Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Collaborating with the Most Important Resource in the School

During the past two years, I've been involved in a project called PALS through our regional library system. What's an instructional technology specialist doing involved in a library system initiative? Learning! Learning! Learning! and, I hope, helping to promote the technology tools that can empower the learning of our students.

We're working toward building collaborative relationships with classroom teachers.
Toni Buzzeo worked with us for two days this week. She helped us learn about the different types of relationships that exist between teachers and librarians and begin to develop ideas for getting through the challenges of making changes in those relationships despite the sometimes impossibly inflexible schedules that exist in our buildings. After some learning with Toni, we worked solidly for a full day and a half building lessons and units designed to tap into the expertise of both the teacher and the librarian to affect student achievement. We've also been privileged to work with David Loertscher who helped us explore better ways to write collaborative plans that take learning to a higher level.

Through data analysis, we're working on helping our librarians understand the kinds of skills that students are being asked to use to perform on state assessments. Until last year, the first group of librarians to be part of the PALS project had not been exposed to any of our state assessments. Many didn't know what the test consisted of and hadn't seen any of the sources we have for looking at the data analysis related to these assessments. (OK...I know all about the evils of state assessments. If there's one thing we can gain from them it's the understanding that we're just not expecting very high level thinking from our students on a regular basis.)

We're working on understanding the relationships between the data we get from assessments, the classroom curriculum and how the library program supports the development of skills.
We've been looking at our data for the past two years in terms of the skills needed to answer questions, where that skill is reflected in our curriculum documents and what strategies we're already using to teach those skills. I think it's a good process. In some of our elementary buildings, our librarians are being included in the data analysis process for the first time ever. This is a step in the right direction. Including our information specialists in on the results of an assessment that's all about dealing with information is a step in the right direction.
One thing that makes this process especially effective is that we have some great curriculum documents in my school district. The state standards are way too broad, the performance indicators get a little bit closer. But, by having the documents that we do, we can really focus in more closely on the skills and we've been able to be more specific at each grade level rather than just a general statement that is supposed to apply to the range from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Two things I would recommend to school librarians if I may be so bold. :)
1. Start asking questions about the testing that's going on locally or at the state level. Ask to see a test booklet, think about the skills that students are being asked to demonstrate and begin to examine your own teaching practices where those skills are concerned. Get somebody to help you understand what the learning gaps are.
2. Read the professional literature about instruction and about the brain and learning. Some recommendations:

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