School Library Media Activities Monthly/ Volume XXII, Number 1/September 2006
Where Does Your Authority Come From? Empowering the Library Media Specialist as a True Partner in Student Achievement
by Allison Zmuda
Allison Zmuda is an Educational Consultant with Education Connection in Litchefield, CT. She was the keynote speaker at the Treasure Mountain Research Retreat #12, Pittsburgh, PA, October 2005. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The library media center has long been a beloved and specialized learning environment for students, a place rich with opportunities to pursue specialized inquiries, interests, and ideas. It is the most natural venue in schools for differentiation, integration of technology, and collaboration. In recent years, state and national standards for information literacy and technology have delineated a framework for what students are expected to know and be able to do as a result of their work in the library media center. Noted education researchers, system leaders, and authors as well as foundations have further bolstered the importance of the library media center as an integral part of 21st century learning so that students are prepared for the demands of the workplace. There has never been a more exciting or potentially powerful time to be a library media specialist.
There is, however, one fundamental problem that has existed for years and has frustrated specialists for years: How do we get the authority to teach students? If they don't come to the library media center at all or come for a meaningful purpose (i.e., a task where students are expected to work in critical and creative ways to collect, analyze, and synthesize information), then how can students be expected to achieve the standards?
True authority does not come from the superintendent, principal, or even the teachers worked with every day; it comes from a very large achievement gap. This achievement gap is the chasm between the academic expectations for learners and the current achievement levels of students within the school. Most specialists have been aware of this gap for years and many have vocalized those concerns and, consequently, lobbied for broader access to students and more resources. The major stumbling block, however, is that without data to illustrate this gap, it looks like a rhetorical contention based on the unabashedly biased viewpoint of those professionals that seem to have the most to gain. So, to claim the authority needed to close this achievement gap, it is important to get the data to show the current student achievement levels, compare that to state/national standards for learning, and then propose short-term and long-term ways to close those gaps.
What kind of data are we talking about?
A reliable measure of student achievement requires getting a collection of different types of evidence. For example, the amount of time a student has spent in the library media center is a necessary, but not sufficient, piece of information because seat time alone is not a predictor of learning success.
Questions to guide the data collection process:
- 1. What do we have to find out?
- 2. What data are currently available?
- 3. What new data do we need?
- 4. How do we obtain data?
- 5. How can we collect data in a valid and reliable form?
Guidelines to support the effort:
- Measure what is necessary, not what is convenient
- Keep focused on what is being evaluated: student learning, not individual educators
- Involve key stakeholders in dialogue about the intent of the data collection process (before, during, and after)
- Involve staff in the collection and analysis
- Use data to produce a collective mandate for change
Examples of powerful data sources include:
- Existing information literacy requirements (how much time students at each grade level are required to be in the library media center and the focus of that requirement-orientation vs. development),
- Analysis of state content standards in all subject areas to determine how many require information and technology literacy,
- Required core assessments completed by all students in a grade level/course to evaluate incorporation of information and technology literacy,
- Daily attendance figures in the library media center (also accounting for how many times the center was full which limited the use for others)
- Percentage of teachers who bring students to the library 0-2, 3-5, and 6+ times per year,
- Nature of the tasks students are working on (i.e., classify by level on Bloom's taxonomy).
Now that I have the attention of the staff, what do I do next?
Once the preliminary data is collected and communicated, the next challenge is how to act on that information in a way that enlists the support of classroom teachers and leaders to raise student achievement. It is critical to keep the focus on the results so that staff see subsequent actions (both on a daily basis and in long-term planning) as a necessary means to achieve the desired end. Whatever the status quo currently looks like (nature of relationships with teachers, existing resources, level of support from school, system, and state leaders), two conditions must be met to positively impact student achievement:
- 1. Library media specialists view every point of contact with a teacher and his/her respective students as a true collaboration of content areas.
- 2. Library media specialists view the collection, analysis, and reflection on student achievement data as a primary part of their work.
Condition #1: Library media specialists view every point of contact with a teacher and his/her respective students as a true collaboration of content areas.
Collaboration rooted in trust and respect among committed adults is the most essential condition for meaningful change in any organization. "Without trust and respect, there is no real learning and dialogue about the need for change" (Wagner 1997, 29). The library media specialist must never sacrifice the opportunity to develop information literacy skills just to pacify or cajole a teacher to come to the library media center. Not only does this deference diminish student clarity about what research and synthesis involves, but also relegates the specialist to a supporting role instead of a meaningful partner in the professional learning community. Specialists must communicate the vision and expectations for student learning in the library media center so that teacher and student alike are clear on what is expected when they work in this environment. (See Figure 1).
Figure 1. A PDF file is also available for reproducing.
- When staff come together to work on any task, they must first be clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it. This provides the opportunity for classroom teacher and library media specialist to envision what the student learning outcomes will be, thus creating potent internal accountability. (See Table 2.)
- Teamwork is not something that should be talked to death upfront-it can happen quickly if teachers are required to do the work together and the success of the work is measured by the established outcomes.
- Staff should be expected to "surface problems to which they have no immediate solutions" so that the organization can learn (Elmore 2005). This requires more than complaining about a concern; it requires that each issue be collectively scrutinized to identify root causes and possible action steps. Once action steps are identified, both teacher and specialist understand what they are supposed to do and how those actions will impact the work of the team.
The legacy of these opportunities is that members of the staff come to trust that the increased capacity they have together eclipses their best individual efforts. They not only see the powerful connections that already bind them together, but work much more proactively to maximize the power of these connections.
Condition #2: Library media specialists view the collection, analysis, and reflection on student achievement data as a primary part of their work.
Devoting more time to assessment of student achievement requires spending less time on other tasks. The question is how much priority is given to the analysis of student work by both the library media specialist and the school in general? There is a growing body of research that a powerful library program positively impacts student achievement scores as much as 10-20% (Loertscher and Lance 2003). To realize such gains, however, the focus of the specialist must be broader than merely daily operations. That focus requires more personnel assistance, both in the form of volunteers and paid assistants, however, it is much more cost effective to have the most expensive employee(s) in the library media center focused on the most important priorities of the learning environment.
When teachers bring their students in as an "isolated event" (Table 2), library media specialists can still evaluate student performance on information and technology literacy standards with or without involvement of the classroom teacher. The challenge is to have a way of evaluating students that is highly efficient (because of a minimal amount of time to supervise many different students with whom there are differing degrees of familiarity). One of the most promising practices for this is to track student work into a basic database using a handheld device (i.e., Palm). Imagine a basic database that has the names of all of the students in the school (this can interface with existing school software) and the information literacy standards for each grade level(s). A basic rating system such as Novice Learner, Apprentice Learner, or InfoStar (2004) by Koelichn and Zwaan could be adopted so that library media specialists could evaluate student performance with or without collaboration from the supervising teacher. This would provide critical data about the overall proficiency of students to use as leverage for more time and broader access to students for improvement of student achievement. It also would reveal which students have greater opportunities to learn because of the frequency and quality of their access to the library media center.
Nature of Teacher/Library Media Specialist Collaboration
|Isolated Event||Coordinated Effort||Partnership|
|Design||Teacher approaches library media specialist to reserve space in the library for students to complete a task using resources.||Teacher solicits information/ ideas about what resources are available to support student work for the assigned task.||Teacher comes to specialist with an idea for a research task or with a topic and works with the specialist to further develop the idea.|
|Execution of Instruction||Teacher supervises student work in the library media center. Specialist provides class with a basic orientation of available resources (if appropriate) and may have made a list of relevant resources if given enough lead time. Teacher and students ask for assistance from the specialist as questions/ problems arise.||Teacher and specialist provide support to students during the completion of the task: teacher primarily on the task parameters and grading expectations, specialist primarily on how to access/use resources.||Teacher and specialist each provide support to students during the completion of all aspects of the task: orienting them to the resources at hand; supporting their use of the resources and their efforts to collect, analyze, and synthesize information; and the clarification of task parameters/grading expectations.|
|Evaluation of Student Work||Teacher evaluates student work. Task parameters and grading expectations may or may not have been shared with the specialist in advance.||Teacher evaluates student work (the grading expectations were shared with the specialist prior to the students work in the library media center).||Teacher and specialist score student work together using a common rubric that includes criteria both within the teacher's content area and information literacy.|
|Reflection and Next Steps||Specialist waits to find out how it went—receives anecdotal information from teacher and/or student(s) but does not see student work or analysis of student achievement.||Teacher shares information with specialist on how it went. May submit a sample of student work or a copy of the task for the specialist's binder. Next steps are reserved until the teacher has another task in mind that requires the specialist's support.||Based on student achievement of the task, teacher and specialist draw conclusions about what the next task(s) should focus on to meet academic expectations both within teacher's content area and information literacy.|
When teachers and library media specialists work as part of a "coordinated effort" (Table 2), specialists can advocate including a strong information literacy component to classroom assessments and rubrics either designed on behalf of or in conjunction with the individual teacher. This should be a natural pairing because information literacy is embedded in virtually all subject area content standards and requires limited additional effort/planning time on the part of the classroom teacher. Not only can specialists coordinate with teachers on this one-on-one basis, but also at the department/content level by applying the same approach to the development or refinement of core assessments (i.e., research requirement, I-search project, family tree visual, WebQuest). By analyzing existing tasks and student work samples, specialists can propose revisions to the task and scoring criteria so that the focus is sharpened on targeted information and technology literacy skills in addition to department/grade level expectations.
When teachers and library media specialists work in "partnership" (Table 2), there is a powerful opportunity to ensure that the tasks require students to demonstrate their competency in the subject. "The goal of competency makes clear that the aim of education is not the ability to acquire and retain information-the traditional formulationâ€¦[it is the] ability to do something with what you know-to apply information in the search for a solution to a problem or to create new knowledge-creates an expectation of more rigorous forms of accountability and assessment"(Wagner 1997, 45). This partnership involves teacher and specialist working together in the design, delivery, and evaluation of student learning. While this is the most time consuming of all three forms of collaboration, it does maximize the effectiveness of the instruction and can have the most significant impact on student achievement.
To some, this article may be an untenable proposal; to others, it is a call to action; and to still others, it is a confirmation of what they have been saying all along. Regardless of individual perspectives on this issue, the fact is that without the authority to work with students in a rigorous, relevant, and consistent manner, no curriculum document on the national, state, or local levels will ever impact student learning.
Koechlin, Carol, and Sandi Zwann. Build Your Own Information Literate School. Hi Willow Research and Publishing, 2003.
Loertscher, David V., and Keith Lance. Powering Achievement: School Library Media Programs Make a Difference: The Evidence. 2nd ed. Hi Willow, 2002.
Wagner, Tony. Making the Grade: Reinvesting in America's Schools. Routledgefalmer, 1997.