Most of my teaching career has been as a classroom teacher. I began working as a Teacher-Librarian, but after a few years, the lure of the classroom won me over. I really love the ownership that comes from teaching a class; those kids are your audience, and if it works, it’s because you’ve made it work. It’s a bit like being your own boss. I moved back to a library setting when the internet was just showing its promise. I was excited; knowledge was moving into new spaces and I saw that as something that would reinvigorate the profession. Finding knowledge in new environments is a challenge and not something that necessarily comes easily. Digital Literacy understanding needs instruction. Becoming a critical thinker and searcher is not necessarily intuitive.
The difficult thing for any Teacher Librarian is getting access to classes so that we can work with students and teachers to assist them with Digital Literacy understandings. Not every teacher out there is comfortable working in a team teaching environment. I really do think there are plenty of teachers out there who are fearful of criticism and unwilling to open their classrooms for others to observe, let alone work with them.
The ideal way to impart understanding is in the context of a course of study. Just in time learning does work. Unfortunately, getting opportunities to work directly with students as they research doesn’t always happen for Teacher Librarians, and sometimes you just have to grab the opportunities that come your way. I’m not sure about you, but when I talk with students and observe the way they navigate the Web, most of them default to Google as their search tool. We had the opportunity to work with all of our Year Seven students last week, so we decided to focus on how they could become more adept at using Google.
We started with this video, featuring Matt Cutts from Google explaining how the search engine works;
It had their attention with its animations and subtitles that helped them follow the explanation provided by Matt. We then went onto demonstrate the new features of the Google search results page using the left hand side bar. Many of them had not yet twigged it was even there! If you’re not up with recent changes, take a look at the following slideshare presentation by Conectica;
Using Google search tips sourced from Dumb little man, we wound up our discussion about Google. Our discussion then moved into ‘What other search engines can you use?’ It was very interesting to hear students offer Safari and Firefox as search engines. The discussion moved into an explanation of the difference between a browser and a search engine. Sometimes you forget to start with some basic understandings; often, I think, we’re guilty of assuming our students have knowledge, when in fact, things need to be spelled out or introduced to them.
I know, some of you out there will be beseeching me right now and saying that this kind of teaching needs to be embedded in what is happening in the classrooms, and you’re right. It should. But sometimes you need to explicitly teach something. I see no harm in direct instruction, as long as it’s part of your toolkit and you vary your teaching methods to suit circumstances and what your learning intention is for your students. Even the teachers who were present in the session came out telling me they had learned something. To wind up the session, we introduced the students to SweetSearch -a search engine for students. Mark Moran, from Finding Dulcinea – Librarian of the Internet, has helped develop this search engine. It “searches only the 35,000 Web sites that our staff of research experts and librarians and teachers have evaluated and approved when creating the content on findingDulcinea”
When we asked our students why they primarily use Google, one student said, “It’s what we know.” How true. You use what you know. Hopefully our session helped them to understand how they can use what they know better, and maybe it’s opened their eyes to what they don’t know. That just might make them realise that the Teacher-Librarians are in command of a fair bit of practical knowledge that will help them to find their way around the Web. I hope so.