FOSIL encourages collaboration between teachers (as pedagogical experts) and librarians (as information literacy experts). It is this collaborative model of professionalism that provides opportunities for teachers and librarians to ‘add value’ to the learning process. In this model, teachers are more than just ‘graduate technicians’ delivering material to passive recipients in the classroom. Collaborating with other stakeholders, they support pupils’ learning through inquiry.
For me, learning is more likely to be successful through inquiry because:
Inquiry encourages learners to build an understanding themselves (constructivism)
Inquiry is an effective, motivating process for pupils (constructionism)
So, why is collaboration important? Put simply, teachers and librarians have different skill sets which they bring to the inquiry process. This is because:
For inquiry to be a worthwhile exercise, it requires information literacy skills
For inquiry to work in the classroom, teachers and pupils need a grounding in information literacy, as well as the principles of inquiry
For the library to support inquiry in the classroom, librarians need to develop an understanding of the learning process
In other words, teachers need to be more like librarians, and librarians need to be more like teachers! By working together on inquiries, they learn from each other, improving the outcomes for pupils.
Chris, would you elaborate on what you mean by “graduate technician,” and might a librarian also function as one?
More broadly, this reminds me of the Monteith College Library Experiment at Wayne State University in the 1960s (reference and historical context to follow). Although dated in some respects, it remains instructive due to the fact that it was a deliberate and sustained attempt to “develop a more vital relationship between the library and college teaching,” the aim of which was “student practice and skill in both ‘acquiry’ (the assembling of facts and information) and ‘inquiry’ (the examination and analysis of the facts)”.
Would adding acquiry to our vocabulary alongside inquiry be helpful? I ask because acquiry might help us better understand what “skill set” librarians bring to the inquiry process?
Having said this, do we then also need to elaborate on what we mean by pedagogical expertise in relation to inquiry?
We have used a form of FOSIL called CWICER in Guernsey for the last few years. This has led to some really encouraging collaborative sessions where the teacher has brought the knowledge of the subject and the understanding of their students and the librarian has brought the information literacy skills to guide the enquiry. This framework has provided us with the ability to talk to teachers about how school librarians can work alongside them in a way that they understand.
Terminology has been a huge barrier to teacher and librarian collaboration, words like pedagogy and information literacy are not something that both use so remembering to explain specialist words will be an important part of the conversation. Although I do think that adding another word like ‘acquiry’ is probably an unnecessary complication at this point.
Darryl, you have picked up on a couple of terms that do need unpicking a little, but as Elizabeth points out, there is a danger that too much technical jargon muddies the waters a little. The main point here is that – as our respective experiences at Oakham and Guernsey show – FOSIL provides a framework that allows teachers and librarians to collaborate together in their support of pupil inquiry without a shared technical vocabulary.
At the risk of throwing a lot of mud into the pool, here’s my understanding of ‘graduate technician’ and ‘professional knowledge’:
I’m using ‘graduate technician’ in a rather derogatory manner as a contrast to ‘professional’. One way to think about the difference between technician and professional might be to think about another practice that involves both formal and craft knowledge, such as cooking (Oakenshott, 1962). Someone who just follows recipes would be a cooking technician, whereas a chef who is using their knowledge consciously in their own context might be thought of as a cooking professional.
Christopher Winch – who writes extensively on teacher knowledge and its relationship to professionalism – calls the graduate technician model ‘executive technician’, which he defines as ‘the teacher whose role is to put into effect rules for classroom practice, without consultation of the theory that generated the rules in the first place’ (Winch, 2017).
The graduate technician model is popular with policy makers as it is a way for governments to ‘teacher-proof’ the process of school education.
The Professional Knowledge of Teachers and Librarians
I think I would like to widen the idea of a teacher’s pedagogical expertise and use the term ‘teacher knowledge’ instead. Teacher knowledge is a contested term, but it can be thought of as the knowledge of what teaching a particular subject involves (Ben-Peretz, 2011). Shulman (1987) suggests that this body of knowledge includes:
a knowledge of subject matter (subject content knowledge),
knowledge of how subject knowledge might be structured in a curriculum (curriculum knowledge),
ways of making the subject matter comprehensible to others (pedagogical content knowledge),
an understanding of individual learners,
a knowledge of educational ends
a knowledge of the local and wider educational context
For our purposes here, I think the first four points are most relevant.
It might be useful to use Shulman’s ideas about teacher knowledge to develop what we understand by librarian knowledge, in the context of schools. Christine Bruce’s ideas on information literacy will be helpful in our exploration too.
Chris I was really excited to read your description of teacher knowledge and how it is relates to teaching. There seems to be a real spit in the conversation on twitter about what is more important and you are either on the teach knowledge camp or the teach skills camp. What is exciting about our conversation is that we are bringing it all together. I will read your link with interest!
I tried to make some sense of this very conversation on my own blog found here. If you have not come across Tara Brabazon she is a fascinating character but manages to explain herself very well.
Elizabeth, thanks for the link to Tara Brabazon on your blog – very thought provoking.
I try to avoid the skills vs knowledge Twitter debate as it’s a false dichotomy as far as I’m concerned. You can’t teach skills without some knowledge to act as context. Both skills and knowledge as defined there fall into the category of subject content, which is only part – albeit the most visible part – of the knowledge base teachers need to be effective practitioners. What I think of as professional knowledge is deeper – it’s the foundation of knowledge that what we do as teachers is based upon, at at the heart of what it means to be a professional. I think there must be a similar body of knowledge underpinning professional librarianship, specifically as it relates to school libraries. Do you (or any other readers) know of any papers that consider it?
Absolutely, Chris, it can’t be one or the other it has to be both!
I think finding knowledge underpinning librarianship, in general, is easier to find than for school librarians.
We have our professional body called CILIP where best practice and knowledge are shared. There is a lot of research about university libraries which is not surprising as that is where all the researchers are but it is so much more difficult to find research about professional knowledge and school libraries. I think this is because the profession has been severely hit over the last decade and we now have a real cross-section of staff in our school libraries from professionally qualified to professional with CILIP qualifications to those who have no library qualifications at all. They are all doing their best but it is not the same as having a profession like teaching. As much as I love my profession this is just the way that it is at the moment. Hopefully, FOSIL will help bring some change to this. I have not come across any papers regarding professional learning for school librarians but saying that I have not looked recently.
There is a lot of talk on Twitter (one of my favourite places for learning) at the moment about professional learning for school librarians so hopefully, there will be more out there soon. I wrote a blog post (I do a lot of that too…) about CPD for school librarians and I had some interesting comments via Facebook. Many share best practice with public library staff but many work on their own in a school and it can be very isolating.
Hopefully, we will get some on here to share what they understand about professional learning.
While Chris is correct that, up to a point, “FOSIL provides a framework that allows teachers and librarians to collaborate together in their support of pupil inquiry without a shared technical vocabulary,” and both of you are correct to warn against unnecessarily complicating matters through language, the absence of at least a basic shared technical vocabulary will hamper effective collaboration going forward. The question, then, is what words belong in this vocabulary? Clearly we need ‘inquiry’ and ‘information literacy’, and I would be prepared to make a case for ‘acquiry’, even if we don’t ultimately accept it. To facilitate discussion of this emerging vocabulary we have created a Glossary.
The distinction between ‘graduate/executive technician’ and ‘professional’ is interesting and highlights a pressing issue facing school librarians, which Elizabeth touches on, which is that there is not a body of professional knowledge underpinning school librarianship in this country. This means that even though we may be professionally qualified, we are not able to put into effect shared rules for school library practice, because they do not exist, let alone consult the theory that generated the rules in the first place. Inquiry complicates this further, because I’m guessing that inquiry does not form part of the professional knowledge of teachers in this country?
To further clarify what I mean by the lack of a body of professional knowledge underpinning school librarianship in this country, please see below for the letter that Jenny Toerien wrote to Information Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which was published on 28 June 2018 and is reprinted here with permission.
Your view: Why isn’t it possible to study school librarianship?
I would like to comment on the contrast and connection between two articles in the latest fascinating and informative edition of Information Professional (April-May 2018), particularly in the light of the new Great School Libraries campaign.
Elizabeth Hutchinson, backed up by her outstanding work with Guernsey Schools’ Library Service, wrote a passionate portrayal of school librarians as dynamic, innovative, professional experts who have a vital contribution to make in an age where even teachers can often need help with basic information literacy skills (Why do teachers need school librarians?), while Rob Mackinlay (Future LIS: debating the challenges) reported on the views of 10 leading UK institutions offering CILIP accredited Library and Information Science courses.
In arguing for greater collaboration between teachers and library staff, Elizabeth describes school library staff as highly-qualified professionals who bring information literacy expertise to the conversation and, in my view, should be regarded as co-educators and educational partners with teaching staff.
For me this contrasted starkly with a question asked in the article “Future LIS: debating the challenges” as to “whether the profession and its learning providers are too focused on a postgraduate-heavy profession.” There was a range of different views as to whether or not it would be desirable to “[dilute] the profession’s postgraduate density”, but for me the article highlighted and reminded me of a particular problem for school librarians. If we are asking teachers, 98.5 per cent of whom are qualified to degree level or higher (UK Department for Education, School Workforce in England: November 2016, https://bit.ly/2rZjFqJ), to treat us as professional equals, recognise our area of expertise and collaborate with us in the pursuit of educational excellence, then we need to be at least as qualified as they are.
The problem is that it is not actually possible to study school librarianship in this country, even as an optional module. Of the 16 CILIP-accredited institutions, offering almost 40 postgraduate courses between them, the only one that offers even one module (in English) on school librarianship (titled “Teacher Librarianship”) is the University of Hong Kong and (as far as I can tell) this qualification is not available by distance. The situation in undergraduate qualifications is at least as bad.
Learning on the job
My husband and I both entered school librarianship from within teaching and are both qualified teachers as well as qualified librarians. While I am certainly not suggesting that dual qualification should be essential for school librarians (although I note that in countries where school librarianship is particularly strong, such as Australia and the United States, it is the norm) it seems inconceivable to me that school librarians should have to learn everything they need to know about schools and education “on the job”, simply because they are not offered any opportunities to learn whilst training. In fact, my husband and I both found that attempting to ground our postgraduate assignments in our school settings was actually a disadvantage because that setting was so poorly understood in library schools.
Shaping the future
School libraries are vitally important both for the nation and the profession, because school may be the only occasion in some people’s lives when they will encounter a library/librarian, particularly if they do not go on to tertiary education. All information sectors are important, but school libraries at their best should be playing a vital role in shaping the future of every child in the country – and therefore every future member of society.
All children deserve great libraries, and all school libraries deserve great librarians (of whom there are many, despite the odds) – why aren’t our library schools interested in training them?
I think this conversation is really important! When we are trying to encourage school librarians to work alongside teachers we do have this problem of how do they know what they are supposed to do?
If I am honest ‘imposter syndrome’ is a big issue for me and I have been teaching information literacy for years. I always think to myself, am I teaching something that the teachers already know? Is this just a fill in lesson? Even if I have managed to plan with the teacher I very rarely get teacher input, even after sending the teacher a lesson plan linking with the curriculum areas. So why do I keep doing it? Apart from feeling in my gut that it is important for the future of our children, there have also been times that I have taught a lesson and the teacher has said to me that ‘they wish they had been taught this when they were at school’ or ‘I’ve never thought to teach that this way’. This is enough to makes me realise I do know more than I think I do and keeps me going, but what do other librarians do?
I believe we need to find a way of supporting school librarians in their learning through education and conversations with universities is a good place to start.
I think we all feel ‘imposter syndrome’ at times – I know I do. However, as we often tell the students, feeling like we are out of our comfort zones (and sometimes out of our depth) is actually a really good sign that we are stretching ourselves. If it feels too easy, it probably is! This year I have been privileged to work on a year-long collaboration with Joe Sanders, one of our lead practitioners, which has stretched both of us to achieve more than we ever could have done alone. Joe and I have recently written about this collaboration on Oakham School’s Teaching and Learning Blog and because it is so relevant to this discussion I have reproduced the article in full below, with Joe’s permission:
Natural detoxification, improved digestion, keeping you regular. These are the main benefits of eating broccoli. Nothing to do with actually liking it. Perhaps they’ve never properly tried it, gulping it down and moving onto the roast potatoes as quickly as possible, failing to appreciate its versatility, vibrancy and taste. Children and adults around the world try to hide their little trees under the half-chewed Yorkshire pudding or tough bit of beef left at the side of their plate. Though, in the end, all that matters is that they eat their broccoli, we can’t help feeling they are missing out.
A Form 6 Politics student recently provided us with our own broccoli moment, when they stated, greeted with one of our FOSIL essay wraps in Politics, “I don’t like it, but it works”. The ever-enthusiastic refrain of students when we spend a bit of time creating resources for them. But we didn’t mind (well, we did a bit). Their motive for this comment, far from malevolent, was to pay us a compliment on our resource design. And though it missed the fact that the FOSIL wraps are aesthetically stunning, it got to the heart of their real purpose; to provide a clear structure for constructing understanding in a subject by using the FOSIL cycle.
We knew that our broccoli looked and tasted great, but from its inception, its main job was to get results. The academic demands of the three assessment objectives in A-level Politics were taking their toll on some students, who were suffering from issues such as surface-level application of evidence and a lack of analysis. From a subject-specialist point of view, something needed to be done to provide a structure that would illicit higher order thinking across each assessment objective. Added to this was a curiosity on both sides over how we could intertwine the specific needs of an exam specification with the FOSIL cycle which, in many people’s opinion, was only useful for inquiry.
What we discovered, however, was that the metacognition required for A-level examination success was actually crying out for a framework such as FOSIL. Each stage of FOSIL is closely linked to the thought process students should be going through as they prepare and plan for essay-writing. We are always tweaking aspects of our FOSIL wraps to fit the needs of the students (a little more Connect and Wonder, a little less Investigate in this case), but we know that what we have produced offers a simple, well-signposted and easily-revisable framework to prepare for assessment. The collaboration between a FOSIL specialist and a subject specialist is what made this possible.
One premise of the FOSIL cycle is that it becomes, after early scaffolding and modelling, second nature to the students and the explicit resource can drop away. If we have to firmly nudge students into making good use of the amazing resources at their disposal to begin with, by, for example, assessing not only the essay, but the entire FOSIL cycle of the wrap, then so be it. To produce effective metacognition amongst students, we have to teach them how to do it in the first place. Over time, this becomes self-regulated learning and students begin to the follow the FOSIL cycle without thinking about it explicitly. Much like broccoli’s roles in building strong, healthy bones, heart and immune system and in preventing cancer, internalising FOSIL helps to build strong, healthy thinking habits and defences against panic under pressure. A much younger student, prone to panic when asked to give presentations, observed that “when I use FOSIL I am confident that I know what I am talking about”. Confidence plays a huge role in exam success too.
But what about staff? Can we just ignore the positive effects of collaboration between FOSIL experts and subject specialists, like we do with our broccoli? For us, what began as curiosity and a reaction to academic concerns, has now morphed into a longer-term collaboration into more broccoli-based resources, with prep investigation sheets and an entire pressure group inquiry project, culminating in debates and exhibitions of students’ own creations. This, of course, sounds like a big job, a burden on your time. I can guarantee, it is the opposite. Through a little investment of time, specialism and experimentation, teachers are left with quality resources that are ready to use year-in, year-out. For librarians, the insight into preparing students for a subject exam that only a subject specialist can provide gives us important tools that we can use to support both teachers and students in other subjects who need similar skills. Librarians have a vital role as knowledge brokers, helping different elements of the school community to connect and share their expertise – and this only happens through collaboration and relationship. Most importantly, as a result of this collaboration we both have a deeper understanding of the role of FOSIL as a tool for thinking with, and have both become far more creative and reflective in our resource design.
In our case, the broccoli has provided lasting benefits to students and staff alike – and we’ve actually discovered we really enjoy it after all!