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Deeper Learning, Inquiry, and the Teacher Librarian

 While teacher librarians would like to claim center stage when it comes to inquiry, many other experts and organizations besides AASL claim inquiry as their specialty. From our perspective, such initiatives often run on parallel tracks without the acknowledgement of other ideas. Discussions about inquiry are most often insular, turf proactive, and an effort to gain traction in a crowded field of educational ideas.

Models of inquiry are commonplace, ranging from those in the field of librarianship to the ISTE standards for students, to the four Cs, and to the efforts from such organizations as Edutopia. Recently, an amazing document has appeared from an organization named Digital Promice. They are in the business of creating and issuing micro credentials. The idea is that educators would decide for themselves a goal of excellence—something they want to know and be able to do—and then assemble a group of “short courses” that would be individually tailored for each person. Instead of a district or state defining a goal and a required pathway to demonstrate expertise, the responsibility rests with the individual to design their own pathway where their strengths aren’t over-used and their weaknesses can be addressed in short, or micro, units that document expertise. Such pathways are disruptive to the “normal” way of doing things, and whether school districts and states can recognize such competencies is the chief concern toward further development of the idea.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-1-58-19-pmThe document issued by Digital Promise ( is titled: Developing a System of Micro-credentials: Supporting Deeper Learning in the Classroom and can be dowloaded at:

The publication outlines six major ideas in a framework that describes the behavior of learners who are adept at deeper learning. Below, I present the six major framework ideas and after each, and in Italics, summarize a longer set of descriptive statements. The reader is encouraged to consult the original document for the full exposition of ideas. Here is the shortened version:

Framework for Deeper Learning

  1. Master core academic content
    1. Know and understanding content knowledge
  2. Think critically and solve complex problems
    1. Become a smart learner
  3. Work collaboratively
    1. Be effective as a team member
  4. Communicate effectively
    1. Create and deliver clear messages
  5. Learn how to learn
    1. Become a great learner
  6. Develop academic mindsets
    1. Act like a pro                        

The framework above is then used by an educator to check personal knowledge and recognize deficiencies. Then the document describes some 40 micro courses that the educator can select from to build and demonstrate competence in the entire framework. It is like starting with a puzzle picture for which you might have half the pieces and then “earning” the rest of the pieces to complete the puzzle.

For the teacher librarian, merging the information and technology environment with the deeper learning projects going on in the classroom makes a great deal of sense. The advantage to any teacher who collaborates with the teacher librarian is that together they face an increasingly diverse group of students in their classrooms. The opportunity to mentor diversity in a personalized way with a plethora of tools and a variety of information makes a huge difference if one looks at the percentage of students in the class who meet expectations.

However, the mastery of what is already known about any area of topical knowledge is just one piece of a larger role that library learning commons can play. Consider carefully the following role target.

Complementary Functions of the Library Learning Commons

Suppose we embrace the idea that a young person can not only master the known, but can contribute novel and inventive ideas to the pool of knowledge. Such a position has not generally been considered as a part of education, but young entrepreneurs, inventors, and creative kids constantly prove adults wrong in this arena. Every year the President of the U.S. recognizes young inventors, and a search of YouTube or a visit to a Maker Faire reminds us all that there is a huge hole if we only encourage the young in a single effort. The picture below encourages teacher librarians to create an environment in the library learning commons where knowledge can be created as well as mastered.


After a visit to a Maker Faire in New York City a couple of years ago, I and two other colleagues sat down to reflect on what we had seen during the Faire. Kids and teens had created amazing things, and we saw the process a creative person goes through on the path to creation and invention. The uTEC Maker Model was the result and it is pictured below with its accompanying description of stages from “using” to “creating.”

The uTEC Maker Model



  • Enjoying; Sampling; Engaging; Playing: Participate or experience what others have created


  • Playing, Messing Around, Questioning, Researching: Making Personal changes to Other’s creation


  • Building/Trying/Failing; Repurposing: Modifying and testing theories; Learning from failure / success


  • Inventing; Producing; Entrepreneurship: Novel product; Ideas; Innovations

What we observed as we interacted with young inventors was not just the path they had taken toward creativity, but also the development of various dispositions along the way that mirrored many of the dispositions recognized in the push toward deeper learning. The major difference was that instead of being required to summarize what others knew, the emphasis of the adults was to liberate the young learner toward the creativity pathway. It was our own discovery of what Sir Ken Robinson has been advocating now across the world.

Thus, I recommend, and really challenge, each teacher librarian, school administrator, and classroom teacher to consider is whether the dual role is already at work in the school. If not, or even if it is undeveloped, imagine how the environment of the traditional library could be transformed to embrace creativity, making, inventing, and doing as a partnership with content mastery. Carol Koeschlin and I’s newly revised website dealing with the transformation to a library learning commons might be a great starting point or a checklist for those already working in the transformation.


September 7, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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