Module 5 – Selecting Resources for Inquiry
There is no doubt that the role of today’s teacher-librarians is incredibly multi-faceted. From teaching and collaborating, to organizing school events and professional opportunities to staff. From maintaining the physical space of the library learning commons to the selecting, evaluating and purchasing of new resources. While a job that includes all these different aspects may be seen as overwhelming, it can also be seen as a job of great privilege as we are in the unique position to make an impact in our schools in a wide variety of ways.
Inquiry and resources for inquiry seem to be a common topic of late. I have found some teachers using an apparent lack of resources as an excuse to not fully engage in inquiry. I find it interesting, however, as when you then talk to these teachers about the resources that they need to make it possible they do not really have an answer leading me to believe that it is just an easy excuse to not make the effort to step outside what they have always done in order to try something new. Fortunately this is not the case for all teachers.
As teacher-librarian I do all I can to ensure that resources (or lack thereof) do not stand as a road block to inquiry. As emphasized in the article, “Looking to the Future: Providing Resources to Support 21st Century Learning” (2008) our key priority in purchasing new resources should be on “what the users are seeking” (Zmuda & Harada, p. 104). In order to keep up with what resources colleagues are needing I have started a Google Docs form that I regularly send out for teachers to add any new resources they are hoping for in the library. I encourage them to put specific titles or simply a topic that they need more resources about. I find that this system works to some degree as long as I remind teachers of it on a regular basis.
With our current new curriculum we are at an especially important time in terms of the selecting and purchasing of resources. Many topics have changed grade levels making some older resources no longer relevant. Zmuda and Harada (2008) emphasize the importance of teacher librarians having a “deep understand of the curriculum taught” (p. 104) and I believe this to be true, now, more than ever. Thankfully teacher-librarians do not often work in isolation and I am fortunate in our school district to be part of an extremely supportive and collaborative group of teacher-librarians who meet monthly to discuss and share a wide range of issues including that of resources.
In addition to providing resources to support the curriculum we must ensure our libraries are reflective of the recreational reading needs of our community. Libraries should be places that encourage a love of reading and bringing in books that our students are excited about reading will help achieve this goal. Zmuda and Harada (2008) further support the importance of getting student input and I try and do this often through the use of a book suggestion box and just by talking to the students. Just the other day I had a student wondering if there were any more books in a certain series he loved and so together we did some research and discovered that yes in fact there were. So we ordered them and the following week they arrived in the library. Seeing his excited face as these new books (that he, personally, had requested!) came out of the box was one of those special moments that I will not soon forget.
This module provided a look into the more technical aspects of resource selection. I believe that it is important that teachers have a certain degree of autonomy when it comes to the resources they use in their classrooms. As teachers we are professionals and as such it is right that we should have this autonomy. At the same time, however, there is a responsibility to ensure that the resources that are chosen are ones that comply with district policies. Resources such as the ERAC “Evaluating, Selecting, and Acquiring Resources: A Guide” (2008) provide a beneficial guideline to use when purchasing resources as it encourages one to consider factors that may not otherwise have been. I am doubtful, however, as to the use of the evaluation forms included in the resources. They are incredibly detailed and while for some major purchases this may be useful I do not see it as being a practical tool for every new book or resource purchased. While the factors they encourage you to consider are of value I am curious as to when/how these actual forms are being used by schools and districts as I have not heard of anyone using them.
While teachers autonomy is so important it can, at times, be very helpful to have guides to refer to when bringing in new content. One such guide that I am currently very excited about is the “FNESC Authentic First Peoples Resources” (2016) that I received at our district Enhancement Agreement Meeting a few weeks ago. This guide includes an annotated bibliography of Indigenous resources that have been selected by FNESC based on their authenticity and relevancy to K-9 curriculum content. I plan to use this guide to further enhance our Indigenous content in the library.
A discussion of resources in today’s day and age is not complete without a look at the vast selection of resources available online. As Zmuda and Harada (2008) emphasize, while students today may be “digital natives” they still need to be taught how to be critical thinkers when using online resources (p. 109). In addition to purchasing books for our library I maintain our Learning Commons website, adding websites for teachers on different topics that they would like their students to have access to. Libraries are no longer solely composed of the resources stored within the physical space, but also online. We are also part of the ERAC consortium which gives us access to various online databases for our students to use.
This issue of Copyright is one that I believe teachers must be familiar with, but I am wary as to how many teachers are in fact aware of the specific terms as outlines in the Copyright Matters! guide. We do have copies of this guide in our school, however, I am not sure it is often referred to. When looking through this resource I do believe it is very valuable in terms of the information it offers but also in the layout of the Table of Contents which is framed by common questions teachers may have. I believe that a reviews of the policies in this guide would be useful to all staff, especially in terms of copyright issues related to online resources as the use of these resources is something that is still quite new to many staff. As teacher-librarian I am considering the possibility of beginning our new school year in September with a short overview of this guide for staff and a reminder of the policies that are outlined.
Module Six: Evaluating and Curating Online Resources
As I mentioned above, students today are, indeed, very comfortable in the online world. Much more so than any other generation that has come before. While it may seem they are intuitive when it comes to how to use technology they do still require instruction when it comes to appropriate use of this vast online world that is available at their fingertips. As such, it is important that as educators we provide this instruction to our students and encourage them to become critical thinkers. Debbie Abilock, in her article “How Students Know Whether the Information They Find Online is True True or Not?” (2012) enforces the fact that this instruction cannot (and should not) come in the form of a one off lesson at the start of the year. Approaching it in this way will not lead to the development of “life long learning” in the area of critical thinking and the ability to be evaluative of the resources used (Abilock, 2012, p. 71). On the contrary, it is necessary that this is an ongoing discussion in our classrooms and libraries, starting at a young age.
Many times in elementary school we provide our students with specific websites that we have pre-approved for use during inquiry. This saves time (which can be ever so valuable) and allows students the opportunity to dive right in. I am hesitant, however, if this is serving our students well as they will not always be spoon fed resources in this way. As I consider this dilemma I refer back to Abilock (2012) as she states that the time and patience to analyze every resource is not always a luxury afforded in the classroom (especially when a class may only have access to the computer lab or set of tablets for a couple periods a week) and as a result, I believe it is ok to sometimes do the evaluation work for our students. This is not to say that there should not be times where it is left up to the students as it is through teaching these skills that they will be able to become proficient at it as they grow and enter high school where they will be expected to do it for themselves. Jennifer Bromann-Bender (2013), in her article “You Can’t Fool Me: Website Evaluation,” outlines an extremely comprehensive method through which to teach and practice website evaluation with older students and I believe that some ideas from this could be transferred for use with elementary students and this is something I plan to delve further into in preparation for the new school year.
The use of subscription databases as inquiry resources was another aspect that I took away from this module. As Jennifer Bromann-Bender (2013) discovered in her work with teaching website evaluation students often came away with a new appreciation for the reliable information they can find in subscription databases available through their schools as this information is much more trustworthy than much of what you may find through a Google search (p. 42). Our school district is part of the ERAC consortium and, as such, we have access to a wide variety of subscription databases. These databases can be accessed through our Learning Commons website and students are able to use them at school or at home (with a password). When I first became Teacher Librarian at my school I was unaware of these databases and soon learned that so were most teachers. I then ensured I spent time teaching the teachers how to use the databases and what was available. As a result they are now being used much more frequently at our school. The value of these databases is that they contain information we can trust, at an age appropriate level. They also include features such as “read to me” which can be easily used by students who may struggle with reading or simply prefer to the auditory transmission of information.
The discussion of curation is also of great importance, especially so when there is so much information out there on the world wide web. As I have mentioned, I use the Learning Commons website to save websites for teachers/students that I have already pursued. Organized into categories this allows students to access them easily at home or school. Joyce Valenza’s article (2014) also got me thinking about how we curate apps for our set of iPads. As of yet, I do not have a specific system that I am using, however, I look forward to exploring some of the different platforms suggested by Valenza such as edshelf and Symbaloo.
There is no doubt that selecting, evaluating, and curating resources are important aspects of our job as Teacher-Librarians. Modules Five and Six have left me with many ideas to consider in terms of my own school community and how we can ensure that the best practices are being employed in these areas.
Abilock, D. (2012). How can students know whether the information they find online is true – or not? Educational Leadership 69(6): 70-74.
Bromann-Bender, J. (2013). You can’t fool me: Website evaluation.” Library Media Connection 31(5): 42-45.
Noel, W. & Snel, J. (2016). Copyright matters! (4th edition). Ottawa, ON: Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC), Canadian School Boards Association (CSBA), and Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF).
Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium (ERAC). (2008). Evaluating, selecting and acquiring learning resources: A guide. Vancouver, BC: ERAC.
First Nations Education Steering Committee and First Nations Schools Association. (2016). Authentic first peoples resources (2nd edition). Vancouver, BC: First Nations Education Steering Committee.
Valenza, J. (2014). Librarians wanted for smashing, blending, toolkit building. In Neverending Search (blog, July 26, 2014). School Library Journal.
Zmuda, A. & Harada, V. H. (2008). Looking to the future: Providing resources to support 21st century learning. Librarians as learning specialists: Meeting the learning imperative for the 21st century (pp. 103-115). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.