What makes an Independent learner?
• The ability to understand which resource is going to help you find the best quality information and being able to use research skills to locate it.
• Knowing and understanding the importance of referencing, copyright and giving credit.
Many teachers believe that if a student can find the answer via Google they have an independent learner. This is not independence; this is just the ability to type the question into Google. If this is the tool that teachers want their students to use then they need to be prepared to make them reference what they find and find time to check those references. As many teachers do not have time to do this it re-enforces the idea that Google is the best way to find information quickly without looking at the quality of the resource. It does not ensure that students are evaluating or thinking critically about what they find. If students know that teachers are not going to check where the information came from why would they spend time on referencing or researching properly?
Independent learners start by connecting and wondering about the topic they are researching. They come up with keywords and create a question so when they sit in front of their chosen online resource they know what they are looking for. Research is not about finding the right answer but about collecting information to help you come to a conclusion. Critical thinking has a huge part to play in independent research and is different from ‘finding the answer’.
Why does this happen? A teacher once said to me that they felt that the students knew more than they did when searching online and they did not feel it was right to stop their students ‘Googling’. I had to remind them that it wasn’t the case of stopping them using Google but it was important to use Google properly through good research skills. Google is only as useful as the person’s research skills. Independence is not about speed but understanding the tools and having the skills to navigate them. Independent research skills are not about getting the students to the learning faster it is about knowing how to find the information in the first place.
School librarian’s curators of information and collaborators
One of our roles as information professionals is to curate physical and online resources that not only are age appropriate but also good quality. In order to access these tools, research skills are needed and school librarians are able to support teachers in helping students to access them. This is not about making it harder to find the information it is about ensuring that the building blocks are put in place so when they leave school they understand the difference between using Google to find the time of their flight and doing an in-depth piece of research for work or university.
Another role is using digital literacy to help make connections. Over the last year, I have regularly used my social media skills, as Jennifer Casa-Todd says “to connect educators to educators who I think might work collaboratively together” (2017 p24) which has lead to some wonderful international connections. These connections have enhanced teaching and learning and have enabled me to help teachers use digital technology and support research skills in the process.
This year we have been able to use and share both Padlet and Flipgrid with our teachers. Not only ‘up skilling’ them in using these tools but demonstrating how they can be used within the classroom setting. One of my schools used both these tools to engage students in a literacy project reading the book Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio. The students were able to share their thoughts about the book with each other but also learn about the students on the other side of the world. Another group who were reading The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence were delighted when at the end we connected with her via Padlet and were sending her questions and getting answers real time! It was fabulous and I was very grateful to Caroline for doing this. The students came up with some amazing questions too. This supported the curriculum in writing, communication, digital literacy, critical thinking and empathy.
Collaboration saves time and impacts student attainment!
In a literature review by the National Literacy Trust they state that “School libraries have been found to impact pupils’ general academic attainment, reading and writing skills, plus wider learning skills” (Teravainen and Clark, 2017 p3) and if this is the case it is important that teachers and librarians work together often.
The main challenge, regularly cited by teachers, is time. It is therefore important that teachers understand the positive impact that collaborating with a school librarian can have on themselves and their students and this will take some time but the benefits will far outweigh the initial input.
What can the librarian do for teachers?
- Find quality physical and online resources for your topic (teachers no longer have to spend hours on Google trying to find something suitable)
- Co-teach in the classroom and demonstrate how to access the online resources (teachers do not have to learn how to navigate these resources beforehand
- Help find the right educators to collaborate with (which teacher has time to do this?)
- Learn the digital tools and then demonstrate their use in the classroom (allowing the teacher to learn about these tools within the lesson)
- As the relationship between teacher and librarian grows the time the teacher needs to put in will be seen as a benefit rather than a problem due to the other opportunities that the librarian will bring to the partnership.
Creating independent learners is not something that happens overnight. The building blocks need to be embedded all the way through primary and secondary school. With the support of the school librarian not only can the student’s benefit but the teachers will too.
Casa-Todd, J. (2017). Social LEADia. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.
Teravainen, A. and Clark, C. (2017). School libraries: A literature review of current provision and evidence of impact. [online] London: The National Literacy Trust, p.3. Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0004/1275/School_Libraries_2017_-_Final.pdf [Accessed 20 Jul. 2017].
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