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the scope-and-sequence hat

 

 

 

 

 

Not so long ago, certainly in my teaching lifetime, there used to be a “curriculum” commonly known as “library skills”.

The classroom teacher (occasionally a teacher librarian) would take their class to the library and teach them things like the layout of the library, the difference between fiction and non fiction, alphabetical order and Dewey classifications, the various types of reference books and how to use them, and other  similar skills so that the students could be ‘independent’ users of the facility, able to do their own ‘research’ and perhaps cite the source from which they had copied their information. Workbooks and worksheets abounded and the evidence of learning was based on their successful completion.

 

Then in the mid-90s as the phenomenon known as the Internet started to gain traction and access to it became more reliable, affordable and widespread, the walls of the traditional brick-and-mortar library began to break and patrons were able to source a wider range of information from a greater variety of sources beyond those immediately available on the library’s shelves.  With this came a realisation that there needed to be a scaffold to support learners in their selection, evaluation and interpretation of all that was now accessible to them and so models of developing information literacy were created and we became familiar with such devices as

and a host of others including my own expanded version of the NSW model.

The core of the NSW Information Search Process model

The core of the NSW Information Search Process model

Regardless of the model chosen or mandated, each one followed a similar pattern of skill development…

  1. A problem to be solved or a question to be answered generated a need for information.
  2. Locating the resources that would satisfy that information need
  3. Choosing the most appropriate information through analysis of its relation to the information need
  4. Sorting and organising the information from a variety of sources so it can be used effectively
  5. Using the information either personally or sharing it with others
  6. Considering the where-to-from-here either as a result of the new learning or as an information seeker

Whichever model was used, the development of information literacy became the specialist subject of the teacher librarian and was viewed as the focus of teaching in the library.

However, with the explosion of information as the development of Web 2.0 enabled Internet users to become creators and curators of information rather than just consumers, and the emergence of a plethora of devices which enabled anywhere, anytime access to what was online it became clear that the traditional once-a-week lesson would not be enough to ensure that students were information literate.

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information

ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, 1989

Going right back to Piaget’s notion of assimilation and accommodation of new experiences being at the core of learning and with the burgeoning understanding of how humans learn based on work by those such as Marion Diamond, Bob Sylwester, Eric Jensen  and Geoffrey and Renate Caine , it was clear that developing the concepts and skills necessary to undertake research and investigations was clearly something that needed to be embedded across the curriculum and taught by all teachers within the context of their discipline.  The one-off, isolated lesson was not going to result in the sort of internalisation of skills and understanding that could readily be transferred to new situations. So what had been a set of discrete skills with the tag “library skills” and taught by the teacher librarian, often in isolation from anything happening in the students’ classroom, became the responsibility of all with the release of the Australian Curriculum documents and the Common Core Standards in the USA.

While this makes sound developmental, educational and pedagogical sense, many teacher librarians found it to be a very threatening situation – with no set curriculum, what would be their role in this emerging Information Age; how could they to remain relevant when “everything is on the Internet” and a growing, if fallacious perception that the more a school “went digital” the more modern and efficient it would appear to be.  Having a set curriculum like other faculties appeared to be the anchor on which many relied to demonstrate their contribution to the teaching and learning of the school, their raison d’être, even holding onto their job.

Yay or Nay

In a recent informal survey of TLs across a number of international forums, all but a few of the respondents said that they would prefer a scope and sequence chart directly related to their teaching in the library. The most common reason for having such a document was that it would guide their teaching “so nothing is missed” but other reasons included

  • ensuring instruction is systematic and cohesive across grades, departments and buildings
  • ensuring instruction is uniform across grades, departments and buildings
  • ensuring assessment is uniform across grades, departments and buildings
  • ensuring that students emerged from a grade/year level with a common body of skills so standards are maintained and that there is a defined starting point for the next academic year
  • providing a big-picture overview of the curriculum and what was required
  • providing “ticker boxes” for skills and outcomes, particularly those in the English curriculum
  • providing a framework for planning and a scaffold for teaching
  • providing a guideline for skills development across and through grades and year levels particularly for new TLs as well as those more experienced
  • providing a common language between the TL and the classroom-based teachers
  • providing cohesion for students particularly those who move schools frequently
  • providing an advocacy tool to demonstrate that there is a set curriculum and therefore there is a legitimate role for the TL within the school
  • assisting the development of rubrics for assessment
  • demonstrating to classroom-based teachers that TLs have skills to offer them to assist their teaching and give credibility to the TL’s suggestions
  • demonstrating to classroom-based teachers, executive and principals that the role of the TL has changed
  • demonstrating to parents that the TL has something to offer their students beyond the “right book”
  • providing a document for successors so there is consistency across time
  • providing a visual guide to what should be taught when
  • helping to satisfy the need for documentation of lesson planning and data collection from assessment strategies imposed by school and district administrations
  • holding students accountable for demonstrating previous learning when submitting assignments across all curriculum areas
  • identifying areas of professional learning that need attention
  • comparing what other schools and districts are doing
  • providing documentation for personal and school accreditation
  • supporting the TL’s teaching role by demonstrating it is based on a common document not a personal agenda

Those who did not view a scope and sequence chart as an essential document were primarily concerned with it

  • isolating, or at best, marginalising, the TL’s knowledge and skills to discrete lessons that do not reflect or relate to what is happening in the classroom
  • promoting a belief by both staff and students that information literacy is “bizniz bilong library” taught only by the ‘expert’ TL  rather than something that should be an across-curriculum perspective that can be taught by all
  • sidelining the TL from the teaching roles in the schools, putting them back into the role of the resource provider
  • becoming a tick-a-box document that is inflexible and which has little relevance to student needs, interests and abilities
  • suggesting that the development of concepts and skills and the use of scaffolds is linear rather than recursive
  • becoming more important than the students’ learning so differentiation becomes minimal
  • limiting the integration of information literacy into the curriculum as a whole so students do not build their own scaffolds for learning something new
  • limiting the opportunities for students to grow their own understanding at their own rate because of a lock-step approach that might not allow Kindergarten students to use a digital camera, for example
  • suggesting that information literacy is a skills-based continuum that can be measured and reported on rather than a spiral curriculum that leads to a greater ability to assess, interpret and use information as an adult
  • becoming prescriptive, restrictive and conclusive rather than needs-based, responsive and flexible
  • becoming a set-in-concrete document that is a blueprint for a significant period
  • promoting a one-size-fits-all approach with all schools and all students having the same profile and needs
  • promoting the perception that information literacy is a discrete set of skills that can be taught and learned in isolation
  • limiting the conversations and collaboration between TL and classroom-based teachers as the latter consider the TL has a syllabus to teach and should just get on with it
  • preventing the opportunities for serendipitous learning or going off on student-directed tangents because of the need to “follow the curriculum”

The scope

Before the issue of yay or nay can be decided, it is necessary to consider what such a document might contain.  The fundamental element of a scope and sequence document is its scope and fundamental to that is its focus.  Being a fan of Stephen Covey’s habit of “Begin with  the end in mind” and Simon Sinek‘s “Start with why”, identifying the purpose of the document is essential in order to not only determine its focus but also to make sure that all that is done (and the workload is substantial) is aligned to the vision so it is on target, relevant and meaningful. So what would be the purpose of the document – a flexible guide for planning teaching or a tick-a-box assessment of learning? Being a fan of Stephen Covey’s habit of “Begin with  the end in mind” and Simon Sinek‘s “Start with why”, identifying the purpose of the document is essential  What would be its key focus? What should be the overarching driving force?

  • Information Literacy?
  • Critical Thinking?
  • Creative Thinking?
  • Digital technologies proficiency?
  • Digital Citizenship?
  • Media Literacy?
  • Inquiry skills?
  • Inquiry pedagogy?
  • Visual Literacy?
  • Cyber safety and security?
  • Cultural and social understanding?
  • Knowledge Building?

In a presentation to local teacher librarians in February 2017, Dr Mandy Lupton demonstrated that all of these, and many more, were elements of a wide range of models that could be associated with information literacy and be considered the realm of the TL.

Using Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

UNESCO has been developing a Media and Information Literacy program to provide “access to an international, multimedia and multi-language media and information literacy (MIL) teaching resources tool for educators, researchers and individuals….[to facilitate] intercultural/interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding through MIL.”

Media and Information Literacy recognizes the primary role of information and media in our everyday lives. It lies at the core of freedom of expression and information – since it empowers citizens to understand the functions of media and other information providers, to critically evaluate their content, and to make informed decisions as users and producer of information and media content.

This covers the elements in this diagram.

 
UNESCO Media & Information Literacy

UNESCO Media & Information Literacy

One has to wonder if it would be useful, let alone feasible to produce a document that covered all these elements let alone any other add-ons such as the General Capabilities of the current Australian Curriculum.

Having decided on a definition and the parameters, there are still questions to ask and decisions to be made.

  • Will the document be one that describes outcomes, skills or standards?
  • Given that some aspects of information literacy are the same for Kindergarten as they are for year 12, just at a different degree of sophistication, will the document be driven by big-picture ideas for lifelong learning such as “Students will learn to use ideas, information and images ethically” or will it be more piecemeal such as “Students will learn to cite sources using title and author”? 
  • Will it be enough to troll the key curriculum document looking for appropriate outcomes and indicators or should other ancillary documents such as the ISTE Standards be incorporated?
  • How will the “21st century skills” be incorporated and addressed?

  • How will differing needs and circumstances be addressed such as access to reliable, robust and affordable Internet access?
  • In her analysis of the current Australian curriculum, Mandy Lupton found that even within what is supposed to be a national document, those writing each subject strand did not use the same language for the same concept so how will this be addressed so there is common language and understanding?

The sequence

Perhaps is would seem easier to identify the sequence of skills to be learned. But again, there are many aspects that need to be considered…

  • In Inquiry Skills in the Australian Curriculum Lupton found that there was not consistency across the subject strands as to when a particular concept was introduced.  What might come in Year 3 in one area did not appear till Year 9 in another.  There seemed to have been few or no common conversations about what should come when and at what level of sophistication.
  • In the case of the Australian Curriculum, it is always changing (Lupton’s matrix of 2012 is now out of date) and states have adapted it or overlaid their own requirements on top so it becomes more ‘personalised’. Thus the purpose of establishing a common body of knowledge is blemished.
  • While all schools are expected to follow the Australian Curriculum, different approaches to addressing it are taken, including the International Baccalaureate  so delivery and expectations are shaped by these.
  • Many schools see the library and the teacher librarian as part of the English faculty yet, in the Australian Curriculum, there are few English strand outcomes that directly focus on the development of information literacy
  • The role of the TL within the school is unique to that school – some provide cover for teacher preparation and planning; others co-operate with teachers to run a parallel program; some collaborate in both planning and teaching; some are directed by teachers or executive to provide specific instruction of discrete units of work; some are so micro-managed that they can only read aloud to students for fun every second week; some are autonomous in their programming; some see students daily, some once a week, some for a term or semester a year, some only when the teacher or student comes to the library with a specific purpose – so adherence to and completion of a set document would be problematic
  • The development of information literacy and inquiry skills are not linear – it is a recursive practice as information seekers go back and forth according to purpose and need – yet a traditional matrix would not reflect this. While an experienced TL might be able to factor this in, it might be confusing for a new TL or a principal expecting to see boxes ticked as taught.
  • Learning is a spiral that is unique to the individual learner so how would the concepts of “introduction, consolidation, mastery” (or similar terms) be addressed and depicted?
  • Mastery of a concept is demonstrated when its associated skills are transferred to new, unrelated situations and the learner can explain what they have done and teach others but this might not ever be apparent if the TL is working in isolation and it may not ever occur within the students’ time in formal education. There is not necessarily an endpoint to becoming information literate.
  • While the original intention may be different, many scope-and-sequence documents become a tick-a-box checklist particularly in the current climate of testing, testing, testing and data collection so what happens to those for whom learning is not easy or very easy and who have the right to have their needs met?
  • In a time of differentiation, does imposing a lock-step curriculum take us back to the outdated, fallacious notion that one size fits all?

Maybe UNESCO has provided the beginning of the answer.  They  have attempted to bring together the fields of information literacy and media literacy into a combined set of knowledge, skills and attitudes required for living and working in the 21st century by identifying the Five Laws of Information and Media Literacy.   

Returning to the big-picture view perspectives of Covey and Sinek, even McTighe and Williams’ Understanding by Design which place the end result at the beginning, these laws could be a sound foundation for any scope-and-sequence document.  If we believe Law 5 which begins “Media and information literacy is not acquired at once. It is a lived and dynamic experience and process” then it may be possible to take the other four laws and ask what each might look like at each year level; what knowledge, understandings, skills, attitudes and values are appropriate for this law at this level for these students so that any document that is produced has a common direction and cohesion using the curriculum outcomes you are obliged to address while acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all as the tick-a-box testers would like. 

Creating a scope-and-sequence document is easier to say than do.  There are many arguments, both conceptual and practical, for and against its creation and its use.  Conversations with colleagues and social media messages suggest that there is a desire for such a document to provide direction and clarification but I suspect that this post has created more questions than answers!

 

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the reader support hat

 

 

Ask any teacher librarian what their core business is and somewhere in a relatively short list will be a phrase relating to enabling and supporting students to be effective, efficient, independent readers.  Whether that be preschool, primary, secondary or tertiary and referring to reading for pleasure or reading for research, the development of reading is at the heart of what we believe and at the heart of what is expected by our communities.

If there were a magic bullet to enable everyone to achieve the goal, then it would have been discovered by now and the continual arguments about phonics versus whole language would be silent; politicians would be basking in the glory of having a 100% literate community and publishers would be providing resources that meet the criteria. The teacher librarian’s role would be easy – just provide the resources to meet the students’ interests.  Needs or abilities would not be a concern.

But the simple truth is that, like everything, there is no one way.  We are individuals and the way our brains are wired and the way we learn to read are as individual as our DNA and our fingerprints.  So why then, does learning to read and then developing and honing the skill have to be such a competition?  While the “finishing line” is reasonably clear, why do we demand that all cross the line at the same time?  Instead of paving the way for a smooth and safe journey, why do we pepper it with obstacles to climb over or manoeuvre around?

As the new school years looms in Australia and New Zealand – back-to-school advertising starts the day after Christmas – and mid-year assessments and reports are gearing up in northern hemisphere schools, there seems to be a rise in the need to be able to show that students have improved (or will improve) as the result of programs and practices and that the only way to demonstrate this is through quantitative data and comparison with other students. 

Thus schools, teachers and ultimately TLs are looking for ways to measure this improvement whether it be through schemes that require students to have gained a certain number of points by responding to their reading; demonstrating that they have read a certain number of books or for a certain number of minutes; or moved through certain, arbitrary levels of achievement as though reading is a road with clearly defined bus stops on the way; or some other method that brings in an element of competition with other students.  (And don’t be fooled – kindergarten kids know about good, better, best.)

The educational buzzword of the moment is “accountability” and my recent experience back in a primary school showed that teachers are spending more time teaching to a test so they can collect data than they do celebrating the joy of learning – the cry of “there’s no fun anymore” was common amongst experienced teachers like myself; less-experienced teachers were bemoaning that the job they did and they job they believed they should be doing were poles apart; and students were learning that school was all about jumping through hoops and being tested to prove you could jump as high as the next person.  That it was all a huge competition that you had to win to succeed and if you didn’t you may as well tattoo ‘failure’ on your forehead.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that we need to monitor students’ progress but in a way that enables us to support their individual development by providing support or extension where it is appropriate.  In regards to reading, back in the 70s when I began my initial teacher education in New Zealand, Dr Marie Clay was examining the reading behaviours of the very young and amongst a lot of other ground-breaking stuff, introduced the concept of running records which meant the teacher noted the child’s strategies as they read aloud and was able to make decisions about what support the child needed to become more independent. a running record enable the teacher to see what strategies the child had already internalised so these were not taught over and over unnecessarily, with the instructional focus falling on those strategies that needed refining.  It was about improving teaching not measuring learning.

In her book, Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller found that by Year 6 the majority of students viewed reading as a means to an academic end, not a source of pleasure in and of itself.  Given that the five-year-old goes to school with the firm belief that they will be reading by the end of the first day what is it that we, as their educators do, that changes them in six or seven short years? What have we done to kill the joy of the printed word and the things it can teach us and the places it can take us?

So what role does the teacher librarian have in ensuring that that core business of assisting students to be independent readers, able to access, understand, interpret and manipulate text? Recent conversations on and in professional forums suggest that there are two camps when it comes to wearing the reader support hat,

The first camp comprises those who believe that their role is to be guided by teaching staff who see the library’s role as purely an adjunct to their teaching programs and support mandates that students should only borrow books that are at their reading level; that they should be able to read everything they borrow; that books must be of a certain type, format or length; that they should support a particular topic or focus within the classroom. They believe that students should choose from a pre-selected range, particularly restricting younger ones to picture books or those with plenty of photos, regardless of whether the child might share their choice with a parent or sibling and often agree to label or shelve the books, supposedly to make choice easier but in effect proclaiming the child’s ability or lack of it to peers. This is despite the mounting evidence that reading levels are inaccurate, vary according to the measure used for the exact piece of text, and the means for establishing a child’s reading level are also problematic.

Three Myths about Reading Levels ..and why you shouldn’t fall for them

Reading is an interactive process, so the difficulty or ease with which a particular reader can read a particular text depends in part on his or her prior knowledge related to the text and motivation for reading it.  

In other words, a student’s reading choices are not independent, free, interest-driven and satisfying the need of the moment.

The second camp comprises those who believe in free voluntary choice so that students can be in control of their own reading journey and be empowered by and positive about having that control. They can shape their own reading journey; learn what they like and dislike; learn how to discard what doesn’t appeal for whatever reason; acknowledge that they will find some books easy and others more difficult (as happens in real life depending on our experience with the topic); explore a whole variety of worlds, characters, situations and opinions so their horizons are broadened in ways that only reading can do; challenge themselves to take new paths and detours; be challenged and perhaps changed by what they encounter and thus become better informed; become independent, critical, discriminating readers reflecting the real-world experience rather than some artificial domain. They can choose to extend themselves to read more challenging materials about unfamiliar topics or they can seek comfort in something that offers them support in a time of need. They can walk out with the thickest book in the library because that bolsters their self-esteem and image amongst their peers and regardless of whether it can or will be read, keeps a positive message about the joy and wonder of reading flowing.

Perhaps it is time to re-visit our core beliefs about what teaching and learning are and how those beliefs feed our programs and practices and how our programs and practices reflect those beliefs, while also examining our vision statement and what we believe a best-practice, top-shelf library looks like.  As well as being the reader leader  we must also be the reader support.

Are we in a school where there has very much a one-size-fits-all  philosophy where students read class novels as a whole and move forward in a lock-step fashion?

Are we in a school where students are expected to read only within their “level” and where our collections are shelved according to those levels?

Are we in a school where reading is measured in the number of books read, minutes spent reading or points gained and rewards are offered on the basis of that?

Are we in a school where reading is seen as an academic competition where only the best will ever succeed because success is only measured by an academic score?

Are we in a school where the TL’s role is seen as the reading instructor rather than the reading facilitator, the “sage on the stage” instead of the “guide on the side”, to quote Jamie McKenzie

If we are, what are we as TLs who supposedly have the big picture in the frame, doing to change the environment so that the running track becomes more level and every child has the chance to cross the finish line at their own pace?

Have we reflected on our professional beliefs and practices and articulated what we believe the school library’s role in supporting literacy to be?

Are we in a school that values individual difference and the importance of literacy?

Have we read Donalyn Miller’s books, or Readicide by Kelly Gallagher or the writing of Stephen Krashen so that our personal professional learning and understanding is up to date?

Are we aware of the research about the value of independent reading and the school’s role in this such as the Kids & Family Reading Report AND are we sharing this with our colleagues, executive and parents?

Are we encouraging students to set their own personal goals relating to reading so their journey becomes their own, one which they are in charge of and for which they can make their own decisions? Are we rewarding them in a way they feel is appropriate when they achieve their goal?

Are we supporting them through open-ended challenges such as Dr Booklove’s Reading Challenges, Joy Millam’s Challenge or that from Naomi Bates?

If students are required to respond formally to some of the titles they have read, are we offering a variety of ways that they can do this?

Do our circulation policies and practices support children’s choosing and choices as well as frequent, regular access to a wide range of resources?

Are we sensitive to and supportive of the needs of our clients, including those in different family structures, those for whom English is not their first language, those who are exploring their gender orientation, those who have learning difficulties generally and so on?

Are we sharing information about learning to read with the parent community as well as suggestions for the sorts of books they could investigate for their children?

If, through that reflection we find there is a mis-match between our personal beliefs and our professional environment then we need to ask ourselves hard questions about our choices of staying, challenging and changing or finding ourselves a position more in tune with those beliefs.

But in the meantime, with the current climate of testing and assessment and accountability and so on, which is only likely to increase sadly because of the associated high-stakes outcomes like funding, I don’t know how we can get the powers-that-be to rethink what they are doing and what they require of us, if we are required to do a formal assessment on what we cover in the library on the literature side of things, perhaps this may be a strategy that can be adopted and adapted as necessary.  

I believe that if we are to encourage students to be lifelong readers, we have a responsibility to engage the kids in the love of story, the magic of words, the rhythms of the language and so on that we can and be as inventive as possible in our assessment tasks so they are hands-on, developmentally appropriate demonstrations of what students have learned.  Not just endless worksheets and book reviews.

One way of managing the data collection is to identify the outcomes you need to address and choose a range of stories that will enable you to do this.  Share these stories over a number of sessions but instead of trying to assess every student on every story, just target a few for each session.

Have in mind those students and monitor their participation in the discussions and if they are not participating (perhaps they are swamped by those more vocal) then ask them a question directly that will help you mentally assess their capability.  If possible, make notes about the target students at the end of the session so you don’t forget what you learned. 

If you have a collection of stories then you can introduce the concepts you are focusing on cumulatively with each one by saying something like, “Remember when we read… we thought about how being in a thunderstorm made us feel.  Well, our story today is set in the dead of night so I want you to think about how that might make you feel. And how it might change the way the characters in the story think and feel and act.”  If you start your assessments with the kids you know will pick the concepts up quickly, this cumulative, spiral reinforcement will give those not-so-confident students time to build up their own mindset so when they become your target group for the session they have been set for success.  And in the meantime you’ve helped them all engage more with the story, increased their understanding of the sorts of techniques authors and illustrators use and kept them engage with story and reading as a whole.

Use your curriculum and talk with the teachers to identify those things that you will focus on during your time with the students so they are then free to focus on other elements. This not only creates a partnership between you but explicitly demonstrates how you can assist them in lessening their workload. It is unlikely that the PTB will pull back from what the curriculum currently demands – it’s as though those who write the curricula are in competition with each other to see who can get their students doing things faster, regardless of any developmental considerations or long-term interest in keeping them reading –  because that will be seen as dumbing down the curriculum and they won’t wear that.

There are so many ways we as teacher librarians can support our students’ reading so that it becomes a choice rather than a competition and we need to be their loudest voice so that each of them has the right to be a winner in whatever way that looks for them.

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the presenter’s hat

hat_presenter

 

 

 

I recently read and reviewed Luke, a wonderful addition to the wonderful Stuff Happens series which is “a contemporary reflected-reality fiction series for young boys aged 7 to 11 years old”. In this episode written by James Valentine, Luke suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking.

At the same time I was reading it, I was preparing a full-day presentation for newbie teacher librarians and I realised that while sharing my thoughts with others, either in person or in writing, is not difficult for me, there are many in the profession who are like Luke.  Thus, when the profession’s leaders call for advocacy and tell us it is our job to speak up to ensure that our learning communities know what it is we do, this can be an anathema for many or at least, something with which they are very uncomfortable.

As well, as the new Australian school term starts and northern hemisphere colleagues are thinking about the new school year, the listservs are again filling with requests for advice for undertaking tasks that ill-informed principals and administrators think we should undertake but which do not make the most of our specialist teaching expertise and experience.

So perhaps it is timely to share a few tips and tricks that might encourage the less bold to start being pro-active and educate those around them about what it is we do in this new age when even the need for the existence of libraries is being questioned.

Know your audience

This is the most critical element because it shapes not only what you will speak about but also how you will say it. 

As discussed in the reporter’s hat the teacher librarian has a number of prospective audiences who need to know what we do and why we do it. including

  • pupils
  • parents
  • peers
  • principals
  • pre-service teachers
  • politicians

Each has different interests and needs and each brings different prior knowledge and preconceptions to the table so our language and presentation methods must reflect this. If we are to engage effectively then we must adjust our perspective to meet their needs.

Each also presents a different dynamic to the relationship – the ‘power-balance’ between teacher librarian and pupil is very different to that between teacher librarian and principal, for example – and this can also affect our level of confidence if not competence. 

By carefully considering the purpose of the presentation and what we want the audience to take away from it, either as knowledge or a commitment to action, we are more likely to pitch our delivery at a level that will strike a chord with our listeners.

Know your topic

Be cognisant of what it is that interests your target audience.

Identify what it is you want them to take away from having attended your presentation.  Are you trying to persuade them, inform them, reassure them, entertain them, challenge them, broaden their understanding or consolidate what they already know?  What do you want them to know, do, understand, appreciate and value as a result of your presentation?

A good speech is like a pencil: it has to have a point.

Choose your topic carefully and address it from a perspective that shows them how you can be a partner in the process not an add-on.  Each audience group probably feels they have enough to do without having more layers added to their workload so present from a perspective which demonstrates how you can lighten their load while value-adding to it rather than making it even heavier. Wherever possible, use in-context, practical examples that can be applied immediately while basing that practice on sound pedagogy and evidence that can be delivered if necessary. Make your point, demonstrate it, provide the evidence (or link to it) and wrap it up.

While it can be tempting to think that this might be your only chance to talk to these people, try to avoid a scattergun approach that becomes an “all-I-know-about…” treatise which leaves them confused and bamboozled.  Much better to speak briefly on a focus topic and be invited (or invite yourself) back again than leave them feeling overwhelmed, ignorant and insignificant. 

Remember, it is about informing them rather than promoting you.  


pupilFor pupils, it may be the curriculum and thus your regular teaching program, drawing on your knowledge of their needs and abilities, sound pedagogy and real-world context should cover that. But they may also want to know about the latest releases, exhibitions, game and movie tie-ins  and so forth.  Ask them or have a suggestion box and schedule a regular session that has a student-directed focus.  If they ask for something about which you have no knowledge, seek out an expert – it may even be a student – and even if all you do is introduce and thank the speaker, your public speaking skills will improve, your confidence will grow and you set a model for students to follow.

 

parentsParents are most interested in what their child is learning and how they can support that.  There are a number of opportunities to talk to them about the role library can play in this – at parent orientation nights,   P & C meetings, or even holding special parent participation programs where you can explore topics in greater depth. But rather than giving them an in-depth course on the elements of information literacy or inquiry learning, think about the aspects that are most likely to crop up in the home.  We MUST acknowledge that regardless of what we might preach and practise at school, Google and Wikipedia are going to be major players in both adult and student information searches so starting with a how-to about determining the most effective keywords or looking at the authority of a website to determine its objectivity and currency will most likely be effective starting points.

If the children of your parent audience are much younger than that, then consider a workshop in how to read aloud well or how to select appropriate bedtime stories that will foster the child’s interest in becoming an independent reader.

peersInformation literacy development and skills are now being embedded into the general curriculum, as they should be, so our peers are now expected to be able to help students master those elements of the process that used to be seen as the sole domain of the teacher librarian. The Australian national curriculum is built on an inquiry model, and Guided Inquiry is becoming the common pedagogy.

So this is when your teach-the-teachers hat is most critical. Investigate what it is that your teachers want support with so that their professional learning is relevant and meaningful to them and they are ready to engage with it.  Depending on the structure of your school, work with groups or faculties or the entire staff use an actual investigation they are about to set to explore the element of Guided Inquiry or the Information Literacy Process that they have identified so they are able to put their learning into practice straight away.   

Introduce them to Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process focusing on the Affective Domain so they understand how their students feel as they move through an investigation or assignment and how they, themselves, are probably feeling. As well as teaching them the mechanics of the processes, also indicate how you are able to support their actual teaching through suggesting appropriate research-based outcomes, offering spotlight lessons or resource provision or input into assessment tasks and their rubrics.  Seek to value-add rather than add on.

If it’s possible structure a series of presentations that can be logged as part of their formal requirements for professional learning.

In my opinion, the teaching-the-teachers hat is the most critical role we have because it is easier to influence 30 teachers than 500+ students and have the entire learning community starting to speak the same language.

principalBecause principals are the primary decision makers when it comes to staffing and funding, presenting to principals, either individually or en masse, is one of the most important things we can do to ensure the preservation and appreciation of the profession.  Wearing my university marker’s hat I’ve assessed hundreds of assignments which specifically focused on the obstacles that stood in the way of having a top-shelf library-based program in place.   When every obstacle identified by each candidate was unpacked, it invariably came back to what the principal knew, understood, appreciated and valued about the role of the teacher librarian.  

Although we might think it is the principal’s job to know the ins and outs of the roles of all the staff, this is a big ask as more and more responsibility is devolved on them from above.  So make it your business to teach your principal and others about how you add to teaching and learning in a way that offers them the data and evidence they need to be able to cite in reports and their own presentations.   

 

preservice

The preservice teacher’s experience with a qualified teacher librarian is often limited to the person who was in charge of the library at their secondary school and that is the role model they are likely to have in mind.  Regardless of that person’s effectiveness, in the intervening time the TL’s role will have changed as technology and other developments and expectations march on so we must be prepared to let them know about what it is we can offer, both while they are on their prac and in their early years of teaching.  

In terms of the longevity of the profession, they might be our most important audience because those who come into the profession with the experience and expectation of a top-shelf TL as a partner will demand the same support as their career progresses.

If you can talk to those at your local university about how to best use our expertise on their next prac or internship, then make yourself available to do so.  If your only audience is those who come to your school, make sure your schedule a time with them to spread the word and the wares.  They will be having conversations with their peers and the word will spread and the demand will grow.

politician

 

Have you noticed that whenever there is a political announcement about education to be made, politicians always choose schools and almost inevitably the school library? They come to us!  So use the opportunities to present what you do and can offer,  particularly in relation to the topic the politician is going to be speaking about, so they  can see there is an immediate application and implication for what they are trying to sell.

If there is an upcoming election at local, state or national level, offer a presentation to all candidates, sitting and wannabes, so they can understand what it is a TL adds to the education of their constituents’ children, particularly as education is such a hot-topic election issue.

Be the TL the politician thinks of when the opinion and voice of an educator is needed.

 

Know how to present

Public speaking that engages the audience is almost an art form so be aware of all those things that we teach students when they have to give a speech, present an argument or participate in a debate.

  • Know about enunciation, pronunciation and articulation.
  • Understand volume, speed and tone.
  • Use language -vocabulary and sentence structure – appropriate to both audience and topic. 
  • Consider body language and eye contact.  
  • Research public speaking tips and watch videos that offer suggestions.
  • Be prepared to put more time into preparing the presentation than it takes to deliver it.
  • Know and practice pre-presentation calming techniques that clear your mind so you have just your presentation on your mind.  
  • Know how to deliver your message with passion and professionalism 
  • Avoid jokes at the beginning which often fall flat and leave the audience turned off and tuned out already.
  • Introduce yourself, but keep within the context of your presentation so your audience know you have authority on the topic and the credentials to present it.
  • Provide contact details so participants know that you’re not just there for the duration of the presentation.
  • Be responsive to your reception.  Yawning and fidgeting, looking at mobiles and so forth are not good signs
  • Be empathetic – acknowledge the difficulties that your audience faces, particularity with time, and suggest ways these might be overcome.
  • Demonstrate that you have trodden their path, that you are on their side and you are there to help them collectively or individually.
  • Be flexible – adjust your presentation if needed to explore an avenue your audience is particularly interested in or consolidate an aspect they are experiencing difficulty with.  
  • Be focused – try not to let a particular participant divert the discussion to their agenda, Let them speak but know how to draw the attention back to the focus of the rest of the audience.
  • Appeal to different learning styles with both vocal and visual presentations and embed activity, interaction, participation, and reflection within them.
  • Use podcasts and videos within your presentation to demonstrate or consolidate but keep them short and ensure there is excellent sound and visual quality. Diverting the focus to a “third-party” can make bringing it back to you difficult.
  • Conclude by setting a task or posing a question that will ensure your audience continue to think about what you’ve offered after they walk out the door.
  • Follow up by establishing an email group, a Facebook group, a blog post, a wiki – whatever suits them and the topic so ideas can be explored, questions answered and new networks built.
  • Above all, be yourself. It’s the easiest way to relax and deliver your message effectively.

Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.

In Valentine’s story Luke doesn’t overcome his fear entirely, but he does find a solution that works for him. That is the aim – find out what works for you.  Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “There are only two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and the liars.” Hopefully these tips will help you pull on your presenter’s hat with a little less anxiety.

 

 

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the sorting hat

hat_sortingThis is not the hat that will decide whether you’re assigned to Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Gryffindor.  

It is much more contentious than that.

This is the hat you put on when you decide how you are going to arrange your collection – alphabet or genre – and, currently, one of the hottest topics on discussion lists I belong to. Any question about changing the arrangement from the more traditional author-alphabet base to one based on the perceived genre elicits hot and fierce debate as proponents and opponents put their perspective.

The common arguments are…

  • students find it easier to find the sort of book they want in a collection sorted by genre 
  • collections arranged alphabetically keep all the titles by the same author together
  • if students only select from a preferred genre their reading choices are narrowed
  • students prefer the bookshop look of the library because it is more modern
  • if students learn the traditional method of the first three letters of the author’s name they will be able to transfer those skills to locating titles other libraries
  • one title might fit a number of genres so how will its placement be determined

In my opinion the decision is easy and is based on the belief that

The collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users and to meet those needs it must be accessible

Therefore, as the teacher librarian we must know our readers and what their needs are. What might be appropriate for the users in one school library might not work for the users in the school in the neighbouring suburb because each school population is unique.  

Even if we currently classify fiction in alphabetical order by using the first three letters of the author’s name, we have modified Dewey’s original arrangement (because he assigned specific numbers between 800-899 to literature) so that users can find what they want more easily.  Then, to make it even easier, we might shelve all the episodes of a particular series together or pull all the fairytales into one smaller collection. We separate based on format – picture book, novel, information book, DVD – and intended target audience such as junior fiction and senior fiction. In the non fiction collection all the biographies might be shelved in one spot rather than in their specific subject of expertise as Dewey mandates or the puzzle books might have their own space so they are easier to find and shelve. Already we are ‘tampering’ with tradition and accepted practice because we want to make the resources more accessible to those who are using them.  

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

So why is the decision to arrange the collection according to genre so controversial?

Firstly, the term ‘genre’ must be clarified because there is a tendency to interchange the word ‘genre’ with ‘text-type’ leading to confusion between format, purpose and content.  Genre itself just means ‘a type or a category’ and it is generally applied to literature, music and the arts.  Within literature it refers to prose, poetry, drama or non fiction, each with its own style, structure, subject matter, and the use of figurative language.  

However, in education realms it is also often used to describe the author’s purpose – to persuade, inform, entertain or reflect. And these categories have been broken up even further …

 

An overview of some of the more common school genres

An overview of some of the more common school genres

Rose (2006) cited in Derewianka, 2015

However, in terms of the arrangement of the collection we are referring to another ‘definition’ of genre – those divisions of fiction based on theme, plot, characters and setting.  It refers to categories such as adventure, romance, fantasy, historical and contemporary fiction although there is a much larger list of possibilities and the sort of arrangement that is proposed has become known as ‘genrefying’.

If we return to the the underlying premise that the collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users, then it stands to reason that as a priority we need to identify what those are, particularly in relation to their preferred way of selecting their reading resources for leisure and pleasure. We need to ask questions to identify if genre is their first and primary criterion for selecting a new read and the sorts of stories they like to read.  (Thinking Reading  provides a starting point to survey your readers on a number of issues to enable informed collection development.) My experience and research has shown that, generally, primary age students do NOT use genre as their search criteria. While they may like mystery or adventure or whatever books, their choices are made based on

  • peer or teacher recommendation
  • series
  • popular movie, television or game tie-in
  • author
  • cover
  • blurb
  • serendipity

But my experience is not your experience and all sorts of factors come into play such as

  • the age and maturity of the students
  • their proficiency with English (or the predominant language of your collection)
  • the focus of the curriculum
  • their access to reading materials beyond the school
  • their understanding of the concept of ‘genre’

So it is essential that you delve into the reading habits of those who will be reading to understand what will suit them best.

Should you discover that a collection organised by genre is what is best for your clients, then there are still a number of other questions that need to be asked and answered by the stakeholders before making such a significant change because not only is it a huge job absorbing human, financial and time resources it must also be sustained and sustainable. Those questions include…

  1. Why is the change being considered?
  2. Is this a sound reason for change?
  3. Is the change based on identified user needs or preferences?
  4. Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed or modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
  5. Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
  6. How do the proposals fit mandated curriculum requirements? 
  7. Can the proposed change be defended based on user need, sound pedagogy, curriculum requirements AND established best practice?
  8. What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates increased engagement and improvement to student learning outcomes?
  9. Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
  10. Will the changes impact on the students understanding of how other libraries are arranged and their ability to work independently within those?
  11. Have students had input into the proposal?
  12. How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
  13. Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
  14. Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
  15. Is it based on school-library best practice? Are there successful models (measured through action research and benchmarks and published in reliable authoritative literature) that demonstrate that this is a sustainable, effective and efficient model to emulate?
  16. Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
  17. How do the changes fit within your library policy, which, presumably, has been ratified by the school’s executive and council? Will the change in procedure require a change in policy?
  18. Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
  19. If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
  20. When will the impact of the change be assessed and what evidence of success or otherwise will be acceptable to the stakeholders?
  21. Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
  22. If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
  23. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
  24. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff? 
  25. If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
  26. Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
  27. Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
  28. Could that time and money be better spent?
  29. Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
  30. What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?

Documenting the answers to these questions (and others that will probably arise along the way) not only demonstrates your professionalism and the depth of consideration that has gone into the decision but also provides you with a solid foundation of evidence on which to defend that decision should it be challenged.

Having invested the resources in making the change, a new range of issues arises particularly in relation to how you teach staff and students how to use the new arrangement effectively, efficiently and independently.

  • Do they understand the concept of ‘genre’ in this context and the sorts of criteria that distinguish one from another?
  • How will you teach these?  Will teaching the characteristics of each genre become your predominant teaching focus to the exclusion of other curriculum priorities such as information literacy?
  • What will be the genres that you choose and how will these be decided?
  • Are the genre labels appropriate for the users? For example ‘romance’ might not appeal in an all-boys school but ‘relationships’ could encompass the concept.
  • How will the genres themselves be arranged – alphabetical order, popularity, size of the particular collection?
  • Will individual titles within each genre then be organised in alphabetical order of author or is there another way?
  • How will you deal with titles that span two or more genres?
  • How will the genre of each title be identified both on the book and in the catalog?

The arrangement of the resources in your library has to be based on so much more than the outcomes a retailer might be wanting to achieve.  The school library is not a bookshop on steroids and the sorting hat must be one that is put on with extreme care and consideration.  Of all the hats we wear, this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

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the transition hat

hat_transition

At the end of 2015 I finally hung up my going-to-school hat after 43 years of being in both the primary classroom and the school library.  Even though I officially “retired” in 2006, I’d still done a lot of casual relief work but for all of 2015 I had been back in a school library with my teacher librarian hat pulled on tightly.  However, I made the decision it was time to move on to new things. With this decision came the need and opportunity to consider what it was about the library I was in that made it unique to its situation and what the new incumbent would need to know to make the transition between us easier.

retirement

As the academic year draws to a close in the USA and elsewhere, and indeed teacher librarians everywhere are moving on to new schools or new lives, I thought it might be timely to consider what it is that we can do to make the transition from us to someone new go as smoothly as possible. What are the things we could and should do that will make for a seamless transition?  While many things are common to all school libraries, each has its own idiosyncrasies that make it unique and knowledge of these makes the new person’s job much less stressful.

However it is essential that the newcomer realises that the purpose of what you leave is not so that you can be the puppet-master from afar but a guide on the side so a welcome note, some flowers, something joyful to accompany what is likely to be a big pile will always be appreciated.

Here are some suggestions drawn from my own experience and that of others who generously contributed ideas to the online forums I belong to.

people

people

People are the key element of a library’s success and knowing who’s who is such a head start. Identifying the essential personnel will be enormously helpful but keep any comments, written or verbal, strictly professional.

  • if it’s possible and practicable, introduce the new TL to the library staff, parent volunteers, student leaders by hosting a morning tea before school starts where they can get to know each other without the busyness of the job to distract them
  • it there are paid library staff members, create a list of their current roles and responsibilities, timetable and other pertinent information
  • provide a thumbnail sketch of each person’s preferences and strengths so your new TL knows who the go-to person is if they want a display mounted, cataloging done, an ICT issue solved and so on
  • provide an outline of the nature of the student population such as whether there are significant indigenous or non-English speaking or LGBTQI groups and so forth who have specific needs that must be catered for
  • if there is a student leadership team for the library, identify those students who are likely to continue in this role and the program/expectations they follow
  • share the names of supportive staff members who are keen to collaborate or who know the collection well – those the new person can go to for advice if required
  • provide an outline of the chain of command so it’s clear who the supervisor is, who to go to for procedural or financial advice, who to go to for technical support and so on
  • make it clear if there are in-house committees or curriculum teams the TL is expected to join or take the leadership role
  • create a list of outside contacts such as frequently-used vendors, book fair co-ordinators, TLs in nearby schools, the local TL network co-ordinator, ICT Help Desk, even the local MP’s secretary and news editor if yours is a school that hosts events where politicians and the press are invited
  • if you are willing or able to be contacted for urgent questions, then provide your contact details

 

paperwork

paperwork

  • a sample teaching timetable is useful because even though it’s likely to change it provides a guide of expectations of the workload and its scope
  • a sample daily timetable indicating current hours the library is open, for whom and for what purposes. Include period and break times and any formal supervisory duties
  • a sample yearly timetable of events that the library has a leadership role in such as National Simultaneous Storytime, Book Week, Premier’s Reading Challenge, book fairs, community celebrations and in-school events including P&C and School Board functions
  • a calendar of requirements such as the submission of the budget; closing date for expenditure; subscription expiry dates; newsletters; student reports; anything already scheduled for the upcoming year such as a book fair
  • if you provide newsletters for faculties, contribute to the annual school report, share professional articles and so on, provide samples of these and the timeline and process you follow as well as a list of recipients
  • a copy of the current budget, annotated where necessary to identify priorities of the current collection policy including those yet to be fulfilled including details of ongoing grant submissions
  • a copy of the mission statement, the current strategic plan and critical policies such as those relating to the running of the library, collection development, collection management and circulation
  • a summary of the short, mid and long-term goals so the new TL can see the direction being taken at a glance (Just because the personnel changes, ratified policy shouldn’t have to.)
  • library procedures manual and diagrams of common workflow tasks especially if they are done by or involve others
  • list of “big picture” tasks recently completed or which need to be done such as inventory of a certain section
  • “cheatsheets” of essential information like logging into the circulation system
  • social media platforms used and how to access these
  • emergency routines such as fire drills and lockdown procedures
  • staff handbook for general school routines and procedures
  • school behaviour management procedures so that  there is consistency and continuity of expectations
  • sample forms used for budget submission; purchase suggestions; library bookings; curriculum planning
  • library-specific curriculum documents if applicable
  • procedures relating to the use of technology, games, makerspaces, access to new books and so forth – students will ALWAYS quote the previous TL’s rules if they perceive any sort of discrepancy
  • a list of above-and-beyond tasks currently undertaken by the library and which are likely to be expected to continue such as textbook management and equipment storage, maintenance and repair
  • an outline of external programs that your school is involved in and for which you have leadership such as Accelerated Reader, the library’s responsibilities in relation to these and any library-specific procedures

 

passwords

password

  • list generic passwords for
    • the circulation system
    • the library management system
    • online subscriptions such as databases, encyclopedia, ebooks
    • accessing the school’s computer network and/or learning management system
    • accessing library booking system
    • student sign-in system
    • social media access including any wikis or websites administered through the library
  • if passwords are not generic then list instructions for how they are generated by individuals

 

practicalities

practicalities

  • the hours the library is open beyond core school hours
  • if you have keys, leave these labelled 
  • if you are required to mark the roll or have some sort of sign-in mechanism leave the details of this
  • if you are required to collect statistics on circulation, library use and so on detail these as well as any software or LMS reports that you use
  • if you are required to supervise students who have ‘free’ periods, leave information about expectations for performance such as whether they are required to undertake formal study or whether it is a time to chat and play games.  Include the hierarchy for behaviour management issues.
  • if you are required to be on duty at each recess or lunch, indicate when you take the mandatory breaks yourself )and where the toilets and staffroom are)
  • clarify whether students are allowed to have food and drink in the library
  • the location of and access to services like photocopying and laminating as well as supplies such as printer paper
  • how the library is impacted by inside duties if the weather is inclement

 

peripherals

peripherals

Many, if not most, teacher librarians wear many hats beyond those of the core business of curriculum leader, information services manager and information specialist and there may be an expectation by administration, executive and colleagues that the newcomer will continue to provide these “extra-curricular” services.  So if you have taken on responsibilities such as co-ordinating pre-service teachers during their internship or the invigilation of exams and so forth, then ensure your successor is aware of these added extras so they can consider their role within them.

Other issues that are worth sharing include 

  • if you open early or close late and this entitles you to time-in-lieu  and when this is generally taken
  • if the library is used regularly for staff meetings and functions whose responsibility it is to set up and restore the environment
  • the care of any plants or wildlife housed in the library
  • the teacher librarian’s responsibility to lead staff  professional learning particularly in ICT hardware and software
  • any parent participation programs that you run
  • your responsibility, if any, for the procurement and maintenance of ICT hardware

However, these suggestions come with a serious caveat.  You leave these guides because YOU have chosen to move on and you are being replaced by a suitably qualified professional.  Sadly, many administrators and principals are looking to cut budgets and think that they can do this by employing a non-school librarian, a paraprofessional, an administrative clerk or even parent volunteers because despite all the advocacy and education about what it is a top-shelf teacher librarian can bring to the table, they still think that it’s just about book circulation. Similarly, as shown through a recent online discussion, others are trying to replace their ‘teacher librarian’ with a ‘digital learning specialist’ or other fancy sounding name because, again, they are still stuck in the notion of the position having remained static since their own childhood school experiences.

I have long advocated that in those circumstances you leave only that which belongs to the school itself and put none of your time and energy into creating lists and notes and so forth,  While this may sound harsh and tough for the person coming into the position, it is my belief that if the decision-makers are driven by counting beans, then beans should be all they get.  We know, ourselves, what it is our tertiary and professional learning in our specialist areas of information literacy, digital citizenship, literature appreciation and so forth bring to the education experiences of our students  and there is plenty of literature and research that is readily available to support this  and, in my opinion, if the hirers and firers choose to ignore this and withdraw this expertise and experience from the staff and students, then they must live with the consequences of that decision.

While that may seem harsh and unfair to the person who is going to fill your shoes and follow your footsteps, nevertheless if we, as a profession, are to continue to make the difference is out students’ education that all the research attests to, then we have to take a stand that will show that the role is much more complex and diverse than many realise and we do so much more than scan the barcodes on books.

Each of us works in a unique situation so although our “big-picture” professional practice will allow us to move into almost any library workplace, it is the detail of the daily duties that make each position unique.  What you leave as a legacy is your decision but by putting on your transition hat and thinking about what you would like to know about your library if you were the one moving into it you will have a foundation for what to leave for the person who follows you.

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the january hat

hat_january

 

 

 

 

It is January and it’s a new year around the world . And just as Janus, the Roman god after whom the month is named, has two faces to look both forward and back, it’s a time for teacher librarians to do the same.

Even though Australian teacher librarians are enjoying the long break between academic years, memories of the year just gone are fresh and they are already thinking of the new challenge that is just over the horizon.  There’s time to reflect on what worked well in 2015, identify what could be built on in the year ahead and plan for it to happen.  For without reflection there can be no learning and without learning there can be no progress. There is a vast difference between 20 years experience and one year’s experience 20 times.

seeing you, being you

Knowing who we are and what we stand for is at the core of what we do so it’s worth starting by identifying what we believe it means to be a teacher and how this then translates into being a teacher librarian. Explicitly stating our beliefs and making these public provides a professional presence that helps shape and guide our professional practice. It ensures that all the philosophies, pedagogies, programs and practices we adopt are in alignment with our beliefs and our goals.   Even if this has already been done, it is worth revisiting to consider what has been confirmed or challenged and needs changing.

This is my manifesto (which you will need Adobe Flash to view).

 

 

being seen

Despite years of advocacy and education about how the role of the TL has been invented with the coming of digital technologies, there is still a perception that we are irrelevant and do little apart from collect, cover and circulate books.  In this blog post Naomi Bates asks a very pertinent question – what do others see when they see us at work?  And importantly, how do they interpret what they see and how do we project what they see as being of benefit for everyone.  She identifies ten critical aspects of our role and forces the reader to reflect on why they are carrying out that task and how its value can be demonstrated to staff and students.  For example, she asks

If your campus sees you reading, what are you doing with it?

Tell them how you plan to share books with students. Create interactions between students and authors (in person, Skype, book festivals, comic cons).  Send out weekly book reviews via email, or get on your school television to play book trailers.  We always put out signs that say “Get Caught Reading.”  We should also get caught.  Being a role model and getting excited about reading can only lead to more readers.

Naomi is a leader among US teacher librarians and works at Northwest High School in Justin Texas. While her list of tasks may not match your particular situation, now is the time to think about the most common tasks we perform, why we do them, what we can leave behind and what we need to embrace, and how we can show that what we do is valid and valuable so it is valued. Instead of only the tip of the iceberg being visible, how can we provide insight into the 90% that is invisible?

iceberg

 

A library adaptation of the Iceberg Model might look like this…

iceberg2

So teachers might see me putting up a collection of posters outlining the information literacy process I have made  and think “that’s a good way to use up wall space” but do they realise the posters

  • provide a visual scaffold for the students in the classes working on an investigation 
  • reinforce the lexicon of inquiry and information literacy for both students and teachers so the terms become common language
  • encourage conversation between students as they discuss what they’ve done and what they do next
  • are a teaching tool that is frequently referred to as investigations are undertaken
  • enable differentiation of the curriculum as students identify the step that is proving tricky and seek help with it
  • include student input and ownership as they were required to develop the pop-out summary for each step
  • offer a model of poster presentation that students can emulate
  • have been duplicated in a slideshow available to students 24/7 through their Google Classroom
  • offer an opportunity for other teachers to ask questions and perhaps adopt the process themselves
  • are based on years of experience understanding the information literacy process and developing my own extended model

 

From a series of posters about the Research Process

From a series of posters about the Research Process

 

Using your personal manifesto as a starting point tease out your beliefs to identify what they look like in the day-to-day practice of your job. Create a chart that makes the threads of the tapestry explicit. Build on what you know to shape what you do next. Establishing such connections not only reaffirms their importance but helps you set priorities so you work smarter not harder.  

Having established what you do and why you do it, consider who needs to know and how you spread the word most effectively so that the message is timely, repeated and in the place where it is most likely to be seen by its target audience.  Go beyond the teaching body to the students, the executive, and the administration.  Remember to keep your community informed too as they have the power to vote. 

seeing ahead

Examine your school’s annual operating plan to identify the priorities and goals for the upcoming year, particularly those relating to teaching and learning outcomes because it shifts the focus from what we do to what others achieve because of what we do.

As well as the professional side, it is also essential to take care of the personal side.  So make a list of role-oriented events, activities and tasks that you want to achieve so you become and feel a more complete TL.  Set them out in a grid like this one from Sonja Schulz  The Sassy Librarian , print it, display it and enjoy the sense of well-being as you tick each one off.  Give yourself a defined timeframe to complete the challenge so it doesn’t get pushed to the bottom of the pile in favour of “more urgent” things and as you work through it and think of new items, make a list of these and create another 30-Day Happiness Guide.  You might even like to share the Happy Teacher Challenge with your classroom-based colleagues.

In the meantime check out this list of celebrations for the year, these suggestions for the first day, and this wonderful poem by Naomi Bates.

January can be a time to relax and rejuvenate – indeed it must be – but taking time to do some big-picture planning and preparation may be the reason you still have a position in the months and years to come.

Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings

Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings

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the seer’s hat

hat_seer

 

 

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a seer as one who “predicts events or developments” and while I can’t lay claim to having that extraordinary insight that sets such visionaries above the rest of us, in the past few weeks I have had the opportunity and privilege to see what might be in the world of libraries.

While no one can accurately predict the future, nevertheless there are those who examine what has been, what is and can make a very good forecast of what will be. They undertake the research, read the reports, study the trends and draw conclusions that the astute amongst us will consider and act on so that what we are offering remains relevant and required.

In a keynote address at the recent SLANZA conference in Christchurch, Mark Osborne identified three distinct phases in the evolution of education.

education1Education 1.0
This is the period prior to the Industrial Revolution when education was based on immediate, localised relationships.  It was limited to those with whom one interacted within the village or farm. It was based on the master and apprentice model where the skills needed to function within the community were handed down from generation to generation.The library consisted of the knowledge and stories in the heads of the village elders which were passed on orally to younger members as they required it.
 education2Education 2.0
This period was predicated on the factory model where items (students) moved along a conveyor belt having pre-determined bits added to them as they progressed in a lock-step fashion until they reached the end where they were tested for quality control. Uniformity of appearance and outcome reigned.  This one-size-fits-all model was seen as an efficient way to achieve a finished product and even the buildings which were single-cell classrooms off long corridors reinforced the notion.   The teacher at the front of the classroom was the sage on the stage, students were passive “empty vessels to be filled” and learning was measured through written products which demonstrated the level of  content and skills acquired. Curriculum was prescribed and delivered in a just-in-case fashion. Learning was confined to the boundaries of the school and the hidden curriculum of obedience, politeness, punctuality, neatness and respect for authority dominated.  (Bowles & Gintis, 1976) The library was often a converted classroom, although later purpose-built structures emerged, and their main function was to be the storehouse of all the resources that staff and students needed. These were predominantly print and presided over by a person who was seen as the gatekeeper and who gave rise to the stereotypical image of a librarian today.
 education3Education 3.0
This phase of education has emerged particularly with the development of and access to technology as well as the research into how the brain functions and how humans learn.
 It is based on the belief that knowledge is a commodity, free to all rather than being the exclusive domain of the privileged few and that progress is based on not what you know but what you can do with what you know.  Students are considered information creators as well as information consumers and so the teacher is now the guide on the side facilitating personal and collaborative knowledge creation based on the needs, abilities and interests of the individual. Learning is based on the notion that it takes a village to raise a child and thus is 365/24/7 with ubiquitous access to and use of technology to go beyond the walls of the school to wherever it leads.Students have a strong sense of ownership of their own education, are involved in the co-creation of both knowledge and resources and have active choice in their learning. While the library continues to be a storehouse of resources because not everything is available online and there is a growing body of research supporting the young learner’s need to build a solid foundation of traditional skills based on print if they are to be an effective and efficient user of the digital environment, the collection is much smaller and the space more flexible.  It is geared to encouraging collaboration as students pose problems and seek solutions to them configuring the space to meet the needs of their activity.

 

If we consider that a simple Google search today embraces all the technology that was employed in the Apollo program to land a man on the moon less than 50 years ago, and our students carry that power in their pockets but have done for only seven years since the release of the first smart phone, how can schools and their libraries change to meet the demands of Education 4.0 which is already on the horizon? The phrase “21st century skills” is bandied around in educational circles to the extent that it is now part of the lexicon of modern education. But what are those skills, what are they based on and what is their implication for the school library of the future and the teacher librarian who steers it?

Gratton (2011) has identified that the forces of technology, globalisation, society, energy resources, demography and longevity will be the major influences on work into the future and these are going to have a significant impact on the relevance of the current education system. The World Economic Forum has also identified 16 skills students need stating, “The gap between the skills people learn and the skills people need is becoming more obvious, as traditional learning falls short of equipping students with the knowledge they need to thrive”.  Students need to be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems and these are developed through social and emotional learning.

Skills required in the 21st century

Skills required in the 21st century

How to teach all the skills

How to teach all the skills

Other research from a variety of sources indicates that those jobs most likely to disappear to the efficiency of automation are those that are routine cognitive tasks and non-routine manual tasks while those that require human interaction and social intelligence or have a heuristic element that requires novel recombinations and interpretations of existing information to develop new ideas and artefacts are more resistant. Jobs that involve problem solving, teamwork, interpersonal skills rather than academic, and entrepreneurship will be the focus of the future while those that can be easily-structured into a rules-based process will disappear as computers follow rules very well. This is illustrated by computers being able to play chess at the masters level yet they cannot play a simple game of tic-tac-toe.

The New Work Order Report

The New Work Order Report

future_meme

The workforce  landscape that our current kindergarten students will face will be significantly different from that of our current school leavers.  While there are many infographics offering guidance about the nature of what those “21st century skills” are, the common core comprises

  • curiosity
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • connectivity
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • confidence
  • computer competence
  • commitment
  • citizenship

 21st_century

 

Much has also been written about how these concepts can and must be embedded in the design and delivery of the curriculum in the classroom, but how do they shape the school library, its position and potential?

At the SLJ Leadership Summit we have been urged to “teach more and librarian less” and certainly that makes sense if we take on board the evidence that those tasks which are routine, manually-based and do not involve critical human intervention are more likely to be outsourced or automated. Why should a principal pay a teaching salary for a job a volunteer can do?  But what does this look like in a practical sense?  Perhaps it is worthwhile to return to those three key roles of the teacher librarian – curriculum leader, information services manager and information specialist – and examine what they might entail in the immediate future.

curriculum leader

Because the teacher librarian is still likely to be the person within the school with the broadest view of the curriculum as a whole, the role of curriculum leader remains essential, even moreso when we consider how far its boundaries now reach. The core concepts of 21st century pedagogy are also the core of our teaching skillset. 

If the child’s innate curiosity is to be fostered so they can ask and answer their own questions then an inquiry-based approach which builds on what they already know and what they want to find out is essential.  Sitting comfortably within that approach as a scaffold is the information literacy process, a cross-curriculum perspective that encourages critical and creative thinking, the melding of what is known with what is learned to develop new perspectives and the communication of these new ideas with confidence through a variety of channels. Its foundation question of “What do I want to know?” encourages problem solving and solution seeking either by the individual or a group.

However, we can’t lead every inquiry and investigation so our role has to shift from teaching the students to also teaching the teachers so that the language and practice  of inquiry-based learning and information literacy are embedded into all curriculum design and delivery.  It is much easier to have a long-term impact on 30 teachers than 900 students. Rather than being just the teacher of “library skills”, an extension of the English department or value-adding to what  is done within the classroom, we have a specialist teaching role in the development of the reading and research skills, digital citizenship and communications that are at the heart of learning.  At the SLJ Leadership Summit, panellist Tara Jones said she was now her school’s ‘research technology specialist’ as she “collaborates with classroom teachers and co-teaches lessons in the classroom” and is “responsible for embedding technology and research skills within problem-based learning experiences”. Sounds very much what many Australian TLs do already, although the emphasis is on co-teaching rather than just collaborating!

As well as the visible direct instructor’s role that we assume, we must also lead a less visible, more subtle but equally important thrust.  We need to create opportunities that encourage children to question, to explore, to investigate, to collaborate, to persevere, to mentor, to explain, to listen, to discuss, to debate, to decide, to be confident, to have a can-do attitude, to manage their time, to take risks, to cope with pressure, failure and adversity, to be flexible, to be resilient, to be committed, to take responsibility, to be independent- in short, to develop those attributes and interpersonal skills that are going to be the key to their futures. We can do this by

  • developing displays that lead them to new worlds to discover
  • creating challenges which encourage them to solve problems
  • allowing them to wonder and experiment, to follow along paths and down rabbit holes
  • letting them lead their own learning
  • using a variety of groupings that take them out of their immediate friendship circle
  • allowing them a leadership role in the management and running of the library
  • challenging existing ideas by playing devil’s advocate
  • asking questions and setting tasks that are open-ended so there can be a variety of solutions
  • encouraging them to pursue a passion and then enabling them to share it with a live audience
  • encouraging them to teach and mentor each other as well as us
  • flipping the curriculum by using online tools to support 365/24/7 learning
  • creating an online classroom that can be a “ready reference” for students such as The Library Minute
  • providing the ‘river’ but not necessarily the ‘bridge’ which says “cross here”
  • providing flexible spaces for learning that can be arranged and changed to meet the needs of the users and the task including
    • 1:many for direct instruction
    • co-teaching
    • peer tutoring so small groups can work together
    • informal places for relaxation, play and experimentation
    • private spaces where personal learning choices and means can be explored
    • collaborative opportunities
    • outdoor learning
    • reflection
  • providing opportunities for learning to be shared through social networking apps

Similarly, we can be a less-visible support for our teaching colleagues as we share relevant research with them; alert them to opportunities for professional learning; suggest new reads and new resources that fit what they are doing in class right now; go the extra mile to track down that elusive key resource…

With no more powerful advocates for the school library than the parents of its students, we must also be reaching and teaching them, inviting them to be active participants in their child’s learning as the boundaries between home and school, teaching and learning blur and merge into a seamless whole. By reaching out through parent participation programs and social media we can inform parents of what is happening and why as well as forming long-lasting partnerships that can only enhance what the library offers.

And while we are focused on teaching others, we must not forget to keep teaching ourselves through our professional networks, professional reading and action research. We must know that what we do is based on current best-practice and be able to defend and demonstrate this through reference to theory, research and evidence. We need to be the window to the future, not the mirror of the past.

It is the teaching role that we assume in the school that will be the purple cow that Seth Godin encourages us to find -that one remarkable thing that makes us stand out from the herd.

purple_cow

 

information services manager

While some might argue that the provision of resources could be easily outsourced, it is the curriculum leader’s hat that makes that of the information services manager fit more snugly. The responsibility to “develop and implement strategies for evaluating the collection and for determining curriculum and student needs within the context of identified school priorities” is just as critical now as it ever was particularly with the plethora of resources in so many formats available.

The collection, regardless of its format, must still meet the needs. interests and abilities of its users.  It still needs to be regularly evaluated and assessed, added to or subtracted from as necessary. But it now needs to support information creation as well as information consumption and be available 365/24/7 as learning is no longer confined by walls and clocks.  Collection Development policies need to be updated to reflect the needs of now and the next three years so that decisions are informed by evidence. 

In the past couple of weeks I have personally been contacted by three teacher librarians who have been directed to dispose of their non fiction collections by principals who believe that such collections no longer have a place and that the space could be put to better use. The belief that “everything is available on the internet” is alive and well in the minds of many. As the information services manager we have a responsibility to dispel this myth that everything, everywhere has been digitised and that what is available is authoritative, accurate, current, objective, relevant and intellectually accessible to our students. We need to ensure that the Powers That Be are kept abreast of the research that shows that if students are to be effective and efficient users of digital content they need a foundation of traditional skills built on print; that not everything is available online, not even behind subscriber-based firewalls; that what is online does not necessairly meet the needs of students, particularly younger ones; and that we must acknowledge the different learning styles, needs and preferences of our clients and cater for these.

Collection development should not be an either/or decision.

information specialist

The library may no longer be the vast book repository it once was but the need for an information specialist  – the provider of “access to information resources through efficient and well-guided systems for organising, retrieving and circulating resources”-  can be summed up in these three memes which regularly do the rounds of social networking media.

internet_library fire_hydrant

trained_librarian

 

Providing easy access to appropriate and relevant information is more important now than ever before as the library’s walls are breached and the amount of information grows exponentially each year. Even with tools like Google Advanced Search, students can still spend whole sessions searching for the perfect online resource and then be totally overwhelmed by the choices available.

Where once a working knowledge of the Dewey system and the arrangement of the library was sufficient, today and tomorrow a whole new set of skills are needed. Students expect to be able to access what they want, where they want and from whatever device they are using at the time.  So the curation of resources using tools like LibGuides, Only2Clicks, ScoopIt  Pinterest and Pearltrees and the selection and promotion of databases are essential.

We need to teach both staff and students how to use Wikipedia and Google efficiently because we know these are the go-to tools when an information need becomes apparent, and, at the same time, we need to teach them to be mindful of their digital footprint and protecting their privacy. The ethical use of ideas, information and images is also critical in this copy-and-paste society adding yet another layer of complexity to the role.

And because information management is about creation as well as consumption we must also know the right app for the job so we also have to have things like the padogogy wheel and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy on hand. If anything, the need for an information specialist who knows pedagogy, the curriculum, how teachers teach and students learn is more important than ever. 

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://tinyurl.com/bloomsblog.

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://tinyurl.com/bloomsblog.

blooms_digital

 

the learning space

Key to the library meeting the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s students is the ability for the space itself to be able to adapt to particular needs at a particular time.  While it will still have a storehouse role as well as that of being a sanctuary, they need to become “awesome incubators” (Osborne) and a ‘temporary autonomous zone’ where users can create the type of space that fits their needs at the time.  The physical space needs to reflect the rapidly changing nature of the intellectual architecture so they add to what is happening within and beyond the school.  Users need to be able to create the space they need for the activity they are going to do.  So as well as mobile technology and moveable furniture they need to have areas that cater for noisy and quiet activities, individual, and collaborative work, formal and informal instruction, vertical and horizontal groupings, showcase and feedback… While there is currently a focus on the library as a makerspace this needs to be interpreted as the creation of new ideas and information as well as objects.  But most critically, because of our innate need for contact with others of our species, we must teach our students to thrive in the digital world and survive in an analog one.

An internet search for ‘library makeover’ will yield many stories and images that can be adapted but Extreme Makeover tracks the changes in the library of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and includes planning and pitfalls and lots of other tips. Diana Rendina identifies six active learning spaces your library should have if it is to meet the needs of its users. Much of this post hs been inspired by the keynote address by Mark Osborne at From the Ground Up, SLANZA 2015 and there is more of his writing in Collected  and the basis for his assertions in an Ed-Talk video.  For me, anyone who starts with the premise that “the first step to considering modern learning environments is to start with learning” is on solid ground.

Contrary to a common belief that libraries will be obsolete by 2025, this glimpse into what can be demonstrates that their place in society is secure.  As the school becomes the centre of the child’s global village, so the library must become the village green -a service centre offering opportunities to teach and learn; the buffer between home and work where schools and their communities can come together; a blended space where tradition meets the future.

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

Andrew Carnegie

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