It may be school holiday time around Australia, but there’s no break from school in this house. Once the Santa countdown had passed, the school countdown starts. Only 23 more sleeps until school starts, and I’m not sure I will survive it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I love having my kids at home, living life at a more relaxed pace where I rarely look at the clock. It’s 75% of my children who are not very happy with the situation. They love school (and kinder) so much, that we play school most days at home.
Three days ago my five year old emerged from the bathroom wearing white gloves (with blue sequin trim, from the dress up box) and explained that she had decided to become someone who works with insects and spiders. The gloves had been donned so that she could pick up a member of our daddy long legs family that lives in the bathroom and protects us from our annual summer onslaught of mosquitoes.
It was an exciting moment for me. We’d been doing reading, writing, painting, code breaking, soccer, sodoku, home made concerts, song writing (the lyric, “help me, or I will kill you” has me somewhat concerned), card games, online scrabble, and anything else that gives them their learning fix. It was great to have some new inspiration. A trip to Melbourne Museum is planned, and bug catchers were investigated on eBay. Books, of course, were also researched. There’s great materials out there for early primary, but I am hoping the Museum will provide more Australian themed materials. There’s also “Bugs in 3D” screening at IMAX.
Wouldn’t it be nice if schools operated like this. Each student’s interests are identified and provided for. Sounds impossible? Not really. That’s exactly what can be achieved with a great library.
I used to teach a great unit of work in collaboration with a history teacher on the subject of JFK. Instead of expecting 25 identical biographies of the man, we would start off with a big brainstorming session after the students had read a brief overview. From this we would end up with topics ranging from Jackie’s fashion to the Cuban missile crisis to Jack Ruby. Once students had identified two areas of interest, we would teach the class how to constuct questions. At the end of this, the class had produced 50 different assignment outlines, and they then chose one of their two to continue with. Research tables were drawn up and a quick lesson on plagiarism followed.
Only at this stage did the students enter the library, each carrying an assignment on a theme they had chosen, and questions that they really wanted to find answers to. Without fail, the students were genuinely interested in the work, and every class was enjoyable and productive.
It’s a process I repeated for three years, with different staff across different subjects and different year levels, and it produced the same result every time, engaged students and teachers reporting a higher quality of work that was varied and interesting to assess. It’s not hard to understand why. Don’t we all work better at the things that interest us the most?
[These types of strategies have emerged more recently in the form of webquests, in varying degrees of effectivness. Some are as restrictive as the old class project, just presented with more bells and whistles. Others are quite leading in the conclusions that students are expected to arrive at. Like anything on the internet, they need to undergo quality assessment, something which TLs are perfectly qualified to do.]
It’s been 10 years since I left that school, and the same principal is still at the helm. I had fought the good fight for teacher librarians. I had led by example, believing I had contributed to the global understanding of what a teacher librarian brings to a school. A few years later I discovered the school didn’t even employ TLs anymore, just librarians and technicians. I’m not sure if that was because they couldn’t find a TL, or a cost cutting exercise. I do know that the staff I worked with felt that when I left, I took the collaboration with me, that it was something that I offered, not something that they should expect from all teacher librarians.
At the time, I think I did make a difference for those students, but overall, I don’t think what I did contributed one bit to a collective advocacy for teacher librarians and school libraries. Each year more graduates start who have not been taught about TLs, and teachers move between schools with no guarantee they will have a TL when they get there.
I have three New Years resolutions for 2008, one of which is related to The Hub. Make The Hub your New Year Resolution. Let’s try something different to get our message out there.
School libraries make a difference!