Programming for students with autism in the school library

This post is really two posts in one.  In the Livebinder (link below) I was testing out the Livebinder platform as part of an inquiry project. My Livebinder is filled with thoughts and resources as both a teacher-librarian and as a    Mom of an autistic child.

Here is my reflection on the inquiry process as a whole and how the Livebinder and developing it will change my work as a teacher-librarian.

My major concerns with inquiry-based learning thus far have been how Vygotsky’s theory of Zone of Proximal Development (1986) works with the phases of inquiry outlined in Alberta Learning’s Focus on Inquiry document.  My primary interest in this inquiry has been examining how school libraries can better provide for students with autism.  Both my interests in inquiry and my inquiry question for this project became interwoven as I was challenged by each phase of inquiry.

Phase 1: Planning

Before I began my inquiry project, which examines how school libraries can better serve learners with autism, I was very anxious about finding information. In asking this question, I came to the challenge of answering it wearing two hats: as a teacher-librarian who works daily with students with autism; and as a mother of a son who has been recently diagnosed with PDD-NOS on the autism spectrum.  From the outset I have been worried that the task would become too personal and I would be completely off-task.  Truthfully, I found myself reading much more than I needed to for the assignment as it was so interesting and relevant to me personally to care for my son.  Choosing a topic that is personally relevant, developing a focus and staying on task are all challenges of the planning stage.  Accompanying these challenges are challenging emotions, such as the anxiety and confusion I felt during planning.

Phase 2: Retrieving

Initially, I narrowed my focus too much to achieve adequate search results so I broadened my search to include all kinds of libraries and how they were working to be more inclusive of their diverse populations.  This negotiation between narrow and broad searches is an area of inquiry where the secondary students I work with often become stuck.  Searching for classifications in the Dewey and National Library of Congress systems helped me to consider other possibilities.  As a teacher-librarian, I often find my students struggling to narrow their search terms in order to be successful.  Although I haven’t done so before, I will include these two classification resources in my lessons with students in order to improve everyone’s understanding of our collection.  Having these headings as I continued through the retrieval process, helped me to stay on track.

Phase 3: Processing

The Livebinder platform was completely new to me.  At first I couldn’t understand why it was preferable to a wiki, but I see now that it is better used for focused topics. The Livebinder is more of a living document and can easily be controlled and modified by the creator.  I really appreciated having the exemplars from past students, and as a teacher-librarian, I must remember to collect past work examples to show students for examplars.  Once I understood the system of Livebinder in creating Tabs and Subtabs (rather than pages or posts), I needed to develop categories that would help to answer my inquiry question.  There was a definite period of making connections between articles, and then evaluating pertinent information as I developed a subquestion for each subtab as a title.

Phase 4: Creating

I found that adding a consistent structure of colour, font size and format to each of the Livebinder pages helped me to further focus what was only most relevant.  I can see the Livebinder as a very good starting place for students who are trying to deepen their research.  I appreciate how you can easily add media to each page to richen the content.  I also really appreciate how each subtab is an actual live embedded link to the page, making it a visual enhancement rather than just a hyperlink.  As I chose the content of each LiveBinder tab, I went back to processing as in phase 3, as I was revising for my intended audience.  Realizing this negotiation makes the phases of inquiry appear non-linear and as a teacher-librarian I must expect students to negotiate these phases at their own pace.

Phase 5: Sharing

My favourite thing about Livebinders is how easy it is share them with the world through social media or embedding them.  As I was building this Livebinder, I tweeted the link and I immediately made a connection to the creators of Livebinder, Tina and Barbara (@LiveBinders) who favourited my Tweet and want to hear my feedback.  Sharing inquiry work and having feedback from an authentic audience is a vital part of the process and I am looking forward to hearing from my classmates and beyond as I publish it in various places.  In our school board, we are implementing a policy where we will not publish student material so as not to infringe on their privacy.  It is my hope, however, that students will realize the importance of the authentic audience online and self-publish.

Phase 6: Evaluating

Of course now that the inquiry is done, the hardest part is still to come which is to implement all of these good ideas.  I’m strongly considering applying for grant money to support programs to support students with autism in my library.  I have been concerned with collecting evidence to support my library advocacy especially after reading Carol Gordon’s (2010) article about developing a culture of inquiry.  I see applying for a grant and implementing a project that would benefit the whole school community would be a strong example of library work for an evidence folder.  It would be very satisfying to have my research culminate in a practical and measurable way.  As I reflect back on the importance of this meaningful step to me, I know it is true for students and I intend to place more emphasis on making these opportunities for my students.

The Livebinder platform is an easy and structured way to present information to students in a variety of formats.  Up until now I have been making a list of live links inside of Google Docs for each teacher-librarian lesson, but I think I will develop Livebinders for some student projects that I can count on having multiple questions for.  Then I just link the pathfinders to my library Google Site.  I may even convince a class to create Livebinders for other classes.


Alberta Learning. (2004). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning [Pamphlet]. Alberta Learning.

Gordon, C. A. (2010). The culture of inquiry in school libraries. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1).

Harada, V. H. (2010). Librarians as learning leaders: Cultivating cultures of inquiry. In S. Coatney (Ed.), The many faces of school library leadership (pp. 13-28). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Vygotsky, Lev. 1986. Thought and language (rev.ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Leave a Comment

  1. Hi Alanna, I saw you asked to follow me on Twitter and as I looked at your LiveBinder, I wanted to see if you are aware of this link below is titled Teaching Students with Autism: Effective Strategies for Grades PreK-5

    This site offers online development for teachers and librarians and is sponsored by Follett, enjoy!
    BJ Neary


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