School Library Monthly/Volume XXVI, Number 5/January 2010
Learning for Life: Applying the AASL Standards
by Pat Franklin and Claire Gatrell Stephens
Pat Franklin is a library media specialist at Timber Creek High School in East Orlando, Florida and is a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media. Claire Stephens is also a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media and has worked as a library media specialist first at the middle school level and most recently at Freedom High School in south Orlando, FL. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
When the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) first released the new Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, controversy arose because many school librarians thought that they were vague and de-emphasized information skill instruction. Many school librarians had trouble visualizing how the program would be applied in their school and work with their state standards. This year, the Management Matters column in SLM is exploring the implementation of the new AASL standards and the Learning 4 Life (L4L) program. This month the focus is on application. How do school librarians know if the standards are working in their schools? A common curriculum example follows and shows the school librarian how the new AASL standards look in action.
A physical education (PE) teacher approaches the school librarian. The teacher wants to create a unit about good nutrition and exercise for her students. Over the next few days, the school librarian and PE teacher collaborate on the lesson and a plan emerges. They will work with the fifth grade class by dividing the topic into areas such as the various food groups, food preparation techniques, and types and benefits of various kinds of exercise. After researching their topics, students will produce PowerPoint presentations for the school's in-house closed circuit system and the school's Web site so that their findings can be shared with both the school and community.
This lesson provides a great opportunity for collaborative teaching—and not just for the school librarian and PE teacher. If they reach out, they might find the students' English and science teachers are interested in getting involved too. For the students, this scenario provides a great opportunity for inquiry-based learning as they begin to identify the various benefits of good nutrition and exercise and then start generating possible questions to explore the topic. Perhaps most importantly, for the school librarian, this scenario provides a great opportunity to apply the new L4L concepts and AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.
In fact, all four of the AASL standards can easily be found in this scenario, but for purposes of this month’s Management Matters, the emphasis is on the second standard: "Learners use skills, resources, and tools to draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge" (American Library Association 2007).
Applying the Standard
Initially, the students involved in this nutrition/exercise study go through a process of generating questions and locating information to answer their questions. These steps are part of the first standard, which requires students to "inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge" (American Library Association 2007). As the students begin their research, the school librarian can see the students demonstrating the example standard. As the students locate information, they need to draw conclusions about what they find. They identify facts and details, recognize similarities and differences in the information, and start to formulate inferences about nutrition and exercise based on their research. Each of these activities is classified as a skill example of Standard 2. Students might demonstrate their process with a graphic organizer or by note taking.
As the students continue working with their information, they organize their findings and begin to decide what information is useful for their project and what is not. They might return to their first question list or prediction list about the topic. They then begin to connect the knowledge they've discovered about nutrition and exercise to their world. They might analyze a typical school lunch or keep food diaries for a day and then compare their findings to the research. Again, these activities provide evidence that the students are learning the skills necessary to effectively draw conclusions and apply their knowledge.
Finally, the students must create their PowerPoint presentations. This process also demonstrates Standard 2 as the students practice the writing process to develop the text for their slides and develop the visual literacy skills needed to create effective presentations. The PowerPoint presentations demonstrate the new knowledge gained by the students and provide a means to share their insights about diet and exercise with others.
New and Familiar
The activities described in this example take place each day in schools and are also covered in state and national standards. Identifying facts and details, extracting relevant information, learning to document findings, and discovering applications for knowledge are how school librarians teach students to become critical thinkers capable of being independent learners. This is the core of the AASL's L4L program and the new standards. Putting the new standards in action does not require starting over.
To begin L4L implementation, the school librarian may simply need to become familiar with the new standards and consider how they look in action. For example, a beginning step is to consider what students should do that demonstrates critical thinking in drawing conclusions (Standard 2, Indicator 2.2.3). Students often jump to a conclusion with only the briefest of evidence to support the claim. When this happens, the teacher and school librarian typically challenge the students. Perhaps they ask a series of leading questions or provide additional resources for consideration. The students then begin to develop new conclusions that are more probable. The school librarian and the teacher typically continue to work with students until they are able to articulate conclusions based on solidly documented evidence. This documentation could include information from student notes, graphic organizers, outlines, and source citations.
This process is accomplished by students at all grade levels. In elementary school, students might be asked to simply compare their new ideas with what they knew when they started the research. By middle school, students might work in collaborative groups and have more choice in how they demonstrate their learning. In high school, students might be expected to recognize multiple causes for the same issue or event and then apply real-world and personal connections along with the evidence gained through research to support their conclusions.
Most school librarians can easily embrace the new standards because they are already teaching them. Some may have to add a few new tricks to their repertoire in order to support the multimedia and multiple literacies mentioned in the standards. But, that is a necessary part of professional development. For example, many school librarians have begun to embrace Web 2.0 technologies in the past few years by learning how to create wikis and conducting online book club discussion groups. These technologies were unheard of ten years ago, but good school librarians recognize the need to meet the needs of students in their world. This may also mean adapting to and including things like social networking sites into the school library programs. These are all ways to meet the needs of today's students.
L4L and the new AASL standards do not require school librarians to start over. In fact, most current lessons and state standards fit right in with the new program. School librarians can learn about L4L through the various AASL publications and other sources. They can begin implementing these standards through matching the familiar with the L4L program and then considering how a lesson might be tweaked to align it even more with the new standards. Another way to incorporate and implement these standards is by identifying just one area to learn about this year. For some it may be simply spending this year studying the new program. For others, investing time in learning how to use Web 2.0 technology may be a desirable choice. As time is invested in professional development, school librarians can begin to understand how they can incorporate what they have learned into the school library program.
Ultimately, when school librarians embrace L4L and the new AASL standards, they provide a great example of what lifelong learning is about. Through these efforts, school librarians provide strong leadership for students and faculty, demonstrate the positive impact of learning, and apply new ideas and concepts. This leadership positively influences the entire school community and helps everyone become a 21st-century learner.
American Association of School Librarians. Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs. American Library Association, 2009.
American Association of School Librarians. “Learning4Life: A National Plan for Implementation of Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs.” 2008. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/learning4life/document/l4lplan.pdf (accessed October 7, 2009).
American Association of School Librarians. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action. American Library Association, 2009.