Shaking Things Up

So as I was reading Judy’s recent post on assessment I also saw this article pop up on my ScoopIt dashboard- Interactive Assessment for Learning.  This article describes a great idea that focuses on assessing one of the Common Core ELA Standards where students are required to use evidence from text to support their own assertions.

This teacher took a new approach to her teaching to integrate more technology in to her instruction and to her assessment as well. I love to see this type of thinking where this teacher identified a standard that her students struggled with year after year, despite repeated instruction – so she decided it was time to change things up.

As I reflect back on the instruction and assessments my students designed this past semester in my Instructional Role of the School Librarian course I am excited to see the engaging lessons and creative formative and summative assessments they came up with. Additionally their thoughtful reflections on how they could even make it better the next time they taught it was inspiring.

I believe all too often in teaching we settle into the way things have always been done. So as we reach the end of another year I always find it a good time for thinking back on what I have been teaching and to reflect – what’s been working, what hasn’t, and how can I shake things up to benefit our students.



Assessment Toolbox


What’s in your assessment toolbox?  As a collaborating co-teacher, or instructor in your own library classroom, you need a variety of assessment tools that measure critical thinking and comprehension, as well as knowledge and performance.  So many assessments, so many choices-how do you pick the right one? Formative and summative assessments range from simple to complex, and depend on the goals for the activity or unit and the age/level of the student.  Good assessment tools inform the teacher and the student about progress.  Teaching and learning can be adjusted according to results of assessments. They are  essential elements for effective instruction.  So with that said, do you have some favorite ways to evaluate learning?  Would you like to find new ideas that are quick and easy?  What are some technology apps that bring a creative twist to the tried and true?

Here are a few links to explore that might give you some new tools for your toolbox:

Jennifer LaGarde’s  “Adventures of Library Girl” blog (Dec. 3, 2012) has a compendium of digital tools for using for assessment:

Kathy Schrock’s website-not to be missed-many examples of rubric and assessments:

West Virginia Department of Education website, page on formative assessment:

Do you have other suggestions to add to the list?  Share them here!











Collaboration and Assessment

fair use fairy school A rubric that includes a cartwheel, scented paper, and handout dances? How does that measure learning about hot topic issues in school librarianship?  Why can’t assessment have a sense of fun and play?  See it here!

The end of the semester is a busy time in higher ed, but exams, projects, and reflections in coursework give instructors a chance to assess and celebrate student learning. Best educational practice and strategies for teaching may vary according to the developmental age of the students and by content, but a major goal in any classroom is to engage and excite learners. The question is how do you as an instructor recognize and honor learning?

Assessing student learning has not been a focus for teacher librarians in the past, but when new standards and collaboration enter the picture, TLs have to step up and be part of that process.

Learning about assessment through authentic examples embedded within a graduate course demonstrates possible techniques for creating assessments that inform both students and instructors about knowledge and performance.

Recently, my co-instructor and I here at the University of Vermont met with students face to face for the final class this semester.  The course is offered in a blended format, two face to face classes at the beginning and end of the semester, five videoconferencing sessions at various times, and Blackboard modules that support online communication and work.  The course, Management of School Library Media Centers, is an overview of the various administrative and leadership roles of the teacher librarian in the school environment.  Sounds dry, doesn’t it?  There are many projects and ways that students are assessed and self assess during the course.  Reflection through personal blogs is a major expectation. Written reports, and evidence of leadership and collaboration are also part of assessment. Technology is infused throughout, and students are encouraged to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone. Feedback is ongoing between instructors and students.  It’s a huge amount of work for both!

So, here we are wrapping up our time together by sharing the fruits of a semester long project that requires students to choose a hot topic of interest, find a group of like minded folks, collaborate across time and space to identify resources and talking points for the pros and cons of the issue, and to create a skit that shows evidence of learning to be performed at the final class.  Why not make it fun, and a bit less serious?  One way to do that is to ask the students to collaborate to devise a rubric that gets to the heart of the matter, but also encourages creativity, humor, and playfulness. Setting the expectations for both serious and playful criteria generates groans, but opens lots of possibilities that unleash creative juices.  The results on Saturday delighted us all.

A sampling of skits:

  • Remix/Fair use:  The Fair Use Fairy School-three fairies popped a quiz, “What would you do?”  Winners in the audience got to wear a super star cape and fairy dust.  Serious topic-good examples, and resources provided-and lots of laughs. (Photo above)
  • Graphic novels:  A disgruntled Grandma, happy ELL teacher, and struggling reader who turns a cartwheel at finding engaging literature. All with lavender scented handouts!
  • Banned books: Three points of view-grumpy parent, clueless administrator, and eager students ready to teach friends about censorship. Humor and satire galore revealed serious issues.
  • Grants:  Teacher librarian makes herself indispensable to a principal by leading the way in finding grants.  The principal says, “ We are eliminating your budget. I hope it doesn’t impact you too much!”  Skit included a baby born to one of the students during the course, adding a new criteria to the rubric.
  • Open source platforms: Panel of crazy hat people arguing the pros and cons of open vs. paid Integrated Library systems.  Great handout dance.
  • CIPA:  A manic dialogue between an administrator, a congressman, and the personification of art and porn-filled with clever humor about the purpose and quixotic implementation of  internet safety rules for children.

Who says teacher librarians can’t have fun?

Photo: Judy Kaplan






Collective Capacity

SONY DSCThis fall, I have been doing a great deal of reading about the concept of distributed leadership. The Distributed Leadership Study led by Jim Spillane at Northwestern University’s School of Education & Social Policy Web site has a wealth of resources and information to explore this topic.

In my experience serving in two different states, four different school districts, and seven different schools, I have worked with several principals who have practiced this model. As an educator in these schools (in these cases as a school librarian), I knew that my work “counted.” I was empowered to take risks, make a difference, learn, and contribute to the good of the whole.

Michael Fullan is another scholar and researcher in this area whose work has influenced my thinking. I especially resonate with his idea of “collective capacity” that allows groups of people to accomplish more together than they ever could accomplish working on their own. Fullan says there are two reasons for this. First, “knowledge about effective practice becomes more widely available and accessible on a daily basis” and secondly, “working together generates commitment” (Fullan, 2010, p. 72). I believe this is the promise and the potential of building a culture of collaboration—spreading effective practices and fostering commitment to the success of the enterprise.

Let the migrating wild geese be our guides. It seems like every few years someone publishes their video version of Dr. Robert McNeish’s 1972 story “Lesson from Geese.” At this time of year when many of us are scrambling around to finish up the semester, it may be especially good to pause and reflect on the many benefits we derive from teamwork.  I enjoyed this “(Updated) Lessons from Geese” version from weeblemeister. Take two minutes. Maybe you will, too.


Fullan, M. (2010). All systems go: The change imperative for whole school reform.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010.

Gabor, Karpati. Geese. Digital Image.

Weeblemeister. (2012). (Updated) Lessons from Geese.



Adult Learners in the Learning Commons

Indian ElephantOne of the resources that I learned about at the 19th Treasure Mountain Research Retreat “The Learner in the Learning Commons” was a video: “Connected Learning: Hands-On, Learner-Focused, Life-Long.” The idea of helping learners learn how to learn, to be flexible and adaptable, to address real-world problems made a strong connection for me with the engagements school librarians and classroom teachers can design with an inquiry learning model.

In the video, members of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub (DML Research Hub) speak eloquently about how educators are asking the wrong question. Rather than asking “what do we want students to learn?” we could/should be asking “what experience do we want students to have?” (Connie Yowell, Director of Education, MacArthur Foundation).

For me, Dr. Yowell’s question is the essential question around which inquiry learning educators/facilitators develop student learning engagements. In an inquiry framework, outcomes are not the “facts” noted in the standards, but the processes that are also indicated in the standards such as developing a research plan, asking meaningful questions, identifying resources, and so on. These transferrable standards encompass the very processes that lead learners to active engagement with the ultimate goal of learning how to learn.

As inquiry guides, educators begin by motivating students and immersing them in content before students pose authentic and personally meaningful questions. Inquiry educators help learners identify resources, including mentors who can support their learning, sift and sort through information, construct and present new knowledge, and reflect on their learning process throughout the experience.

As long as we have a place called “school” with adults called “educators” who guide students’ learning, it’s my opinion that we must address the learning needs of educators. For me, our challenge in education is to take action to improve the practices of the “Adult Learners in the Learning Commons: The Elephant in the Room.” (Hence I published a paper with that title in the Treasure Mountain Research Retreat Proceedings.)

As Dr. Hay notes and I concur, school librarians are perfectly positioned to be facilitators of adult learning (while they themselves improve their own practices in the process). This culture of collaboration is essential for more engaged and meaningful student learning as well as for improving instructional practices and ensuring the sustainability of the school librarian profession.

Note: The DML Research Hub is concerned with an “equitable, participatory, and effective ecosystem of learning keyed to the digital and networked era. We are a collective of researchers, practitioners, and policyshifters analyzing the impact of the Internet and digital media on education, politics, and youth culture. The hub is part of the University of California’s systemwide Humanities Research Institute and is supported by the MacArthur Foundation” (quoted from their Web site).

To stimulate your thinking about the possibilities for education transformation, I recommend all of the videos found on the DML Research Hub Vimeo channel.


Askew, Nic. 2012. Connected Learning: Hands-On, Learner-Focused, Life-Long. Vimeo video, Posted by DML Research Hub.

Elephant image accessed from Microsoft Clipart

The iCentre: Australia School Libraries “Learning Commons” Concept

iCentre_iii_cropAt the 19th Treasure Mountain Research Retreat “The Learner in the Learning Commons” held in Hartford, Connecticut last month, keynoter Dr. Lyn Hay presented “An Anatomy of an iCentre.” Dr. Hay who teaches at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia has long held the belief that school libraries must be the information-technology hub of learning and that school librarians must provide curriculum leadership and bring all of the school/library stakeholders together in a collective, collaborative effort to transform teaching and learning. In the digital age, the iCentre model is a path toward sustainability for school libraries. These are my take-aways from Dr. Hay’s talk.

The leadership in the iCentre is shared among the librarian, IT faculty, curriculum coordinators, and more. Together, they have a shared commitment to bringing the technology that people use outside of the school walls and integrate it into school-based learning. Dr. Hay calls this “digital normalization.” (See The School Evolutionary Stages: The Concept of Global School Evolution blog.)

“The form the school library takes reflects the function” (Hay). Dr. Hay described the three “i’s” in the iCentre: information, immersion, and innovation. In the physical and virtual spaces of the library, school librarians teach individual learners as well as small groups and whole classes. They coteach with teachers to facilitate the iCentre’s information-technology convergence through the large flexible space and fluid design of the physical library.

If principals and architects bring a “bricks and mortar approach” to the library space redesign, it is essential that school librarians help them see the necessity of breaking out of traditional school library models. The role of the librarian should be of a leader who helps “fuse the work” of teaching and learning across the curriculum. School librarians must be key information, technology and learning leaders who combine their work with their colleagues’ efforts and reconcile various approaches to inquiry across the disciplines.

With a commitment to service, a core value of librarianship, school librarians can change library stakeholders’ expectations for their role. iCentre leaders can provide a strategic and operational framework for integrated learning that motivates and guides a whole school agenda. As such, the iCentre becomes an “innovation machine” in which students, teachers, specialists (including technology integrationists) see their roles blending and building in order to transform learning and teaching.

What impressed me most about Dr. Hay’s presentation was her focus on the adult learner leaders in the iCentre. Without the collaborative and innovative efforts of the schools’ adults, students will not have access to on-going transformative learning experiences. Check out Lyn Hay’s blog: Students Learning through School Libraries

Image created by Judi Moreillon in Microsoft Word with Scramble Font