New Jersey Impact of School Libraries on Student Learning
During 2003-2005, CISSL undertook a research and development project "The Impact of School Libraries on Student Learning," funded by the Institute for Museums and Library Services to provide sustained empirical evidence of the impact of school libraries on student learning, and in doing so, provide an easy-to-use and reliable measurement toolkit to enable school librarian and teacher teams to show the growth of student learning through Guided Inquiry. The research involved 574 students from 10 diverse public schools in New Jersey undertaking inquiry-based projects. The students were from grades 6 to 12, and were learning a range of curriculum topics, such as Middle Ages, Westward expansion and chemical compounds .The study involved 10 teacher-school librarian teams, consisting of 10 school librarians working on 17 different curriculum projects with 17 classroom teachers.
The research sought to measure student learning in multidimensional ways including growth of knowledge of their curriculum topic, interest, feelings, and experiences during the inquiry process, and their reflections on their learning. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were used to examine and measure the students' learning. The data were collected at three stages of the students' inquiry process : at the initiation of the research task, midway during the task, and at the completion of the task. Data were collected through three short survey instruments which captured responses to open-ended questions as well as categorical responses. At the completion of their research task, the students were asked the same questions as in the previous questionnaires, and additionally asked to reflect on what they had learnt through their projects.
The Student Learning through Inquiry Measure (SLIM) toolkit was further developed and refined from this process, including feedback from participating school teams, critical feedback from the school library research community and further verification from school librarian-teacher teams not involved in the initial research. This testing and refining has shown that this toolkit is workable in a school setting and capable of documenting learning outcomes of Guided Inquiry units lead by school librarian-teacher teams. The SLIM toolkit can be used in various settings, involving a diversity of curriculum topics and grades.
Through using the toolkit in the New Jersey schools, the school librarian-teacher teams were able to show several key learning outcomes that could be documented through applying the SLIM toolkit:
they learned topical content in two predominant ways: fact finding as an additive approach to knowledge building, and integrative / transformative approach which went well beyond describing the topic, to showing understanding of complex concepts and explanatory and predictive relationships of topical content and reflecting on this:
they became more skillful and confident as information seekers;
they became increasingly engaged, interested and reflective during their learning process, and saw information seeking as a constructive process of building both deep knowledge and deep understanding
they became more critically aware of the broad variety of sources and their different purposes;
they gained practical skills in independent information seeking;
they underwent a significant conceptual change regarding information. They showed increasing awareness of the varied quality of information, as well as information as a problematic and often contradictory, construct that needed to be scrutinized in the process of building new understandings. This altered their conception of information seeking as fact-finding into a broader reflective notion.