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Reflections of a Teacher Librarian

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Australia

Black voices in Library Collections – Some recommendations

In Allen and Unwin’s 2009 interview with Indigenous author, poet and social commentator Anita Heiss, she tells us that the main difference between Aboriginal writers and non-Aboriginal writers telling ‘Aboriginal’ stories is that Aboriginal writers aren’t just telling a story: they “use writing as a form of catharsis. They use it as a means to make sure that their voice has a place in Australian literature. They use their writing as a means of having a political voice in a country where we still remain voice-less in a political system…”

Our local public library has a large and varied collection of Indigenous Literature, albeit in the adult collection. This seems to be a reflection of the lower publication rates for Indigenous literature targeting the children audience.

Ensuring Aboriginal voices are heard in our schools, from a very young age is vital. As a K-6 Librarian it can be difficult at times to access Indigenous texts that are not tokenistic representations. Our school is committed to developing a Library Collection that reflects the diversity of our student population and this includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Thankfully, more and more picture books and primary novels are being written by Indigenous people, telling authentic stories of their family, community and spirituality.

The Cross-curriculum priority area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Culture from the Australian Curriculum calls specifically for “all learners to deepen their knowledge of Australia by engaging with the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.” [so that] “This knowledge and understanding will enrich their ability to participate positively in the ongoing development of Australia.” (Education Services Australia, n.d. Par 3).

This priority interconnects aspects of Country/Place, People and Culture. Texts that I recommend for investigating these aspects with K-6 children include:

stolengirl_Trina SStolen Girl, by Trina Saffioti & Illustrated by Norma MacDonald (Middle/Upper Primary). This is a fictional story about the stolen generation.

collecting-colourCollecting Colour, by Kylie Dunstan (All ages). This gorgeous fiction picture book is based on the author’s experiences in Arnhem Land of collecting vines and reeds for the Aboriginal women to use for weaving.

memory shed_sally morganThe Memory Shed, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Illustrated by Craig Smith (All ages). This is the story of a young girl helping her Grandmother clean out the shed for a garage sale. Each item has a story. It references the Depression and bush tucker.

F/cov
F/cov

Stradbroke Dreamtime, by  Oodgeroo Nunukul & B Bancroft (All ages) contains 27 short stories. It is a particular favourite as a read aloud, providing insight into Old and New Dreaming stories with beautiful illustrations. It can be applied to a variety of student investigations in English, Mathematics, Science and Technology.

References

Literature Cited

  • Dunstan, K. (2009). Collecting Colour. Sydney : Lothian Children’s Books
  • Morgan, S., Kwaymullina, E. & Smith, C. (Illustrator). (2015). The Memory Shed. Parkside, SA : Omnibus Books
  • Saffioti, T. & MacDonald (Illustrator). (2011). Stolen Girl. Sydney : Lothian Children’s Books
  • Oodgeroo Nunukul & Bancroft, B. (1999). Stradbroke Dreamtime. Pymble, N.S.W. : Angus&Robertson

Is reading for meaning dead?

(Critics) are not recognising or do not want to recognise that the former traditional approaches to alphabetic literacy through reading print are not meeting the needs of young people who read texts much differently than the generations of teachers and educators who are teaching them.(p. 42)

Zipes, J (2009)

Zipes 2009 Relentless progress: The reconfiguration of children’s literature, fairy tales, and storytelling is rightly confounded by the consumeristic nature of the publishing industry and the denigration of children’s reading to elements of decoding information alone. Essentially, he laments the lack of critical literacy infused in reading programs in schools in America.

I am unable to comment on the state of the education system in America as I have only taught in New South Wales, Australia, however, in the 6 years since Zipes wrote this text, much has changed here. The Australian Curriculum was introduced in all Australian States and Territories in the last few years, with new English and Mathematics curricular now implemented and Science, History and Geography in various stages of implementation throughout the States and Territories.

One of the most significant changes in the Curriculum that poses the most challenges for implementation by teachers, aims to address Zipes concerns about the continuing focus on alphabetic literacy through reading print. In fact, I would argue that here, in Australia, teacher training and professional development has consistently aimed to embed new technologies and literacies, at least for the past five years. This is further strengthened by the Australian Curriculum’s incorporation of information and communication technologies as one of the seven general capabilities that are applied across subject-based content (Toner, 2011).

Teacher Librarians have a significant role to play in addressing multimodal and multiliteracy teaching and learning practices. We are well-placed to lead teachers in technology enhancements for their current teaching. We can improve access to a wide range of print, screen and manipulative resources and promote these for integration into teaching and learning experiences. We can locate and source multimodal resources and provide LibGuides for teachers to integrate with their own units.

However, one of the most significant areas that Teacher Librarians can impact on children’s critical literacy skills is in the general capabilities which run through all content areas. Capability ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ is really our bread and butter. The essential skills for critical and creative thinking closely match information literacy skills. As Toner (2011) suggests, these skills include:

  • “posing insightful and purposeful questions
  • suspending judgement about a situation to consider the big picture and alternative pathways
  • generating and developing ideas and possibilities
  • analysing information logically and making reasoned judgements
  • evaluating ideas, creating solutions and drawing conclusions
  • assessing the feasibility, possible risks and benefits in the implementation of their ideas
  • reflecting on thinking, actions and processes
  • transferring their knowledge to new situations.” (Page 2).
Wild Things by geraldbrazell
Wild Things, by geraldbrazell. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/geraldbrazell/6389453857

In Kindergarten through to Grade Two there is a strong focus on high quality stories from a wide range of cultural perspectives, using complex characters and motivations. This is the beginning of explicit inferential comprehension of characters, language features, story structure and ethics. It is the teacher Librarians’ role here to ensure that the school library is well-stocked and the catalogue has easy access to a wide variety of print, screen and multimedia resources to meet these aims. Similarly, as the concepts become more challenging and complex so too must the resources.

Will this refocus on ‘meaning’ and the purpose of the writer mean that the reduction in reading for pleasure as adults will be stemmed? It is too early to say. But one thing is clear. Far from Zipes suggestion that we are neglecting reading without meaning, teaching and learning practices in Australia are very focused on engaging students through their preferred modes of instruction and explicitly teach critical literacy skills.

References

Is NAPLAN killing creativity? (ETL504)

Sir Ken Robinson is a renowned expert on creativity. He believes that creativity is a vital element of 21st Century learning. In his Teaching for the 21st Century journal interview, also at ASCD’s Educational Leadership blog, he discusses the vital connection between creativity and critical thinking, two essential 21st century skills.

The linkages between the two are quite apparent when we consider that critical thinking is an integral part of the inquiry learning process and that creativity is required to transform the elements achieved through critical thought and new knowledge gain and application into new information, new media or new technology. Of course the two are linked!

Given that creativity and critical thinking go hand in hand, why, in Australia, do we still use standardised tests and League Table websites to measure student performance and teacher effectiveness? I found myself yelling at the television last Sunday night as Ray Martin, from 60 Minutes, traipsed over to New York to discuss Australia’s standardised testing of all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, with the ‘founder’ of this approach, previous New York education chief, Joel Klein. Still committed to his system, Klein clearly asserted that poor student performance in literacy and numeracy are the direct result of poor teachers. During his time he closed the lowest ranking schools and sacked many teachers but, when asked about his proudest achievement through this program, he cited an increase in high school graduation rates! I would suggest that most students in developed countries throughout the world are staying in school longer (therefore ‘graduating’) naturally, as part of cultural norms and global economic conditions.

As a profession, teaching is not an easy job. Sure, outsiders look at the holidays (What! Am I on holidays? I’m still undertaking professional development, planning next Term’s Programs, completing my performance review documents for meeting with my Supervisor, developing a presentation on “Engaging with Texts” as part of the new Australian Curriculum and exploring a variety of new technology tools to assess these for inclusion in my program and provide practical examples for other teachers to use in theirs. Oh, yeah, planning my 6 year old’s birthday party is my down time!). All jokes aside, I can say from experience working in a number of corporations as a Manager prior to retraining as a teacher and now, as a Teacher Librarian, nothing is as difficult as teaching. Nothing that I’ve done has been more rewarding, either.

So why the bad wrap? I don’t doubt that there are some teachers who probably shouldn’t be teachers anymore. They’ve lost the passion or the motivation and, from my experience, many of these teachers have been worn down by NAPLAN. So where does the actual problem lie? Should we be helping these teachers be the best they can be, recover their passion and enjoy teaching once more, through better teacher training, like in Korea, Finland and Singapore, or should we continue to flog the dead horse that is NAPLAN?

Anna Patty’s 2011 article in The Sydney Morning Herald made just this point. She said, “The big question is why Australia would want to emulate a country like the US where academic performance standards are, on average, much lower.” As part of this article, Patty interviewed Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, who advised that Klein’s model has failed America, resulting in a narrowing of the school curriculum and teaching to the test. Again, why are we flogging this dead horse?

I remember my school days fondly. I had mostly great teachers, who were inspiring and funny and, we didn’t always follow the ‘plan’ (that was obvious to even us back then!). I performed well academically and I thank those teachers who were organised and structured (despite the turmoil of the educational system in the 70’s) but I also thank those teachers who were creative and funny and flexible and a bit disorganised, because they also taught me to be flexible, help others, be responsible for my own learning and live life to the fullest (21st Century skills?).

I think that the new Australian Curriculum attempts to embed creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, deep knowledge and understanding but with the shadow of NAPLAN ever-looming it’s efforts are limited. I commend those teachers who are able balance the two effectively and welcome them to share their wisdom with all. Teacher Librarians can take a significant leadership role in fostering creativity. We already do so as part of our inquiry learning processes and we need to share these with our classroom colleagues to gain transfer across the curriculum.

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