Saturday 10 December 2016

Let's start at the very beginning: 3 simple steps to raising academic attainment through your school library

Ok, so I have created several posts recently about how Headteachers/Principals, teachers and librarians can work together in order to make a difference to academic attainment.  If we are to effect change I do believe it has to come from the top. There are, however, many teachers out there that have never worked alongside a school librarian and have no idea what we can do for them or their students and we need to find a way to change this ourselves too.  Which teacher would say no to free help and resources within their classrooms? Not many, I'm sure, so this has to be down to a lack of knowledge and understanding of what we do and this is where we can all do something. So whilst working towards change at the top, librarians need to find a way to start collaborating with those who never use the library and encouraging those who are already working with us to start sharing their best practice.

Why do some teachers not use the school library? 

I began to wonder why every teacher is not demanding to have a good school library with a qualified librarian? Is it because of their own experience or lack of school libraries as they grew up?  Did they ever get the opportunity to use their own school library as children and teenagers? It got me thinking about what I remember of my own school library experience. I do remember my middle school library well, both for choosing fiction and being taken to the library  to find books for research during classes, but once I got to secondary school my memories of the school library are non-existent.  I was very lucky, however, to have Jesmond public branch library that I was able to go to on a Saturday that supported the way I feel about libraries today. If I hadn't had that would I know how important libraries are?

Is this the missing link? Does our own experience of school libraries effect the way we use them as adults and teachers? It is even possible, for anyone going on to university, to use the library without ever having to go anywhere near the physical space or speak to the librarian. If you then go onto teacher training it is likely that your course does not even mentioned the school library or how you can access it. My two boys are both teachers and the only encouragement to use the school library has come from me and this is difficult with everything else they have to do to add this themselves.  It is understandable, therefore, that if a trainee teacher thinks that the school library is only about books and have never experienced the support and expertise of a school librarian why would they even think about collaborating with one. This then will effect how they encourage their students to use school library too.

Having said all of this I do believe that teachers need our support and want school libraries. One of my questions in my masters research was 'do you think the school library is important' and 100% answered yes. However, when asked if they use it themselves the number reduces dramatically. So where is it all going wrong? Life long learning come from the skill of information literacy and learning how to learn. If this is not embedded in our teachers how can they pass these skills onto their students? I recently found a study by Kasu and Demiralp where they concluded that teacher training programmes do not support teachers to up-skill life-long learning competencies (2016). If this is the case, how can teachers be expected support their own students when teaching. "Scheuch, Shouping and Gaston(2009) highlighted that even if pre-service teachers have the basic skills of the field they study, they still lack basic research and learning skills belonging to all disciplines"  (Kazu, H, Demiralp, D, 2016) and in my own experience I would agree. Teachers are so busy that they automatically go to Google themselves to find good resources for their students. They don't think to ask the librarian and they don't think to look in the school library and this has to change. 

How can we improve the relationship between teachers and librarians?

So what can we do about this? Apart from teacher training programmes seriously looking at how they should be working with school librarians we need to make it as easy as we can for teachers to access our skills and support  We need to encourage teachers to think about upskilling themselves and their students by using the library and librarian in their own schools and get them to understand what they are missing out on by not using their school libraries. The demand has to come from the teachers so let's enlighten them to what they could be achieving by using their school library. 

Teachers: your first steps on making a difference to your students academic attainment through using your school librarian.

Williams, D. Wavell, C. and Morrison, K., 2013. Impact of School Libraries on Learning. Aberdeen: Institute for Management, Governance & Society (IMaGeS), Robert Gordon University.

If you are a teacher reading this I have a couple of questions to ask...
  1. Do you know what resources are in your school library for your subject? 
  2. Are there books as well as online resources?
  3. Are they good enough for you to want your students to access them?

If you are sitting here honestly saying you don't know then I suggest that the next time you are in school you find out. Talk to your school librarian and see what is there. On a basic level school librarians are there to provide good quality academic resources and if you use them for that and nothing else what an amazing step forward. Many teachers struggle to find enough resources for their classrooms and some even buy there own but have never found the time to look at what is in their school library. Many teachers spend a lot of wasted time looking for websites that are suitable for their subject and putting them in a files for their students to access. Did you know that this is what a school librarian can do for you? Are you frustrated that when you ask your students to do some research that many of them cut and past from Wikipedia? We know this is what is happening but how can we support and teach good practice?

We all want our students to become independent learners and unfortunately the idea of independence has been swallowed by our ability to 'Google' the answer. Google does have a place in society but I would argue that being able to search with skill and find academic sources is far more important, especially when doing homework or studying.  We don't need to teach our students how to find answers to non-academic questions, they have been doing that since they were little. We do, however, need to teach them to:- 

  • know and understand what educational sources are 
  • be able to decide/choose where they will find the best answer quickly using those sources
  • access the information - using keywords
  • reference and give credit to where the information came from 
This is where your school librarian comes in. By knowing what books and online resources are in your school library it is possible to start guiding your students to better resources and giving them the skills to access them. This is not spoon feeding them! they still have to independently decide which source to use and actually be able to find the information from it.

Teachers: 3 simple steps to getting the most from your school library and librarian

Let's start with encouraging your students to use books for research. You as a teacher know that there are several great up to date books on your next topic in the library. How?
  1. You met with the school librarian the term before and together you selected and ordered the necessary books. (school librarians really want teachers to collaborate with ordering stock for the library, it should be based on the curriculum and if you change topic then the librarian needs to know) 
  2. These books have been added to the library catalogue with some keywords that you and the librarian have agreed on 
  3. They are now already sitting on your library shelves. 
You want your students to look at them but you want them to find them themselves. A really easy lesson is this:-

  1. Explained to your students about the new topic and what you want them to create. 
  2. Tell them that the information has to come from books only. 
  3. Invite your school librarian into your class to demonstrate how the school library catalogue works. 
  4. Together you will teach the importance of keywords and how your keywords can create a good question. 
  5. With the librarians support, your students need to use the keywords to find the books in the catalogue and write down the information they need: Author, Title and class number
  6. Take your students to the school library to find the books. Make sure that any books are borrowed correctly from the library. A good lesson in responsibility! 

Once the books are back in class remind them about their keywords and how to use the index to find what they need. You would be surprised at how many have forgotten how to use an index. Finally once they have found the book and the information that they want the librarian can also teach a lesson on note taking if needed.  Finally, the librarian can also teach them how to reference where they got the information from.

Ok so how does this process create independence?
  • Using books from your school library is independence! Just because you are guiding them to the books they still have to make a selection. It is their choice about which book to choose and which information to take from it.
  • This process has up-skilled the teacher and the students on how to use the library catalogue. This is a skill that needs to be used regularly and as you now know what resources are in your school library you can encourage them to borrow books for future topics. 
  • The librarian can also add websites to your library catalogue so future lessons could include books and websites from the same search making less work for the teacher. 
If your students can use your library catalogue, which is a database, they will find it easier to search online journals when they get to that stage. Academic resources can't be searched with a question so the skill of keyword searching is a very important start the independence journey.

If you have read this far you are obviously interested in what happens next. Caroline Roche is a school librarian at Etham college an independent school whose website Heart of the school is full of amazing ideas of teacher-librarian collaboration. Take a look and share it with your own school librarian to start the conversation. 

This all seems so straight forward to me. If every teacher and school librarian were only doing just the basic, school libraries would be thriving, students would be using great resources, teachers would be less busy and academic attainment would rise.  There is so much more too...


Azano, A. (2014). RURAL: The other neglected “R”: Making space for place in school libraries. Knowledge Quest, 43(1), 60.  

Kazu, H. & Demiralp, D. (2016). Faculty members’ views on the effectiveness of teacher training programs to upskill life-long learning competence. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 63, 205-224, 10.14689/ejer.2016.63.12 

Up-skill life-long learning competencies 

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