Sarah Elliott’s Blog

Travel with me on my voyage of learning and discovery…

ETL401 Critical Synthesis

Posted by sarahelliott on June 8, 2009

My original interest in becoming a teacher librarian (TL) resulted from the frustration that I felt in my current school. A general atmosphere of resource mismanagement pervaded and I identified a need in the faculty for someone responsible for ordering resources to support the curriculum and the organisation of them.
Upon commencement of this subject, I started to realise that the role of a TL was far more complex than I could have ever imagined. I felt inspired with new ideas as I became engrossed in a wealth of information. In one blog entry (25/2, K – 12 Students Today) I discussed how thought-provoking I found the video A Vision of K – 12 Students Today (Nesbitt, 2007); it incited anxieties and questions regarding how our schools cater for 21st century learners. I was filled with both “excitement and trepidation” (24/2, The beginning of a long journey), unsure of what to expect, but eager to take on the challenge.
My blog post (05/03, Teacher Librarian first thoughts) demonstrated my awareness of the role of TLs early on in the course; thanks to this subject, it has now evolved and I am conscious that the need in our staff is far greater than I originally identified. New understanding of three major aspects of the role of TLs, those of leader, collaborator and information literacy expert, has caused me to completely re-evaluate this position in school.
My ideas about collaboration (05/6, Collaboration) show a progression of thought from regarding it initially as preparing curriculum resources for units of work, to believing in the need for integrated instruction by the teacher and TL in order to improve student learning. Bolton’s entry (23/4, ETL401 topic 5 sub-forum, Collaboration as a Challenge) made me realise that although daunting, approached with the right attitude, collaboration is possible and hugely beneficial for the school community.
As highlighted on my blog (28/4, And breathe), the first assessment task for this subject was influential and critical to my thinking. Learning about the role of TLs in establishing information literate school communities (ILSCs) prompted me to take action. I wanted to put what I was learning into practice. I produced a PowerPoint presentation about the role of TLs and pitched it to our school administration team. Their response was positive and the principal stated that she found it both “inspiring and challenging” (B. Pedersen, personal communication, May 11, 2009). I am confident that I have succeeded in securing my principal’s support, the importance of which I discussed in a forum entry (30/3, ETL401 topic 2 sub-forum, Principals etc ).
In another forum post (31/ 3, ETL401 topic 2 sub-forum, online support), I spoke about my amazement at the quality and quantity of existing online support for TLs. Following various TL blogs and internet networks such as ECIS library Moodle  (, teacher librarian ning ( and the ETL401 forum and subforums ( , as well as communicating with other TLs working in international schools on Facebook ( , has developed both my knowledge and appreciation of this profession. I have grown to understand the importance of networking and have become a true believer in knowledge sharing and learning from each other. Reading about this concept, particularly in Henri’s work (2005), was especially inspiring for me. I discussed my own plans to promote knowledge sharing in our school through a professional development wiki in an earlier blog entry (30/3, Fresh idea and thinking in response to literature) and in doing so am taking steps towards becoming a pedagogical leader.
I have been convinced by Macrorie’s (as cited in Jent, 2004) belief that “we talk and write our way into understanding” (p. 34). Reflection has become a bigger part of my life, through which I have shifted my mental model from TLs as providers of resources to enablers of knowledge construction. I have discovered that I hold the qualities of motivation, perseverance (03/6, Perseverance) and self-belief and I feel less daunted by the difficulties that I will face in trying to facilitate the development of our school community as an information literate one.
At the moment, my greatest challenge lies in determining what my priorities should be. Covey (1990) has taught me the importance of trying to live my professional and personal life in the second quadrant. I hope to follow his advice and become an effective self-manager. I plan to devise a long-term professional mission statement, formulate realistic goals and organise my time in work to focus on meeting my objectives.
Initially, I felt that I was at the start of an “impossible journey” (24/2, The beginning of a long journey) and I was aware that I had a lot to learn. Now that I have arrived at the end of this subject, I feel that I am still at the beginning of a long journey, but the mist has lifted a little and the route that I am to take has become clearer. I have discovered the importance of lifelong learning and am excited by the prospect of constructing new knowledge for myself and playing such a valuable part in the development of our school community.

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Posted by sarahelliott on June 5, 2009

One aspect of the role of the teacher librarian that I missed from my original brainstorm was that of collaboration. The fact that I omitted it is not indicative of its importance – it is in fact essential!
Whilst reading about collaboration, I came across a lot of examples of success stories of collaborative partnerships between teacher librarians and class/ subject teachers – such as in the case study Does Collaboration Boost Student Learning? Research clearly supports the idea that collaboration is a key element in enhancing students’ learning outcomes and essential in helping them to develop information literacy skills that will prepare them for life in the 21st century society.
The module readings state that “the role of the TL is maximised in an atmosphere that encourages team work and experimentation where learning is highly sought after”. This quotation highlights two major importances for me; firstly the need for collaboration and secondly the need to step out, break with traditions and try something new. I am excited about discussing the idea of introducing team teaching with class teachers, flexible timetabling with the principal and working with teachers to ensure student-centred, integrated learning.
Collaboration is not always easy, and in our efforts to put it into practice we are going to come up against some resistance. But, if we are going to make a difference, then we have to persevere. I agree that it’s important not to be overamibitious, achievable targets are a must! By initially establishing collaborative partnerships for integrated instruction with just 1 or 2 teachers, other members of staff will witness the benefits and become more confident and enthusiastic about working with us and eventually we can work towards offering a fully integrated curriculum. The support of the principal is imperative, as they will be able to set out expectations for collaboration and encourage teachers to participate.

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Posted by sarahelliott on June 3, 2009

Perseverance is a characteristic that I have discovered I have more of than I could have imagined! The ability to persist, even when it gets tough, is a skill that I am developing both as a student and a professional. It’s also an attribute that is important to develop in our students. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that we’re every going to achieve what can seem like the unaccomplishable. But, we have to stay strong, accept our problems and learn from the difficulties that we overcome. And then hopefully we can remember such experiences in the future and use them to our advantage.

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Trusting information!

Posted by sarahelliott on May 30, 2009

I love this quotation by H. L. Mencken:
For every realistic, complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong
I think that it is a great reminder of the fact that students will often be too trusting of information that they find in a variety of sources. It makes me think about the importance of teaching students to evaluate resources carefully and reflect on what they have found. Ensuring that students are aware of false information is another important aspect of the role of the teacher librarian in school. Exercises in understanding the relevant value of information should help students understand that they need to be selective and choosy! This is particularly significant in the digital age when students are confronted by information overload.

After I wrote this, a link was posted on the ETL401 main forum to an article from the Sydney Morning Herald that supported my own thoughts. Roy talks about the importance of teaching information literacy skills to students so that they are able to discern whether sources are credible or not. I particularly like his final comment: “If anything, the digital era has made a teacher librarian’s job even more relevant.”

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Student Discussion Groups

Posted by sarahelliott on May 26, 2009

These 2 videos show the preliminary findings by the Project Information Literacy team on what it means to be an undergraduate student in the digital age. The accompanying article makes for interesting reading, especially when I’m thinking about evaluating information process models. It highlights students’ concerns as they learn in the digital age and makes me think about what would be an effective information process model to have in school that would give students the skills that they need before leaving school rather than them arriving at university without them.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Information Process Models

Posted by sarahelliott on May 25, 2009

OK, maybe I’m turning into a TL geek (!) but I can’t help it, I am really enjoying reading about Kuhlthau’s ISP and the I-Search process! It’s as if I ‘ve developed the itch that Ken Macrorie is often cited as referring to…
From Kuhlthau’s model, I really like the emphasis that is placed on the affective side of the research process. I can identify in myself the feelings that she lists for each stage of the process. Undoubtedly, I have been struck by anxiety, doubt and confusion and those negative feelings have become far more positive as I have made progress and neared closure on my assignments. Of course, they all returned when I was nervously awaiting my first assessment mark! However, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that she stops her information model at search closure/ presentation – I find myself asking what about the rest? What about the guidance for learners on what happens once you’ve collected the information for your focus?…
The I-Search model is one that I can really imagine working for learners of all ages. Its apparently simple nature is one that I believe students would be really comfortable working with. It is prescriptive in terms of getting students to reflect on all elements of the search process. In a way, I can imagine students all blogging away to log their thoughts for their I-Search papers. I-Search represents genuine student-centred learning. Learners are given far more ownership of their work than with more traditional research styles, as they are given real choice.
Inevitably, the learners will become more personally involved in their projects and therefore more engaged. I can’t help but think that perhaps this should have been the style that was used for our second assignment. Information Process Models could have been the overarching topic, we could have read through various general information on that and from there, determined what we found genuinely interesting. Then we could have formed a focus of our own within the main topic.
I am really interested in I-Search – it seems like such an applicable process and one that truly encourages metacognition. I would love to pursue it further, but it is so difficult to find the time to do more than the necessary as we are required to write about 3 information process models. I hate the idea of ‘doing the necessary reading’ – if anything, in all the reading that I have done about information literacy and inquiry and constructivism… this is a notion that we should be seeking to avoid – so why doesn’t the course practice what its preaching on this?…
Tied into this idea of choice and interest and engaging learners, why are we all required to write traditional style research papers? We are individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. We are learning about learning styles, multiple intelligences and student-led learning, yet we are all required to churn out the same kind of final product. What if someone thinks there is a different (more creative) style to present their findings in?
I feel like I’m learning to think more critically, which is fantastic!!! I  am so happy and so taken by this course in so many ways, but at the same time I am beginning to feel a little disappointed that we are all expected to fit one mould. I would love to see more scope for personal interest.

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Teaching the Information Process

Posted by sarahelliott on May 25, 2009

I have just read Joy McGregor’s article “Teaching the Information Process: Helping Students Become Lifelong Learners” and once again, I feel that she has hit me right in my Zone of Proximal Development! I’m not sure what it is about her articles, but they just seem to make simple sense to me! Anyhow, I really enjoyed reading this article, as I felt that it didn’t just tell me the usual information that I must have read multiple times now – that is that we are living in the information age, students are confronted by countless data, they need the skills to deal with all that information (which of course is totally valid and true and I admit I did state all of the above in my previous assignment…). But, what I liked about McGregor’s article is that she gets right to the simple essence of the problem, yes the above is the case, but what is really worrying is when the parties involved just assume that students already know about the information process, what it is and how to apply it. One of the most important messages that I got out of the article is that we mustn’t assume that students already know what to do.  We must remember that ‘they need guidance to make the (research) experience enjoyable, engaging, enriching and meaningful’ (p. 7) It is important for us all to remember that the research process is complex and we should work together to help students feel comfortable with it.

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An update

Posted by sarahelliott on May 25, 2009

Well given the negative tone of my last post, I thought I really ought to update on what has been going on here. I passed my first assignment (hurray!), which was a massive relief after all the depressing discussions on the CSU module forum.
Honestly, I’m not very happy with the mark that I achieved, I don’t feel that it really reflects my understanding of what is an ILSC and the role of the TL in creating it. I don’t want to sound like a moaning Minnie though! I’ve never been that great at typical – research based coursework. I’m now beginning to realise (through my reading for this module), that’s because I wasn’t particularly information literate. I didn’t read things and internalise the ideas. I just learned for the purpose of getting the coursework done and then moved on to the next topic.
But, I really felt like I put in a lot of time and effort this time, read and retained a lot of information, modified my mental models, and came on a really long journey from where I was at the start of this course. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of an ‘ILSC’ before I began this module. In addition to all that, I have taken action – I don’t want to be an inactive student! I have given a presentation to my admin team that follows the ideas of this module and they were inspired by what I shared with them. I have been trying to share my knowledge with them. So, I guess I just don’t think that the mark reflects the progress that I feel I have made in constructing meaning for myself on this topic.
Regarding my computer, well it’s dead! But they rescued my hard-drive, so there is life after death after death!
Overall, everything that I was feeling low about turned out ok in the end. It’s not like me to get so worried about things, but I guess this course really matters to me. I am genuinely 100% interested and engaged in something that I am studying for the first time in my life, I never imagined that I would fail. Once the realisation that failing was a possibility set in, I panicked. But, I am calm again now. Well, to be honest I’m calmish! The second assignment is hanging over me and I’m struggling to get to grips with Part B of it, but then that’s another story!

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feeling low…

Posted by sarahelliott on May 19, 2009

I think I have hit a low point… My laptop has died on me, and typically everything possible was saved on it. I’m trying to gather the energy and strength to start again with my research and work for my second assignment, but right now, it feels like the hardest task in the world to do.

Very dramatic I know, but it feels like a sign that I’m failing on this course. I haven’t received my first assignment back yet and am so worried about it.

The I.T. man is going to look at my laptop tomorrow, but who knows when it will come back to me or if my work will even still be accessible…

Ok, lots to do, many hours to stay awake catching up on everything… Hopefully, this is just a minor blip and it will all be ok – just doesn’t feel that way now!

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Mental Models

Posted by sarahelliott on May 7, 2009

After reading Joy McGregor’s chapter How do we learn? I can see how her discussion about mental models applies to myself as I continue on my journey to understand what it means to be a teacher librarian. She states how mental models are quite simple in the beginning and then over time, once they are challenged by strong new ideas, they change and become more sophisticated.
I feel that my mental model of a TL is not and will not become too resistant to change! But, it has certainly evolved rapidly over the past few months. At the beginning of this course I already had an idea that TLs are more than just the stereotypical keeper of books. Although, admittedly, a couple of years ago my perception of their role was much closer to the stereotype than I had imagined. But, now I have moved totally away from that (thank goodness!).
I truly see the TL as a leader in schools and I hope to develop my own leadership skills. I’m growing in confidence and feel that as I really believe in what I’m saying about the role of the TL in school, I should be able to stand up and advocate that position.
I can see that as a TL, priority should be given to the leadership, teacher and curriculum involvement (as outlined in the statement on information literacy from Catholic Education South Australia, 2002). However, my issue with this is that there is noone else to cover the manager, services and literature promotion side of things in the library. Parent volunteers can help to some extent with the management of the online catalogue, but they cannot assume responsibility for the bulk of the work. In a small school with a limited budget, how should this be addressed?
Back to the idea of Mental Models – I hope that the presentation that I will give on Monday will challenge their mental models and that they will feel compelled to let their perceptions of the role of the TL evolve so that we can make progress as an ILSC.

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