Saturday, December 11, 2010

The cornerstone of every school

On my way back from Hong Kong in September, I passed through Schiphol airport.  Now having lived in Holland for many years, this airport is like an old friend to me.  It's a lovely airport to spend some time and this time I was there it was even better.  Last time I was there, a couple of years ago, I noticed there was an art gallery in the airport - part of the Rijksmuseum with a permanent exhibition of works by Dutch Masters of the Golden Age, as well as temporary exhibitions that change several times a year.  This time I was there I noticed a new addition to the airport - a library with downloadable music and film - and books from Dutch writers translated into 29 different languages.  Have I ever mentioned that I love libraries?

I was sent a great article today by one of our school leaders - Rethinking the Library to improve Information Literacy.  As regular readers will know I've done a lot of reading and thinking about the role of the library over the past year and a half.  Last April I made a blog post about this subject where I wrote about how for many years I've wanted a job that combined both the library and IT and how the opportunity to start moving in that direction was offered to me over 10 years ago by the Head of Lower School at the International School of Amsterdam, when she offered me an IT position. (By the way this is a prime example of what I was writing about yesterday - a great leader who listened and then gave me the opportunity to make myself a better teacher).  Although over the past 10 years I have moved forward tremendously as an IT teacher, I have always looked back and wondered how I could have added in the library to have an even greater impact on student learning.

Last year I was blessed to be in a school where the librarian was of a similar mind.  We had a number of different meetings where we talked about gaps in the current provision, as well as overlaps and even situations where "the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing".  For example it was possible our librarian was teaching one searching strategy to a class in the library, whereas I was teaching a completely different strategy to that same class in the IT labs.  We talked about the fact that we really were one department, even if this was not at the time recognised and even though physically we were separated in different buildings or on different floors, since both our jobs involved helping students to find information, to validate it, to synthesise it and to create something with it, to cite the sources of our information and communicate our learning to others.

This year we have made amazing progress in that both the librarian and myself attend the Grade 3 weekly planning sessions - they are an excellent example of collaborative planning where we are totally focused on supporting the programme of inquiry in that grade.  In addition, the librarian and I have set aside time for us to meet together too, where we talk about the information literacy skills that we are both developing.  Teachers have been able to sign up with either of us, depending on their and our schedules, and know that the same skills will be covered and that we are building on each other's lessons.  I've spent some time in the library classroom with the Grade 3 students too, using laptops and accessing the online subscriptions that the school has.

The article in Edutopia outlines the necessity of developing information literacy and utilising emerging technologies as the library evolves.  It points out that despite many schools going 1:1, with information available at all times on the students' own laptops, the library has never been more important in connecting students to vast networks of information and developing in them the skills they will need for the future.  Andrew Marcinek lists the ways we should rethink libraries:

  • The role of the library - and in particular how we use new technologies
  • The design of the library - a blend of books and technologies.  The suggestion is that it should look like a "hip coffee shop" with places to connect and comfortable places to read a book or use an iPod or iPad
  • The role of the librarian - guiding students through searching for, citing and integrating information

This is the time of year when as teachers we often have to think about what we want to do next.  Do we want to stay or leave?  And if we want to stay, do we want to stay in the same role or position or do we want to shift.  This is the conclusion I have come to:  I would like to change.  I would like to take on a much greater role in the library to develop more 21st century literacy skills.  I would like the library and labs to be physically one place.  For students to move seamlessly between one and the other.  Between finding information, using information, creating new information and publishing that information.  This is my dream.  Let's see what happens.

Photo Credit:  The library at Schiphol airport, opened in August 2010, is situated on Holland Boulevard between Piers E and F

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