Oakleaf, Megan and Amy VanScoy (2010). Instructional Strategies for Digital Reference: Methods to Facilitate Student Learning. Reference & User Services Quarterly vol. 49, no.4 380-390.
“When people actively participate in real-world activities and problem solving, learning occurs.”
-Megan Oakleaf and Amy VanScoy
Are librarians utilizing the “full instructional potential” of reference services? This is the question Megan Oakleaf and Amy VanScoy set out to investigate in their article, Instructional Strategies for Digital Reference: Methods to Facilitate Student Learning. Oakleaf and VanScoy believe that librarians are doing a reasonably good job of guiding patrons through the research process, but are letting many more prime ”teachable moments” pass by (Oakleaf & VanScoy, p. 380). By focussing, like classroom teachers, on specific instructional strategies when engaging with students during reference transactions, these researchers believe that librarians can have a greater impact on student achievement and success. Indeed, they point out that all of the scenarios that reference librarians face involve real-world activities and issues, and thus, the opportunity exists to provide students with authentic learning experiences. Overall, the authors urge librarians to take every opportunity to maximize their impact on student learning (Oakleaf & VanScoy, p. 386). Expanding on the older but reasonable theory of ‘show, don’t tell,’ this article goes one step further and argues for ‘teach, don’t just show.’
The eight specific instructional strategies are outlined in the article, are worthwhile making note of here:
1. Catch them being good (praise works! Reinforce positive steps)
2. Think aloud (be less of an expert and more of a thinker; be transparent)
3. Show, don’t tell (demonstrate the process and make it interactive)
4. Chunk it up (divide the project into manageable sections)
5. Let them drive (be a guided observer)
6. Be the Welcome Wagon (be welcoming and supportive)
7. Make introductions (to other professionals who might also help)
8. Share secret knowledge (release the ‘tricks of the trade”)
What is especially interesting about this article is the fact that specific scripts are provided to demonstrate how each type of strategy can be used in a real librarian–student transaction. The researchers used 150 digital reference transcripts (digital reference transactions include instant messaging, chat rooms, co-browsing websites with students, etc. as part of library reference services) to demonstrate how to make each transaction successful and productive.
An elementary teacher librarian can take away many ideas from this article. While school libraries do not generally provide digital reference services in the same way as university libraries, the message is the same: maximize every ounce of the ‘teachable moment’ in your interaction with a student. Guiding students through the steps of solving a research problem can provide so many opportunities for self-guided learning and discovery. As Riedling also suggests, when it comes to reference services, “each question is unique: therefore, each process will be unique as well” (Riedling, 2005).
Elementary teacher librarians will also benefit from continual professional development, as urged in this article. Keeping abreast of new digital and general reference materials will always be of benefit to students. Teacher librarians must also remember to continually reconfirm their role as an instructor, not ‘just’ a librarian. Too often, we get bogged down with the ‘administrivia’ of school library management, and forget that our primary role is that of educator. Lastly, TLs need to keep in mind that individualized, personal, and meaningful service to students is the kind of transaction that will produce the best results and most authentic student learning.
Additional Works Cited:
Riedling, Ann (2005). Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist: Tools and Tips (2nd ed). Linworth Publishing Inc: Worthington, Ohio.