(I’m going to apologise in advance – I find it really hard to think ‘out loud’ in small chunks, which would probably be more helpful for a discussion like this, and which all of you seem to do so well. Curiously in that sense, given the topic under discussion, I am perhaps less at home in the fast-paced digital environment than many of you! I having been reading and thinking about all the interesting ideas here and in the chapter and now find myself with a little bit of time to contribute to the discussion, so it is all likely to come flooding out over several longish posts. Sorry!)
We have a lot to thank the democratizing power of the digital environment for – without it we wouldn’t be having this discussion here. The internet is an amazing professional development tool, but is as much a problem for us as for our students. How do we make sure that we are learning from ‘experts’ rather than just those with the loudest voices? What makes an expert these days? Has the digital environment changed that? In the past there were high barriers to getting your voice widely heard. That didn’t mean, for example, that ‘bad’ books (by which I mean inaccurate, poorly researched or heavily biased) didn’t get published, but they were arguably much less common that ‘bad’ digital resources are today. Equally, there was almost certainly much that wasn’t widely shared or published that would have been of great value, and collaboration such as this across large distances by professionals who may often work alone was much more complicated (as evidenced by some of the fascinating letters between great academics of history!).
Barbara’s comments about the four phase lesson model (direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice, sharing and reflection), both in this forum and in her chapter really struck me because I think that many anti-inquiry direct-instruction enthusiasts would be very surprised to see an inquiry specialist advocating this approach. The false direct-instruction vs inquiry-learning debate does a lot of harm to education in general because it forces good educators into taking extreme positions – and generates a lot of guilt because these positions are ultimately untenable at both ends of the spectrum. Constructivism (and inquiry) is a stance, not a teaching method. It is about supporting (and challenging) children to find a personal connection with a topic and to construct their own firm understanding of it through experience, NOT about abandoning children to figure out thousands of years of academic progress by themselves (a concern raised with me yesterday by a Science colleague who is very interested and engaged in educational debate and progress in our school, is very open to the idea of inquiry and for whom I have a huge amount of respect). As such, direct instruction is one of a number of very valid tools that we can use during PART of an inquiry. The main differences between constructivist and instructivist approach show more in the nature and content of the four phases.
I mention this in part because of the debate we have been having here about teaching experience and qualifications. I think it is important to understand what we bring to the table as Librarians. I have found my teaching experience and training very useful, but Politics teachers in my school don’t want to talk to me about planning inquiries because I was a Physics teacher (they could talk to any of their Physics colleagues for that). They want to talk to me because I am a Librarian. It takes time and experience to build confidence with this – but you can start small with individual skills sessions, building confidence and relationships. Professional development opportunities and discussions like this are also very valuable, as is the opportunity to kick ideas for individual inquiries around in the forum. It still amazes me that I can add value to the teaching of even subjects I have never studied, and I still feel nervous approaching a meeting about a brand new inquiry. But as the conversation begins it becomes clear that my perspective is very different because I am not a subject specialist, and have experience of inquiry across other disciplines, which my subject colleagues don’t have, and this helps us to shape something better together than we could have done alone. It is also worth remembering that we are not suggesting that we offer something magical that our subject colleagues couldn’t do if they invested enough time and energy into it – more that we are investing our time in inquiry while they invest theirs in their specialism so that together we can achieve more. We are all on a journey, and there will always be people ahead of us who can offer help and people behind who need our support. And however uncertain we feel, we are usually ahead of our classroom colleagues on the inquiry journey simply because we have chosen to invest our time in it.
[More to follow relating more specifically to the digital environment and to Barbara’s fascinating and thought provoking chapter.]