I have worked as a teacher librarian (TL) in an international primary school for three years. My love of reading and literacy is what first inspired me to become a teacher librarian. My own experience of reading in school was not a very positive one because of a lack of choice and a heavy emphasis on prescribed texts. For this reason I am a strong believer in developing ‘reading for pleasure’ throughout my school. In the years since becoming a TL this has been a chief priority for me. I started by focusing on the learning environment. As stated in my first blog posting, I believe “A major part of the responsibility of the teacher librarian is to create a warm and inviting learning environment”. I then ensured that children who came to the library were encouraged to choose books that interested them and that they had time to sit and start actually reading a book. I wanted the children to get ‘hooked’ into reading!
I felt like I had accomplished a lot within my role but wanted to develop a deeper understanding and breadth of knowledge on the subject of teacher librarianship. I was therefore initially very excited to begin an MA on a subject I am passionate about. However, this was quickly followed by a sense of feeling overwhelmed once beginning research into exactly what the role encompasses. I found the varieties of interpretations of the role according to the aims and objectives of different educational settlings frustrating. However, I started getting a clearer picture as to what I should be aspiring towards through my studies and exposure to international, national and state-based librarian role statements which helped to start grounding my understanding of teacher librarian expectations. The forum discussions regarding ‘prioritising’ I found extremely useful in regards to reflecting on my own practice.
One of my priorities in my current school is to develop the library as a place for research and inquiry. I have previously spoken to the school principal about adjusting the school timetable to facilitate this – to allow for fixed weekly lessons as well as flexible timings but now through my module readings and reflections, I have a much better understanding of how I can achieve this goal for the library. In an early forum posting I stated, “It is important that the TL is clear about their own priorities in order for them to be effectively communicated”. I still believe this to be true but now I am thinking more about evaluating why they are priorities and how I can communicate the ‘why’ most effectively. A recent inspection of our school set a whole school goal of developing Guided Inquiry. This I felt was my perfect opportunity to state my case again. However, this time, through my readings and research in module 1, I am backed by research which luckily at the same time is aligning to current school goals. I have started by talking to other members of staff about GI and the role the library might play in developing this practice throughout the school. One Year 5 teacher in particular was extremely enthusiastic and said that we could plan some units together. I am also planning to meet with the school vice principal who works closely with ‘teaching and learning’ throughout the school. I have also had extensive discussions with my library assistant on possible ways we can start its implementation in the library, working with others throughout the school. In this way I have collaborated with a greater number of staff and now have multiple perspectives from within the school community and from research with which to discuss possible next steps with the school principal.
Working through this first module has given me a clearer focus of my priorities and next possible steps I can take to achieve them, and I have a greater sense of how collaboration can help achieve these goals. I also started to think more about the librarian as a ‘leader’ which I started to understand more in terms of taking responsibility for leading change. This made me think about being more proactive reagrding my wish to implement Guided Inquiry into the library and throughout the school. I spoke to a collague and she told me about a blog called ‘The commited sardine’ which is part of the 21st Century Fluency Project. The website is all about educational change relevant to the 21st century. I found the title really resonated with me, with the analogy being that we can make big changes by swimming against the masses, even if it’s a tough swim!
The Learning Centre. (2010). Reflective writing. University of NSW.
Jukes, I. The Commited Sardine. In Fluency 21. Retrieved from https://fluency21.zendesk.com/hc/en-us
There is an increasing pedagogical shift towards Guided Inquiry (GI) in schools (Collins et al., 2008, p. 1). In this type of learning, children are encouraged to work at tackling questions in depth through a cycle of hypothesis, exploration and reflection. When children work in this way they benefit from support and resources beyond the classroom (Stripling, 2008, p. 2). When inquiry is central to a school’s curriculum, librarians play a pivotal role in helping children extend and make connections with their learning by working in collaboration with teachers on research projects and investigations.
The role of the teacher librarian in implementing a GI approach very much depends, I think, on the culture of learning and the curriculum in a particular school. I have worked in a fully accredited International Baccalaureate school within the Primary Years Programme (PYP) where a culture of GI was an expectation and was fully embedded into the curriculum. High standards and expectations were set and an enabling framework existed in the school to ensure this happened. Year groups and specialist staff had planning time set aside at the beginning of every ‘unit of inquiry’, and planning templates included cross-curricular links and highlighted transdisciplinary skills. Staff also met at the end of a unit to reflect and, if necessary, to adapt planning documents. Teachers guided children through the inquiry process and worked in collaboration with other specialist staff including the teacher librarian. In this context, the teacher librarian’s input was planned for and they worked collaboratively with teachers and all year groups across the whole school. Challenges can exist in schools where this approach to learning is not embraced. Indeed, Gordon (2010) highlights that difficulties can arise because inquiry learning ‘contradicts a culture of teaching that can be isolationist and individualistic’ (p. 80). While challenges may exist, Stripling (2008) believes the teacher librarians, by working in collaboration with school staff, can play an important role in ‘restructuring the curriculum so that inquiry and problem solving are integrated into all subject areas’ (p. 2).
GI has been developed from Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model and is based on a constructivist approach to learning (Kuhlthau, & Maniotes, 2010, p. 18) (Fitzgerald, 2011). In order to implement the GI approach effectively, Kuhlthau encourages the use of open-ended questions as the starting point for a research project (Thomas, Crow, & Franklin, 2011 p. 41). This means that teachers need to model and use a range of questioning strategies in order to encourage children to formulate and ask questions. This is just one of many specific teaching skills and strategies for inquiry which are grounded in extensive research. In order to effectively integrate inquiry in schools there needs to be a solid educational understanding of the theories and models surrounding GI and for educators to see for themselves the benefits to the GI learning approach. Indeed, the advantages of a GI approach are very evident when you walk into a school and see children who are enthusiastic, productive independent learners achieving success! I have seen children who have been in a school following this approach for many years to the point where they speak the language of inquiry themselves and take full ownership of their learning.
Collins, Trevor., Gaved, Mark., Mulholland, Paul., Kerawalla, Cindy., Twiner, Alison., Scanlon, Eileen., Jones, Ann., Littleton, Karen., Conole, Grainne and Blake, Canan (2008). Supporting location-based inquiry learning across school, field and home contexts. Proceedings of the MLearn 2008 Conference, 7 – 10 Oct 2008, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire, UK. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/12393/1/mlearn-2008-0025-collins-crc.pdf
Gordon, C. A. (2010). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 73-88.
Kuhlthau, C. K., & Maniotes, L.K. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, 26(5), 18.
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41
Stripling, B. (2008). Inquiry-based teaching and learning – the role of the library media specialist. Retrieved from http://lgdata.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/docs/4210/910814/Inquiry_Based_Teaching___Learning_Stripling.pdf
Thomas, N. P., Crow, S. R., & Franklin, L. L. (2011). Chapter 3: The Information Search Process: Kuhlthau’s legacy. In Information literacy and information skills instruction: Applying research to practice in the 21st century school library (3rd ed., pp. 33-58). Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.