ETL507 Reflective Portfolio

*Disclaimer* – This portfolio is written from my perspective of being a non-practising teacher librarian.

Part A – Statement of personal philosophy

An effective teacher librarian (TL):

  • designs library programs and activities which interest and engage students,
  • works with executive, teaching and support staff to support teaching, learning, and assessment,
  • networks with other libraries to share ideas and resources,
  • engages with professional learning to maintain relevance and learn new ideas,
  • develops a rapport with students, so that the library is a place for study, leisure and a retreat from the pressures of school,
  • supports reading and provides a range of books,
  • recognises the library is for all members of the school,
  • listens and responds to user needs and wants.

Part B

Information Literacy

Information Literacy (IL) has been a strong theme throughout my study. According to Common Sense Education, it is the ability to identify, find, evaluate, and use information sources effectively (2018). This Prezi from Nichole Ackerman Martin (2014) provides a succinct examination of components of IL:

It is a concept which changes scope rapidly, due mainly to the digital world we live in. This makes it more important than ever before that TLs impart the unique skills we possess to create information literate students.

Unsurprisingly, my view of IL has changed throughout this course. My blog highlights that I initially viewed IL as a discrete subject, which could be taught in isolation (Hanson, 2014). I recognise now that this is not the case, or if it is, the learning will be shallow and lacking context.

Now I see that IL skills are best taught when integrated into subject content (Bundy, 2004). Teaching how to take notes or make a reference list in isolation is not an effective strategy but teaching these skills as part of an assessment process is. An example I witnessed on placement was in regards to a religious studies assessment. The task required Year Eight students to use books in the library to research a specific female saint. They were required to make at least six notes from each book they consulted, resulting in more in-depth notes and a better understanding of their chosen saint. Additionally, making more detailed notes also helps to spot gaps in research, and make a judgement of which resources are most useful.

Interestingly, there is a viewpoint that IL is no longer relevant. Lupton (2012) asserts that the skills and attributes of IL are outdated and limiting, and that Inquiry Learning is a more holistic framework in which to operate. While I agree to an extent, IL skills are still relevant, particularly when engaging students who have limited skills in research and information evaluation. Inquiry Learning tends to require a more considerable time and planning commitment, which can be difficult to get support for from teaching staff, particularly as there are so many competing curriculum demands. As a not yet practising TL, I would start with developing skills in IL, and eventually move towards an Inquiry Learning model if the climate in the school was open to this.

In terms of IL in a school, there is a lot I would like to do. After discussing such matters on my placement, I have reached the understanding that a school-wide, consistent approach to assessment is desirable. The Australian School Library Association’s (ASLA) Standards of Professional Excellence outline in standard 2.1 that an excellent teacher librarian creates a learning environment which provides access to quality resources (2012).

In my future library therefore, I would create a standalone library website, if one did not already exist. It would include links to the catalogue, and most importantly, it would contain LibGuides in both general research and study topics, as well as subject specific pages. Many universities use LibGuides to support students, and the practice is filtering through to secondary schools, such as Melbourne High School in Victoria. My LibGuides would cover areas including:

(Hanson, 2018)

Additionally, I would include links to online databases, such as World Book and Gale. As students get closer to completing school, there is great benefit in knowing how to use databases, particularly for students who will go on to study at university.

In creating a library website and LibGuides, it is absolutely essential that I have staff on board. I would endeavour to work with subject teachers to create subject specific LibGuides. Teachers are often experts in their subject area, so I would look to them to help provide learning tools such as  preferred writing scaffolds, assessments, current relevant media coverage (for example, related to global warming for Science, or nutrition for Food Technology), and of course, links to useful sites.

These plans I have for IL however, are only as good as the promotion they receive. To do anything out of the ordinary, TLs face uphill battles. It would be easy to do nothing and only do the bare minimum to maintain the library. However, in these times where librarians and libraries are thought of as increasingly irrelevant, this is not an option. According to Godfree and Nielson, there are strong links between the presence of qualified TL in schools, and improved literacy outcomes (2018). Digital literacy is also improved by having a qualified TL. These both link directly to IL skills, such as the ability to evaluate a website.

I also need to highlight the connection between being information literate, and becoming an independent and lifelong learner (Bundy, 2004). These are surely learning attributes principals and teachers want students to leave school having gained. Therefore, I need to support my plans, show evidence that this has worked in other schools, and explicitly describe how connecting IL skills with classroom learning is beneficial (Dring, 2014). ASLA’s standard 3.1 which examines lifelong learning emphasises the need for students to continually be provided with the opportunity to continue their learning journey (2012). Today’s TL can take nothing for granted, even when related to skills we believe should be accessible to all students.

Literature

Children’s literature is another area where my views, knowledge, and understanding have adjusted. I completed ETL402 Literature Across the Curriculum in 2016. Initially, I felt I had a solid grasp on children’s literature. I had two children and read plenty of great picture books to them. What else was there to know?

Well, a fair bit apparently. The age bracket for ‘children’s literature’ adopted by ETL402 was ages 5-18, so essentially school age. Within that bracket is a massive range of genres and formats. It was clear that I needed a much better working knowledge of children’s literature, especially in the Young Adult category, as I hope to work as a secondary TL.

Today, I see literature in schools as vital. I have always supported reading for pleasure. The following YouTube clip highlights some important benefits of reading for pleasure:

Through the promotion of reading for pleasure, I need to act practically. Wanting students to read for pleasure will not just happen if you wish it to. Therefore, the culture which supports reading for pleasure needs to be created. An obvious first step is ensuring the library collection is attractive for students, with recent novels and popular series’. A range of titles aimed at different reading abilities is needed as well. When I was on placement, the library had books ranging from Andy Griffith’s popular Treehouse series and the Saddle Club, to Jodi Picoult and John Grisham. This kind of range means that all students can access engaging reading material. Having more advanced novels on library shelves also means that staff can borrow from the library, and model good reading habits for their students.

I would also lobby for the provision of time each week for students to read. This would essentially be a reprisal of D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read). This dedicated time would highlight that the school views reading as a priority.

I have not always recognised the immense benefit the TL can offer curriculum development in terms of selecting appropriate texts to match particular subjects. I recognise now however, that literature can be just as useful for a subject like Science, for example. Carole Wilkinson’s excellent 2015 non-fiction text Atmospheric the burning story of climate change would support the Australian Science or Geography curriculum (ACARA, 2018). It presents a topical issue in a very engaging and relevant way. While I do not discount the traditional textbook (there are some excellent ones after all), literature like Atmospheric can also occupy a place in the teaching and learning continuum.

As a future TL, I would endeavour to promote literature within the curriculum is through ordering and stocking books like Atmospheric. In other subject areas, such literature might take the form of historical fiction, biographical works, or novels that explore current issues. This highlights ALSA’s standard 2.2, concerning the support of teaching and learning through responsive programs and the provision of quality resources (ASLA, 2012).

The issue with stocking literature which links to the curriculum is that a curriculum change can render some titles irrelevant. This is not something that is new to TLs. To ensure I have a collection that is as representative of curricula and topical issues as possible, I will need to consult with teaching staff. Through this, I will ascertain both what literature they want available to students for their subject, as well as if they will even use the literature. You can lead a teacher to the library, but you cannot make them utilise the resources it offers.

As I foresee staff engagement being an issue, I need to provide evidence that there is a place for literature in the curriculum. Choo (2011) indicates that literature in the curriculum contextualises learning and creates responsible, empathetic citizens. Literature makes learning meaningful, and rather than all students learning the same homogenised information from an objective textbook, students will be better placed to form their own views and arguments about what they learn (McCartney, 2016). In relation to Mathematics specifically, Golden (2012) highlights that literature can help bridge the gap between concept and real world application, which students so often crave. It is important to ensure literature does not take over the entire teaching program however. Literature seems best used to enhance and support the curriculum in many subjects, rather than becoming a major focus.

The library would also need to explore loan time frames and loan limits. This would need to account for the size of the collection and the number of students at the school. The loan time will need to be long enough for students to complete a book, and the loan limit would need to allow students the freedom to choose a range of books at one time, especially if they are a particularly keen reader.

Additionally, the library needs to provide comfortable, usable spaces for reading. While I do not believe in a silent library, as it contradicts the collaborative learning environment libraries should encourage, I recognise that the library has a responsibility to offer students a peaceful area for reading.

 

Designing the physical learning environment

The design of the library is another area where my views have changed. When I began this degree in 2014, I had been exposed to traditional library designs. In both school and university, I had encountered libraries with desks, possibly meeting rooms, and computer stations amongst shelves of books. The library scene has changed dramatically since then, as collaborative learning becomes a driving force in library design.

I have reached the understanding that although traditional library design worked for a long time, there are so many more options now. My blog highlighted the need for students to have standing computer stations, which saves space, is healthier than sitting at a computer, and prevents students from using computers for too long. However, I have observed that computers in schools are almost obsolete, as Bring Your Own Device or school administered laptop programs continue. I also sang the praises of ergonomic design. I still do, although I have since realised that any ergonomic adjustments in the library would likely be restricted to larger furniture items such as seating and desks, as smaller items would go missing.

Take these images of the library I completed my placement in:

It is a library which has had some design updates, but fell victim to budget restrictions. To enhance a library like this, the physical collections need to be significantly weeded and culled, so that shelving takes up less space. This would offer more space for collaborative work stations.

Here are drawings of how I would improve the design of a library like this one. These images are not to scale:

 

I would install booth type work areas so that students can work together more easily. These would include a monitor that students could connect to with technology, so they could see their work. I would also switch to rectangular tables rather than circles. In my experience, circular tables are an awkward use of space and do not generate the collaboration one might think they would. These potential adaptations of the learning environment highlight ASLA’s standard 2.1, which concerns effective learning spaces. ASLA defines an effective learning space as one which is dynamic and efficient (2012).

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in enacting a design change in a library is executive support. Students appreciate updates or changes to their learning environment, and often engage well with new initiatives. Executive support is harder to gain though, as a library makeover is a considerable expense. To gain this support, I would need once again to produce evidence that an improved library design will support student learning and wellbeing (Child, 2018). Gotsch and Holliday indicate that improving the library design can have a positive effect on student achievement and engagement (2007). Evidence to support this may include examples of what other similar schools have done in their libraries, with a report on the impact this has had for teaching and learning.

If these grand plans were not possible, I would move to Plan B. There are a number of ways I can enhance student learning and engagement in the library without spending tens of thousands of dollars. Makerspaces are very popular, so it would make sense to explore this. I would also provide board games for students to play at break times

Other inexpensive enhancements to the library include attractive posters. These may include new books, advertising for upcoming school events, and promotion of any current competitions, whether school or community based. I would also explore ways to create a dedicated reading nook without losing space for classes to work.

When designing a collaborative library space, functionality needs to be maintained. In other words, it needs to be user friendly. As Angela Platt, a school librarian in London, England discovered, her school’s library had been designed to promote a sense of quiet reading and academic pursuits, but the furniture and layout were not conducive to this. The furniture was too relaxed, so a redesign was required to reinvigorate the library as a learning space (2017).

Designing the learning space is a careful balance. It requires knowledge of what students need, creating a mix of learning and leisure spaces, balancing the budget, and considering the overarching goals for the school library remaining relevant in the future.

 

Part C

To evaluate the themes discussed in Part B, a number of strategies need to be utilised. These include a range of formal and informal measures.

For the Information Literacy plan with LibGuides as the standout feature, evaluation would include a survey. I would create two surveys at the half yearly stage and the full year stage to measure both staff and student impressions of and usage of LibGuides. These surveys will be different from each other, as they each target a different user. I would use an online survey platform such as Survey Monkey, because this should result in more survey responses. The idea is to make responding as easy as possible.

The surveys would specifically measure if the LibGuides had made a difference to learning and where there might be areas to improve. I would also explore if teaching staff feel there is a difference in student achievement.

I would also monitor website visit statistics. These will highlight the most used LibGuides and periods of high and low use. When used in conjunction with survey responses, this will provide a fuller picture about how helpful the LibGuides are and what changes might need to be made to the content.

Measuring engagement with literature requires circulation statistics and observation. After providing literature recommendations for staff and students, I need to follow these up and see if they have been acted upon, whether for curriculum or leisure needs. If texts are not being used for curriculum matters, then it would be necessary to investigate further and create further collaborative strategies to assist teachers in integrating literature into units of work.

To evaluate how well D.E.A.R. time is being adhered to, I would need to walk around the school at the allocated time and observe. I envisage that this would need to be done less as the practice of D.E.A.R. became ingrained in the school culture. If a class was not participating, I could potentially intervene quicker to find out why and work on a solution with the teacher.

Evaluating changes to the library environment is a more challenging task. The most effective way to evaluate the changes is likely through observation and library visits. To that end, the library needs to have a working patron counter, so that visit numbers before and after library changes are comparable. This may not be a reliable method of evaluation, as other school events for example, may lower library visits. Alternatively, library events and changes to the library may draw in users.

Considering this issue, a more direct and useful method of evaluation might be to ask students and what they think of the library changes. While such responses will be harder to record as data, anecdotal evidence can be a powerful method for gaining feedback and gaining it quickly. Speaking to different library users also provides different viewpoints.

As a TL, I would endeavour to seek out professional learning. As a completely new TL, I really need professional development in any library and information services area. However, when exploring the ASLA standards in relation to the themes of this portfolio, I would seek professional development in relation to standards 1.2, 1.4, 2.3 and 3.3. These cover a range of areas including knowledge of teaching and learning, knowledge of and how to carry out information services management, and leadership (2012). These areas are ones which I have the most to gain in terms of knowledge and practical strategies. My study has taught me a lot, but as I know from my background in classroom teaching, there are many important lessons that are not learned at university.

 

Reference List

Ackerman Martin, N. (2014, 6 March). 5 Components of Information Literacy. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/s7xnb-bgrujk/5-components-of-information-literacy/#

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2018). Australian curriculum. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/

Australian School Library Association. (2012). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx

Bundy, A. (2004). Overview. In A. Bundy (Ed.), Australian and New Zealand information literacy framework: principles standards and practice (pp. 3-10). Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy.

Child, J. (2018). School Libraries Enhancing Student Wellbeing. Connections, 1(105), pp. 8-9.

Choo, S. S. (2011). On literature’s use(ful/less)ness: reconceptualizing the literature curriculum in the age of globalization. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(1), pp. 47-67.

Common Sense Education. (2018). Information Literacy. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship/information-literacy

Dring, S. (2014, September 18). Don’t overlook your school librarian, they’re the unsung heroes of literacy. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/sep/18/school-librarian-literacy-support-teacher-students

Gale. (2018). Gale Databases. Retrieved from https://www.gale.com/uk/databases

Godfree, H. & Nielson, O. (2018). School libraries matter! The missing piece in the education puzzle. Access, 32(1), pp. 28-40.

Golden, L. (2012). Children’s literature in mathematics instruction. Library Media Connection 31(2), pp. 40-41.

Gotsch, J. & Holliday, D. (2007). Designing a library environment that promotes learning, ACRL Thirteenth National Conference, Baltimore, March 29-April 1. Maryland: ACRL.

Hanson, E. (2018, September 12). Reading for pleasure [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9b66MP3Iog

Hanson, E. (2018, September 5). LibGuides. Retrieved from http://popplet.com/app/#/4855700

Hanson, E. (2016, July 21). Children’s Literature. Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/emma/2016/07/21/childrens-literature/

Hanson, E. (2014, May 25). The never-ending journey. [Blog post]. Retrieved from  http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/emma/2014/05/25/the-never-ending-journey/

Lupton, M. (2012, July 10). IL is dead! Long live IL!. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/il-is-dead-long-live-il/

McCartney, T. (2016). Exploring time and place through children’s literature. Connections, 1(97), pp. 6-7.

Melbourne High School. (2018). Melbourne High School Library: Home. Retrieved from http://libguides.mhs.vic.edu.au/libraryhome

National Library of New Zealand. (2018). Reading for pleasure – a door to success. Retrieved from https://natlib.govt.nz/schools/reading-engagement/understanding-reading-engagement/reading-for-pleasure-a-door-to-success

Platt, A. (2017). The Challenge of Implementing Change. Connections, 1(103), pp. 12-13.

The Reading Agency. (2015). Why is reading for pleasure important? Retrieved from https://readingagency.org.uk/news/blog/why-is-reading-for-pleasure-important.html

Wilkinson, C. (2015). Atmospheric the burning story of climate change. Newtown, NSW: Black Dog Books.

World Book. (2018). Products: World Book online. Retrieved from https://www.worldbook.com.au/products/world-book-web#

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