Reflections on the AASL’s Standards for 21st Century Learners

for LIBR 233, due September 18, 2010

Here is the link to the Standards so that you can read them yourself. There is far too much fodder here to comment on everything. Some of my reflections on the first major topics follow after the link.

Do you agree with them?  What concerns you? excites you? is interesting?  What questions do you have?  How do they relate to current educational paradigms, philosophies, and/or policies? 

I have to admit being somewhat jaded, having been a middle school and high school teacher for over a decade, as well as teaching some college sections and adult ed. classes. When I started teaching I was very enthusiastic and creative in my approaches to teaching science. I tried things out – new labs, field trips, films, etc. As time progressed, the State of California became more worried about its test scores compared to the rest of the Nation (we rank somewhere around 46 or 47th out of 50? – and that is not from the top. #1 is tops). They decided that “teaching to the test” was something we teachers needed to do. Thus, what had been instructional time became devoted to drilling on certain test questions. Was it successful? Test scores have been creeping upward. However, here is Berkeley, CA, we are still voicing our worries on the “equity gap.” This is what used to be called the “achievement gap” but someone decided that was not PC (politically correct).

Some standards are good to have as benchmarks, but learning should be fun and exciting so that people want to add to their knowledge over a lifetime. When you think back on your most treasured learning experiences, I doubt you will say, “I really loved studying for that SAT.” I know my favorite projects were independent research and experiential learning. Some of these include learning bird banding and how to key insects working under naturalists at a wildlife sanctuary, running a radio show, snow school on Mt. Shasta –learning how to self arrest with an ice ax, qualifying as a Wilderness First Responder, learning new forms of dance, learning everything I could about the Romanovs and Rasputin. These experiences are drawn from a variety of ages but most of them are experiential and were things I wanted to learn, not things I was told I must learn for an exam. If teachers had infinite time for assessment, I would love to have students put together portfolios of their work and creative projects rather than a list of test scores.

Many of the AASL’s “Standards for the 21st Century Learner” could fit with portfolio or research based learning on subjects the students have personal interest in. Almost all projects require some reading, decoding and interpretation of the literature on their subject. Inquiry based learning is the way to go in my book. We have to teach ethical behavior. That is something that must be taught by examples. Many students do not have any idea how to do real original research and how to give credit to the work and ideas of others.

Obviously technology is very important in our present transition. However, I don’t think we need to teach much of this (correct me if I am wrong). It seems that most people a decade or so younger than I am are wired to use varied forms of technology that many of us in our 40’s and older never dreamed of using. For example, when I was in elementary school, I could not have conceived of having a “GPS” in the car to guide me from place to place and tell me when the next movie was showing, including the duration, rating, and a short synopsis. My daughter loves geo caching, a cool synthesis of hiking or sightseeing using a map and compass, a gps and powers of observation. Very fun. It is a way to get her out, interacting with other kids and adults, and it is definitely not taught in any schools in our District but teaches cooperation and team work.

Equitable Access is a big buzz phrase here in Berkeley. I went to the PTA meeting for Berkeley High last night. We voted on the Site Counsel and School Governance Committee members. Every person who gave a speech included that they wanted learning to be accessible for all children of all races, ethnicities, and interests. I thought it interesting that no one mentioned inclusiveness for disabled children. Berkeley already has a very fine Special Education program. In my readings on different cutting edge libraries in public and private schools around the country, I can’t recall one that spoke of any adaptive equipment to help students who are blind, can’t use their hands to move a computer mouse, or have cognitive challenges that preclude reading well, to name a few possibilities. I work at a government agency of about 1000 employees in our building alone and I know we can deal with many disabilities. We have blind people at work with their service animals, people who get around on motorized carts, specialized keyboards, etc. It should be something we consider in the design of a school library.

This brochure brings up many thoughts, but the last one I wish to mention is “Learning has a social context.” I have been reading Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf for another class. Up to the invention of the Greek alphabet, most of our learning was oral and involved great feats of memorization. I found it interesting that Socrates was worried about people learning by reading, instead through debate and discussion. Wolf compares the shift from learning from oral tradition to learning by reading to today’s transition from mostly book knowledge to research through the internet.

I feel like I learn quite a lot in my LIS classes through doing the group projects. I could learn the same material by reading about it, but working in a group allows me to benefit from a wide range of experiences and opinions. It also teaches important skills of delegation, cooperation and team work which are important to success in school as well as in the working world.

“School libraries are essential to the development of learning skills.” That is the party line and the brochure is put out by the AASL. I question if that is necessarily true (oh, blasphemy!). I know as a teacher I spent little time in the school libraries. I often brought books from my own collections into the class for people to browse and borrow. Most students do their research on the internet. I have a hard time forcing them to use books and journal articles (in actual not virtual journals). Students can use a computer or laptop anywhere to access information. Why would a librarian necessarily be a better instructor on research, ethics and resources than the individual subject teachers? I will look forward to reading some other opinions on this (just call me the gadfly….bzzzz!).


About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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