Stoking the Flame of Inquiry

By 2019-12-05 12:21:18

Dan Zimmerman gives his students greater agency to appreciate the library at SCIS

What value do you feel most strongly about as an educator?

I took a course a couple of years ago where the professor challenged us to think about our “Why”. Why is it that we chose to be educators? My “Why” is about providing a safe and nurturing place where children can grow to reach their potential in whatever area that may be. I feel the most strongly about being a part of a community where students feel appreciated as individuals and secure enough to take risks with their intellectual curiosity. I think of the saying that is often attributed to the Greek philosopher Plutarch that a mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. For the fire to really take hold, the conditions need to be right, that is very important to me.

These days schools are getting a lot better at doing things like inquiry based learning, and are providing students with a wider range of opportinuties to find out what it is that will get their own fires going. A thing that educators often hear is that we are preparing students to work in jobs that don’t exist yet. Where they will need to have skills like being open minded, creative problem solvers, strong communicators, and be able to work collaboratively. I value the love of learning and the passion of discovery, and my job is being a part of a place that nurtures those things.

What made you love literature or the Arts and how can you share this with your pupils at SCIS?

My parents, especially my father, were instrumental in developing my love of literature. I grew up in a house full of books, and they modeled reading for pleasure as well as reading to learn. My parents used to put us to bed at night by reading out loud to us and some of the books that they read I love to this day. I still read before bed almost every day, although sometimes this can be a bit of a curse because I have had a great story ruin a good nights sleep for me on many occasions.

Can you remember your first memory of a library? How does SCIS try to encourage children to use the library more often?

I remember from very early in my life, that during the summer, my mother used to take the three children in my family and sometimes our friends to use the swimming pool at our school just about every day that the weather allowed. After we swam, we would usually stop by the school library and pick up some books to read at home that evening. I loved the library from an early age and I try to create that same experience for my daughter when I can.

At SCIS, one of the key things that we do to encourage students to use the library is to give them a lot of access to it. They come with their teacher as a class once every four days, but we are also open during recess and after school. Teachers frequently send small groups down to the library to work on projects or to do research. Parents are welcome to come and check out books for their children. We try to make it a place that is open and welcoming as much as possible.

Has the image of a library and librarian changed now in the modern era of teaching?

Libraries have changed a lot from what I remember a library being when I was a child. In terms of the physical space, you often see fewer books, more open spaces, flexible and comfortable seating, collaborative work spaces. A modern library isn’t necessarily quiet all of the time. This is very different to the rows of shelves and firm requests to shush that I remember. When a student comes to me with a request to find information about a topic, these days they are probably more likely to get a list of websites than a stack of books. Of course, I do strongly believe that there is still an important place for traditional paper, ink, and glue. I suspect that for all of its amazing powers, technology will never be able to fully replace a traditional book. I do recognise that I may have some slight bias on this subject.

How can parents encourage their children to read more at home? 

About a year ago I was at a presentation by former teacher who is now quite well known as a teacher trainer, especially a trainer of teaching literacy. One of my favorite moments in her presentation was when she asked us all to think about what makes someone start to love reading for pleasure. Her answer was that it is a combination of interest and access. It seems simple when you hear it, but basically the trick is to find books that interest them, and make these books available. The part that is hard for parents is that sometimes they want to guide the book selection in certain directions or try to ensure that the level of the book is what they think is appropriate. Levelled texts are an important teaching tool, but for parents, I would advise them that they will probably get better results if they focus their attention on interest rather than level. Frequently parents will suggest books that are far too difficult for their children to read independently or be overly critical of a book that a child self selected because it is perceived to be too easy or “not a real book”. I often have parents approach me to complain that although their child loves to read, they only read a certain kind of book. While I love to help introduce new genres and authors to people, this kind of thinking doesn’t seem particularly helpful to me.

How can we encourage a child into literature without deterring them by being overly pushy?

I want to encourage parents to let their children have some agency (choice) in what they read, while holding them to the expectation that they read. For example, allow a child to read a graphic novel, but with the expectation that they will actually read rather than only look at the pictures, and ideally, have a short discussion about the book afterward. I also think its important for parents to model being readers in front of their children. My daughter knows that I read for pleasure, she hears me talk about books that I have enjoyed, we go to book stores together. I try to create a home environment where we all read because we enjoy it.