The 21st century learner
“The 20th century in learning and teaching was largely spent finessing
the teaching model of the 19th century.”
We are now well into the 21st century, although it seems that our education system is still resisting the change.
Profiles for the 21st century learner abound, sharing the common idea that learners need to be inquirers, flexible thinkers and collaborators. The ALA standards for the 21st century learner emphasise the need for critical thinking, creating and sharing new knowledge, as well as pursuing aesthetic and personal growth.
Technology has largely been responsible for the vast changes that have occurred in these approaches to learning.
School libraries have often been the hub of technology in the school, from the times when catalogues were computerised to the location of the school’s first interactive whiteboard and laptop trolley. The teacher librarian’s role has been to support and guide students and staff in using the technology effectively and ethically.
The shift from locating information to creating and sharing information has made the role of the teacher librarian even more crucial, and yet more challenging.
A recent presentation by George Couros put forward some thought-provoking statistics:
- 60 percent of Fortune 500 businesses are using socialmedia spaces to reach out to customers
- 95 percent of colleges and universities are using socialmedia spaces to reach out to customers
- 70 percent of school districts have policies that speciﬁcally BAN social networking in schools
How can the teacher librarian serve students in a conservative, risk-averse environment such as the typical school?
The 21st century teacher librarianThere are several practical approaches the teacher librarian can take.
- Continue to be at the forefront of technology in the school through formal professional opportunities, eg conferences and unconferences, as well as informal ones, such as twitter and blogs. Learn what is happening in other schools, and ‘practice what you preach’ by sharing ideas and creating new ones.
- Move beyond information literacy. Transliteracy – the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platform, tools and media is essential for the 21st century learner, and consequently for teacher librarians too.
- Think big, but start small. Will Richardson recently visited our school, challenging us to consider ‘thinning our walls’
“Thin walls” expand the classroom, and in the process deepen our understanding and practice of all of those “21st Century Skills” that we examined earlier, the critical thinking, the problem solving skills, and the rest. And as students begin to experience the powerful pull of connection to other students and teachers outside of their physical spaces, they also begin to see the world writ large as a part of their daily learning lives. In our school, we have been connecting with students beyond our immediate classroom, although still within our school. This is just a first step, but a step with the big picture in mind.
- Remember reading. One of the main underpinning beliefs of the ALA standards for the 21st century learner is that reading is a window to the world. Social reading invites readers to put a technological spin on the age-old book club, providing an online space to discuss ideas about what they’re reading. At our school, students share their thoughts about their books on a blog as part of a reading challenge. It is far more engaging than a standard book review and helps develop some of the skills of the 21st century learner, such as critical thinking and creating and sharing new knowledge.
The thorn in the side
The teacher librarian has evolved from ‘keeper of the books’, to ‘information literacy instructor’ to ‘information and literature specialist’, and the evolution continues. Regrettably, however, it seems that the image of the ‘dragons in pearls’ remains within schools and the wider community. The recent inquiry into teacher librarians in Australia highlighted the need for greater understanding and appreciation of their contributions to learning outcomes. It’s ironic that the role of the teacher librarian is being questioned in the age of Google. However, it’s been said that such questions are akin to wondering about the purpose of an accountant when everyone has access to a calculator.
Sue Krust is the junior school teacher librarian at a P-12 private girls’ school in Sydney.
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