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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 1, September 2005

Put a teacher-librarian on your team

by Karen Lindsay

All over the world, companies are reaping the benefits of collaborative effort. Automobiles are created by teams and job interviews are done in collaborative group settings. Can’t make it as a team player? You won’t get into McMaster’s School of Medicine. It’s not just a fad; it’s a recognition that results improve where many minds, skills, and perspectives are brought to bear. Shared responsibility improves performance, unleashes creativity, and broadens skills while reducing stress and building relationships.

Teaching, especially at the secondary school level, has not embraced this concept. Teachers spend much of their day planning, delivering, and assessing lessons in isolation. It is not unusual for a beginning secondary teacher to enter the profession facing four different lesson preparations per day, difficult classes, and five months of teaching without a preparation block! There is no opportunity to observe more experienced teachers, and no time to work collaboratively with anyone. Over time, we become inured to, proud of, and perhaps even happy with our isolation. However, it is not the healthiest, most productive approach to teaching students.

Enter the teacher-librarian. Here is the one person on staff whose prime function is to support teachers in unit planning and lesson delivery. Teacher-librarians are committed to collaboration. We work best when we work closely with individual teachers in the critical areas of designing authentic learning tasks and integrating the research and technological pieces required by various IRPs. Did you know that next to socio-economic issues, the single greatest factor affecting student achievement is the school library? Research undertaken and replicated over the past 60 years indicates that students whose teacher-librarians take active planning and teaching roles tend to achieve significantly higher test scores. In schools where teachers and teacher-librarians work together to plan, implement, and evaluate lessons and units of study, student results improve by between 5 and 20%. No teacher would wittingly deprive their students this opportunity for improvement, but for it to occur, classroom teachers need to make teacher-librarians a part of their planning, teaching, and evaluation routine.

No one needs to tell you that the demands of teaching are constantly increasing. Our students have so many more needs, and need so many more skills than they once did to be successful. Curricular change seems like the only constant along with increasing class sizes. Nevertheless, it is important that students receive research assignments that teach them how to locate, evaluate, and use today’s information, both in school and beyond. No one person can be expected to have the experience, knowledge, and time to teach information literacy and technology skills, while continuing to teach the child, and the curriculum. Teaching in today’s school demands a team approach. Lean on your teacher-librarian.

During the planning of a unit, your teacher-librarian will focus on incorporating challenges that will call upon students to access, evaluate, and use information from multiple sources in order to learn to think, and to create and apply new knowledge. Intelligent decision-making relies on accurate and complete information. Through their collaboration, teachers and teacher-librarians, can provide students with specific opportunities to develop skills in information literacy and information technology, skills that they will need more and more both in school and outside its walls.

Co-planned lessons generally do not rely on textbooks, preferring to teach students how to locate and use resources that will meet the needs of the task. Frequently the products of a co-planned lesson might be PowerPoint presentations, mock trials, virtual seminars, or poster sessions, rather than pen and paper activities. Teacher-librarians often take responsibility for assessing the students’ process through the unit, as well as marking their reference list/bibliography.

What to bring to a collaborative planning session:

  • A unit you’ve already taught or an idea for a new unit.
  • Your expert knowledge of the curriculum and your students.
  • An open mind.

What the teacher-librarian might teach, using a task that requires critical thinking and problem solving:

  • How to formulate critical questions to guide the research process.
  • How to select the most appropriate resources to accomplish a given task.
  • How to search the library’s catalogue and locate resources in the library.
  • What a database is and how to use it.
  • How to search the Internet effectively.
  • How to check web sites for reliability.
  • How to use information ethically.
  • How to take notes and track sources effectively.
  • How to use process management tools for assigning responsibilities, tracking tasks, and setting deadlines.
  • How to organize, integrate, and present findings in effective ways.

If your school does not have a fully trained teacher-librarian, ask your principal why. If your teacher-librarian’s time is largely taken up providing preparation time and supervising book exchanges so that collaborative planning and teaching become impossible, ask your principal why. If information literacy skills are not fully integrated into your curriculum, if you and your teacher-librarian are not equal partners who plan, deliver, and assess work together, figure out why and do what you can to change that. Every school deserves an effective library program.

For most of the Western world, January heralds the New Year. Not so for teachers. September is our time for new beginnings and resolutions. This year, why not make one of them to plan at least one unit with your teacher-librarian?

Karen Lindsay is the teacher-librarian at L’École Secondaire Reynolds Secondary School, Victoria.

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