Between the pages

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Whether it’s the culminating projects or everyday research, school librarians expertise can bring learning to life

Think of a school librarian and you’ll almost certainly picture someone whose primary responsibility is to manage books and, increasingly, virtual learning resources. You could also include developing the values of academic honesty and citation skills. But if your definition stops there, you’d be missing the opportunity to explore some of the most exciting and important things a librarian can do.

At IB World Schools across the globe, librarians are providing educational and pedagogical leadership, and are often involved in varied collaborative investigations with teachers and students, as well as developing and managing the library itself.

This work can be seen every day and it impacts the creative, critical and analytical skills taught across the continuum but it makes a particularly transformative difference in the culminating projects: the PYP Exhibition, the MYP Personal Project and the IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay.

In the PYP Exhibition, librarians can work with the classroom teacher and students throughout the year to develop the skills needed for them to succeed in their inquiries. Critical thinking skills are supported by instructional intervention in using online and print primary sources, evaluating information sources (especially web resources) and developing in-depth questioning skills.

During the Exhibition period itself, the librarian can act as a research mentor, offering mini-revision tutorials for different groups around accessing and using information and Web 2.0 tools from customized web pages such as Netvibes to social bookmarking and web annotation sites. Plagiarism and copyright issues, as well as bibliographic skills, can and should be introduced at this formative stage in a student’s development.

If the PYP Exhibition emphasizes organization, the MYP Personal Project introduces enhanced critical, creative and analytical thinking. Teachers and IB coordinators don’t have to face this alone: teacher-librarians can provide direct instruction to students for each of the assessment criteria, including the formation of goals, selection of appropriate resources, application and transfer of information and the meta-cognitive aspects of learning. Web-based support is provided for students to enable learning to be more differentiated, and librarians work alongside the MYP Coordinator to create support materials.

The list of support functions that can be offered in the Diploma Programme Extended Essay is almost endless. Teachers and IB coordinators can make better use of their own time, and help students plan and deliver more effectively, if they allow librarians to support individual students. This can be by teaching just in time courses on research and citation skills and by producing related knowledge products, which are often web-based (such as guides to citation and bibliography construction).

Providing a live collection of past essays is a powerful tool for students facing a daunting academic challenge, while additional support takes in everything up and including help with the abstract-writing requirement.

None of this is achievable without a strong relationship between teachers and librarians. This should begin with a question: How can you help me enhance student outcomes or support my teaching programme?

Where it ends depends only on your imagination.

By Yvonne Barrett, Head Librarian, Osaka International School, Japan, Gary Green, Teacher-Librarian, Presbetyrian Ladies College, Western Australia  and Anthony Tilke, Head of Library, International School of Amsterdam, Netherlands.