The role of the teacher librarian in providing opportunities for students to participate in a constructivist learning approach is essential in establishing a ‘Quality Learning’ environment (McLeod & Reynolds). Constructivism is ‘as essential component of developmentally appropriate practice that is child initiated, child-directed and teacher supported’ (Bredekamp, 1987, p.3). Additionally, constructivism gives students the opportunity to actively direct and participate their own learning. A proactive teacher librarian will relate activities and shape constructivist styled activities around the Australian curriculum. Constructivism supports a wide variety of learning styles and utilises a plethora or resources.
The role of the teacher librarian in creating a constructivist-learning environment is that of a facilitator. Scaffolding student learning is vital, this will ensure that students are not overwhelmed and activities are broken down into simple steps (Vygotsky, as cited in McInerney & McInerney, 1998, p. 39). Students are not solely left unaided in this process with a wide variety of resources, but are however guided, encouraged and provided with assistance throughout the inquiry process. Vygotsky (1978, p. 131) states that ‘The zone of proximal development is the distance between actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.’ The Librarian’s intervention at this point can provide further support to students that they may not be able to complete the task without assistance. This construction of knowledge by the learner ‘is an active process, replacing the passive transferal of information by teachers in a teacher directed learning environment’ (Kuhlthau, 2006, p. 27). Utilising and facilitating the guidance of the teacher librarian will challenge students to construct their own ‘authentic learning’ and knowledge based on what they already know (Dewey, as cited in DeVries et al. p. 19 ). Hence, resulting in transferable skills and a deeper understanding. In addition, inspiring experimentation and exploration of ideas and concepts will encourage real learning by simple preventing students to gather and present information which thy have little understanding or comprehension of. Critical reflection on processes and experiences will encourage students to construct their own understanding whilst allowing critical analysis as to what processes worked best for them.
‘The concept of constructivist learning design is based on the belief that learning is both an individual and social process of constructing meaning’ (Gagnon, Collay, 2006, p. 3). This social support and encouragement comes in the form of both the students’ peers and the teacher librarian. Explicit questioning will relate new learning to currently perceived ideas and knowledge. Explicit questioning can also be used to ensure students stay on track, that information is relevant and also supports curriculum outcomes. ‘A constructivist approach to learning, based on the Information Search Process for developing students’ competence with learning from a variety of sources enhances their understanding of the content areas of the curriculum’ (Kuhlthau, 2006 p. 48). Bloom’s Taxonomy styled activities, which encourage cognitive thinking are an excellent way to engage students in curriculum-based activities (Herring, 2007, p. 27). Teacher librarians will prompt, guide and support students through asking open ended questions and allowing students to come to their own conclusions.
The role of the teacher librarian is to provide students with the tools, guidance and support in navigating digital resources, ideas, libraries and sources to direct learning and creating their own meanings. Encouraging and teaching students to hone their cognitive, metacognitive skills and then to critically reflect on their processes and research skills while guiding student learning will result in deeper understanding. As teacher Librarians, we need to prepare students in an information age. Students need to be taught to locate interpret, understand and construct meaning from a multitude of sources whilst being able to critically analyse the purpose of the article. ‘One of the profound ways that technology changes the learning environment is from a scarcity of resources to an abundance of resources.’ (McClintock, as cited in Kuhlthau, 2001, p. 2).
Finally, it is important to remember that the role ‘of the librarian in the constructivist approach to learning need to continue to be redefined within the new environment of abundant resources in digital libraries’ (Kuhlthau, 1997, p.771). As teacher librarians we need to continually be challenging ourselves to stay up to date with ever changing technologies in order to best engage students in learning around the Australian curriculum.
Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8, 3rd ed. Washington, DC : National Association for the Education of Young Children.
DeVries, R., Zan, B, Hildebrant, C., Edmiaston, R. & Sales, C. (2002). Developing constructivist early childhood curriculum: practical principles and activities. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gagnon, G.W. & Collay M. (2006). Constructivist Learning Design- Key questions for Teaching to Standards. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century : charting new directions in information (pp. 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University. Retrieved from Charles Sturt University website: http://interact.csu.edu.au/portal/site/
Kuhlthau, C. (2006) Information literacy through guided inquiry: Preparing students for the 21st century. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
Kuhlthau, C. (2001). Rethinking libraries for the information age school: Vital roles in inquiry learning Vital roles in inquiry learning. Keynote Address, International Association of School Librarianship Conference & International Research Forum on Research in School Librarianship . Auckland, New Zealand, Retrieved from http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/recent_presentations/iasl/iasl_notes.htm
Kuhlthau C.C. (1997). Learning in Digital Libraries: An Information Search Process Approach. School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies, Rutgers, the State University, 4Huntington Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08903. LIBRARY TRENDS, Vol. 45,No. 4 , pp. 708-724
McInerney, D.M. and McInerney, V. (1998). Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning 2nd ed. Sydney : Prentice Hall.
McLeod, J. H., & Reynolds, R. (2007). Quality Teaching for Quality Learning. South Melbourne, Victoria: Cengage Learning Australia.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.