As the 2018 school year ends, two reports – one about the durability of NCEA and the other about school management and governance – were released for public submissions. Their analyses identify the weaknesses inherent in a pervasively outcomes-based system, a market modeled competitive educational culture, and a singular focus on measurement to assess school effectiveness. The processes of quality learning and teaching – the craft of the job – have taken a back seat to highly regulated workplaces, the pressure for continuous improvement, intensified workloads, and poor conditions for highly skilled work few it seems to see any future in. This has cumulatively generated the very ‘outcomes’ reforms since 1990 aimed to challenge:  plateauing achievement, growing educational inequalities, teacher shortages, and ineffective national and local school management structures.  In these two latest reports, I detect a discernible shift away from manufactured achievement, towards the promotion of learning as a quality process designed to develop the curious, skilled and critical learner.

And therein lies the connection with the work of this research project, and why it matters for quality teaching and learning. Teachers across our participating schools – and there is a diverse range of decile, character and ethnic representation – are noting that within the teacher-librarian collaborative practice, otherwise passive, reluctant (and perhaps entitled) students began to do it for themselves. Their eyes moved away from what they have to hand in (and getting the right grade), to looking at how they could find out stuff, organize it, synthesise it and shape it all into an assessment submission that felt more genuinely theirs than a compliant imitation of intensive teacher focused instruction. Students tell us they didn’t know the librarian could do all that ‘search stuff’, and once shown how, were confident to carry on ‘researching and reporting’.  Indeed comments from all parties point to classrooms and libraries, and libraries as classrooms, where genuine inquiry was under way, learning was authentically student-centred, and the shared teaching was more about guiding, cajoling, suggesting and critiquing.

St Own their Learning

If I had to describe the look on participants’ faces as they described these things, it would be ‘surprise’ – surprised that submitted tasks were a step up on those of previous teacher-led years, surprised that students were more confidently active and involved, surprised that the librarians ‘knew heaps’ about researching, and surprised that learning could be enjoyably challenging, and hard but good.  It seems as if, echoing the two national reports, the collaboration refocused students, teachers and librarians on how to learn subject content, what skills and strategies needed to be developed, and who to ask for help.  Perhaps though the most important affect was change:  of teachers changing their habits, of changes in students’ attitudes and confidence, and of the new appreciation all have for the librarian’s skills.  And inside this change, maybe we have the rebuilding of trust in a genuine instructional process that will generate authentic learning, knowledge building and assessment.

The neo-liberal project dating from a generation ago (remember the PICOT Report, Tomorrow’s Schools, and self-regulating educational markets?) deserves the critical attention it is now receiving. We would not claim that the Information Literacy Spaces project is a panacea with which to respond to the emerging issues, but it does add to that store of educational expertise, disregarded or willfully ignored since the 1980s, about how to make subject content instruction and its assessment, an engaging and genuine learning process for all those people at the whiteboard face.

I’m an optimist and see signs that the worm may just be turning.

Ken Kilpin, Senior Tutor and Researcher, Massey University

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Images from: Student-Centred Learning, Worms are turning