Why and how does working with another person or a team help educators think more deeply about learning and teaching? How does it help them step out of the box? The adage “two (or more) heads are better than one” is simply… true. When educators bounce ideas off one another, they stimulate each other’s thinking. They clarify curriculum standards and goals. They explore ideas for making connections to students’ interests. They discover multiple ways to link those ideas to student learning objectives.
More Engaging Curricula
Some MSLL blog readers may believe that the best way to educate students for their future is simply to turn them lose to explore whatever interests them, whenever it interests them. I am not one of those readers. I believe that learning objectives have a central role to play in guiding a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano 2003). In his book What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action, Robert Marzano shares thirty-five years of research related to improving student achievement. While I do make a distinction between “learning” and “achievement,” student achievement in terms of courses completed successfully, high school graduation rates, and scores on standardized tests are still factors that can support or limit a student’s life choices.
Marzano organized this research into three buckets: the school level, the teacher level, and the student level. At the school level, a guaranteed and viable curriculum, challenging goals and feedback, parent and community involvement, a safe and orderly environment, and collegiality and professionalism all had have positive impacts on student outcomes. At the teacher level, instructional strategies, classroom management, and classroom curriculum design improved student achievement. At the student level, the home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, and motivation all affected students’ learning.
Many of the school-, teacher-, and student-level factors, including collegiality, instructional strategies, curriculum design, and student motivation are addressed in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.
In a “school that learns” (Senge et al. 2012), everyone is invested in everyone else’s success. When school learning communities are collegial, they have the foundation to work as a team to enact their professional responsibilities. They can lead—together. It is through their understanding of the strength that comes from collaboration that allows the actions of the collective to far outstrip those of individuals.
Curriculum is a guide. Educators can use that guide in traditional or innovative ways. When working collaboratively, school librarians and classroom teachers can inspire one another to design learning experiences that are both “new and better” than those taught in the past. (See 10/8 blog post Classroom-Library Coplanning.) While it should be the goal of every educator to ready students for self-directed learning, many students need the effective instructional strategies and interventions that educators provide through modeling, monitoring, timely and specific feedback, and assessing student progress.
(In my thirteen-year experience as a coteaching school librarian at all three instructional levels, classroom management was very rarely an issue in the library. With more space, exciting resources, including technology, and well-designed learning opportunities, students were engaged and enthusiastic about learning through the library program.)
Students benefit from coteaching because they have the support of two (or more educators). Coteaching reduces the chances that any student or group of students will lack the personalized attention of an educator. Student-led inquiry puts students in the driver’s seat as they negotiate the space between their interests and the curriculum. Educators support students in finding that sweet spot that connects in-school learning with students out-of-school lives and real-world issues. Motivated students develop literacies, practice skills, grow their dispositions, and deepen their knowledge through the inquiry process.
In his book What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, Ted Dintersmith (2018) proposes using the PEAK concept when transforming schools. PEAK stands for purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge.
Purpose: Students must have opportunities to wrestle with problems that are important to students and the community. Problems and student learning must have a real-world impact. It must also be publicly displayed so that students (and their audiences) learn young people can indeed make a difference in the world.
Essentials: The essentials are skill sets and mindsets, such as creative problem solving, communication, collaboration, critical analysis, citizenship, and aspects of character (dispositions).
Agency: Agency involves students in setting their goals, managing their efforts, assessing their progress, and persevering to completion. This process supports students as they “learn how to learn.”
Knowledge: Finally, they must have deep and retained knowledge they can access, teach others, apply, and showcase in the quality of what they create, build, make, and design (Dintersmith 2018, 38-39).
For me, PEAK and effectively applied inquiry and problem-based learning are one and the same. Purpose, essential skills and mindsets, agency, and knowledge are the goals and objectives of inquiry learning. School librarians can be coleaders who, through coplanning and coteaching, guide more engaging and relevant curricula to best support and prepare students for their current academic success as well as for their future lives.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- How did you learn to serve as a curriculum developer?
- How free do you feel and act as a curriculum developer in your school?
Dintersmith, Ted. 2018. What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Marzano, Robert. 2003. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Senge, Peter, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner. 2012. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. New York: Crown Business.