The pillars of my teaching are shifting

I’ve only read Chapters 1 and 2 (and 10) in Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case’s Creating Thinking Classrooms, but I can feel the foundation of my beliefs, the pillars of my teaching and the roof of my practice shifting.  I’m looking through two of my school roles as I read this book.  Firstly, I have to look at the whole school and especially how our teaching with technology is (or is not) changing. Secondly, I am both librarian and e-learning teacher and I want to make sure that my library goals align with the thinking goals of my online classroom self.  There are some practices that have definitely affected the way that I teach (backwards design) but there are lots of other practices that are muddy.

So in Chapter 1 when the authors describe the number of initiatives that are happening in any one school building I naturally asked “Which of the operational components is most accurate in regards to the purpose of schooling?”  My Directions Team spent an entire afternoon trying to align our core values or Finding our Why (Simon Sinek).  It’s so difficult!  When we brought our work to the next group of department heads, they tore it down to the beginning again.  Yet I know that it’s a worthwhile exercise because, as the authors say on page 16, we can’t rush to the practical.

I fear that the digital technologies that we have rushed to put into the hands of students and teachers are just sustaining existing principles rather than transforming them.  I see all the time that Inquiry tasks performed about Google-able answers are minimally impactful on student learning.  For the first time in 3 years, we are suddenly having a scarcity issue of devices again but I’m not convinced that a) our wireless infrastructure can handle more devices and b) that we want them.  We are convincing our students through our repetitive actions that they can rely on the school’s tech rather than to begin exploring their own.  I’m especially thinking of our graduating students who need to get comfy with making their own decisions about which tech tools to use for which purpose.

I never questioned before if student-centred learning had any disadvantages but of course the two things I see everyday as a librarian are clear disadvantages!  They are that the curriculum is often underrepresented or not represented at all in student-centred learning; and that students choose safe/known topics.  One of the frustrating reasons that inquiry continues to be less impactful though is because or our grading system which I know I constantly use as a stick to beat our students into motivation!  After reading Implications for personalized learning I am left with the question How can we separate grades for measurement from grades as reward?  Wouldn’t it be awesome if students found that the learning was the reward instead of the number on their report card?

In my elearning environment, I’m currently playing with the new badges tool where I can recognize students’ behaviour and achievement with a badge.  I know this isn’t a strong motivator at the grade 12 level that I’m teaching, but I want to recognize when a student achieves a technology skill; a foundational skill and a social skill that will serve them well in the environment.  My ultimate plan is to tie more badges into the competencies that are outlined in the curriculum to see where my teaching weaknesses are and also to make sure that my students have a solid foundation when they finish the course.  As a librarian, I think my career goal could be “Sense-making must be grounded in rigorous investigation.”   I like the examples given of inquiry on pages 38 and 39 but I’m hoping there will be more of these in less content-based circumstances as we go through the book.  Although these models gave me a clear point of view when we’re teaching a concept, this format doesn’t always apply to English or the Arts which are often based on skills-based learning.

Launching a book club with a riddle

My White Pine book club is growing stale. The same few students join every year (which is awesome) but I’m not reaching as far as I’d like to in my secondary school of 1200 students. So I’m trying an additional book club this year in a different format. The book I’ve chosen is “This Dark Endeavour” by Kenneth Oppel and if you haven’t read it you should!

So each week we’ll run a seminar on an interesting topic within the book in hopes of engaging new students!  I hope it will also promote inquiry-based thinking and lead to new possibilities.

This week’s seminar will be lead by Adam Wallace, and he’s going to talk all about Switzerland and cover many of the places the characters visit in the book.  Here’s our promo:

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

I don’t think of myself as a gamer.  I have been known to play lots of those Flash-based Facebook games with my Candy Crush Saga friends, and occasionally a great puzzle-based novella will come along like Gabriel Knight 2,  Syberia or Ripper that I devour, but generally I didn’t think they were a big part of my life.  After reading just part 1, Why Games Make Us Happy, of McGonigal’s book, I started feeling that I could admit that I play Plants vs. Zombies and Game of Thrones Ascent almost every day!  Now that I’ve read McGonigal’s book completely, I know that it’s cool to be a gamer and I really want to believe that a game designer will win a Nobel Prize someday.

 

In Part II Reinventing Reality, McGonigal really opens up on the topic of how games can change our education system for the better.  I’m really intrigued with the idea of the game-based education being offered by Quest to Learn (p. 128). A very real challenge of my current position is to develop my staff’s comfort and skills with 21st century learning which largely focuses on digital fluency.  However, there are constantly battles between our current system and the growing desire from staff to collaborate and teach creatively.  The idea of redesigning the system from the ground up, the way that Quest to Learn has, is very appealing.  In hindsight, I know that the mindset of the administration and the staff has often been what held back change for the better design of our school and I wonder what kind of experiential learning the staff needs to help them grow in this direction.  We have a local company called Eagles Flight which worked with our department heads for one morning last January during exams, and essentially we played a quest game where we needed to get from one side of a desert to the other maximizing our resources, within a time limit and never having all the information we needed to play.  It was really fun!  Was it transformational?  No but it helped us to bond and gave us lots of fuel for good discussion for the rest of the day.

 

Having spent 5 years as a teacher-librarian now, one of the aspects of my job that I like best is how it gives me space to see the school as a whole system, and I can see the problem of the department silos.  At the risk of overglorifying the situation, I’m omniscient in a way that even the administration isn’t.  I’ve always enjoyed this role in my gaming experience as well, and was a big fan of many of the games McGonigal mentions in Part III, Chapter 14: Saving the Real World Together.  Besides Will Wright’s Sim City and The Sims, I was fascinated with the idea of Peter Molyneux’s game Black & White in which you need to make decisions for villagers based on moral quandaries. After reading McGonigal’s praise of the game, I dug out our old copy of Will Wright’s Spore and played through 4 levels with new appreciation for its design and trying to imagine what it would be really like to drop into the Ukraine, for example, and try to sort things out a bit. Maybe that’s the reason why I still like reality tv shows.  There’s a new one coming out this week called The Audience where 50 people make a life-changing decision for someone.  This experimentation in McGonigal’s “Saving the Real World Together” of taking a long view, practicing ecosystems thinking, and pilot experimentation (p. 297-98) are exactly the tools that I think we need our graduates to have exposure to.  One of the first computer games I remember loving is Lemonade Stand, where I simulated making a lemonade stand profitable based on fluctuating weather predictions and costs of lemon and sugar.  If I could remake school today, I’d start by making every single assignment follow McGonigal’s Saving the Real World criteria.  I might not be able to reconstruct my school into a Quest to Learn environment, but I can advocate for these 3 aspects in teaching design and that gives me hope that my influence will help save the world.  I suppose I need to see this through for the epic win.

Overall, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is a game-changer (excuse the pun).  I’ve started a Twitter List called Epic Winners that includes all sorts of people who are using games for positive change and deeper meaning inside schools and beyond.  It even lead me to find a library game that I’d like to try out called (what else?) Librarygame.   This isn’t the first time I’ve thought “I wish I could give a little surprise to a student who signs out the same book twice, or has signed out 10 books this year, or returns everything on time”.  Even if it was just a virtual badge to add to their student e-portfolio, I think they would appreciate it.  I know I would.

References

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

 

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Change Agent rant

WARNING: the following response could be seen as a rant.  It probably is.

I read the Cochran-Smith & Lytle article with some trepidation.  One of the hard things about being a teacher-librarian in 2013 is that I expect any day now that some policymaker is going to make me redundant.  Ouch.  So when I read this quote about the latest developments in Core Curriculum making and standardized testing, I actually felt reassured:

Part of what these developments have in common is a set of underlying assumptions about school change that de-emphasizes differences in local contexts, de-emphasizes the construction of local knowledge in and by school communities, and de-emphasizes the role of the teacher as decision maker and change agent. (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999, p.  22).

That paragraph could have been written yesterday and still had as much impact!  Here we are 14 years later still battling to be treated as professionals or at least to be taken seriously…losing the battle to locally develop solutions for our students.  I know I’m atypical, but people ask me all the time why I’m doing my M.Ed. now….there’s no financial advantage, I don’t dream of being a principal or superintendent…I love learning.  I research because I want to know more about how to solve systemic problems that are preventing students from achieving better results.  I read this paragraph out loud to my husband this morning saying that I feel sometimes that being a teacher-librarian and an agent of change is like painting a big target on my back and I do sometimes feel like retreating back into an autonomous classroom.  But now that the veil has been lifted, and I can see clearly the larger perspective of how many compromises we’re making in public education at the expense of our students, I can’t go back.  I can’t stop trying to be heard.  I only hope that through research and my own discovery that my voice will somehow become more valid in the eyes of policymakers.

References

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). The teacher research movement: A decade later. Educational researcher28(7), 15-25.

Tuned out: Engaging the 21st century learner by Karen Hume

Karen Hume Tuned OutTuned Out: Engaging The 21st Century Learner by Karen Hume

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you want a quick snapshot of all that’s happening in educational theory, this is the book for you. At the risk of sounding over-confident, this is exactly why this book was not for me. It’s a basic primer on how to engage students. While there are a few gems along the way, these come not from Hume herself, but from those she is quoting. I was encouraged that there might be deeper material online, and a way to interact with Hume herself in her blog or social media, but the online portion is static, not dynamic, and hasn’t been active since the book’s release. As such, the whole thing smells of a marketing ploy and I’m deeply suspicious. Some of my favourite people are quoted on the cover as responding favourably to this book, but I will try to forgive them for this. I’m going to quickly move on to something more exciting in professional development, in hopes that the bad taste of Hume’s work will leave my mouth.

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Is it possible to grow readers who are also digitally savvy?

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Penny Kittle speak about reading and how complex it is for intermediate/senior teachers to teach.  Kittle estimates that in 1st year college/university that the average pages a student reads is 500.  She proposed that the #1 reason that students drop out after first year is that they can’t keep up with the demand of reading.  Meanwhile Don Tapscott tells us in Grown Up Digital that we need to appeal to the multimedia savvy of the NetGeneration students in our classes.  How do we balance both of those ideas?  Heather Durnin tells us how she does it in her blog post about modifying literature circles in her grade 8 classroom.  What I love about Heather’s work is that she’s still focusing on  teaching reading, critical analysis and through social interaction (Vygotzky would approve).  The students develop their skills in analysis face-to-face with their peers and their teacher, before being accountable to the technology. I suspect that as students hear the types of questions and comments that lead to richer discussion, that in turn their reading becomes stronger as they look for ways to contribute.

What’s the next level?  Maybe it’s that the students publish their work to an authentic audience and get feedback.  The hardest part of inquiry-based learning for me is to ask really meaningful questions that will lead to critical thinking.  I’m at the point where I am conscious of designing my questions to be evaluative ….so that students are developing criteria as well as their analysis, but the questions don’t come naturally to me yet. Is there an app for that?  I don’t think so.  #teachersrock

Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels

Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in ActionComprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey & Harvey Daniels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A bit 101 for my taste. It was so busy trying to be all encompassing that I’m not sure it presented any new information…. It outlines the phases of the inquiry process very well, but doesn’t follow through on the execution of inquiry as well.

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Testing the limits of my catalogue

I am concerned about the availability and accessibility of our catalogue.  Our catalogue is completely online and in 2012 we moved from the Horizon software to Workflows Symphony software for our circulation.  While there are certain advantages to our new software, the cataloguing is still primarily controlled and managed at the board level.  Maybe they’re worried about renegades, like me, who now have just enough information to be dangerous in trying to tinker with my own cataloguing.  Part of me resents how controlled it is. It takes a user one username/password combo and at least 3 mouse clicks before getting into the search toolbar.  I would love to improve this further.  We haven’t figured out how to get one computer to be a designated catalogue search computer.  I’d love to be able to have a touch screen search like in a Chapters store.

I have also been summoning the courage to add a few things to our collection that include a more elementary school library approach.  I’d like to start building collections of objects, pieces of art, artifacts, etc. that are concept based.  I see them being used to stimulate inquiry.  How can I itemize and catalogue these collections so that teachers and students can see them? Before the readings on cataloguing nonbook materials I felt that because of the limitations of our cataloguing system, that I may need to keep these collections out of our catalogue and instead keep a spreadsheet system where they’ll be accessible.   Intner, Fountain and Weihs (2011) say “Two policy issues are of concern in classifying nonbook materials:  what system to use for classification and whether to keep nonbook materials on separate shelves or integrate them with the library’s books” (p. 156).  Having read Chapter 10, Cataloguing Nonbook Materials, with relish, I am now convinced that I need to work on classifying these nonbook materials in my regular catalogue, and if I can make a display so that the available materials are more widely understood. My next questions involve how I’m going to classify photographed portraits of famous people, for example, and I anticipate the catalogue records to be quite detailed when I’m finished.  Additionally, I’ve recently removed the genres from the fiction section, but I’d like the catalogue to include a genre line, if the book is actually designated within a particular genre in the CIP record.  If my catalogue can accommodate my whims and desires, and be easily accessible to our students and staff, then it meets my needs.  Of course, with my lack of experience I’m questioning if the limits of my catalogue are actually the limits of my understanding.  I’m hoping that with a bit more exploration that I’ll be satisfied.

References

Intner, S. S., Fountain, J. F., & Weihs, J. (Eds.). (2011). Cataloguing correctly for kids: An introduction to the tools (5th ed.). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Reflection: on entering the library

E contacted me today thinking about career changes, or sidesteps moving from classroom teaching to some of those rarer positions in schools like teacher-librarianship, and asked what are the differences between being a classroom teacher and being a librarian.  Moving into my fourth year in the library, I had a lot to say.  Here’s my response:

I’m doing my M.Ed. right now with a focus on teacher-librarianship. To my knowledge, there are only 2 programs of this calibre and distinction in all of North America…the one I’m in at the University of Alberta is completely online. The other is at the University of San Jose …and I don’t know much about it except that in my program we reference a lot of the work being done there.

I love being a librarian. Doing my M.Ed. I’ve discovered that I could happily move into educational research for the rest of my life. I’m actually going to be teaching one section of media arts (back with real students of my own!) this coming semester. I really miss being able to plan curriculum and I really miss developing relationships with students. However I love the autonomy of working as a teacher-librarian and I love the diversity of the topics and questions that come at me all day long. There’s an awful lot of psychology in the library that I hadn’t anticipated … coaxing students and staff to try new things all day long and building their confidence to go for it. I’d say my job is 3 parts: advocacy, collection and technology. I have a blog threadbarebeauty.wordpress.com if you want to check out my process in learning how to be a librarian, and I’m also really really into Twitter. So do I take my work home? Yeah…reading and information and sharing it is totally addictive and I pretty much do it every waking moment of every day. It’s a total obsession.

However, the role of librarian is completely morphing and you have to be prepared to go there with it. It’s exhausting trying to be the change agent all the time and I feel like my persona is now “that quirky girl with all those crazy ideas”. I’m not sure that they’re taking me seriously. I stimulate a lot of thought maybe, but change takes forever to happen. I have let go of the need to be the expert in the room and I hear myself saying “I don’t know but let’s go find out!” all day long. I read professional reading with breakfast, listen to an audiobook on the car to and from work, and read a third book again before I fall asleep at night.

And most of the work I do is never seen and I have to be ok with that. Going from teaching English/drama/media arts where there were shows and accolades and contests to library meant putting down a lot of ego. I’m trying to get comfortable with servitude but I humbly accept that I may never get there. Like teaching, it’s really busy and always different, but there’s a reliable structure to my day that makes it all possible.

Not sure if I inspired you or scared you, so ask anything.

Canadian Encyclopedia (online reference source)

Book title: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Author: Historica-Dominion

Bibliographic entry Historica-Dominion (Ed.). (2012). The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia database.
Description Organized by key people and events in Canadian history, the encyclopedia has fact-based articles searchable by keyword.  It also recommends articles for browsing and links to a live bilingual blog that highlights different topics within the encyclopedia relating to current events.
Reaction  Quite text heavy junior students would generally not handle the format.  Although filled with references at the bottom of each encylopedic entry, none of them are live links to further information.  There is room for improvement in incorporating new media types.
Recommended age level  Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes  History, people, events, places, Canada
Curriculum connections Geography: evaluate differing viewpoints on the benefits and disadvantages of selected resource megaprojects (e.g., James Bay hydro complex, Hibernia offshore oilfields,Athabasca oil sands, diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, Mackenzie Valley oil/gas pipeline)
Awards
Miscellaneous  The junior version is called The Youth Encyclopedia of Canada

Parameters for success in inquiry

I just finished attending the Edugains Literacy Camp this week.  The focus of this week is developing discourse and curiosity in the classroom….read between the lines: we’re talking about inquiry!

We tried this new discussion strategy tonight called World Cafe, that lead to some very interesting tangential diversions about implementing inquiry-based learning. We had some stimulating discussions following videos featuring Lucy West, where we defined accountable talk, and were encouraged to develop strategies that would have  teachers modelling the ideal conditions of inquiry.  Of course, the highlight was a live video conference with Alec Couros.  Dr. Couros challenged us with two questions:

  1. How can teachers use the power of personalisation to inform how we use inquiry-based learning?
  2. How can teachers help students to develop authentic networks to support their learning?

Alec posted all of his thought-provoking links in a Google doc for us if you want to dig deeper.

After rotating groups 4 times, I hosted a lovely group of lead teachers and a principal.  Sometimes you just meet people that you could spend the rest of your career working with, you know? We quickly leaped to identifying the ideal conditions for inquiry and how to support them in our schools.  To summarize, here is a quick overview of our work today.

Choice

Choice of role, audience, format and topic (RAFT) in any combination is empowering to students and immediately amps up the chance that this school work will be meaningful.  Giving students the knowledge and choice of individualizing privacy settings of their online work is a power that must be experienced to be understood.  With any amount of choice, we agreed that starting with small amounts and gradually releasing the students to greater independence was an essential method to encouraging independence.  Metacognition, reflection and self-regulation were all skills that we saw directly benefiting from giving students more choice in inquiry.

Autonomy

In order for students to take responsibility for their own learning, they need to be given the autonomy to make choices about what they will work on, and how they will work on it.

Access

Access to learning opportunities needs to happen 24/7…this doesn’t mean that teachers need to be available all day every day, but their content should be online, and office hours outside of class time are minimal expectations.

Time

This is the most challenging aspect of implementing inquiry-based learning.  In theory, inquiry will naturally occur through phases depending on student readiness.  In reality (in Ontario) they attend class 76 minutes for 89 days of a semester.  Can we accommodate students beyond the current system of time?  If so, how do we manage reporting?  I would like to build some more flexibility of time into our current day.  Here’s an idea: an inquiry pass….students can legitimately skip class in order to be productive in the library.

What do you think?  Are there things you would add or adjust?

Starting a path of inquiry

Intrinsically, I have emphasized information and literacy in my work for the brief time that I have been a secondary school teacher-librarian.  I have witnessed staff frustrations when students can’t seem to go more deeply into topics and I too have been frustrated when students seem to get stuck.  I hoped that in taking this course on inquiry-based instruction that I would learn techniques that would help me to guide us all through to successful completion of inquiry projects.  What I did not expect is that I would learn and embrace a new philosophy of teaching through evidence-based instruction, action research and inquiry.  To this point, I have struggled to be both an agent of change for education reform and to be a stable collaborator in my school.  Yet I feel now that there is a clear path I can follow for success in my personal and professional development.

Scaffolding inquiry

I was first introduced to the inquiry-based model by reading work of Barbara Stripling (2007) when she emphasized the necessity of explicitly teaching metacognition and active questioning to deepen understanding.  At that time I wondered aloud: Can metacognition be applied to reading fluency? Can literacy be taught through inquiry?  Is inquiry-based learning (IBL) a constructivist approach to digital fluency?  I see now that IBL provides repeated opportunities for practice of metacognition, literacy and digital fluency. As librarians, Stripling says we can provide a supporting role to teachers and students as their “cycle of reflection is bolstered by an attitude of empathy and collaboration and a cognitive stance that is both critical and open-minded” (p. 53).  In August 2011, I attended a lecture by Mike Schmoker after we had read his latest book as a school leadership team.  In his lecture he said that we needed to return to basics in education and do away with using tools like the narrative structure. I knew then that he was fundamentally wrong, but I couldn’t describe how.  Stripling says that the construct phase of inquiry is very difficult as teachers “struggle to teach students how to construct their own understandings” (p. 48).   Using the narrative framework is a way of helping provide a basic structure that can help students see history as a series of stories about choices that people make as they face challenges (Stripling, p. 49).  Looking at inquiry as the vehicle for narrative exploration lends itself to more reading and writing, through self-reflection and analysis.   

For the first time I clearly see the continuum in inquiry. Since I began teaching in the library, I have relied on the model of instruction outlined by the Toronto District School Board (2010) to develop a continuum of research skills in my school.  It outlines phases of research and steps to take in the diagnostic, formative and reflective phases to deepen and develop research skills. After reading Harvey and Daniels (2009) book, I realize that there is so much more to the inquiry process than research skills and information literacy:

In true inquiry, kids have to take responsibility for things that real learners do. They have to identify worthy problems and questions. They have to use the proper disciplinary tools (microscopes, timelines) and procedures (surveys, formulas), just like real practitioners. They have to work with others, build knowledge, and ultimately, submit their findings to a peer or public audience (p. 57).

Since our electronic pathfinder assignment was an inquiry, I enjoyed experiencing the phases firsthand, reminding myself of the pitfalls.  At first I wanted to begin exploring diversity in libraries but I found that it was too broad of a topic.  After narrowing my topic to autism and libraries was both personal and professional, I found myself wandering to related topics within databases or other sources of information.  I particularly enjoy the retrieving phase of hunting down resources.  I was also reminded how much bias plays a role in publishing and found that many sources were from advocacy groups that didn’t have research backgrounds.  

Through firsthand experience I came to more deeply understand that inquiry is based on prior knowledge and is, therefore, individual.  This means that we must allow for personal choice in inquiry-based learning. If I chose to focus just on the advocating for the element of personal choice at my school, I would really be taking on a challenge.  Subjects that can be chosen as electives in my secondary school generally see more success as students, from the outset, can exercise their right to choose.  Inquiry empowers the learner through choice at every phase.  Similarly, teachers will be empowered to provide this ongoing stimulation in their courses.  Sometimes teachers forget how challenging each phase is and beginning with experiencing an inquiry of their own may be a strategy I employ to opening productive discussion with colleagues.

Implementing inquiry

One of the discussions in this course that I found stimulating was about developing a whole school vision through inquiry-based learning.  My group discussed how inquiry peaks the curiosity of students and we wondered if implementing an inquiry-based program could help to lower the dropout rate in secondary school.  I pushed the boundary further and suggested that no courses should be mandatory after grade 10 in order to truly empower our students through choice.  This led to a discussion of how inquiry is a kind of literacy and should be an embedded part of every course.  Megan Jakse argued:

Literacy and inquiry skills definitely need to be embedded across the curriculum.  If the English department is teaching these skills, other departments should be building on them.  That would require a lot of collaboration among staff members but could be really worthwhile!  English should (in theory) be the least irrelevant course for students as the skills in the curriculum could be met by students in very different ways.  In the discussion, English teachers could easily model “personalized,” inquiry-based learning as students engage in self-directed (and possibly cross-curricular) projects, build literacy skills, and plan for their futures (M. Jakse, personal communication, July 6, 2012).

I see more clearly now how research skills, digital literacy and information literacy can all be better emphasized through the inquiry-based learning model that is collaborated upon by staff.

As with this discussion, Harvey and Daniels (2009) agree that implementing and modelling collaboration during inquiry is an essential component to deepen the process.  In their small-group inquiry model (2009, pp. 61-62), collaboration of teachers with students and students with students, is immersed in each inquiry phase. This collaboration model helps the students to monitor their own timelines and understanding putting the onus of learning, where it belongs, onto the students themselves.  I wonder now how I can continue to collaborate openly in front of the students in order to model the benefits and challenges of collaboration.

I also never understood before how project-based learning (PBL) differs from inquiry-based learning (IBL) until Kuhlthau clarified.  She says “[PBL] falls short in two respects.  First, it overemphasizes product and underemphasizes the learning process.  Second, students are frequently left to their own devices, and when parents step in, many end up doing the actual research.”  (2007, p. 3).  One of the issues with inquiry is how to implement it when there are so many other curriculum strategies being enforced right now.  My school has been working on the curriculum development theory of backwards design as outlined by Wiggins and McTighe (2005).  We have had the same goal for three years to backwards design every department, every course, every unit, and every lesson.  We began by developing the big ideas of each course, which look something like the overall expectations developed by the Ontario Ministry of Education for each secondary school course.  I`m wondering if we can tweak these big ideas by phrasing them into questions to stimulate inquiry.  For example, my media arts course has the big idea of Anonymity and Identity in its final unit.  If I change it to: How do identity and anonymity interact in media arts? I hope the students would feel that this is more of an invitation to explore the concepts rather than memorize them.  I plan to continue my exploring this transition into inquiry-based learning by examining each course for the possibilities in inquiry and map my school’s curriculum in this way.

Future path as teacher-librarian

I feel that this course has really focused my role as teacher-librarian in a secondary school.  I’ve often wondered how to structure my time and how much emphasis I should put on each need in the school .  Everywhere I look there is a need for organization, for resources, for direction in technology use, for projects, for literacy and in my last two years I’ve felt very stretched.  After taking this course, I feel that if I focus every moment of my day in helping staff and students to improve their inquiry experiences, that all of the other needs will fall in line.  As I plan to renovate my library, I must keep this vision of inquiry in mind.  I will deny the use of library resources for simple things like word-processing unless it is part of inquiry.  I will prioritize library resources for inquiry.  I will harness my time for endeavours in inquiry and action research.

Before the physical library changes, I can begin with adjusting the culture of the library.  The school library paradigm shift (Harada and Yoshina, 2010) and the corollaries outlined by Gordon (2010) developed the idea for creating a wikispace of evidence-based templates for each phase of inquiry.  After these readings, I realize that the student independence in the library must be the focus of our library materials as well.  I plan to change all the handouts in the library to represent the learner first, rather than the transmission of learning.  I see these as the graphic organizers for each inquiry phase that we collated for our wikispace.  Although I can’t truly measure the effectiveness of our wikispace, I can testify to the rewarding experience of collaborating with colleagues to create it.  Each element was created, challenged, revised and tweaked to maintain a clarity in our message and quality in our work.  The end result is very satisfying.  I wish that we could come together in a year to report back to each other on its success.  As we completed the wikispace, I tweeted out a link to it to garner some immediate feedback and was welcomed by Lisa Neale, an Ontario elementary principal, and Sheila Morrissette, a British Columbia secondary principal, who both informed me that they are investigating inquiry-based learning for their schools (Neale, Morrissette and King, 2012).  Now that we have created the wikispace, I wonder if I can further enhance it with reflection as we implement each phase of evidence-based inquiry.  As Neale and Morrissette indicated, evidence-based practice to support inquiry-based learning is a timely issue and I’m sure any reflection of process in its implementation would be welcome to the education community.

The professional is the personal

Thanks to Harada and Yoshina (2010), I understand how the paradigm within the library itself needs to shift.  Their chart which outlines moving from a focus on resources to a focus on student learning (p. 16) will direct my role.  In it the emphasis becomes less about teaching skills of location and retrieval and more on the evaluation and interpretation of information; less about product and more about process; less about grades and more about learning.  I know that I must build qualitative evidence that the library has an essential role to play in student and staff development.

Evidence-based practice was the crux of my learning in this course.  Carol Gordon (2010) was very influential in the development of my understanding as she describes the need for paradigm shifting and corollaries for the implementation of evidence-based inquiry instruction.  Gordon says: “Paradigm points to reform, setting the purpose for the research and indicating solutions to practical problems” (p. 76).  The current education system is inhibiting greater success in secondary learning and teaching.  My aim is to reform the system from within.  As Gordon suggests, I see now that I can strengthen my advocacy for reform by researching each problem, developing suggestions and creating action research to test solutions.

This knowledge is powerful and it gives me hope that reform is possible.  Gordon continues saying “The evidence-based paradigm constitutes a shift in the culture of teaching and learning in schools that has the potential to reform education.  If research in school library instruction has a mission, this is it” (p. 75).  For the last few years I have struggled with how to focus a balance between work and home.   The career change from classroom teacher to full-time teacher-librarian has consumed me.   What I’ve realized is that I can’t separate these two places because for the first time in my career, my job reflects who I am.  As a result of this inquiry course, I see even greater horizons beyond my school and I think advocating for inquiry may take the rest of my career.  The task of creating an education system that is student-centred, inquiry-based and proven effective by self and social-oriented action research (Gordon, 2010) may seem monumental, but it is a goal worth fighting for.

References

Alberta Learning. (2003). Focus on inquiry: A teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-­based learning [Pamphlet]. Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/‌media/‌313361/‌focusoninquiry.pdf

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.

Harada, V. H., & Yoshina, J. M. (2010). Assessment for learning. In Assessing for learning: Librarians and teachers as partners (2nd ed., pp. 9-18). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension and collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

King, A., Lunny, J., & Hobbs, T. (n.d.). Evidence-based planning tools. Retrieved July, 2012, from Inquiryandevidence website: http://inquiryandevidence.wikispaces.com

Neale, L., Morissette, S., & King, A. (2012, July 20). Using evidence to support inquiry [Tweet].

Schmoker, M. (Presenter). (2011, August). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented results in teaching and learning. Speech presented at Upper Grand Learning Fair, Orangeville, Ontario, Canada.

Stripling, B. K. (2007). Teaching for Understanding. In S. Hughes-Hassell & V. H. Harada (Authors), School reform and the school library media specialist (pp. 37-55). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

TDSB Library and Learning Resources Department. (2010). Research success @ your library [Pamphlet]. Retrieved from http://www.tdsb.on.ca/‌libraries/‌files/‌research_guides.htm

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.