The way we teach as teacher librarians is facing change as much as libraries themselves. Social constructivism has grown out of the need to leave outdated behaviourist models behind and teach students to be actively involved in their own learning paths. Social constructivism has been defined as the ability of an individual to take an active part in their learning and as a result build upon prior knowledge, understanding and skills (Pritchard, 2008, p17). Herring states, “social constructivism takes the view that learners are not merely receptacles of knowledge passed on by a teacher, but are conscious constructors of knowledge.” (Herring, 2011, p5)
So what is a teacher librarian’s role to play in social constructivist teaching methods? Teacher librarians need to develop information literacy skills in our students and with information now accessible in both print and digital form not only finding it is a skill, deciphering it is also one. Herring says “If we view students as constructing their own knowledge and building upon prior knowledge, then this will have an influence on how students will be encouraged to use information literacy skills.” (2011, p6). Giving students the road maps to navigate the amount of information and then understand it is the focus. Scaffolding is the process of giving support to students at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level to meet their needs, a vital role for the teacher librarian (Pritchard, 2008, p24).
A constructivist library looks like a place where young people would be comfortable. It houses books, magazines, e-readers, computers, tablets, digital cameras, and Smartboards. It has comfortable reading lounges, computer workstations, small and large desks for groups to sit at. You can see students working together, teachers working with students and teachers collaborating. The teacher librarian engages groups in conversation in order to support the development of understanding. The visual displays are drawn, hand written, printed on a colour printer, computer generated, or are photographs and moving images. It looks organised with concept maps and proformas to aid in guided inquiry and construction of research skills (Pritchard, 2009, p24). To do this teacher librarians need to change the traditional idea of a library as a storage room for books to a more constructivist “learning space” (Hamilton, 2011, p35).
A constructivist library sounds like a buzz of activity. It is not silent and peaceful. It is full of the sounds of people talking together to construct meaning as this dialogue is the main vehicle for ideas (Pritchard, 2008, p24). It is a place where you can hear students tell others what they already know in order to go beyond to learn more. You can hear the librarian because they have the important task “of stimulating dialogue and maintaining its momentum” (Pritchard, 2008, p24). Successful twenty-first century librarians like Buffy Hamilton have “been able to engage students in conversations for learning and greater participation” (Hamilton, 2011, p35).
A constructivist library makes students feel like their learning is authentic. Here the teacher librarian can create real world tasks for students by using Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis, or social media to discuss books and review novels. “Students deepen their understanding of information by participating in inquiry circles, small groups or mini learning communities” (Hamilton, 2011, p37). It feels supportive, with lessons focused on scaffolding which may be discussions, practical tasks, design tasks, lists or writing frameworks (Pritchard, 2008, p25). “Everything about the constructivist approach to learning, in a simple and practical way, points towards the importance of learners getting as close to the material content of what it is hoped they will learn as possible and then ‘doing’ something with it.” (Pritchard, 2008, p29). It feels like students are part of their own learning journey by being able to reflect upon their tasks with each other and their teacher.
Therefore the role of the teacher librarian is to put the students into the “zone of proximal development” (Pritchard, 2008, p25) by creating a library to facilitate constructivist learning, a “shared environment that is learning centred, focused on scaffolding students’ ability to read, write and create content through social interaction in physical and virtual learning spaces while using multiple forms of media” (Hamilton, 2011, p35).
Herring, J. (2011), Improving students’ web use and information literacy: a guide for teachers and teacher librarians. London, Facet Publishing.
Pritchard, A. (2008), Ways of learning; learning theories and learning styles in the classroom. David Fulton.
Hamilton, B. (2011) The school librarian as teacher: What kind of teacher are you? Knowledge Quest. 39(5), pp 34-40.