Teacher Librarians forever!

Greetings from Sydney, Australia, on a hot, hot day.  It’s 40 degrees today, and very humid.  40 degrees centigrade is your 100 degrees fahrenheit.  The ceiling fan is on overdrive, but it scarcely makes a difference, as we wait for the southerly change, which often comes in the evening of hot days. Accompanied by an icy glass of wine, the southerly is more welcome than anything else I know!

My name is Lee FitzGerald, and I’m a distance education lecturer in teacher librarianship at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga (meaning Place of many crows, in the Wiradjuri aboriginal language). I work from my home in Mosman, Sydney, which is ringed with beautiful beaches on Sydney Harbour – Balmoral, Clifton Gardens, Chinaman’s Beach, all good for an early morning dip before working for CSU.  So, along with my colleagues, I help prepare teachers to become teacher librarians (TLs) in the Master of Education (Teacher Librarianship) degree, which is a distance education course.  If you are interested in the structure of the course, please visit http://www.csu.edu.au/courses/master-of-education-teacher-librarianship. One of my favourite subjects to teach is ETL401 – Introduction to teacher librarianship, in which we look at the fundamentals of the role of the TL in schools – information literacy, information literacy models, and inquiry learning, with a growing focus on Guided Inquiry as an example of inquiry learning.  There are many students in our subjects – often as many as 150 each session.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Schools Australia 2012 report shows the number of Australian government schools (6,697), Catholic schools (1,713) and independent schools (1,017), giving a total of 9,427 primary and secondary schools, a very small number compared with yours!  Almost all of these schools has a library, but they vary enormously in staffing, facilities and resources.  The teaching role of the TL, in inquiry learning and literature programs also varies enormously, with difficulties often experienced in setting up collaborative programs like Guided Inquiry.

I’ve been a TL for longer than I’d care to mention. Hence the title of this post, TLs forever!  This is because I’ve been one forever, and also because TLs are the best!

Three auspicious things have happened in Australia, favouring inquiry learning:

  • The new Australian Curriculum has delivered Australia’s version of 21st century skills, in the General Capabilities, especially Critical and Creative Thinking.
  • The Australian Curriculum is peppered with information skills, all languishing without a process or pedagogy to unify them.
  • Publication of new Guided Inquiry resources is building steadily to a fully-fledged GI curriculum. They are:
  • Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2012) Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. More recently:
  • Maniotes, L., Harrington, L. & Lambusta, P. (2016) Guided Inquiry Design in Action: Middle School. Libraries Unlimited. Santa Barbara: CA
  • Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2015) Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Second edition. Libraries Unlimited. Santa Barbara: CA.

And there are more publications to come, including one from me: Guided Inquiry in a time of global curriculum reform, should I ever actually finish it!    World-wide, it’s a very exciting time for Guided Inquiry, for students, teachers and TLs! We are at king tide for Guided Inquiry – a time where it’s hard to resist a strong current of circumstances in many countries which make it not merely opportune for the move to inquiry learning.  It is as if trends are converging to form a tide streaming in the direction of global readiness for Guided Inquiry.   There are two main global changes have altered learning so fundamentally, that to ignore their impact is to drown, and to embrace their impact, is to swim.  The two changes are the pervasiveness of the movement to 21st century skills, and of technological change, which have influenced curriculum reform in many countries. Together they create fertile ground for inquiry learning, and for TL pedagogical skills.

This has been my journey:

I studied teacher librarianship in the late 1980’s, first meeting and being inspired by Dr. Ross J. Todd, who told us that there was a tidal wave of information about to assail the world, and that information literacy was the prime skill all people must develop.  Ross has been my long time guru, from those days and through to his move to Rutgers, where he is now Department Chair, Associate Professor Library and Information Science in the School of Communication and Information (SCILS). Much of his research work is available at the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL), focusing on Guided Inquiry amongst other interests.  The mission statement from CISSL shows the priority Guided Inquiry has in its work – All young people and educators have access to information and technology-rich learning communities that prepare them through Guided Inquiry, reading and digital literacy to live and work in a globally networked world.

Ross Todd’s passionate belief in the teaching role of the TL in inquiry learning, and the efficacy of the Information Search Process in constructing engaging inquiry experiences, has been a thread in my life from the 1980’s.  This has gradually morphed into a conviction that Guided Inquiry is the teaching pedagogy that we need, and the mode of inquiry learning that works with students, because it is an instinctive process, rather than an imposed one. I’ve been a TL in four primary and three secondary schools, and have learnt first-hand the difficulties confronting TLs in the form of having to provide release from face to face (RFF) teaching in primary schools; finding it difficult to get collaboration going with teachers, who often don’t regard the TL as a “real” teacher; the necessity of principal support to enable the TL role to perform at its best; shortage of funds and time to resource and manage the library and to have time to spend on collaboration for inquiry learning.  I believe that Guided Inquiry provides us with the means to overcome all the above difficulties.  In schools with a Guided Inquiry program, it’s very unlikely that TLs will be used for RFF as they are an essential part of the teaching team, demonstrating every day that they are “real” teachers.  Collaboration is fundamental to GI, and no longer a problem.   Shortage of funds and time may not be solved by Guided Inquiry – but being able to demonstrate that students develop deep learning using GI methods is surely an encouragement for more support in terms of resources and providing extra library staff.

I’ve been working with Guided Inquiry (or its predecessor, when there was “only” the ISP) for a long time now, since about 2008, when Dr. Ross Todd mentored a group project that I co-ordinated with 12 schools in the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales.   Here is a slideshare from Dr. Todd on the project: Guided Inquiry @ Work: Insights from the AIS Project. This was before the evolution of the GID process, and the very helpful scaffolding now available for us to use at each stage of the GID process.  I worked for eleven years at Loreto Kirribilli, a Catholic independent girls’ high school in Sydney, learning by trial, error and repetition, the best way to approach the Year 11 Historical Investigation, with emerging Guided Inquiry methods.   Here is the last iteration of the Ancient Historical Investigation, starting to use the new verbs of GID.  It is the wiki that was used for the research I will describe in my next blogpost.

In Australia, our curriculum is more tightly content-based than the US one, which does make opportunities to take a Guided Inquiry approach more challenging.  It is usually in the context of a single curriculum topic that our Guided Inquiries take place, for example, Ancient Egypt; World heritage sites; The Holocaust, etc. The open-ended GI that you see in the Year 11 Historical Investigation is rare indeed in our content-laden curriculum.   Anyway!  We do what we can, and in my next post, I’ll look at the Ancient Historical Investigation more closely.  It was also the subject of some research I did for CSU answering the questions: Does Guided Inquiry enhance deep learning and metacognition?

Here comes the Southerly!  Now, where’s that nice cold glass of wine?

Lee