New Year’s resolutions?

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you, but I’m always excited by the dawn of a new year – the prospect of all the possibilities that lie ahead when I’m fresh off New Year’s celebrations and still in my jammies.  So I admit to a great sense of optimism, and although I don’t usually set resolutions for myself (experience is a good teacher), I have for the past few months been puzzling over how to revitalize one aspect of my work life:  research lessons.  Like Katie Archambault and others who have blogged and posted to the listserv about their quest for engaging students in the research process, I’ve seen glazed faces in class and have been seeking inspiration.

And I stumbled onto something in one of the two AISL Board Books that we’ve selected for 2017.  Dive into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie (2016) offers a refreshing way to shift mindsets around teaching and learning from the old ‘sage on the stage’ paradigm where the power resides with the teacher, to a ‘student-driven’ learning model.  I am only halfway through reading this book, but I am inspired by the possibilities it offers to help transform students from passive to active learners.

Obviously, if you are a classroom teacher like the author, you have the freedom to be the change agent in your class(es).  As a school librarian, to realize this transformation will require a new level of collaboration with teachers at my school (grades 7-12), and it will begin with me selling this idea to a couple of forward-thinking colleagues who just may share my enthusiasm for this new approach.

MacKenzie’s book is readable, not too long (120 pages) and is designed to share the formula for transitioning from a traditional teaching model to a culture of inquiry.  Over the years, we’ve talked about Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL), but I haven’t seen many great examples in practice. When MacKenzie defined the Inquiry Teacher as a “teacher, coach, facilitator, networker, shoulder-to-lean-on”, I began to see my role in this process.  By chapter five, where the Types of Student Inquiry are outlined (structured, controlled, guided, free inquiry), the scope and sequence and logical progression from typical assignments to the ultimate goal of free inquiry were clear: eureka!

Best of all, in sharing this book with my teaching colleagues, the role of school librarians and the library learning commons are considered integral to the inquiry process: no fanfare, just acknowledgement. The new normal.  So by promoting this book, I can also demonstrate the legitimacy of collaboration for the benefit of students.  While this will be a no-brainer to some of our colleagues, it will be a revelation to others!

When discussing the Pillars of Inquiry in chapter 7, the fourth—Take on a New Challenge—resonated with me.  So I guess my New Year’s resolutions are: first, to finish reading Dive Into Inquiry, and second, to figure out how to inspire a few teachers to tackle this exciting new challenge with me to begin changing the landscape of learning at our school.

But wait, there’s more!  The second AISL Board Book also promises to be an interesting read (honesty compels me to admit I’ve only cracked the cover at this point) Born Digital: How children grow up in a digital age by John G. Palfrey and Urs Gasser.  There’s been some buzz about this revised and expanded edition of the book on the listserv over the past year, and the AISL Board thought it would offer an alternative to a hands-on approach to tackling an issue.


Instead, this book offers an insightful, sociological portrait of the first generation of children who were born into and raised in the digital world.  They are coming of age and reshaping the world in their image, they’ve been in our classrooms and libraries, and it would be great to understand them, the digital present, and the way the digital future may unfold based on their experiences.  The issues explored in this book—privacy concerns, the psychological effects of information overload, and larger ethical issues arising from the fact that young people’s social interactions, friendships and civic activities are now mediated by digital technologies—promise to make fascinating reading.

So today, while still enjoying some R&R, before we return to our busy schools and libraries, I resolve to read both of these books, and invite you to join me and embrace professional development as part of our resolutions for the New Year.  If you are attending the annual conference in New Orleans this March, we hope you will join us to discuss one or both of these books; we will blog responses so that all AISL members can join the conversation.

Health and happiness to you as we “dive into” a New Year!

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