Tag Archives: teaching

Learning About Learning To Learn, Sarah Pavey

In the UK, few school librarians are also qualified teachers unlike many of our overseas colleagues. We may feel that “teaching” is not part of our remit since we are not formally employed to deliver lessons and neither do most of us receive appropriate remuneration to justify a deeper involvement. Yet we still need to liaise, and ideally collaborate, with our teaching colleagues and so it is helpful to understand a little of their language so that we can communicate effectively with them. We are not just talking information literacy here – differences might be made within reading lessons too. 

A common goal of all schools is to educate their students through instruction and learning. Teaching qualifications involve learning how to deliver lessons in a way that students will gain knowledge, and this is known as pedagogy. Many educational psychologists, since the advent of modern schooling, have debated the most effective methodologies for positive outcomes in this respect. The arguments about pedagogical approach and development rage on – just consider the constant changes to the inspection focus or the endorsement, withdrawal and re-endorsement of schemes such as phonics for learning to read, or the still popular but now generally discredited “learning styles” agenda. It is a bit of a minefield. 

Two fundamental theories are behaviourism and cognitivism. Let’s see how these might relate to our library objectives. 

Behaviourism 

This type of learning is based on the principle that we react and respond to our environment or external stimuli. The best-known examples of this are experiments conducted by Ivan Pavlov. He discovered that dogs could be trained to salivate if they thought they were about to be fed simply by ringing a bell after conditioning them to this response through reward and stimulus (McLeod, 2018). The theory of behaviourism was further developed by Burrhus Skinner, who showed the benefits of re-enforcement in retaining correct knowledge in the education process in a way that could be measured. In schools, Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour (1957) is exemplified by the teacher being very much in charge of the classroom and giving students information that they learn by rote and repetition. Behaviourists believe that by rewarding a ‘correct’ response the student will learn and be motivated to learn more. The danger with this approach is that some students may experience a negative response if they fail to reach the required score or feel overwhelmed by the task and these students may just ‘give up’ and opt out of the exercise. Within a behaviourist approach there is little scope for creativity or innovation – it is simply achieving targets usually set by the educator. Another argument against this approach is that the response effect may not be permanent – an analogy being cramming for a test. However, behaviourism has its place and it can be effective if used strategically, for example in a points-based reading scheme targeted at selected students.

Cognitivism

Cognitive constructivist theory considers that humans do more than just react to an environmental stimulus. This learning approach aligns the human brain to a computer and suggests it is a process of acquiring, storing and retrieving information. Tasks are broken down into smaller subsets and at each stage compared with what is already known and then built on. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development published in 1939 (Piaget, 1976) considered that in the classroom learning should be student centred and opportunities made for active discovery. He believed the role of the teacher was to facilitate learning, rather than to give direct tuition. Jerome Bruner (1960) developed this basic theory arguing that any child can be taught anything at any stage of development if it is presented properly. However, he noted that if the task was too hard then a student might become bored. He introduced the idea of scaffolding tasks by providing a limited structured framework between the student and educator and so allowing some freedom to explore within safe boundaries. Cognitivism is based on students using their short-term memory and working memory to embed what has been learnt into their long-term memory and to use their cognitive brain functions to pay attention, Cognitive brain functions include sensation, perception, attention, encoding and memory. A cognitive approach to learning embraces all these areas and is essentially what an exploratory project-based approach within a library or the self-selection of reading for pleasure material promotes. 

However, social constructivists, while endorsing cognitivism, say we cannot treat the way humans learn in the same way as programming a computer, there has to be a social interactive element too, even if it is just the presence of a more knowledgeable facilitator. In school libraries, enquiry-based information literacy models exemplify a social constructivist methodology because this encourages group learning by investigation under the guidance of the educator. The leading figure of this type of constructivism is Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1978). His theories have influenced a trend in ‘reciprocal teaching’, which is used to improve students’ ability to learn from text. In this method, educators and students collaborate in learning and practising four key skills: summarising, questioning, clarifying and predicting. Over time the educator involvement becomes reduced. 

The differences between cognitive constructivism (favoured by Piaget) and social constructivism (Vygotsky) are simply explained by Taylor (2019). 

There are some issues voiced about cognitivism. Some critics feel it is ‘too unstructured’ and that it allows unbalanced interpretations of knowledge. Educators have felt it is a less rigorous way of teaching with uncertainty in what has been covered and understood (Liu and Matthews, 2005).

So now we have the dichotomy thrown up by the National Curriculum in England and the examination syllabi. Aside from primary/junior school year groups, Key Stage 3 and Extended Project options, most approaches to achieve good academic outcomes necessitate a behaviourist approach. However, a library is there to be explored and helps students discover for themselves, raising their self-esteem and lends itself to a more cognitive and constructivist pedagogy. There is a further dilemma in that the behaviourist points-based reading scheme endorsed by many schools, commercial or otherwise, is largely directed at Key Stage 3 which holds the main year groups still embracing constructivist project- based learning. This causes confusion for the teacher and the learner and much frustration for the librarian! 

Perhaps we need to be mindful of these approaches to learning when we collaborate with teaching staff and design our lessons accordingly. Maybe the active teaching in which our overseas colleagues indulge is not just about qualifications but also the pedagogical approach adopted by the curriculum in their countries. The English education system has been panned by PISA for being too focussed on rote learning (Schleicher, 2019) and now interestingly the COVID pandemic has pushed Scotland into considering a more cognitive and constructivist curriculum (OECD, 2021). We will await outcomes but meanwhile do not be too disheartened if liaising with all departments in your school seems hard work! Contemplate the pedagogical approach. 

References

Bruner, J. S. (1960) The Process of Education, Vintage Books.

Liu, C. H. and Matthews, R. (2005) Vygotsky’s Philosophy: Constructivism and its Criticisms Examined, International Education Journal, 6 (3), 386–99.

McLeod, S. A. (2018) Pavlov’s Dogs, www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html

OECD (2021) Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/bf624417-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/bf624417-en

Piaget, J. (1976) Piaget’s Theory. In Inhelder, B., Chipman, H. H. and Zwingmann, C. (eds), Piaget and His School, Springer, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-46323-5_2.

Schleicher, A. (2019) PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations,https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf

Skinner, B. F. (1957) Verbal Behavior, Appleton-Century-Crofts

Taylor, T. (2019) Piaget vs Vygotsky, https://educationlearningtoys.com/knowledge-base/piaget-vs-vygotsky  Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Harvard University Press

Librarians as Teachers and Information Skills Developers, Elizabeth Hutchinson

I was recently asked to talk at the SLG training day and this is the talk I gave: 


School libraries are in crisis. Fake news and misinformation are rife and it seems to me that Google is taking over the world. Our role as school librarians and teachers is to bring our expertise to education and the curriculum and through doing this help our schools understand the value that our libraries bring to their students and teachers. 

I am not sure about you but I know that when I finally decided that I wanted to become a librarian I never thought about the fact that that I was signing up to teaching as well. I was a late starter so after leaving school at 16 I worked in Newcastle City library until I got married when I left to bring up my children. So I was 36 by the time I got my degree in Information and Library Studies, I knew that I was going to work for Schools Library Service in Guernsey and in no way did this prepare me for a job working in school libraries and if someone had asked me about teaching at that time I would have laughed.  

I think back in 2003 my understanding of school libraries was very much from my own experience from school. A space where I could hide at lunch and break time, read books not chosen by my mother and somewhere that we were taken for the odd lesson to find a book on a subject we were studying. This was a memory from my middle school and I am sad to say that I don’t remember my secondary school library at all.

I am glad to say that this has all changed over my 16 years of working with school libraries both within Guernsey and beyond. I believe that I joined the profession at the right time. A time where the internet was beginning to take root and our skills as librarians were needed more than ever. No longer were we the people who only look after the books; we had so much more to offer.  The issue, however, has always been how can we transition through the barrier of expectations to reality. The definition of ‘teacher’ is one whose occupation is to instruct

Teachers by definition have a body of knowledge that they use to instruct  i.e. subject specialists. Librarians, on the other hand, instruct what? I would say that our specialism is information literacy but where has that come from?  

We know that school librarians have knowledge of curation and expertise in research and this should bring us front and central into teaching but with no training or support how do we go about teaching it. Although, knowledge, passion, drive, commitment and ability to instruct could be our greatest asset we have such a fragmented profession we seem to be unable to communicate to schools why this is important. Part of the reason for this is we have no instruction on instruction and secondly we are de-professionalising the profession. Where do we learn how to teach let alone work out what it is we need to teach? It is important that we make sure that we are doing all we can to give ourselves a fighting chance. It is no longer possible for us to wait for things to change, we need to be the change. 

So how do we do this? Sadly there is no blueprint for how school librarians teach and instruct research skills. There was no-one there to teach me how to teach, so what do you do when you suddenly find yourself in front of a class for the very first time? I think like most of you I began to realise that if this was going to be part of my job and I had to find a way through it.  

However, most of us have not got 16 years to work it out so I thought I would give you my top 4 survival tips to teaching that you can take away today…

Tip 1 Know and understand your own expertise

Our skill set is resource management. In simplest terms we know how to:

·      Find good quality information quickly, efficiently and ethically

·      Critically evaluate sources

·      Give credit for what we find and produce bibliographies

These are all skills that our students and teachers need. Don’t be fooled that your teachers and students know more than you do. Just because they can turn on an iPad and type a question into Google does not make them experts in research and critical thinking.“Teachers forget that learning how to do research is not an innate skill and is not the same as being tech-savvy” A Quote from a recent JCS blog. (‘How school librarians are meeting the challenges of teaching information literacy | JCS’, n.d.) 

Without question, they need your expertise but maybe they just don’t know that yet. However, do you understand your own level of expertise? I would like to explain this by using Neil Gaiman’s famous quote “Google can find you a million answers a librarian can find you the right one” How many of us have shared this quote? I have to admit that I am one that did so this is not a criticism! However, over the years I have begun to understand that if this is how we see ourselves we are going along with the stereotype and misunderstand our own level of expertise.  

Librarians as teachers are not about putting the answer into the hands of our students but to teach them how to access and make sense of the information they find. This begins to point to a different role for the school librarian, where the librarian and teacher collaborate to help students build knowledge from information.  

This moves away from the traditional role of the school librarian. 

  • The teacher asks the student to find X, 
  • The student goes to the librarian and asks for X, 
  • The student takes X  back to the teacher. 

Everyone is happy but who has learnt anything? 

You have so much more to offer! 

Tip 2 Widen your vocabulary

  • Know your own tools and how they link with the curriculum
  • Online catalogue 
  • Online resources
  • Finding more than one source
  • Website evaluation, fake news, misinformation, e-safety 
  • Learn “Teacher speak” 

If you have a library management system or any online resources, learn how to talk about them as digital literacy tools. Know the features that will enhance student learning and research and offer to share this with teachers and then to support them in the classroom the first time they want to use it with their students. Find out the tips and tricks that make searching these tools easier and use the same terminology as the teachers.

·      Pedagogy (The methods of teaching in other words how do you teach?) 

·      Heuristics (Allowing students to learn by discovering for themselves)

So, for example, I now use the phrase that FOSIL is a pedagogy tool to support student heuristics. Sound great doesn’t it? All it means is that FOSIL is a tool that supports students learning for themselves. 

There are many more but the more you learn the easier it is talking to teachers. When I hear something new I try and learn what it means and then use it when appropriate. Don’t hide behind your library terminology, widen your vocabulary and speak to them in their own language even if we mean the same thing. We need to move into the teaching world as they are really not going to move into ours.  

It is important that we understand that we are learning to become a teacher and the more we comfortable we are with this, the easier it will be to talk with authority. We are not pretending to be teachers we are learning to become teachers. 

Tip 3 Commit yourself to an ongoing process of purposeful professional learning. 

  • Joining in CPD from school
  • Building up a map of your school curriculum 
  • SLG
  • SLA
  • FOSIL Group forum 
  • IFLA Guidelines for school libraries 

It is important that we are proactive in our own learning. How does this look for you and how will you achieve this? 

The majority of us have arrived in the school library without teacher training so how do we go about finding what we need? We know that there are training opportunities within our own schools. Make sure you are part of the same training offered to teachers. Building up a picture of what is going on in school. In primary schools, make sure you have a map of the curriculum and can confidently talk to teachers about what they are planning to teach. In secondary knowing what the expectations are for exam boards. i.e in Geography they need to reference and caption a picture. If you know that is what they need to do you then have the opportunity to start a conversation. 

SLG and SLA provide training opportunities which do cost money, however, before you say that you know that your school won’t pay or give you time off you need to understand that it is still an opportunity for you to raise awareness of the importance of your own CPD. It is essential that you ask every year and tell them why you need to attend. Don’t make this a tick box exercise really find out about the courses and generate a good argument. This professionalism speaks volumes! 

IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions guidelines has been put together by the international association of school librarianship giving an inspirational and aspirational vision for what a school library ought to be with Free practical workshops to move you forward in your journey as a school librarian. 

A shameless plug! I run an online forum for school library staff #LibraryStaffLoveLearning in order to read books, articles, blog or listen to podcasts or TED talks to create a place for learning in a safe environment. I did it because I did not feel that I was reading enough myself and wanted to provide something that was not too expensive and to provide something for others. You can read it all without having to sign up but if you want to comment you do need to register and apart from the occasional cost of a book the only other commitment is your time. 

I would also add that if you have asked to be sent on training and the answer is no then a follow up asking for a book to join in CPD in your own time is more likely to be allowed. 

Tip 4 Practice, practice, practice

Once you have started on the above 3 it is important that you learn how to talk about what you can do and why you do it and the only way to do this is to practice talking about it. With your colleagues, with your teachers, with your friends (ok not too often unless you want to lose all your friends)  

I once said to Darryl that I would never be able to talk about what I do the way he did and he said to me that the more you do it the better you will become. Which is true. Everyone has to start somewhere and sometimes you are not going to get it right. You are going to leave a conversation and go.. I wish I had remembered to say …But each time you do this the better you will get at it. 

Remember that you are the only one who knows what you are capable of. You are the only one who can make this happen but you are not on your own. We have a wealth of knowledge and expertise around us and we just need to be prepared to find it and use it.  

And finally what has kept me going into classrooms and teaching all this time? This one simple phrase that keeps getting said over and over again by teachers I have worked with. “I wish I had been taught that at school.” This to me says that my role in the classroom is important for future generations of children and teachers. 

The survival of our profession is more than the individual librarian in their schools. We have to look beyond ourselves where we are, to where we need to get to. The only way we are to survive is to lay the foundations for those who are coming behind us. If we are only looking to our future we are helping to sell our profession short. 

We are teachers, we do know what we are talking about and it is time to unleash our own potential.

Pupil Library Assistant Training Day 2015

CILIP SLG National in collaboration with the London and South-East Group have recently run their second Pupil Librarian Training Day at the Elmgreen School with Librarians and students from 12 different schools.

The first activity of the day was varied and well-paced and focused on developing pupils’ customer service skills. All students were asked to evaluate and analyse some of the decisions that they have to make at the Library desk such as: What do you do when your friend wants you to favour her? How do you cope with disruptive students? Will you bend the rules to avoid a confrontation? Students were asked to consider their responses, and then vote for their choice of 3 possible answers to each question.

The programme of the day was also interspersed with ‘spot quiz’ questions that had students abuzz and keen for the fantastic book prizes available. One of the questions was particularly interesting because it asked to estimate the size of the largest book ever made. With dimensions close to 5m x 8m, it is called ‘This is Muhammed’, was made in Dubai, and is a compilation of stories highlighting the lifetime achievements of Islam’s Prophet.

Some of the schools contributed to the Library Showcase and the feedback from students and librarians has been overwhelmingly positive with a lot of ideas for competitions, clubs and events shared. Other activities also included the creation of a promotional poster for a new book with an audience vote during lunchtime.

The highlight of the day was an energetic presentation by the newly published Children’s author Abi Elphinstone, who bounced across the stage telling us about her adventures. Writing may seem a long way from her childhood ambition to become a Unicorn, but Abi has been to some amazing places, and collected all sorts of tales, names, traditions and myths which are woven into her stories. We saw the objects that have inspired her – the ankle bone of a sheep is a memorable one – they are used by children in Mongolia for a game, and Abi learned this when she stayed with Mongolian Eagle hunters.

Writers, she told us, have to live, because everything you see or do or learn about can become a part of your storytelling – “Our world is so magical, if we always look down at screens we miss so much of the magic.”

A major character in The Dream Snatcher is a wildcat and she spoke about how these critically endangered creatures are one of the few truly untameable beasts in the world. There is something thrilling about this quality of wildness, but you have to experience it, as Abi found when she visited a wolf sanctuary “If you hold a wolf, it’s like holding fierceness…and if I write a story about a wolf I’ll know now.”

Aspiring authors need two essential qualities: determination, and imagination. Abi tried for 7 years before a publisher accepted her writing, and she collected 96 rejection letters. Keep going, she says, fail lots, but keep going!

After such a successful day, CILIP School Libraries Group for London and the South East and the National Group intend to make this event a stable of our annual provision so keep an eye for next year event!

Stock check issue: have you got the right exam board textbooks in your library?

With the recent changes in the National Curriculum, it is more important than ever to ensure that your library has the right textbooks and revision guides for all the subjects taught in school.

An efficient and effective way to keep track of all these changes is to approach a member of teaching staff in every department with a quick tick list of all the exam boards available in their subject. It is absolutely guaranteed that they will be able to tick straightaway the exam board used by their department. Conducting a stock check of all your textbooks and purchasing the most appropriate ones has never been easier!

Where can you find all the information about the exam boards?

I have also discovered a very useful feature of the new Browns Books for Students website which is very useful: in the Curriculum section, they have created a new area called “New Curriculum” in order to keep all the new resources separate from the old ones. In here you can find not only the titles of all the new textbooks and revision guides by subject but also the new set English Literature texts. The also have a feature that I have been using a lot which lists suggestions for support reading for GCSE and A-Level subjects alongside ideas for wider reading and teacher resources.

To get you started, you can find below a list of the exam boards for some of the most common subjects for GCSE, AS and A-Level. Give it a try!

GCSEs

English Language: AQA , OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

English Literature: AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

Maths: AQA, OCR, Pearson

 

AS AND A-LEVELS

Art & Design

AS: AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

A-Level: AQA, OCR

Biology

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR A, OCR B, Pearson A, Pearson B

Business Studies

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

Chemistry

AS: OCR

Computer Science

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, WJEC Eduqas

Economics

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, Pearson A, Pearson B, WJEC Eduqas

English Language

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

English Language and Literature

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

English Literature

AS: AQA A, AQA B, OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

A level: OCR, Pearson, WJEC Eduqas

History

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, Pearson

Psychology

AS: AQA

A-Level: AQA, OCR

Physics

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR A, OCR B, Pearson

Sociology

AS + A-Level: AQA, OCR, WJEC Eduqas

 

Why children deserve a school librarian.

Dawn Finch, YA author, school library and literacy consultant, vice-chair London and South East School Libraries Group (SLG)
Follow @dawnafinch

With a decade of UK school libraries under my belt, and as a YA author, it is easy for me to see why your child needs a school library with a trained professional to run it. I’ve seen first-hand the positive difference this makes not only to your child’s development in literacy, but also to their enjoyment of reading and their linguistic progression. It’s not just about stamping books out, it’s about understanding and nurturing your child’s reading, guiding them so that they can successfully navigate the maze of reading and emerge triumphant and in charge. So much more than Biff and Chip and struggling to the end of a scheme. It’s about becoming a lifelong reader and having something in your life that will change it for the better. That’s what school librarians do, and they do it because it’s their passion and it’s important to them. Your child deserves that person in their life.

You can read the research for yourself – try this survey from Australia that shows the impact school libraries have on children’s literacy.
Or maybe look at what’s being said in the House of Lords.
Or just some common sense from a writer who knows a thing or two about reading. Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency is well worth a watch.

But (despite a rather ill-informed waffling thread on MumsNet) I know I don’t really need to convince parents that their child deserves a well stocked library run by a qualified librarian. You know it makes a positive difference to their education, and their lives.

Sadly it seems that increasingly the people we need to prove this to are head teachers and SLT members. As parents you need some evidence to prove your case and to get what your children deserve. So, when you are visiting schools to decide which one to commit to for your child’s future – take this leaflet with you. This explains exactly why your child deserves a good school library with a professional librarian. Download it here from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, print it and take it with you when visiting prospective schools. It will help you to see if the library you are being shown is a successful and supportive place, or just a room full of books. The leaflet will give you key points to look out for, and questions to ask. This way you can be sure that your child will be getting the support and materials that they require, and deserve.

This is not about a librarian banging on about her profession, it is about your child’s one shot at a brighter future. Their next school might make or break them, so why not expect the best? It is a simple fact that their literacy levels will be much higher if they have access to a real library. We’re not talking a room with books in – this is about real libraries run by professional people who have the right training for the job. This is a highly skilled profession, and your child deserves the right support from trained people. This is your child’s right to a better future, don’t stand for anything less.

A poster from the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre says it all – a powerful search engine with a heart.

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