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A school library's role in implementing VELS

Elaine Kulinski
Maureen Allen
Elaine Kulinski and Maureen Allen are teacher librarians at St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College

Students ‘need to develop a set of knowledge, skills and behaviours which will prepare them for success in a world which is complex, rapidly changing, rich in information and communications technology, demanding high-order knowledge and understanding, and increasingly global in its outlook and influences' (VELS: Educational purposes, principles and values). In this article we hope to illustrate the contribution that a school library and trained teacher librarians can make in preparing students to meet these challenges.

St Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College is a P–12 school with approximately 600 students, which serves the Coptic community across Melbourne. Students come mainly from a Middle Eastern background, and for some English is their second language. The library provides a joint learning and study laboratory for the college’s primary and the secondary schools. The full-time position of teacher librarian is shared between two staff. Two part-time library technicians work a total of eight days each week.

This year the library has taken part in the implementation of VELS at St Mary’s.

The VELS curriculum

The Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) have been introduced this year as the new P–10 curriculum in Victorian schools. VELS retains traditional subjects as one of three strands. The other strands cover interdisciplinary learning and physical, personal and social learning. The strands are interwoven and taught together. Conceptually, however, each strand is broken into two subordinate tiers, referred to as domains and dimensions. For example, the Physical Personal and Social Learning strand includes the domain Personal learning, which in turn includes the dimension Managing personal learning, while the Discipline-based strand includes the History domain and the dimension Historical reasoning and interpretation. VELS also sets out knowledge and skill acquisition that students should be striving to achieve for particular levels. There are six levels, which are ‘broadly equivalent to Prep and Years 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10’ (VELS Overview, p 8).

Helping to implement VELS at St Mary’s

School libraries are well placed to work with a curriculum that combines subject-based and interdisciplinary content, and library staff at St Mary’s work closely with teachers to create such units of work for students. In the project-based ‘Journey Unit’, for example, Year 8 students were given the brief to conduct an interview with a relative or friend who had migrated to Australia. They had to investigate why each individual made the commitment to leave their homeland. In collaboration with the English/SOSE teachers who initiated the ‘Journey’s Unit’, the teacher librarian built on the project by providing further extension and enrichment resources. Using this approach, the teacher librarian became a member of a successful integrated teaching team.

Students were required to look at both primary and secondary resources. The teacher librarian provided a wide range of suitable references, including novels, and taught students how to use relevant online resources. The unit combined the VELS dimensions of Historical and geographical knowledge and understanding, and Historical reasoning and interpretation, within the Discipline-based strand. It simultaneously involved the Listening, viewing and responding dimension of the Communication domain, and elements of the ICT domain, within the Interdisciplinary Learning strand.

The Journey unit is also an example of how students are taught how to evaluate books and Internet sites by considering their ease of use, coverage, currency, accuracy and authority. The teacher librarian instructs students on how to use a computer for academic purposes, and how to search online resources, including the school catalogue. Students are often taught on an informal basis how to select, retrieve and print out the required data at the higher level of thinking.

The Reasoning, processing and inquiry dimension of VELS has clear relevance to the school library and the teacher librarian. It ‘encompasses the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to enable students to inquire into the world around them, and to use critical thinking to analyse and evaluate information they encounter. Students learn to assemble and question information and develop opinions based on informed judgments. They also develop the capacity to transform information into coherent knowledge structures’ (VELS, Thinking processes). At St Mary’s College the teacher librarian helps students individually or in groups to select, organise, assess and present information.

The teacher librarian works closely with the Year 7 and 8 literacy teachers. Each week the teacher librarian participates in the delivery of the literature program, which gives 60 students authentic learning tasks. The teacher librarian also oversees the implementation of the Integrated Primary Library Program, which aims to develop and extends students' research skills.

The language Syriac is an important subject at the school. The subject requires high-quality resources that are suitable not just for delivery of content knowledge about the language, but also to support authentic learning tasks associated with the VELS requirements. The teacher librarian was called on for expert search knowledge to obtain a specialist multimedia resource, which was ultimately located at a Syrian monastery in the Netherlands.

The teacher librarian also of course plays a prominent role in the promotion of a love of literature. Reading professional reviews and keeping abreast of the latest novels are important aspects of the teacher librarian’s professional duties. The teacher librarian was the organiser of the college's recent Primary Book Week celebrations. The celebrations included a favourite book character parade, two incursions, a visit from a storyteller who gave the children an Egyptian version of Cinderella, and a theatre group that dramatised scenes from books that were short-listed for Children’s Book Week. A range of literature-focused and art-based activities based on The Arts and English domains were also planned and presented by the teacher librarian in conjunction with classroom teachers.

The approach taken for the compulsory years feeds into the post-VELS senior years’ curriculum. The teacher librarian has compiled and maintained a resource guide offering advice on study strategies and related tasks, such as how to write a bibliography.

The library has provided a vibrant study and learning laboratory that actively supports the whole school curriculum. The library's role in the college reflects the support it has received from College Director, Father Tadros Sharobeam. That support reflects the efforts made by the schools’ teacher librarians to demonstrate the value of the library in addressing students' learning needs.

References

Victorian Essential Learning Standards, Introduction to the Standards, Educational purposes, principles and values.

Victorian Essential Learning Standards, Introduction to the Standards, Overview.

Victorian Essential Learning Standards, P–10 Curriculum and Standards, Interdisciplinary Learning, Thinking Processes.

KLA

Subject Headings

Teacher-Librarians
School libraries
Curriculum planning
Victoria