Reflections on AASL’s new Standards for the 21st-Century Learner January 4, 2008Posted by sgrimes in Hot Topics.
It’s been a little over two months since I returned from Reno and the unveiling of AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. In that time I’ve mulled over the implications of the new standards; compared them to the mandates of NCLB; tried to align them with NETS-S and the national curriculum standards for science, reading, math and social studies; and struggled to translate them into the behavioral objectives required by our school system…but still I do not feel that sense of empowerment and excitement I felt when I first read Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Instead, I have come to wonder: “Are the new standards a step forward to a more holistic and comprehensive view of learners, or a misstep that will serve to marginalize our profession?”
I did not begin with these misgivings; instead, I initially felt the faint stirrings of excitement when I first read the “Common Beliefs.” For me, the nine belief statements that preface the standards encapsulate the ideals that both guide and inspire our profession: reading is a window to the world; inquiry does provide a framework for learning; and school libraries are essential to the development of learning skills. But doubt crept in when I noticed what is missing from the belief statements and what is not translated into action in the standards. My misgivings solidified as I considered how to teach the skills, dispositions, responsibilities and self-assessment strategies. And I was moved to write, when I realized the implications not only for teaching, learning and collaboration, but also for how school libraries and by extension school librarians will be perceived.
As AASL President Sara Kelly Johns notes in another context, “In a time of budget cuts and confusion about the role of library media specialists,” now is most emphatically not the time to fail to embed in national standards for students’ learning the critical importance of equitable access and school libraries; nor is it the time to fail to reaffirm the vital role of library media specialists. Unfortunately, only the belief statements state the critical role of school libraries and library media specialists to student achievement and belief statements are not standards. Standards drive instruction and assessment, not belief statements.
Another problem is that not all of the belief statements have been translated into teachable and assessable standards and indicators. Common Belief # 2 states: “Inquiry provides a framework for learning. To become independent learners, students must gain not only the skills but also the disposition to use those skills, along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and self-assessment strategies.” “The disposition to use those skills” is difficult and I would argue in some cases impossible to either teach or assess. For example, Standard 1.2.6 states, “Display emotional resilience by persisting in information searching despite challenges.” How do you teach/assess emotional resilience, especially at the middle and high school levels when library media specialists see students sporadically and to complete a specific task?
Unfortunately, the problems with the Dispositions in Action do not end with the twinned problems of assess-ability and teach-ability. Other problems with Dispositions in Action include that it:
· Prescribes the teaching of character traits
· Usurps the role of parents
· Not only usurps the role of parents, but also may directly contradict the culturalvalues and mores of many of our minority students; for example, Indicator 1.2.4 states, “Maintain a critical stance by questioning the validity and accuracy of all information,” which is most distinctly a white American value
· Can not easily or effectively be taught, measured and assessed although certainly any teacher worth his/her salt already discusses and illustrates the value of persistence, curiosity and teamwork to name but a few of the dispositions; the difference is that the second occurs naturally, in situ.
· Teaches dispositions that are not specific to success in information literacy
While possession of the dispositions is certainly desirable, our role is not to mold character, but rather to educate minds to employ the higher-order critical and creative thinking skills that are not only critical to our students’ successes, but also to maintaining the stability of our democratic society.
In addition to teaching students how to use higher-order critical and creative thinking skills, we must also prepare our students to use the information literacy skills that are so critical to their success in the 21st-Century; to do that we need a clear definition that provides guidelines for instruction. Instead, Common Belief #6 states: “The definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed.” Neither the belief statement nor the standards answer the question, “What is the more complex definition?” Based on the promise implicit in the title, Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, I expected a definition that encompassed the 21st-Century Literacies most would agree are “crucial skills for this century,” but found that the only literacies mentioned are visual, textual, digital, and technological – all of which are of course essential – but so too are mathematical, scientific, cultural, and economic literacies (to include but a few of the critical knowledge bases our students will need to succeed).
Even if you argued – and I of course would not – that mathematical, scientific, cultural and economic literacies are not the domain of the library media specialist, where is media literacy, not only an area traditionally taught by library media specialists, but an ever more increasingly important medium for delivering information? Or is media literacy subsumed into digital literacy? If that is the case, then, we have several problems. The most widely cited definition of digital literacy is that provided by Microsoft, yet their definition encompasses only entry-level technology skills. I assume we mean much more than the ability to use word processing software. Should we then create a glossary that defines what librarians mean by digital literacy, or should we seek to use a common vocabulary with our colleagues in other disciplines?
Let us – just for the sake of argument – dismiss the concerns raised in the previous paragraphs as questions related to minor differences in semantics. Let us further assume then that the belief statement does include the full range of literacies our students will need to succeed. Even if we make these two leaps of faith, we are still left with the same inconvertible truths: standards, not belief statements, drive instruction and, unfortunately, not all of the belief statements have been converted into standards. Two of the most important – at least to ensure the future of school libraries – do not appear at all: “Equitable access is a key component for education” and “School libraries are essential to the development of learning skills” which is more than unfortunate because as Christopher Harris notes in School Library Journal, “School libraries are becoming marginalized by state and federal regulations. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, does not recognize librarians as teachers. Moreover, the ‘65 percent solution,’ an education budget formula being enacted by many states, also jeopardizes library funding. Add to this the ‘Google effect,’ which has schools questioning the relevancy of libraries in an online world, and we are in real trouble” (June 2006).
Another factor that might serve to marginalize the importance of our profession in the eyes of others is the move, clearly evident in Standards 1 and 2, from problem-based to inquiry-based learning. The implications and potential outcomes of this shift are many and varied:
One important distinction between problem-based and inquiry-based learning is that inquiry-based learning explores questions in much more depth for a greater period of time, possibly an entire semester. Given the time constraints imposed by the test-driven environment created by NCLB, are we ignoring reality?
1) Inquiry-based learning may or may not result in a product that can be evaluated which has clear implications for assessment. In an era of data-driven decision-making, the lack of clearly quantifiable data marginalizes what we do in the eyes of administrators and other decision makers.
2) Many of the information seeking process models in wide-spread use, like Big6, are problem, not inquiry-based. As a result, new models will need to be created and/or existing models modified to include inquiry-based learning. The question then is who will do this and when will the model(s) be available?
3) The distinction between inquiry and problem-based learning is not clarified in the standards, nor is the level of inquiry-based learning (clarification/verification; structured inquiry; guided inquiry; or open inquiry) the standards hope to inspire.
4) NETS –S is clearly problem-based so the alignment that existed with ISTE’s standards is now tenuous at best. NETS-S is also clearly aligned with the requirements of NCLB and national curriculum standards. The alignment between AASL’s new standards and NCLB, national curriculum standards, and NETS-S is only evident at the skill indicator level, not at the standard level.
Why not a more realistic statement that it is not an either/or; both inquiry-based and problem-based can form the basis of valid information-seeking process models?
Another area of concern is that some of the Responsibilities like 2.3.1, “Connect understanding to the real world,” are skills that need to be taught. The ability to transfer knowledge is not only a higher-level skill, but also one that must be carefully considered and incorporated into the design of the lesson(s). The same can be said of many of the Self-assessment Strategies, like “Interpret new information based on cultural and social context.” (4.4.4) Perhaps, how and when students will be taught the prerequisite skills prior to their assumption of these Responsibilities and Self-assessment Strategies will be made clear in the Scope and Sequence.
Finally, it wasn’t until I read the indicators for Standard 4, “Pursue personal and aesthetic growth,” that I realized that concealed within this standard were some of the skills necessary to the development of reading comprehension and fluency. Like Standards 1 & 2 which could have been used to build partnerships with technology and content area teachers, this standard could have been used to build collaboration with reading teachers and specialists. As I have argued in Reading Is Our Business (2006), for too long library media specialists have abdicated our rightful position as critical partners in the development of reading comprehension. As a result, funds are being diverted from school libraries to purchase classroom libraries, library media specialists are being replaced by instructional assistants and when certified librarians are employed, they are not viewed as instructional leaders or as full partners in the learning process.
While the consequences for our profession are dire, the repercussions for our students are even grimmer. The correlation between poverty and low reading achievement is well documented. Of people with the lowest literacy skills, 43% live in poverty, and 70% of prison inmates read at the lowest proficiency levels (U.S. Department of Education 2000). Equally well researched is the link between passive readers and poor comprehension skills. Passive readers are not engaged in meaningful ways with the text. Disengaged readers will never choose to “Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.” Nor will they ever discover that “Reading is a window to the world” because these less-than-engaged readers do not know how to utilize comprehension strategies to increase either understanding or engagement. Collaborative partnerships must be forged with reading teachers and specialists if we hope to transform passive readers into actively engaged members of a community of strategic readers and thinkers, yet only two indicators, 4.1.1 and 4.1.2, allude to reading.
In conclusion, much must be done before the promise from the AASL website, “‘Standards for the 21st-Century Learner’ offer vision for teaching and learning to both guide and beckon our profession as education leaders. They will both shape the library program and serve as a tool for library media specialists to use to shape the learning of students in the school,” is fulfilled.
posted by Sharon Grimes, Supervisor of Library Information Services, Baltimore, MD