Saturday, October 18, 2014
A school library within a global community
I wrote this article for Cengage Gale's School Blog. It can be accessed here.
Working in an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, as a school librarian, presents the opportunity to focus on a more global perspective and to have set expectations when it comes to research and information literacy. What really stands out to me is that research is at the core of the IB curriculum and at the high school level it takes the form of an Extended Essay. What is even more exciting is that the role of the school librarian is clearly written in the Extended Essay Course Guide.
The Extended Essay is a 4,000 word investigation into an academic area that the student has a personal interest in. The subject the student chooses should be one that the student has taken an IB course in and understands the fundamental methodology of that subject area. The students are then expected to take what they learned in class and apply it to their topic of choice.
For the sciences, in order for the student to score well they have to carry out an investigation (usually a lab), and not just report on things that have already been done. Students have to come up with a research question that will allow them to set up and carry out a lab procedure that will test their hypothesis. They need to collect data, analyze, calculate and display in charts and graphs evidence leading to their conclusion.
For the humanities, like history, students have a different way of collecting data. For the Extended Essay, students must choose a topic with a lot of primary and secondary sources available. Students need to look at the historiography of their topic. They need to be able to research orthodox and revisionist interpretations from historians and based on primary sources, students need to come to their own conclusions. They are encouraged to agree or disagree with historians and state their reasons why. These are some of the ways that the Extended Essay is an investigation and not a traditional report.
The role of the school librarian is critical in this process because the work starts in 9th grade (at the high school level) and continues on through the 12th grade. Students cannot be successful in the Extended Essay without a solid foundation in research basics. Part of the Extended Essay rubric grades “quality of sources.” Students need to demonstrate that they can find monographs, academic journals, magazines, and newspaper articles. It is the school librarian’s job to teach students that research databases provide access to a variety of sources. It will then be up to students to demonstrate they can find a variety of sources for their specific topic. It is also a perfect opportunity to teach students how to use inter-library loan through either their school library or public library.
The IB Extended Essay is an opportunity to do academic research at the high school level. It really prepares students for research at the university level. Students who complete the IB program have been taught research skills so that they know to establish the credibility of an author, they can create a Works Cited or Bibliography, they know how to parenthetically cite (or footnote) their sources, they understand that a variety of quality sources will give them will give them credibility as researchers as opposed to taking the easy way out and uncritically surfing the internet.
I also think that a well done Extended Essay makes students realize that there are a variety of perspectives on every imaginable topic. In order to be a good researcher, one has to acknowledge that all these different perspectives exist and make issues complicated. A global citizen needs to be aware of all the different viewpoints before coming up with their own opinion and justifying it. As a teacher and a librarian, I believe this is a life long skill. Knowing that my library has to be prepared for all kinds of research is challenging, but fun. It takes me a long time to do collection development, both print and online, but it’s satisfying to know that my students are going off to college with a solid grasp of academic research.