we take are leading in the right direction. Therefore it is critical to explicitly identify the purpose that the library serves within the learning community.  Return to The Visionary’s Hat  for ideas about examining the current place and perception of the library’s role and then construct a mission statement that clearly establishes

  • what this library is about
  • what it stands for
  • how that is demonstrated

The mission statement is  the basis for all decisions made regarding policy, procedures and practice and sets the guidelines and parameters for the services you offer.

If the purpose of the library now is different from what it should be, then create a vision statement  and a strategic plan so that your mission statement can be achieved. Because a mission statement should be a brief, broad, big-picture concept, there will always be a gap between what is and what could be.  Having formal paperwork to support what you are doing not only establishes priorities but also provides evidence should your actions and decisions be challenged.

Position

Having established the purpose of the library within the its community, it is then essential to identify the position of the teacher librarian within that so it is clear what it is that we do that makes the role distinct from all others.

Ask yourself,

What is my role within this school?

Revisit the beliefs and manifesto that you developed in The Teacher’s Hat and then try to encapsulate your role in just six words.  Here are some examples…

  • Inspiring students to read and learn
  • Service Information  Reliability Convenience  Vision Strength
  • Share literature and information seeking skills
  • Reading builds success.  We build readers.
  • 21st century transliteracy impacts academic achievement

Learning for the Future, 2nd edition identifies the role as

curriculum leader, information specialist, information manager

View this presentation by Ned Potter and brand yourself!

Then consider

  • Why are you a teacher-librarian?
    • It is critical that the specialist teaching role of the TL is the predominant one or the perception that the role can be done undertaken by a general librarian, a library assistant or an untrained clerical will continue to grow, particularly as “everything is on the internet” and “librarians are all about books” remain the perspectives of many
    • It is critical that you demonstrate how you value-add to the teaching and learning in the school and support this with evidence-based practice, formal or informal.
    • Understand that your most important clients are the staff, not only because it is easier to influence 30 staff members than 300 students but also because the greatest influence on students’ use of the library is that made of it be their teachers.
    • Research shows that for pedagogies and scaffolds such as inquiry learning and information literacy to be most effective, they need to be embedded in meaningful contexts and because the teacher librarian does not have the time nor the opportunity to teach everything that needs to be taught, it is essential to form partnerships – 1:1, team, faculy and whole-school- to offer professional learning so that these approaches are across-school and across-curriculum practices.
    • As  the curriculum leader it is essential to know the scope of the curriculum -national, state and school-based- so it can be resourced in collaboration with teaching staff so the needs of students, staff and curriculum are met
    • It is also our role to introduce new services such as access to the online resources of the National Digital Learning Resources Network through Scootle, and programs such as Improve, Spatial Genie, Mathletics and so forth.  We are also often considered the experts in the identification and use of Web 2 tools so teachers can use these with their students, so it is essential we know what these are.

 

  • What is your current position in the school?
    • Do you collaboratively plan and teach across the curriculum?
    • Do you cover classroom-based teachers’ planning and preparation time?
    • Are you viewed as a specialist teacher with skills that span the curriculum or are you viewed as an English teacher on steroids whose  primary purpose is to enhance reading and the love of “literature”?
    • Are you everyone’s dogsbody or doormat with no defined teaching role? 

 

  • What do you want your position to be?
    • Use  the domains, standards and performance indicators of the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians (or the appropriate professional role statements for your location) to clearly understand the scope of the teacher librarian’s role.  Even though the AITSL professional teaching standards govern our professional knowledge, practice and commitment for accrediation and registration purposes,  these specific statements developed and promulgated by ASLA explain just what an excellent teacher librarian is expected to know, do and provide, giving us not only heights to strive for but also a succinct role description for our colleagues.  ASLA have also produced the Evidence guide for teacher librarians in the highly accomplished career stage and are working on guides for the other AITSL levels which provide more detailed advice about the role of the TL but these are available only to members.
    • Know the difference between a dream and a goal is an action plan and a timeline and in the same way as you have created a strategic plan, develop a plan to get you where you want to be.  Use The Bridge-builder’s Hat for suggestions for strategic connections and consider
      • what you want your primary position to be
      • what you need to do to achieve your goal
      • what you already know, do and have that you can use
      • what you need to know, do and have to move forward
      • what resources – personnel, physical, financial and time – do you need to achieve your goal’
      • what would be a reasonable timeframe in which to achieve your goal
      • what would be significant milestones on the journey
      • what will be the indicators that your goal has been achieved

The most important factor is to be visible – recess, staff meetings, faculty meetings, online.  Even though it is a university site there is much we can learn about visibility  from the Arizona State Uni libraries  and adapt it to our situations.

However, as well as being visible, put your position in writing.  Develop a role statement for yourself and the other members of the library’s staff that can be used to introduced the staff and what they do for the learning community.  Use statements from

to provide a generic statement on the role of the teacher librarian and then develop this to demonstrate what this means for you in your school. Use the duty statement to explain and educate so you become your own best advocate. Make it a fluid document so that what you do this year, you can build on next year and so the duties change to meet the changing needs and expectations.

Begin with a brief rationale based on creating an information literate school community just to set the context of the library within the school for both your supervisor and those who follow in your footsteps.. Set clear S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals and demonstrate, ensure and check that each duty you perform is helping you achieve them.  Think of a Duty Statement as a self-management policy as opposed to a collection management policy. But ensure your goals are in alignment with the schools’ philosophies and policies. use the Learning for the Future headings of curriculum leader, information specialist and information services manager and adapt their descriptors to demonstrate how this will be interpreted in your situation-what it will look like in your school.

Use the  Standards of Professional Excellence to set personal performance targets. be canvassing the staff to see what their expectations of you are so you can set priorities on the results of an Information Needs Audit.. They may have needs that the previous teacher librarian didn’t meet, or they may not be aware of the range of services you can offer. Draw on your Collection Policy to determine goals and priorities for purchasing, assessing, weeding and so forth.  Write these up as specific duties so that the annual inventory becomes a collection evaluation exercise not just “counting the books”. Avoid quantitative performance targets such as “increase circulation by x%” because you are providing a measure whose achievement is beyond your control. But, under a sub-heading such as Curriculum Renewal you could write something like “Assess and map the resources supporting the current _____ curriculum to determine if they are current and relevant to staff and student needs. Discuss with ________ faculty how their resource needs (in digital and print format) can be met.  Research cost and availability of new resources.  Advocate for appropriate budget funds and allocate these to acquire these resources.”  That still gives a measurable target but also includes a structure for you to follow and your supervisor to understand what is involved. 

Create a balance of duties that demonstrate that you are an integral part of both the teaching and exec teams and that you also have unique skills in librarianship and those times not filled with direct contact with staff and students are filled with administration roles, such as supervising and teaching your administrative staff.) Include references to specific documents so the hierarchy can see that your duties are being guided by authoritative sources.  Use this document for professional performance appraisal, both personal and formal. Impress with your professionalism.

Develop similar statements to cover the roles of any other library staff members and volunteers so it is clear that each has a distinct and different contribution to make to the efficient and effective functioning of the library.

Policies

Having policies in place about the what and why means there is agreement of knowledge, consistency in application, and accountability regardless of personnel changes.

Library policies are broad statements based on research and best practice. They

    • provide an important reference for library staff, administrators and teachers
    • provide a ratified document that can be used to defend a decision which is challenged
    • guide decisions about the necessary staffing, funding and facilities to implement the policy
    • offer assistance to new staff about what is done and how it is done and why

They  need to be developed within the context of the philosophy, policies, guidelines and directives of the school and the educational authority to which the school belongs and reflect their ethos and goals so they demonstrate the professionalism and ‘librarian’ side of ‘teacher librarian’.

A policy provides a concise formal statement of principles which underpin how the library will act in a particular area of its operation.  It needs to be developed within the parameters of system and school requirements and philosophies and demonstrate how it will contribute to those big-picture goals during its life. A policy should identify

    • a definition of its focus
    • its purpose
    • the goals to be achieved during the life of the policy
    • the broad principles which are to be followed to achieve these
    • key personnel responsible for authorship and implementation
    • its review cycle

A policy is a public document available to the school community and often written in consultation with them. It should be brief and broad stating what happens and why. A change in personnel or procedure should not require a change in policy.

Key library-based policies include

  • mission statement (what the library stands for)
  • vision statement (how the librry’s services will grow and change over the next three years)
  • collection policy (how the collection is developed including its purpose, selection, acquisition, evaluation and a Challenged Materials Policy)
  • collection management policy (what happens to the resources once acquired, although much of this will be in the Procedures Manual)
  • collection access policy (who may access the resources, when and how and consequences for those who show a lack of responsibility) 
  • textbook policy (for those schools where circulation of textbooks becomes the library’s responsibility)

However, there is a host of other policies  that may be developed under the auspices of the library including those relating to

  • intellectual property and ethical use of ideas, information and images
  • information literacy
  • inquiry learning
  • technology planning
  • internet access
  • computer network usage
  • privacy
  • administration

These policies should be school-wide documents rather than library-specific.  However, as the person with the speciailist knowledge, the TL is in a position to take a leadership role in their development.

Procedures

Procedures differ from policy because they explain how something is done, rather than why. They reflect the information services manager aspect of the TL’s role. A Procedures Manual is an internal document which details specific practices that implement the policy and ensures consistency and continuity of practice and equity so the library’s practices are not the subject of one person’s or faculty’s agenda. They are based on research and best practice, and thus are  more easily adapted to new situations than a policy.  A change in personnel or practice should be identified in the Procedures Manual not the policy. For example, while the policy might state that “acquisitions will be made in accordance with identified school requirements”, procedures identify exactly what those procedures are. If the Procedures Manual provides a step-by-step description of how new resources will be entered into the library management system, then if the LMS is changed, it is the Procedures Manual which will be changed rather than the Collection Policy.

Procedures, particularly those relating to acquisition , must be in alignment with the education authority’s requirements and therefore it may be necessary to continually maintain and manage your budget,  invoices and receipts. Keeping track of expenditure is an essential element of the TL’s role.

As well as providing step-by-step guidance for those undertaking particular tasks associated with the smooth running of the facility, there are some procedures which impact directly on the library’s users such as stocktake or inventory.  Therefore it is worthwhile producing documentation which explains why the interruptions are necessary and how they will lead to an improved collection and services.  Some jurisdictions also require a formal report of the state of the collection for auditing purposes so it is essential that this be completed and submitted.  Check how long such reports need to be kept – in NSW, it is seven years.

Similarly, if there are procedures you require users to follow, such as requesting  resources or booking a library timeslot, then these need to be explicitly documented (with links to the software if that is used) and distributed to those who require them. Make sure your form, print or electronic, provides you with all the information you need to provide the most comprehensive service possible so the user is inclined to return.

Documentation of how to access online databases, other subscription services and the use of Scootle to access the NDLRN (Australia only) is also essential so that these services can be used independently. Acknowledge that there are those who do not like to seek help so the provision of such information through pamphlets or posters can be very liberating for them and it’s another way to reach that long tail of potential users who think that the library is not for them.

Clear, attractive and accurate signage is also critical. Made using an app such as MS Publisher using a consistent format, font and colourway, signs can be tailored to the needs of your collection allowing even the youngest users to be independent in their searching and selection.  Hanging signs using appropriate models connected with fishing line over the areas most often used by your clientele also enable users to feel empowerment over the environment. 

Explicit, clear signage allows for independent selection.

Explicit, clear signage allows for independent selection.

Hanging signs made from cheap, lightweight models strung together with fishing line mean even the youngest user can find the section they want

Hanging signs made from cheap, lightweight models strung together with fishing line mean even the youngest user can find the section they want.

 

The teacher librarian is often regarded as the copyright manager and thus it is worthwhile developing documentation that details what is allowed to be copied and under what conditions.  While staff and students may have access to official copyright sites such as Smartcopying in Australia, providing a ready reference for the most common situations will empower clients to make their own decisions.

Programs

Because we are teacher librarians our teaching programs have to be as explicit and professional as those required of our classroom-based colleagues. We need to identify what we want students to know, do, understand, appreciate and value as a result of our teaching and this has to be explicitly identified in the preamble and rationale of our programs.  Not only does it emphasise the teaching aspect of the position, it demonstrates why the TL must hold dual qualifications.  Programs must

  • be based on current best-practice pedagogy
  • reflect our knowledge of the curriculum
  • demonstrate the AITSL professional teaching standards
  • embrace education authority-based initiatives like Quality Teaching
  • support identified school-based priorities
  • focus on inquiry-based learning and information literacy
  • promote cyber safety and digital citizenship
  • develop online competency

The American Association of School Libraries has identified a set of standards for the 21st Century Learner that could well underpin the programs of all of us, regardless of location or sector.  They cover four broad categories

inquire, think critically and gain knowledge
draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations and create new knowledge
share knowledge and participate ethically and productively in our democratic society
pursue personal and aesthetic growth

Within each category, there are skills, dispositions in action, responsibilities and self-assessment strategies that permeate every level and strand of the curriculum.  The document provides an authoritative base on which to build any teaching platform but also highlight the specialist nature of the TL’s role.

promotion

As well as those teaching-based programs, there are also promotion programs such as the Premier’s Reading Challenge, Children’s Book Week, World Read-Aloud Day, National Poetry Month and so forth that can help put the library at the hub of what happens in the school. However, because it is possible to have something new every week, it is essential that as the TL we pick and choose judiciously those events which will receive a heightened focus.  Once an event has been selected, it is worthwhile creating a file that explicitly links the event to the teaching and learning outcomes within the school and promoting this to teaching staff so they immediately identify how it will add value to the curriculum.  Including information about resources used or activities undertaken means there is a ready-reference if the same event is chosen in subsequent years.

Most schools are required to produce an annual report each year do parents are informed about what has been achieved and accomplished.  Contributing a section about the achievements of the library to this is formal way of alerting  administrators, executive, staff and parents to the doings of the library and how funds, including the salaries of the library staff have been invested in teaching and learning outcomes.  An even more extensive report such as this one by Joyce Valenza for the Springfield Township High School Library can be produced and made available through the school library’s website. As well as encapsulating data, it could also be an outlet for your Junior Journalists as they report on the key activities that have taken place throughout the year. Take photographs and videos of special events so they can be included.

It is also worthwhile to regularly gather statistics such as patron usage, resource acquisition and circulation and other relevant data several times throughout the year so a snapshot can be provided and analysed.  User satisfaction reports from staff, students, school leavers and parents can also provide valuable evaluative information, as well as demonstrating growth and change. Creating a well-rounded, well-balanced annual report not only demonstrates professionalsim but can also demonstrate how well you are adhering to and working towards your strategic plan as well as giving pointers for improvement.

Less formal promotions such as supporting parent participation programs or producing a pamphlet to assist parents with reading with their child at home are all part of the paperwork but all contribute to that evidence-based practice that is so critical.

propaganda

There are many ways to advertise the library’s services that involve informal paperwork and these will be examined in The Promoter’s Hat.

Putting on your paperwork hat, as ill-fitting as it might feel, goes a long way to declaring and demonstrating your professionalism.

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the bridge-builder’s hat

hat_bridge_builder

 

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

John Donne

 

 

Yet, within the school setting, the library is often seen as an island, apart from the main rather than a part of it. 

The physical isolation imposed by the nature of the space, and the professional isolation of usually being the only TL within the school and not part of a particular team or faculty can mean that, at the very least, a moat separates the facility from the school mainstream.   In the past, some TLs have been guilty of not only building the moat but also pulling up the drawbridge and it is this perception of exclusiveness and remoteness that is often only a childhod memory, that drives the modern-day perception and stereotype – a bit like that of a library being a quiet space where people are continually told to shoosh.  

Thus the work we do is often invisible to other staff and students and therefore the value we add to the teaching and learning of our community is often overlooked. Just today, there is yet another discussion about the role of the teacher librarian within the school on a state listserv as a TL finds her professional knowledge and responsibilities eroded by those who don’t understand them, and sadly, responses show that there is little, if anything, official to back up what it is we must and can do. Even though, individually and collectively, teacher librarians have been promoting their role -even instigating a formal Federal Government inquiry in Australia- it appears that advocacy is a hat we will continue to wear. We wear it for ourselves, for others and for those who are yet to come. 

The moat must go and it is the TL who is in the best position to remove it.

Building bridges builds influence

It is widely accepted that the library, with a qualified teacher librarian at the helm, should be the hub of teaching and learning within the school and its associated community. Building influence enables a broad base of people to understand our role and accept that it is valid, valued and valuable thus enabling us to be a leader of the teaching and learning – our core business as TEACHER librarians.

If we were to reflect and represent our current sphere of influence,  would it look like this…

broken_bridgeOr this?

interchange

If a bridge is defined as a structure, real or metaphorical, which spans a gap or a barrier, then there is the implication that a bridge connects two points.  One end of the connection is the library, but where could its other end be?  We need to answer these questions…

With whom can we make connections? How can we make those connections?

Let’s look through the people lens …

Networks People
  • local physical TL networks
  • state, national and global online TL networks
  • social networking groups such as iCentre, Three Rs, ALIA, CBCA, OZTL
  • professional associations
  • networks of other library professionals
  • networks of other educators, local, state, national and global
  • P&C and other parent organisations
  • children’s services organisations and providers
  • local public and specialist libraries
  • personal learning networks, physical and virtual
  • profession leaders on Twitter
  • local schools including those in other sectors
  • student networks
  • principals, peers, pre-service teachers
  • students and student leaders
  • executive staff
  • administrative staff
  • other library staff and volunteers
  • classroom-based teachers across KLA and year levels
  • parents, including pre-school parents and grandparents
  • people whom students admire and regard as role models
  • community leaders and experts
  • politicians- local, state and national
  • other teacher librarians
  • publishers, authors and illustrators
  • the ‘long tail’ – those who believe the library has nothing relevant to their needs, interests and abilities
  • media

We need to ask…

Who do we already have strong connections with?

Which connections could be strengthened or renewed?

Who could we reach out to, to make new connections?

How could  one set of connections be used to build a new set?

Even if the TL is in the fortunate position of being in a positive, well-supported environment, there are always new connections that can be made that will help to spread the influence of the library further and cement its place as an integral, vital part of the community.

While connections are all about  people, there are unique aspects about our job that we can employ to allow us to make existing connections stronger and also reach out to a wider audience to make new ones. 

Processes Spaces Resources
  • knowing the curriculum across the strands and year levels
  • collaborative planning and teaching
  • recognising our unique position within the school and being prepared to take on a leadership role
  • being visionary, knowing what the best 21st century library looks like, plan and deliver that environment
  • collection, analysis and presentation of evidence of our contribution to teaching and learning
  • initiation, promotion and publication of library events
  • broad-based promotion through traditional and social media of what the library offers – reaching the “long tail”
  • development of tutorials so users can operate independently
  • making the sorts of services we can offer known to our clients (see Information Needs Audit)
  • staying up to date with personal professional learning including knowing the critical research which shapes our programs and practices
  • being up-to-date with research in other areas which can be shared with colleagues
  • developing a contemporary collection based on the needs, interests and abilities of its users
  • participating in a range of committees where library input would enhance outcomes
  • delivering or facilitating professional learning for teaching staff, especially about library-related matters such as Guided Inquiry, information literacy, the role of recreational reading, using ICT tools.
  • being visible at and contributing to staff and faculty meetings
  • contributing to school communications
  • establishing an evolving online presence so that the library’s resources are available anytime, anywhere
  • actively seeking and listening to user input
  • encouraging a gaming culture in learning
  • offering scheduled and just-in-time learning opportunities
  • using technology to reach and expand the knowledge of library users
  • maintaining lines of communication particularly with the principal, executive and administration staff
  • providing opportunities for student participation and leadership
  • being open to new ideas and opportunities
  • having the policies, programs and procedures which will take the library into the future
  • sharing research and resources for and with all
  • developing strong parental support through communication
  • offering parent participation programs
  • inviting volunteers to participate
  • beyond the walls – anytime, anywhere
  • physical and virtual
  • attractive, comfortable, welcoming, imaginative, collaborative, flexible, interactive and safe
  • quiet as well as more boisterous ares
  • makerspaces
  • the domain of everyone not just the library staff
  • a place where the students want to be
  • a place where users can operate independently
  • meeting special needs so services and resources are accessible to all
  • liaising with public institutions such as libraries, galleries and museums
  • being where the community’s children and youth are
  • contemporary collection which meets the needs, interest and abilities of its users
  • opportunities for user input into collection development to help reach the ‘long tail’
  • ‘own’ vs’ acquire’ vs ‘access’
  • acknowledge need for both physical and virtual resources
  • create and build on local community resources
  • identify, collect, annotate and curate resources
  • inter-library loans
  • research and resources which support teachers’ professional learning
  • open access vs locked-down
  • support a variety of learning styles
  • seek support from networks for new resources
  • keep abreast of new publications and tools
  • collection is kept relevant through continual evaluation, analysis and weeding
  • promote new resources through traditional and social media
  • support parents and parenting
  • efficient and effective online connections through working hardware, appropriate software and robust internet connectivity

 

None of these lists is exhaustive – there are many additions that could be made.  But they might offer a starting point for putting on the visionary’s hat  and then identifying a specific focus for your future planning.  

Begin with the end in mind by defining the need by identifying a particular area for development that relates to your situation. Put on the hat of your clients and consider how bridges could be built between their needs and the library’s services, remembering that we are one and they are many. Rather than telling people what is on offer from the library’s perspective, view the issue from the angle of “What does this group expect/require of the library in order for it to be relevant and useful to them?” 

What sort of bridge should you build?

What sort of bridge should you build?

Market research using something such as the Information Needs Audit modified to meet the shape of its audience is always a valuable foundation because it provides the evidence that your practices are targeted, required and likely to be valued.

Then use an inquiry approach beginning with posing questions such as

How might we use the Australian Curriculum to lead teaching and learning in the school?

How might we use social media to reach our clientele and to offer anywhere, anytime access?

How might we collaborate with other child-centred community organisations to extend what we offer teachers, students and parents?

How might we develop a collection which meets the needs, interests and abilities of its users?

How might we develop tools that will help the user use the library, its collection and services more independently?

How might we promote the physical space of the library as a teaching and learning centre?

How might we use the expertise and experience of other members of the staff and student body to build better connections?

Using a question format and wording it so that it offers the possibility of collaborative solutions that invite a range of creative possibilities that may or may not be adopted demonstrates a willingness to work with others to explore a variety of options to negotiate and implement solutions that can be woven together to form a strong, sustained and sustainable connection.  Having the ‘big-picture’ question then allows for its detailed analysis as solutions are sought, explored, and prioritised.  

For example, in a recent workshop one group focusing on raising the profile and identity of the TL and knowing that the teachers in their schools were struggling with the implementation of a new required curriculum that spanned eacj key learning area, proposed, “How might we use the Australian Curriculum to lead teaching and learning in the school?“ Rather than the more nebulous question of “How might we raise the profile of the teacher librarian in the school?” it was turned into a more practical and productive question that, through its solutions, would directly address clients’ needs while also working towards achieving that ultimate goal of raising the TL’s profile. 

A brief brainstorming session identified that this could be addressed by

  • knowing the curriculum across all strands and year levels, acknowledging that often the TL is one of just a handful in the school with this sort of overview
  • delivering or facilitating professional learning to support new initiatives embedded in the curriculum such as an inquiry-based approach or the introduction of a new perspective such as a greater emphaisis on indigenous issues
  • being pro-active in collaborative planning and teaching by seeking and suggesting opportunities where our specialist knowledge can enrich and enhance teaching and learning
  • having an online presence which allowed anytime, anywhere access to the collection for staff and students
  • building a relevant contemporary collection

Some of these were well-established concepts, others were more novel. A longer timeframe may well have elicited a greater range of ideas. Within the group, pairs then further brainstormed just one of those aspects identifying what they currently had and what they eventually wanted, and then started to build the a bridge between the two by identifying what needed to be done to achieve the goal. Having narrowed  the big statement Building bridges builds influence into a specific, manageable, achievable, relevant and timely goal, these ideas then provided the practical foundation for the library’s immediate strategic planning. Apart from the direct connections that would be made during its achievement, it was clear that there would be a number of others, each of which would contribute to the influence of the library and a greater understanding of its contribution to teaching and learning.

An image search of the Internet for “bridges” brings up an amazing array of these structures built in the greatest geographical extremes and using what appear to be the flimsiest of materials, created by people who had a need to span the gap regardless of the obstacles it posed.  TLs must adopt a similar can-do attitude by being open to new ideas, looking for opportunities, stretching beyond the traditional anchor points (such as English and Social Studies) and be willing to tackle the deepest of chasms or the broadest of floodplains. As we advocate for our positions which seem to be becoming more and more tenuous as new staffing models are developed, the roads to and from the library need to be broad, strong and well-populated, rather than beings seen as just a single lane only wide enough for us to push our own career barrows. Rather than a rickety, one lane bridge built to take the minimal traffic of a previous generation, there must be a network of connections leading in many directions providing the super-highway to and for 21st century education.

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the game-player’s hat

hat_gameplayer

 

 

 

As the cooler days of Australia’s winter encroach, more and more students make their way to the library as a warm haven during recess and lunch breaks. But to expect them all to want to curl up and read for that time may be a bit ambitious so this is a perfect opportunity to introduce them to some of the “old-fashioned” board and card games of yesteryear.

Those of us of a certain vintage may well remember the family nights where televisionwas turned off (if there were a television) and games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Squatter would be set up or a lively game of cards would ensue.  As well as being entertained, we absorbed the social niceties of taking turns, sharing, patience and how to lose gracefully while learning to think strategically, plan ahead, and know enough maths to keep the scorer/banker honest. Like traditional fairytales, the best games always had something to teach us.

While today’s students seem to be entranced with screen-based games, the library can become the place where more traditional formats are introduced and so much learning can take place. Games enable students to

  • collaborate with their peers to set goals, rules, deadlines and make collegial decisions through negotiation
  • develop an understanding of “fair play” and the need for rules to ensure this happens
  • reinforce the concepts of taking turns, sharing and being gracious in success or defeat
  • develop resilience and perseverance as there is an expectation they will play through to the end rather than giving up because they are not winning
  • have a common topic of conversation in which all can be included
  • assume roles that place them in unfamiliar situations and having to make decisions based on different perspectives which may challenge their existing ideas
  • think strategically and plan ahead, posing and answering questions, considering cause and effect both immediate and longer-term
  • think creatively to reach a solution or conclusion
  • deal with a variety of information, often in a diverse range of formats and from a diverse range of sources, and synthesise this to solve problems, make informed decisions and consider how their actions will impinge on another’s as well as how another player’s actions determines theirs  

Many games feed directly into specific curriculum outcomes and priorities justifying their existence in both the library and the classroom as yet another way of meeting the diverse learning styles of our students. Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games by Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris explores the role of games in education in depth offering sound pedagogical evidence for their inclusion in the classroom and library programs.  Even though the curriculum links are US-based, it’s a small jump to the Australian Curriculum.

Games were a popular part of my library’s resources and one of the most popular pastimes that continually drew participants was the jigsaw table. Edged with strips of dowel glued down to minimise the chance of pieces landing on the floor, there was always a jigsaw waiting for a passer-by to stop and add a piece or two. Even the principal couldn’t resist.  The difficulty of the puzzles varied, but given their importance in the development of visual acuity and spatial awareness, eventually I had two tables – one for the K-2 brigade and the other for those older (including adults.) Initially I bought the puzzles new to ensure they were complete, but I also got donations from puzzlers who had completed a puzzle and didn’t want the challenge of doing it again.

Board games were also popular, especially those that could be completed in a short session like Chinese Checkers, Trouble, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Junior Scrabble but there was also the opportunity for students to continue a longer game like Monopoly over a couple of days because I had the luxury of space to keep it set up near the circulation desk. It amazed me how well students respected their friends’ games and did not touch them during the day. To ensure fairness, students could sign on to play the next round which would include the winner of the previous game.  Chess was also popular and we had many chess sets donated after a local club introduced the students to the game at the instigation of a teacher with a passion for it. Two students who had often been seen as trouble-makers in the playground organised a Round Robin competition and one lunchtime a week, all the library tables were set up for this. Suddenly the boys had a purpose and a responsibility and not only did their attitudes changes, but the attitudes of students and teacherstowards them also shifted. They were popular rather than pariahs.  Students were encouraged to bring in their own games too and often the popularity of one of these determined the library’s next purchase. However, parents were also very generous and donated games too, often instead of a book for the Birthday Book Club.

Some of our Asian students also introduced their friends to the mysteries of Mah Jong which soon became as popular as chess and brought community members in as teachers and mentors, strengthening the ties between home and school and amongst the community, which had a broad ethnic base.

Card games also proved popular with Uno an enduring favourite while many learned to play gin rummy, euchre, whist, 500 and Hearts from their peers and teachers who also dropped in to be challenged.  (I have always taught Vingt-et-Un as a way to get students proficient in rapidly counting to 21.) 

As well as the actual games there was a significant collection of books in the Pick-a-Puzzle section that was always popular as students pored over pages to find Wally or travel through mazes or solve clues to progress through an adventure. This lead to the creation of  our own version of Where’s Wally as students created clues about where in Australia he might be for their friends to unravel, as well as The Quizzard of Oz, still going strong as Backpack Bear.

The Pick-a-Puzzle collection was always popular.

The Pick-a-Puzzle collection was always popular.

Some of the enduring memories for me of these games sessions are the camaraderie between the players, the gentleness and patience that experienced students showed as they taught younger or inexperienced children how to play, the willingness to abide by the rules and the acceptance that it is OK to lose, because, after all, it is only a game, even though it might be instilling life lessons.

Computer games were beginning to make an appearance although hand-held devices like Donkey Kong were discouraged at school and mobile phones were not what they are today.  However, there is a growing body of literature that is exploring how popular games can have significant value in the learning process both in the library and in the classroom.  MindShift examines Beyond Grades: Do Games Have a Future As Assessment Tools? and How game-based learning teaches problem solving in context while Russ Pitts examines how video games can change the world, one child at a time.  and Dean Groom asks What’s holding schools back from using games in class? In the Winter 2013 edition of YALSA (Young Adult LibraryServices)– Vol. 11, Number 2, entitled Minecraft Programs in the Library: If you build it they will come by Erica Gauquier and Jessica Schneider, and there have been a number of discussions in the Scootle Community about its use in the school context.  Judy O’Connell has also blogged about it in her Hey Jude blog post Building the (Minecraft) lost city of Babylon In fact there is new literature being published almost daily demonstrating that this is a hot topic that the teacher librarian not only needs to know about but also should be taking the lead in sharing the literature and starting the conversations.

If, like me, you feel you don’t know enough about the online gaming learning environment, then Games MOOC offers an open course designed for educators who want to learn more about games, simulations and game-like environments for education. It is designed for all levels of participation and a new course will start in July 2014.  You can look at what has been offered previously to determine whether this would be of benefit.

In the meantime, Blake J Harris has traced the development of the videogame and he has identified 10 Video Games that Book Lovers will enjoy Some of them go way back to console systems like Atari so might not be easy to access, but if you read the comments at the bottome there are other suggestions to explore too. There is also the NMC On the Horison video to view, while the School Library Association New South Wales is holding a gamification conference in August 2014 but if you can’t get to , the page offers some names of people to follow in this field.

Putting on the game-player’s hat offers the TL a number of opportunities…

  • It enables students to see that the library is about more than the circulation of books and it might offer something of interest for them
  • Creating a display of resources that include instructions for playing popular games, the history of games and even unusual, historic or rare games may encourage a shift from player to reader
  • Students may well take their knowledge and enthusiasm for a particular game home to their families, opening up new conversations and entertainment options
  • Providing students with opportunities to play games not only gives them social and gaming skills they can take beyond the school walls, but also provides experience to create their own game, a common end-product of a classroom-based study
  • Providing teachers with professional articles about the relevance of games within the curriculum not only expands their professional knowledge, but also offers them another tool with which to connect to students, as well as demonstrating the TL’s leadership and being at the cutting edge of new initiatives
  • Providing the powers-that-be with professional articles may influence their thinking about the use of mobile devices within the school and loosen some of the tight restrictions that have been imposed
  • Drawing families into the library for a Family Games Night like the more traditional Family Reading Night offers another avenue to promote the library and its services to parents, including those who share their child’s perspective that a library has nothing to offer them.

Because Games and Gamification has been identified as one of the 18 top trends in the 2014 NMC Horizon Report K-12 edition,  the game-player’s hat might become a game-changing one!

 

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the read-aloud hat

hat_read_aloud

 

 

 

Last week I put on my casual relief/substitute’s hat and over three days I taught ten classes – over 250 children aged between four and nine.  And each of those children heard at least one story read aloud to them as part of a series of lessons I’d prepared in consultation with the regular TL and their classroom teachers.

But was I exploiting my positon and offering “a fallback lesson” because I hadn’t planned “something more engaging and creative” , doing something that “a clerk…a parent or even a higher level student could do” as I sat “in front of a bunch of students holding a book — usually with a lot of pictures –” while I contorted  myself “to occasionally show the kids a picture — which cannot possibly be seen by the kids in the back row”? Even though I “know how to read” (so presumably the activity was not adding to my professional learning), were the children merely sitting there “engaged(?) in a basically passive activity”?

This was an observation posed on an international teacher librarian message board this week - posed not by a parent or a principal, but by an instructor in library science in a US university whose job it is to observe and mentor those who wish to join our profession as they undertake their practica as part of their learning journey.  The inquirer admitted that his entire career had been spent in the secondary sector but it is very disturbing that one whose job is to guide those who will follow in our footsteps had not bothered to acquaint himself with the very fundamentals of what it is to be a teacher librarian in a primary/elementary school where supporting the development of reading skills is as critical as supporting the development of research skills. Because if a child cannot read, how can they conduct effective and efficient research?

As many respondents indicated, the read-aloud hat is one of the most important in our wardrobe.

If reading to children were common instead of a rarity, we’d be facing fewer academic and social problems in this nation.

Trelease, J. 2001 The Read-Aloud Handbook 5th ed., New York: Penguin

 

In  Reading Magic, which international literacy consultant and children’s author Mem Fox believes may be  “the most important contribution I have made to the world” the benefits of reading aloud to a child from the day it is born are explicit. Reading aloud to a child in the first four months of its life is critical for laying down the foundations for successful reading later.

This book is a must-read for every teacher librarian and a must-have in every collection for teachers AND parents to borrow.  In Chapter 2, The Magic in Action, Fox describes a 15-minute session she spent with three-year-old Ben during which they shared three books and the joy and delight both experienced as they did. Apart from anything else, it was all about two people having a great time together.

Engaging in this kind of conspiracy with children is perhaps the greatest benefit of reading aloud to them… The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks that fly when a child, a book and the person reading make contact.

 

Listening to Possum Magic at just three days old - ten years on,  she's now reading everything!

Listening to Possum Magic at just three days old – ten years on, she’s now reading everything!

Sadly, many parents don’t, won’t or can’t read to their child during those critical early years and so it becomes the teacher’s and the TL’s job to do so. Through reading aloud, the child learns

  • the sounds and nuances of the language it is likely to speak most fluently throughout their life.  By 12 months the connections in the brain have been made and no matter what, no other language will ever become as natural as the one heard during that time.  Children cannot learn to talk without being spoken to and sharing a story and having a conversation about it brings a new dimension to the everyday topics introducing new ideas and understanadings as well as introducing new words and ways to express them, building their confidence to speak in front of others
  • the abilty to concentrate for an extended period of time so the full story can be enjoyed, even savoured; the ability to solve problems and begin to predict, understand cause and effect; and the ability to participate in tricky situations and life lessons at arm’s length using their existing knowledge while being able to take risks in a very safe environment
  • the language of books through phrases such as ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’; through the formal grammar of the writng; through the rhyme and rhythm and repetition of the words; through the expression used as characters are assumed and they hear what their own inner voice should sound like in different situations
  • concepts about stories allowing them to go beyond their everyday lives, flying on imaginary journeys, meeting amazing people and taking part in spectacular events; concepts about stories being complete entities contained in a physical vessel; concepts about print and pictures, their purpose and how they work
  • about the cultures, ideologies, socioeconomic circumstances, and timeframes, that the stories they hear span and this enables them to bridge the gap between what is and what is imagined
  • to imagine, and as Einstien (Saturday Evening Post, 1929)  proclaims “imagination is more important than knowledge”. Without imagination we cannot predict, pretend, or propose – critical elements of problem solving 
  • how characters are developed and the issues and dangers of stereotyping; how mood and atmosphere can add to the interpretation;
  • the foundations of the information literacy process as they hear questions modelled, learn to read the pictures, participate in discussions, consider perspectives and justify their point of view
  • that reading opens up a world of topics, genres, authors and series that they might never discover for themselves

But most importantly, they learn that  reading is fun; it is valued by the adults in their lives so it is a worthwhile skill to have and activity to participate in; and it is something they can succeed at and enjoy. Rather than just showing them the path that leads to a world of wonder, reading aloud to them helps take them along it. If you or your colleagues and community are still not convinced then read the research… Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life by a partnership arrangement between the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research or  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  (He even offers free, downloadable brochures to display or distribute.)

However, reading aloud isn’t enough if it doesn’t engage the listener.  While Mem Fox focuses on the parent-child relationship and the privilege of sharing stories at bedtime to close the curtains on the day, the TL is more often in a 1:many situation in less-than-ideal circumstances.  To help address this I’ve written The Art of Reading Aloud.  It focuses on

  • creating a special space
  • choosing the story
  • setting the scene
  • the art of reading aloud

This last section is critical because it is the performance part – the part that will leave the lasting impression and leave the child wanting to be entertained that way again whether they are sharing a one-stop picture book or a serial spread over several reading times. It encourages you to watch children’s programs which share stories and model how the listeners are engaged and then practice, practice, practice.  If I can have a group of 9 year-old boys entranced in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or 12 year-olds absorbed in The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume (both picture books written for a younger audience) then anything’s possible.

The read-aloud hat is so important we must wear it well and wear it with pride.

 

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the builder’s hat

hat_builder

 

 

 

This hat is based on creating a strategic plan for building an Information Literate School Community. While the school at its focus is hypothetical, the plan’s purpose is to provide a model for how this might be done but it needs to be adapted to suit each particular set of circumstances.

 

 

 Towards an Information Literate School Community

A strategic plan for Alpine Waters Primary School

 

Preamble

This sets the scene and provides the reasons for change.

Alpine Waters is a government K-6 primary school committed to enabling each student to become an independent lifelong learner through excellence in teaching based on the principles of high expectations, social justice, community participation, future orientation and accountability. However, a formal school review and external measures such as NAPLAN results suggest that it is not meeting its goals.  Preparation for the introduction of the national curriculum in 2014 provides a timely opportunity to examine philosophies, policies, programs, practices and priorities to shape the school’s future.

Purpose

Identifying the purpose for the plan informs those stakeholders of its parameters so all decisions are based on achieving the outcomes.

The purpose of the plan is to provide the blueprint for developing an information literate school community which

  • is dedicated to mastering information literacy so staff and students can
    • identify their need for information
    • locate appropriate information and evaluate, interpret and use it to satisfy the particular needs of the situation
    • understand what forms of information are valid, valuable and valued within a particular context
    • interpret and align those sources which confirm, challenge or change what is already known to reach a new understanding and construct new information
    • use and communicate what has been learned so it can be implemented, and, in turn, built on
    • is based on constructivism, constructionism, collaboration and communication
    • has information literacy and the use of digital technologies and resources embedded as across-curriculum perspectives
    • provides authentic tasks and assessment to enable the development of information literacy within meaningful contexts
    • understands and values the role of the teacher librarian
    • has policies and practices addressing
      • access to and use of information including intellectual freedom, intellectual property and ethical use
      • access to and use of digital technologies
      • school library resource development and managemen
    • acknowledges that each community member is a teacher and learner at the same time
    • supports the professional learning of staff

People

Identifying the stakeholders and their roles sets the tone for the language of the plan and the sphere in which it is to be used.

The target group is the staff, teaching and non-teaching, of Alpine Waters School and, through them, the students and the wider community. Initial leadership will be provided by the principal and teacher librarian but this will devolve to interested parties as their expertise develops.

Positives

Examining the current situation identifies the benchmarks from which growth will occur as well as the platform on which changes can be set.

  • The principal is anxious for change and will commit staffing, money and time to enable it, providing overt support to the teacher librarian.
  • The teacher librarian has the experience and expertise to guide the development of an ILSC.
  • Two teachers have indicated they are looking for alternative pedagogies to improve student outcomes.
  • Access to some digital technologies has improved and the Internet is now accessible, reliable and affordable.
  • The introduction of the national curriculum provides a solid reason for change.
  • Staffing is stable so change is likely to be sustained.

Problems

Examining the current situation identifies issues which need to be addressed and helps establish priorities.

  • Current teaching practices are ingrained despite evidence that they lack effectiveness, so staff may be resistant to change and defensive.
  • Need to convince staff of the value of the new approach so that it is not seen as another new fad adding to their workload.
  • Collaborative planning between teachers and teacher librarian is rare.
  • Lack of understanding of the role of the teacher librarian in the 21st century.
  • Resistance to embedding ICT in pedagogy because of inexperience and no critical mass of hardware available at the point of need.

 

Period

Setting a time period based on identifiable markers ensures that progress is sustained and measured.

It is acknowledged that sustainable change will take time.  However NSW is committed to implementing the national curriculum in 2014 and so the plan will be implemented over 2012-2014. In Term 4, 2011, the teacher librarian and a committee comprising the principal and interested staff members will be formed to initiate the change so it can be introduced on the first Staff Development Day (SDD), 2012.

Plan

Preparation of a plan means goals, performance indicators, responsibilities and timeframes are clearly identified and therefore change is likely to be achieved.

A detailed plan has been prepared encompassing

  • a timeline of development
  • the key strategies for development employing a variety of design and delivery methods which model those strategies in practice
  • scheduled review and reflection
  • a range of groupings including whole staff, small groups and 1:1 mentoring relationships
  • opportunities for leadership
  • indicators of success.

It is designed to enable participants to understand the theoretical and pedagogical foundations of the changes and encouraging them to take ownership of these through their own planning, programs and practices.

Although it is a map to the destination of an ILSC, it is acknowledged that this concept changes according to the circumstances of its community and therefore the map should also be seen as just a guideline able to be changed to meet change.

Performance Indicators

Providing milestones ensures that goals can be achieved in incremental steps  and their efficacy measured and adjusted as necessary. Including the anticipated outcomes of the plan provides a specific, measurable goal on which all decisions should  be based.

By 2014, the staff of Alpine Waters should be in a position to implement the national curriculum on a solid foundation of the known and accepted philosophy, pedagogy, programming and practices of an information literate school community.  Students will be engaged with their learning and demonstrating their confidence and competence with information literacy at an appropriate level. Internal and external benchmarking will show improvement.  The teacher librarian will be an integral part of the teaching and learning culture working on a flexible schedule in a collaborative planning and teaching environment and the library will be the valued hub of the learning community.

Towards an Information Literate School Community at Alpine Waters School – Strategic Plan
Timeframe Strategy Responsibility Performance Indicators
Term 4, 2011 Development of draft plan Teacher Librarian, Principal Draft plan available for discussion
Establishment of committee to consider draft plan Teacher Librarian, Principal, Interested staff Draft plan edited and approvedSDD planned and resources prepared
Familiarisation with new concepts through professional learning Teacher Librarian Committee familiar with Information Literacy Process (ILP) and Guided Inquiry (GI)
SDD, Term 1, 2012 Introduction to Australian Curriculum and its implications for pedagogy Principal Staff made aware of the key changes imposed by theAustralian Curriculum and their responsibilities to address these.
Staff engage in practical exercise to plan a perfect holiday Committee Members Staff understand that learning is constructed on personal experience and perception and need for more individualised approach
Overview and explanation of ILP using slideshow, Eisenberg podcast and handout Teacher Librarian Staff introduced to common strategic structure to scaffold student learning – discussion of Eisenberg’s contention that “information literacy is the most basic of basics”
Staff engage in chocolate-sharing exercise Committee Members Staff employ ILP and understand its application as an across-curriculum perspective
Using current school-wide unit based on values, staff brainstorm outcomes Teacher Librarian, Staff Identification of desired knowledge, understandings, attitudes and skills as a result of a School Values unit and evidence of achievement
In year level groups, staff plan Values unit using ILP scaffold Staff, Teacher Librarian Ready-to-use unit based on information literacy and GI principles
 Term 1, 2012 Teacher Librarian works with year-level groups to collaboratively plan and implement first COGS unit based on ILP and GI in scheduled planning sessions Staff, Teacher Librarian Collaborative planning between teachers and teacher librarianUnits of work demonstrate understanding of ILP and GI”Library lessons” closely connected to class program
Appraisal of current collection to ensure it supports current and intended curriculum Teacher Librarian Collection weeded and new resources identified and acquired
Relevant professional readings distributed and discussed and support materials developed during staff meetings Teacher Librariam, principal, committee members, staff Professional learning expanded
Review of progress and identification of needs and directions All stakeholders Preparation of units and support materials and review of progress encourage staff to take ownership of changes
SDD, Term 2, 2013 Introduction to Guided Inquiry Guest speaker Staff provided with pedadogy and practical strategies for planning and implementing units
Planning of T2 units based on GI Speaker, staff, Teacher Librarian Units reflect constructivist apporach based on GI
Term 2, 2012 Continued collaborative planning between teams and Teacher Librarian during scheduled sessions Teacher Librarian, Staff GI principles and ILP evidenct in COGs unit planning
Development of repository of digital resources to support curriculum Teacher Librarian Resources added to OPAC; development of hotlists, learning paths; email alerts to staff etc
Review of progress and identification of needs and directions All stakeholders Evidence of commitment to philosophy and pedagogy by teachers
SDD, Term 3, 2012 Exploration of how ICT can be embedded in curriuclum beyond “typing stories” District ICT co-ordinatior, Teacher Librarian, competent staff Exploration of a range of tools including OPAC, wikis, blogs, and resources available through the National Learning Digital Resources Network
Identification of needs/strengths and establishment of mentor partnerships All stakeholders Partnerships established to encourage exploration and embedding of ICT into the curriculum
Term 3, 2012 Continued collaboration between teams and techer librarian in scheduled planning sessions with emphasis on embeddingICt Teacher Librarian, staff GI and ILP strategies consolidated
Scheduled, rostered ”show-and-share” sessions at staff meetings Staff Staff demonstrate their adoption of and competence with ICT in a particular context and share and discuss ideas
Review of the use of ICT in school-based administrative duties and communications Principal, admin staff, teachers Identification of professional learning needs, hardware, software and so forth to support the embedding of ICT into school administration, including the use of social networking to communicate with parents
Review of progress and identification of needs and directions All stakeholders Identification of professional learning needs, hardware, software and so forth to support the embedding of ICT into the classroom program and class-based administrative tasks
SDD, Term 4, 2012 Development of a formal policy embedding GI and the ILP as the foundation principles for planning and pedagogy at Alpine Waters School All stakeholders Policy development and implementation
Term 4, 2012 Continued collaboration between teacher librarian and staff Teacher Librarian , staff Use of GI and ILP consolidated
Review of progress and identification of needs including the restructuring of the teacher librarian’s role to a flexible schedule to be available at the point of need. All staff Reflection of changes to pedagogy; discussion of issues and possible solutions; identification of targets and performance indicators for 2013 based on identified needs and priorities
 2013 The program for 2013 will depend on the progress made in 2012.  However it is anticpated it will encompass

  • departmental requirements for professional learning based on the implentation of the new NSW syllabi based on the Australian Curriculum at regional and school levels
  • continued collaborative practice based on the principles of GI and the ILP
  • establishement of leadership groups based on expertise, experience and interest to extend planning to all areas of the curriculum
  • a financial commitment to ensure the current collection meets and supports the teaching and learning of the school according to the Collection Policy priorities
  • the establishment of a digital repository of resources which support the curriculum and 24/7 access to these through the provision of apporpriate hardware and an online presence
  • the restructuring of both staffing and timetabling to enable the teacher librarian’s role to become one which enables and supports collaborative planning and teaching to ensure GI and ILP are embedded across the curriculum
  • support for any new staff members to develop their professinal knowledge and practice of GI and the ILP
  • a practice of greater use of social networking tools for communicating with all stakeholders
  • a movement towards embedding ICT into all facets of the school’s administrative practices
  • monitoring student progress to identify evidence of improvement in knowledge, understanding, and skills
  • continued review and reflection to identify needs, priorities and directions for the future

 

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the information literacy hat

hat_infolit

 

 

 

 

Information Literacy is the teacher librarian’s specialist subject, but it is a whole school responsibility.

 

In the K-12 education sector, information literacy is a double-edged concept. There is the workplace culture that Henri (1995) calls the ‘information literate school community’ (ILSC) and which he describes as “a philosophy as well as a place; it is a way of being as well as a working model.  It is a mindset as well as a map,” (Henri, 2005, p11). There is also the pedagogical platform of a skillset based on the definition that to be information literate means “being able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” (American Library Association, 1989, para 3).

Many, such as Eisenberg (2009), argue information literacy underpins all other literacies and is the foundation of lifelong learning defined as “the systematic acquisition, renewal, upgrading and completion of knowledge, skills and attitudes made necessary by the constantly changing conditions in which people now live.” (Candy, cited in O’Sullivan, 2002). While the ability to locate, evaluate, interpret, select, organise and use information has always been a skill required of students – indeed, the population generally- it was the development of the Internet that has had the most significant impact.  Internet usage is now so widespread that over 34% of the world’s population has access, an increase of more than 566.4%  since 2000 (World Internet Usage Statistics, 2012). It is estimated that by 2015, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Indonesia alone will add 610 million users (Boston Consulting Group, 2010).

While it took 1850 years for all that was known in the time of Jesus Christ to double, in 2002 and prior to Web 2.0 technologies, it was estimated that, spanning the four storage systems of print, film, magnetic and optical and the information conduits of telephone, television, radio, and the Internet, five exabytes (1018) of information) were produced that year – about 800MB per person on the planet. (Lyman & Varian, 2003). In addition, researchers suggest that, in 2008, Americans alone consumed “information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totalled 3.6 zettabytes [1021] and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day.” (Global Information Industry Center, 2009).

From this burgeoning, incessant production has arisen a new paradigm – information literacy, a term first coined by Zurkowski (1974) who used it to refer to workers who had mastered using information tools as well as their primary materials to solve work-based issues and which, by 2005, was identified as “a basic human right in the digital world” enabling individuals “in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals”  by the Alexandria ProclamationThe Adelaide Declaration on
National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century
acknowledged this right when it stated,

Australia’s future depends upon each citizen having the necessary knowledge, understanding, skills and values for a productive and rewarding life in an educated, just and open society … when students leave schools they should have the capacity for, and skills in analysis and problem solving and the ability to communicate ideas and information, to plan and organise activities and to collaborate with others.

Students will need to be able to survive and thrive in an information-saturated and technology-rich environment, and be independent, creative thinkers, making informed decisions based on careful evaluation and interpretation of available information, developing expertise through experience, and be lifelong learners. They need to be information literate. And as the ability to be able to access whatever, whenever, wherever becomes the norm, we, as teacher librarians, need to change our thinking so that rather than being the source or the gatekeepers of the information (as we were in a print-dominated society) we need to see ourselves as the filter. While the front end of the information literacy process involving location, selection and organisation remains important, it is the back end such as validation, synthesis, leverage, communication, collaboration and problem-solving with information that are the critical elements of information literacy in the 21st century. The what and the why are summarsied in this clip which was created as a summary of the ASB Unplugged Conference in Mumbai, India 2010. It compiles thoughts from leaders in technology education and explores the big topics of conversation around what the 21st century classroom looks like. It demonstrates that these skills need to be an across-curriulum perspective, spear-headed by the teacher librarian but not limited by artifical boundaries such as physical location, job description and so forth.

Therefore, even though information literacy is the specialist subject of the teacher librarian, the creation of an information literate school community cannot rest on one pair of shoulders.

An ILSC is one that “places a high priority (policy, benchmarking, funding and  evaluation) on the pursuit of teacher and student mastery of the processes of being informed,”   (Henri, 2005, p12).  The community (which comprises all stakeholders including the principal, the teacher librarian, teachers and ancillary staff, students and parents) is built on collaboration, constructivism and constructionism with each member having a clear focus and responsibility so the synergy of the parts ensures the success of the whole. 

Rather than being an individual experience, learning becomes a collaborative and co-operative interaction dependent on its particular context to give it value and determine its application and communication. Learners are “engaged, enabled, enriched and embodied by social, procedural and physical information” (Lloyd, 2010, p30). A successful ILSC is driven by the staff led by the principal and teacher librarian, who, as the information specialist in the school, can enable classroom-based teachers to shape their teaching so it sits on a solid information literacy platform.  It requires a sustained commitment by willing partners who are prepared to evaluate, initiate and change philosophies, policies, programs, practices and priorities and invest time, money and effort in achieving the goal.

However, despite the demonstrated need for information literacy beyond the formal education period, and the evidence from numerous studies (summarised in Kachel, 2011) that “quality school library programs impact student achievement” (Kachel, 2011, p4) information literacy is still seen by many practitioners as “library skills” focusing on and confined to students’ use of print materials in the library and taught while they have their preparation and planning time. There is no broader vision that values and validates information literacy as an across-curriculum perspective with purpose and application in all spheres of life.

Thus, it becomes the TL’s job to drive the change towards an ILSC.

But if change is to be successful, it will have to explicitly demonstrate that it will improve quantitative student outcomes, rather than just making a more meaningful learning experience, as regular external testing is now used to measure a school’s ‘success’. It will require a clear blueprint that demonstrates the transition to an ILSC is not just a fad that will add to teachers’ workload.  Critical elements of that blueprint are

    • The principal’s support is imperative for success and there must be an expectation that the TL will take a leadership role and that staff will be required to make the requisite changes
    • Staff will need to understand the concept of and the need for an ILSC, and be actively involved in the changes to policies, programs, practices and priorities enabling them to invest in and take ownership of the new philosophy
    • If learning is to be successful it must engage students by meeting their needs and interests based on a constructivist, problem-solving approach
    • The depth and breadth of the TL’s role in the 21st century needs to be clear and accepted and thus the  TL must be part of a collaborative team involved in planning, preparation and assessment practices so that information skills are taught in context not isolation.
    • The library, its programs and its collection need to be viewed as the hub of the teaching and learning in the school community.
    • Parents need to be informed of and active participants in changes of philosophy, pedagogy and practice.
    • The transition to an ILSC will need to be gradual as such significant change needs to be planned and supported so concepts become culture as community members embrace and take ownership of a new era in education for the students at this school.

Thus there needs to be a plan in place and for that the TL will have to put on the planner’s hat.

Unlinked References

Henri, J. (1995). The information literate school community: exploring a fuzzy concept. Scan (14)3: 25-28

Henri, J. (2005). Understanding the information literate school community. In J. Henri & M. Asselin. (Eds.). The information literate school community 2: Issues of leadership. (pp. 11-26) Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia: Centre for Information Studies

Lloyd, A. (2010) Learning from the workplace: Theorizing an architecture for understanding information literacy as practice. In Lloyd, A & Talja, S (Eds.) Practising information literacy: Bringing together theories and information literacy practice  (p29-49) Wagga Wagga, NSW Australia: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University

O’Sullivan, C. (2002). Is information literacy relevant for the real world. Reference Services Review, 30(1): 7-14.

Zurkowski, P. (1974). The information service environment: Relationships and Priorities. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, Washington DC, ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources, ED 100391.

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the supervisor’s hat

hat_supervisor

 

 

As with any job, there are parts of the multi-faceted role of the teacher librarian which do not require a tertiary qualification to do them well.  (Unfortunately, some of those jobs such as circulaton, shelving, data entry, and resource preparation are the most visible and are the tasks by which the role is defined by those who choose to look no deeper – but that’s another post for another time.)

Nevertheless, there is a significant number of daily chores that need to be done to ensure the smooth running of the library so our clients get the best service, and many of us find ourselves in the role of supervising clerical assistants. These people may be full-time or part-time, have some sort of library qualification or just their knowledge based on their own school experience, be willing to be in the library or not, be expected to be the library leader when you are not there or seen as a general dogsbody. You might not even have the same person each day. Regardless, there is an expectation that you will provide leadership and supervision so their work, like yours, leads to better teaching and learning outcomes within your school community.

From time to time, on the library listsevs I belong to there are queries about how these relationships can be managed successfully – usually inspired by a relationship which is not working out – and there are a plethora of answers of what might work and what doesn’t and usually both sides have a say and often the only outcome is a wedge driven even deeper between the parties.

When I was in a school-based library, for ten years I had the most amazing sidekick a person could wish to have and who was expected and able to run the library after I retired and wasn’t replaced (until a new principal with a different agenda changed everything). The founding principal of the school had the philosophy that my primary role was that of teacher – hence teacher librarian – and he couldn’t see why he should pay me $50 000 a year to do what someone paid $30 000 a year could do, so he made the clerical position a full-time one. (We had 20 classes and about 450 students). Thus, Jenny could take care of all the administrative stuff,  freeing me up to do the maximum amount of teaching I was allowed to do while still getting my mandated prep and admin time. This actually enabled me to do more teaching because I chose to schedule the preschool children twice a week for storytime during my admin time, providing a significant flow-on effect when they came to “big school”. The rest of that time was then taken up with such things as curriculum mapping, collection development and all those other things which required my professional knowledge of pedagogy, curriculum and child development. 

Because our relationship was so successful,  I’ve reflected on what it was that made our time together so memorable and so productive that our library was regarded as leading-edge, even in international forums. Much of it was learned from my being “on the wrong side of the law” many times and being “managed” in ways that only built a feeling of resentment, a lack of respect for the “manager” and an unwillingness to co-operate in the future.

Jenny, ready for our Book Week parade. She made my yellow brick road so easy to travel.

Jenny, ready for our Book Week parade. She made my yellow brick road so easy to travel.

Respect each other as people

Regardless of any age gaps, or experience and expertise gaps, you are first and foremost adults and therefore need to treat each other as such. Know that supervising adults is different to supervising students – there is no hierarchy, perceived or real, of power, authority, control, responsibility or whatever the word is that makes you or your role any more important than them or theirs.

Take time to get to know each other’s lives outside of the school situation.  You are going to be working side-by-side for up to eight hours a day so share as much as you’re comfortable with so on those occasions where home circumstances might interfere with the job, both of you have understanding and empathy and can step up for the other without rancour. As Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Knowing your staff means that if there is a problem and you need to put on your supervisor’s hat you should know them well enough to understand how they would like it to be addressed. Ask yourself , “If I were in this position, how would I like it to be sorted?” “What insight do I have into my colleague’s way of being that will help me address the issue without insult or injury?” It fosters a degree of empathy and builds an atmosphere of trust and recognition that enables issues to be dealt with professionally.

Know your roles and responsibilities

While both of you have a particular role, you each have a common goal.  Each of you is critical to achieving that. Some positions have formal duty statements attached to them clearly delineating who does what, but to assume that one role is more important than another can be a pathway to problems.  They are of equal value, just different.

The first thing we did was to designate Jenny’s job as Library Manager, and whenever there was a formal communication from the library both her name as Library Manager and mine as Teacher Librarian appeared on it, side by side. This reinforced the concept of dual equal roles to everyone, and identified that there was a need for both positions if the library’s services were to meet expectations. Jenny was also the “face of the library” – she was the first person that students, staff and visitors usually encountered and the one who made the greatest impression on people’s perceptions about what to expect.  The school was so lucky to have such an affable, calm and competent person, made moreso because she loved her job. If your assistant seems to be spending time chatting with staff or students, then it’s likely she is also building up positive relationships which will encourage greater use of the library.

If there is no clear duty statement, have a discussion about what each of you perceive your own and the other’s role to be, what you want it to be, clarify any discrepancies and build your working relationship on that. Examine your mission statement and your vision statement so you both know your purpose and your goals and work out how your roles and responsibilities will complement each other to achieve these. Knowing how your role fits into the big picture fosters a sense of belonging.

From this, prioritise tasks so there is a plan to ensure efficient and effective use of time which ensures priorities are addressed and longer-term tasks can be achieved but which also avoids continued monotonous routine that does not enthuse or stimulate thinking.

Explore and exploit each other’s strengths and build on these.  Both Jenny and I had a passion for creating inviting and engaging environments so we were able to combine that into some amazing displays and activities. I was a “big-picture” person, one who could have weird ideas that usually began with “What if…?” or “How can…?”; she was a “details” person who helped put them into practice.

Know each other’s jobs so, as far as possible and allowable, you can step into them when necessary.  Busy days saw me shelving alongside her so that students could access the returned resources as quickly as possible; she was able to tell me if a particular author, series or topic was in continued high demand so we could look at collection development. While she couldn’t teach for legal reasons, I knew that I could send a child needing a break to sit near her desk with confidence, or a student could ask her for guidance in resource selection and get quality advice.

If you introduce something new, ensure that the changes have been considered according to the identified criteria,  your assistant knows what is underpinning the change, and how it will be most efficiently achieved.  If the change requires new learning or extra time to set up and maintain, ensure these are made available. Acknowledge the time and effort made, both privately and publicly when the changes are announced.

Work together to implement procedural and/or physical changes and preparing the documentation to ensure consistency across time and personel. Listen to opinions and advice about work practices and work flow- yours might not be the only way to do things. However, if you have a specific way you want something done because it is best-practice, then make your expectations and requirements clear. If there is resistance, suggest a trial period and an evaluation. Be prepared to modify the theory to suit the circumstances.

Ensure your assistant has the resources – physical, human, knowledge, financial and time – to be able to successfully undertake their duties.

Never leave school at the end of the day without thanking them for what they have contributed to making the day better for everyone and highlight something you’ve noticed so they know you see what they do.

Acknowledge and support aspirations

We each have professional goals so learn those of your assistant and look for ways that will enable these to be achieved.  Seek or create professional learning opportunities that will enable them not only to develop and enhance their skills but also keep abreast of changes that will impact on the design and delivery of the library’s services.

Ensure that there is adequate training provided for new initiatives, particularly ICT-related, so your assistant not only feels competent and competent to use them but also knows where to go for help or advanced training.

Protect them

Because they are the “face of the library”, they are also the first port of call for disgruntled teachers and unhappy parents. However, it’s not their responsibility to cop the flak, so be ready to step into the fray if needs be.  Discuss this with your assistant before it happens, though, in case they feel your interference overrides what they are capable of handling and undermines their position in the face of the staff member or parent.  Let them know that you have their back so if they feel they need your help, they can always suggest the parent/staff member makes a time when the issue can be calmly discussed amongst the three of you.

Be Proactive

If either of you see a situation that could be improved through changes to the routine or method, discuss it and trial it.

If either of you see a sittuation developing that is impinging of the other’s self-esteem or work patterns, discuss it before it becomes insurmountable.  It’s very difficult to counter the question, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

If school events or requirements are going to deprive you of your assistant for a period of time, let those who decide know that this is acknowledged but you would like to know in advance so you and your assistant can prepare for the change and make alternative arrangements.

Be flexible.  If your assistant is not replaced when she is absent, have a back up plan.  If she is replaced, then have a plan for what the substitute might do, remembering that he/she might not have library experience. Perhaps hold some sessions for those likely to be subsitutes so they know the basics of circulation and so forth before they are called on.  Seek these people first when you need a substitute.

Look for opportunities when you and your assistant can work together and be acknowledged as a team.

People like Jenny are more precious than gold. Working with our assistants in a collaborative, collegial manner enriches everyone’s lives.

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the reader leader’s hat

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Being an “independent reader” is much more than the mastery of the mechanics – it involves having an emotional attachment that makes the experience a part of who we are as a person, embracing the affective domain as well as the cognitive and the physical. 

Being an independent reader means developing a lifelong habit that continues because we want to read  and not because we are required to or have to. It means that we read even when daily support such as dedicated in-class reading time such as the DEAR and USSR programs are no longer available.

In her book Reading in the Wild , a professional text that has had the greatest impact on my beliefs and actions of any I’ve read for a very long time, Donalyn Miller identifes five key characteristics of an independent reader…

  1. They make time to read and dedicate part of each day to doing so.
  2. They  have the confidence, experience and skills to self-select reading materials
  3. They share their books and reading experiences with other readers
  4. They have a reading plan - they know what they will read next.
  5. They show and share preferences for particular authors, genres and topics.

While Miller’s book focuses on her experiences with her classes who have access to an extensive classroom library, the purpose of this blog post is to examine how we, as teacher librarians, can put in place supports that will enable students to move along the spectrum of reading mastery to complete independence.

Read the research

Apart from the research about the value of being able to read well which Miller cites in her books, there are also some important studies being undertaken that we should know about, particularly if there are moves afoot to abandon print resources in the library or discourage the reading of fiction.

Firstly, there is a growing body of evidence such as that by Combes and Coiro that for students to read effectively online, they must first build up a traditional literacy skillset which is based on print.  Secondly, there is research from Kidd and Castano that reading fiction can have a lasting impact on brain function, which is currently receiving considerable publicity   All should be on our professional reading lists.

But for a comprehensive overview of Australian children’s reading habits, Dr Dianne Dickenson has produced this literature overview which provides a snapshot of what the 5-14 year-olds are thinking and doing in relation to reading right now.  While it states that “there is a vibrant culture of reading and writing in Australia right now” it also identifies Australian Bureau of Statistics research which shows that there has been “a significant fall in children’s reading for pleasure … from 2006-2012″.  Libraries, although not school libraries specifically, are identified as an important source of reading materials for children but it also acknowledges that there is a new concept of what reading is emerging – that it no longer is confined to traditional print resources – and thus new research needs to be undertaken with this included.  It also identifies other gaps in the research which might offer food for thought for those with a research-oriented brain.

Think like a reader

When Miller talked to her students about reading, she discovered that many of them viewed reading as a school-based activity, something done to achieve something else, please someone else or an obligation done for points, a grade, or a positive comment on a report.  Others, including me, have found that students don’t see themselves as readers – that’s something that adults and others can do.  Seldom do they classify themselves as readers because in their view, readers read fluently and perfectly without errors – something they don’t yet do. They also see ”real reading” as something doen with a traditional print-based object even though they might be succeeding very well within a different medium. So we need to help them view themselves and reading in a different light.

Firstly, we need to broaden our concept of what reading is.  Is it confined to traditional print materials or does it include how children relate to the diversity of digital media? If we are observing their reading behaviour, either formally or informally, what is it that we are looking for?  Qualitative measures like enjoyment and engagement, sharing and suggesting, taking risks to try new authors, topics and genres? Or quantitative measures like progress along an arbitrary achievement line, comprehension scores and other standardised progress measures?

Secondly, we need to think about the language we use when we talk to them about their reading. Is their concept of “reading” the same as ours’?  As discussed in the learner’s hat one of the drivers of learning is that there is an expectation that the learner will succeed, so we need to shape our comments, questions, suggestions and tasks so the students believes they can achieve this exulted title of “reader”.

Thirdly, we need to get them to focus on their reading – what they read, what they like, how often they read, where they read … all sorts of questions that help them understand that they can and do read beyond the scope of a classroom-based task and a print-based object. In collaboration with the classroom teacher we can get students to complete a personal survey thinking_reading to focus on their habits which will give both student and teacher an insight into their preferences.

Then, we can get them to track their reading so they have a visible record of it.  Very young students might have something like a themed-chart with ten spaces and a star is placed in each for each book read while older readers could have personal reading journals which contain reading logs, responses, to-read plans and so forth. Services like Goodreads and Shelfari offer an online option for this but you might also consider Biblionasium or A Book and a Hug which have been designed for young readers.   However, while we want the students to track their reading so they can identify their preferences, plan their future reading – both characteristics of independent readers identified by Miller – and prove to themselves they are indeed readers, the paperwork should not become more important than the reading. While individuals might set themselves personal challenges to accomplish, the reading record should never be a competitive document.  Tracking their reading also enables them to make recommendations for their peers, both positive and negative, and this contributes significantly to their perceptions of themselves as readers. Many of these crowd-sourcing sites also offer suggestions for new reading based on the student’s entries, so that helps develop a reading plan for the future.

Time to read

No one will deny that reading proficiency is dependent on practice and that, of course, requires time.  But students, like adults often find it difficult to find this time both at school or at home. However, if students see that the significant people in their lives read and make the time to do so becasue they value reading they want to be be a part of that reading community, belong to that “in-group”, sharing experiences and forging bonds that help them define themselves as readers.

Students often see reading as an all-or-nothing event – something that is done in blocks of 30 minutes or so, 30 minutes that they don’t see themselves as having in their hectic school and after-school lives.  Miller suggests the solution to this is to get students to read “on the edge” although “in the gaps” might create a stronger visual image, but they need to learn how to identify those gaps, such as waiting for the bus or an appointment or during a sister’s soccer practice.  As TLs, we can lead a lesson where we help our students identify those gaps and turn them into opportunities.  Teach parents to read in the gaps too – encourage them to have a book in their bag that they can read aloud to their child, such as I did yesterday when I had the chance to look after Miss 2 while Miss 7 was busy so we sat and read together, much to the delight of the other patients who enjoyed her version of The Gruffalo’s Child and didn’t have a bored 2 year-old disturbing them. It teaches the young child so much about reading…

Miller suggests having them keep a reading itinerary for a week, identifying when they read, where they read and for how long. This not only helps them look for those opportunities but also helps them understand where they are most often and most comfortable reading. This can lead to individual discussions that help the student gain insight into their reading habits, and that it can be done anywhere, anytime even just for a few minutes.

As well as helping the students make time to read, look for opportunities to promote reading within the community and read aloud to students.  Consider…

A place to read

As the TL we should be able to set up areas that are conducive to personal reading within the library and which students can use during breaks. There should be spots for individuals who like to curl up in out-of-the-way spots and be alone in the world of their book as well as places where they can share what they’re reading with their friends. Have a special story-teller’s chair where they can role-play being the TL or their teacher -anywhere that invites them to spend a few minutes just reading.

Couches, beanbags ... comfortable seating entices readers

Couches, beanbags … comfortable seating entices readers

I purchased bean bags for my library and was fortunate enough to have a couple of couches donated.  Students love to curl up in these and read to themselves or to the teddies that were always there as a friend.

As well as making places and spaces in the library, look for other areas around the school where students have to wait and possibilities for reading are created. Ask parents for donations of comfortable chairs and leave a pile of books that can be taken and returned or not.

A reason to read

A writer can’t help but divide all the world he knows between readers and nonreaders.

I can only reach for the readers, and through them, the future. I conclude then, in the voice of a young reader,

I read because one life isn’t enough, and in the pages of a book I can be anybody;

I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;

I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map;

I read because I have friends who don’t, and young though they are, they’re beginning to run out of material;

I read because every journey begins at the library, and it’s time for me to start packing;

I read because one of these days I’m going to get out of this town, and I’m going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.

Peck, R. (1991) Anonymously Yours. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Messner

Encourage students to read by setting up interactive displays that require them to read.  Two of the most popular I created were based on setting up Graeme Base’s The Eleventh Hour as a whodunnit with a clue released each day, and a series of challenges based on Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest  which meant the students had to read the books to complete the tasks and earn another stone for their belt. Look for books that lend themselves to such treatments and beg, borrow or buy enough copies for the participants.

CSI was very popular on television at the time so it inspired an interactive display based on The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base. The library was the place to be at lunchtime, and reading was the thing to do.  even the most reluctant readers in this cohort wanted to be part of the in-crowd.  csi3
csi4 csi1
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Set challenges that can be completed by the students as a reading community.  HarperCollins have a poster of an A-Z of literary characters  which, because it has a strong US orientation, could be a model for creating an A-Z of Australian literary characters. Or set personal challenges such as Read-a-Rainbow in which each student selects seven genres to read over a set period time, completing an appropriately illustrated record for their reading journal.

The opportunities are endless but my rule of thumb was not to put anything on the walls that did not have a reason to read to accompany it.

 Growing readers

If our students are to grow into competent, confident, independent readers we need to help them by actively promoting opportunities for them to broaden their experiences. For every TL in every school library there is an idea of how this can be achieved but here are a few…

  • collaborate with the classroom-based teachers who set reading-based assignments, encouraging them to set open-ended tasks which students can meet using texts of their choice, avoiding the traditional one-size-fits-all class novel
  • support what is being taught in the classrooms by creating displays of resources, particularly fiction, which are aligned to the topic.  Teachers may well clear the shelves of non fiction resources but often fiction focusing on a particlar time, place, event or topic will offer extra insight
  • read aloud to students of all ages, not just those unable yet to read for themsleves, and suggest appropriate read-alouds to your classroom-based colleagues. Read-alouds
    • build a sense of community through shared experiences and memories, as well as sharing those books that are valued by the community at large
    • introduce students to titles, authors, genres and topics that they might not discover for themselves or which they avoid or which are beyond their independent reading level at the time
    • they make popular texts accessible to those who, for whatever reason, are not yet able to read them for themselves enabling them to share in the conversations about current fads
    • support developing readers through discussion of unfamiliar vocabulary, concepts and contexts which enhance comprehension, as well as enabling them to hear fluent reading and the nuances of our spoken language
  • plan specific activities within your teaching programs which highlight books, authors, genres, formats and series so that students have a feeling of familiarity when they recognise them on the shelves
  • build anticipation for new releases through promotions and competitions, ensuring that allocations are fair and that there is the opportunity to reserve titles
  • recognise those readers who might have a passion for a particular author, genre, topic or series and direct inquiries about them to those students. This is particularly effective for those who may not be the leading lights in a class and whose self-esteem needs a boost.
  • talk to reluctant readers about the things they are interested in, not just what they like to read about, and direct them to titles – fiction and non fiction – so they learn that the library has stuff for them too.  Look to cater for that ‘long tail’ who have yet to learn that reading and libraries are relevant for them
  • create and promote displays of authors, illustrators or topics that you know appeal to a particular group but which they haven’t discovered yet
  • create and promote displays of themes such as sustainability, values, international stories to bring unfamiliar resources to the fore
  • offer an engaging display of genres and have students commit to reading a selection of them including some that are unfamiliar but allow them the ownership of their choices
  • troll winners of awards from home and overseas, add them to your collection and promote them
  • if award winners drive your literature program but you need those titles for teaching, look for other titles by the authors and offer these
  • offer reading materials in a variety of formats so they appeal to a wider range of readers
  • challenge students to read the winners, honour books or shortlists for a particular award for the year they were born
  • capitalise on special days and develop activities that promote these such as speed-dating with books on Valentine’s Day
  • exploit interest in movies, television shows, online games and apps by providing the books on which they are based
  • promote author studies and organise author visits
  • publicise and promote target resources through blogs, booktalks, book trailers, school notices and newsletters – any opportunity which presents itself

Here are some more suggestions from teachers in the UK … How to encourage students to read for pleasure: teachers share their top tips.

Growing readers is one of the most important parts of our role – it requires both our teacher and librarian hats because we need to know how students learn to read and then how to develop a collection which meets their needs.

Encouraging self-selection

Neil Gaiman says

Read. Read anything. Read  the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk.  You’ll find what you need to find.  Just read.

It is our role as teacher librarians to enable our students to do just that. Confident self-selection is one of the hallmarks of an independent reader and there is a range of research which demonstrates how choosing their own texts enhances engagement and promotes reading motivation and interest. Allowing students to take responsibility for selecting their reading materials 

  • boosts their confidence in their ability to make decisions
  • provides a sense of ownership of the choices and thus a greater motivation to read them
  • increases their knowledge about authors, topics, series, genres and formats
  • helps them become more discerning about their likes and dislikes
  • teaches them that it is OK not to finish something that doesn’t live up to expectations
  • enables them to match their choices to their particular life circumstances at the time – sometimes a light read is appropriate, sometimes something more challenging

As teacher librarians and student advocates we must resist any demands to organise the library’s collection based on arbitrarily imposed reading levels, grade levels, points systems or any other device or system which limits the students’ choices.  We need to refuse to identify books in any way that might marginalise readers or discriminate against them whether that be ability-based, cultural, religious, or sexual orientations, or any other criterion that might result in a student refusing to read at all.  We need to know the research so our refusal can be defended on pedagogical grounds and be willing to require those wanting change to answer those questions identified in the information specialist’s hat.

Self-selection needs support and I’ve already shared some suggestions on how to do that as you grow readers. However, Miller also identifies having a reading plan as a critical characteristic of being an independent reader and in her case her students have preview stacks of books they might like drawn from her extensive classroom library. A more practical situation in the school library situation is to encourage students to create to-read lists, either print-based in their reading journals such as growing_reading or using an online service such as GoodreadsRecording recommendations not only offers a plan for the future but it jogs the memory and allows the reader consider options that might meet the particular circumstances.

Miller also encourages her students to examine their reading, particularly the last five books they’ve read, and ask these questions to help them reflect on their selection methods and thus fine-tune them.

    • How do you find out about books that you would like to read?
    • Which sources influence you the most? Why?
    • When you see a book or hear about it, how do you decide that it is a book you would or would not like to read?
    • Do you ever abandon a book? Why or why not?
    • Are you successful in choosing your own books to read?  Why or why not?

Enabling students to self-select and ensuring they have the skills to do so is one of the most critical things we can do for our students.

Sharing reading

Sharing reading is an important indicator of an independent reader.  Being able to reflect on what has been read, contribute to a discussion about it and make a judgement about its worthiness shows both competence and confidence. Providing a supportive environment which fosters a reading community in which each member sees that reading is valued and valuable and that they themselves are considered readers is a critical element. 

Reading as a leisure activity needs to be as accepted as any other pursuit, and not just for those with “brains” or nerds or the socially inept.  We need to surround our students with models of reading, particularly those whom they hold in high regard. So invite community members in to read to them, display posters and create displays of celebrities and sports stars reading; reach out to the classroom, home and beyond – anything that helps show that reading is cool and a mainstream activity.

Providing readers with the opportunity to share their reading means it becomes a two-way street where students know they can give and their gifts are valued. As with growing readers, there are as many ways to provide students with opportunities to share as there are TLs in libraries. But here are a few…

  • Provide time for and encourage students to talk about their reading informally -often what looks like idle chit-chat is actually a reflection and and a recommendation
  • Establish a quotable quotes wall.  Have speech bubble templates on hand so students can record significant sentences from stories they read. Have them include the title, author and location.

dumbledore_quote

    • Create a book snapshots wall. Take photos of what each student in a class is reading at a particular time and create a collage. Change it regularly so all classes have a turn.
    • Create a five-star display and poster where students can record the details of books they believe to have a five star rating.
    • Have a Recommended Returns display where books which students highly recommend are displayed for others to borrow without having to search the shelves. Scan the covers   and keep them in a folder for students to browse when they’re looking for something new.
    • Invite students to create displays focusing on their favourite authors, themes or genres.
    • Display a catchy caption such as The Land Before Time and have students find the resources, fiction and non fiction, that they think should be part of a display.
    • Leave a legacy.  Have your graduating classes decide the five titles every student should read before they leave your school and develop a display with their reasons for recommending them.
    • Have students create book trailers, bookmark reviews, and blurbs to display in commonly-used places such as the bathrooms.
  • Explore the use of QR codes encouraging students to provide the back-end information.
  • Encourage students to contribute comments to the library’s blog or other communication tools, recommending reads they have enjoyed.
  • Have students track their reading using an online service such  Biblionasium, Goodreads or Shelfari or using a print form such as this one tracking_reading

Putting on the reader leader’s hat is one of the most important aspects of the teacher librarian’s role.  Not only does it need to be big enough to hold all the ideas and suggestions we have, it also needs to be big enough to encompass those who come under our influence.

 

 

 

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