The essence of constructivist learning is that the learning is student centred rather than teacher centred. The role of the teacher librarian and classroom teacher is that of facilitator.
There are a number of constructivist learning techniques. Project based learning, problem based learning and guided inquiry are all examples of constructivist learning. The differences between them are fairly subtle and they all share common characteristics such as collaboration, the use of ICT, and the development of higher order thinking skills. These characteristics of constructivist learning are supported by the NSW Quality Teaching Model (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2006) that outlines the following three dimensions of pedagogy:
“promoting high levels of intellectual quality.
…promoting a quality learning environment.
… develops and makes explicit to students the significance of their work”
(NSW Department of Education and Training, 2006, para. 3.).
The goal of constructivist learning is to enable students to develop lifelong learning skills and skills which are appropriate for the 21st century.
With the introduction of the Australian Curriculum, there has been an emphasis placed in the new syllabus documents on precisely these elements. The NSW History syllabus, for example, states that the value and attitudes of the K-10 students aim for is “…to develop a lifelong interest in and enthusiasm for history….[and] the opportunity to contribute to a democratic and socially just society through informed citizenship” (Board of Studies NSW, 2012, para. 3.).
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has outlined seven general capabilities which “will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.” (2011, para. 3.). These are literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology (ICT) capability, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding, and intercultural understanding.
ICT capability, critical and creative thinking and personal and social capability lend themselves especially well to constructivist learning models.
It is obvious that ICT capability falls well within the purview of the role of the teacher librarian. The ASLA and ALIA Standards of Professional Excellence (2004) outlines collaboration with teachers, a focus on positive student learning outcomes and evidence based practice as something for all teacher librarians to aspire to. All of these aspects of the standards are met when teacher librarians take an active role in working with classroom teachers in developing and implementing constructivist learning opportunities. In addition, it is telling that ASLA (2012) has a statement on guided inquiry, one of the forms of constructivist learning. Fitzgerald (2011) points to inquiry learning as a vehicle for evidence based practice.
A number of authors have outlined roles for teacher librarians with which constructivist learning is clearly aligned. Harvey (2009) outlines a number of roles for teacher librarians as innovator, technology integrator and collaborator. Whilst constructivism is championed by the Australian education system, it is not necessarily put in place at the classroom level. Doing so requires a level of innovation – Harvey’s teacher librarian is perfectly placed for such an undertaking. Valenza’s (2010) detailed manifesto of the role of the teacher librarian includes aiding students to see their impact beyond the classroom – a key goal of constructivist learning. Haycock (2007) cites several studies which identify collaboration between teacher librarians and classroom teachers as positively affecting student learning outcomes. Constructivist learning is a team effort (Kuhlthau and Maniotes, 2010) between, at the very least, the teacher librarian and the classroom teacher.
There is a clear need to, and advantage for, the teacher librarian aspiring to Standards of Excellence (ASLA and ALIA, 2004) to embrace constructivism. The teacher librarian has a valuable skill set well suited to such an undertaking and constructivist learning will assist teacher librarians to meet the mutli-faceted and complex role assigned to them.
Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2011). General capabilities. Retrieved from http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum/general_capabilities.html
Australian School Library Association (ASLA). (2012). Statement on guided inquiry and the curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/Guided-inquiry-and-the-curriculum.aspx
Australian School Library Association (ASLA). (2004). Policy: Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx
Board of Studies NSW. (2012). NSW syllabuses for the Australian curriculum: Objectives. Retrieved from http://syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/hsie/history-k10/objectives/
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41.
Harvey, C. (2009). What should an Administrator expect a School Library Media Specialist to be? Library Media Connection, 28(2). p.45.
Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learning. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25-35.
Kuhlthau, C. K. and Maniotes, L. K. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, 26(5), 18.
NSW Department of Education and Training. (2006). Professional learning and leadership development: Quality teaching. Retrieved from https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/areas/qt/
Valenza, J. (2010). A revised manifesto. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2010/12/03/a-revised-manifesto/