December 12, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

AASL 17: Starring Standards

The editorial board and task force for the new National School Library Standards take the stage.

Leadership. Maker spaces. Open access. Digital citizenship. Fake news. All these and more were the leading themes at the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) National Conference, where enthusiastic librarians convened, ate, drank, and attended a librarian-centric rodeo over the four days at the Phoenix (AZ) Convention Center (Thursday, Nov. 9–Sunday, Nov. 12). Some 2,500 librarians, administrators, and exhibitors attended the conference this year, according to American Library Association manager of communications Steve Zalusky, compared to 2,658 at the 2015 conference.

Janet R. Damon, library services specialist at Denver Public Library, takes a selfie with friends made at #AASL17.

The real stars of the show, however, were the new AASL National School Librarian Standards, which were unveiled, unpacked, analyzed, and workshopped throughout the conference. The new framework includes six shared foundations and commitments on the part of school librarians: include, inquire, collaborate, curate, explore, and engage. (See: “The New AASL Standards: A Brief Guide”.)

Workshopping the new standards.

During a hands-on unconference on Thursday (9 p.m. to midnight), Joyce Valenza, “NeverEnding Search” blogger and assistant teaching professor of library science at Rutgers University, led the room in song with a rendition of “We’ve been working on the Standards” (to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”), before the room divided into World Café–style brainstorming groups. At an official unveiling at the General Session on Friday morning, members of the editorial board and task force that crafted the remodeled standards took the stage and reviewed the main components. Many workshop sessions throughout the conference also helped attendees better understand the standards’ tenets and goals.

Librarians, eager to absorb aspects of the standards, were generally enthusiastic. Some noted that the focus on inquiry, shared by Next Generation Science Standards, was a positive; others commented that the updated foundations would make them easier for administrators to grasp. While the price tag for the published guide National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (ALA Editions; $99 for AASL members, $149 for ALA members, or otherwise $199) was too steep for some, most agreed that they provide a valuable advocacy tool outlining a forward-thinking picture of today’s school librarianship.

“This generation just starts”

Jaime Casap

Collaboration across categories was another prominent conference thread. Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist at Google, lit up the assembled audience with a keynote kickoff emphasizing collaboration and invention as cornerstones of education today and tomorrow. Instead of asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, Casap said that we need to start asking them, “What problem do you want to solve?”

Speaking of the vital role collaboration, Casap noted that while a previous generation may have been encouraged to work “all by themselves,” collaboration is the way kids learn now—and the way adults succeed. “If I told my boss at Google I did a project all by myself with no input from others, I’d be fired,” he said. Casap asked how we can support a generation of kids who, aided by tech, don’t wait to be taught: they instinctively figure things out themselves. “This generation just starts,’” he said. “How can we take advantage of that?”

Leadership, fake news, & more

Attendees (l. to r.) Wendy Stephens, Brenda Boyer, and Addie Matteson ready to take in leadership tips.

“We are not in a single-player sport,” said Judi Moreillon, author, consultant, and Lilead Project mentor, during the panel “Leadership: Many Roles for School Librarians.” In addition to emphasizing collaboration’s role in leadership, at the same panel, Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, advised librarians to be mindful of intentionality when making decisions for their schools and district, instead of chasing after “the next big thing.” Asking who in the room had purchased 3-D printers, Fontichiaro posed the questions, “Why did you get one? How many of you got one because it solves a problem in your building? Are you solving ‘pain points’ among administrators?” To the last query, the answer should be “yes.”  “Librarians can be very clever in how they address these things,” she added.

At the session “Beyond Identifying Fake News.”

Digital citizenship and fake news were also key topics, with panels including “Digiwise: Citizenship for the 21st Century,” featuring SLJ 2017 Hero of Equitable Access April Wathen on the team of presenters. During “Fake News Frenzy: Recognizing Digital Deception,” library media and digital learning specialist Jennifer Sturge, a current Lilead Fellow, noted that it will only become more difficult to distinguish bogus content going forward; librarians must be prepared to keep up. She and library media specialist Donna Mignardi shared tools including Factitious, a game testing fake news IQ highlighted by NPR, as well as resources assembled by PBS LearningMedia.

From “Fake News Frenzy.” True or false?

In “Beyond Identifying Fake News: Providing Effective Media Literacy PD to Librarians, Teachers, and Parents,” Erin Downey, Boise (ID) school district consulting librarian, promised no easy answers. But along with Suzanne L. Panter, innovator facilitator for school libraries in Tacoma (WA) Public Schools, and Susan K.S. Grigsby, currently teaching at a school in Singapore, Downey led a world-café session with prompts for the attendees to affirm why media literacy is important and to emphasize the skills needed to become better purveyors of information. The highly interactive session had librarians examining both what they needed to learn and model and what they thought was essential to teach others.

Science & data literacy

“Biology and Book Trailers: Increasing Literacy, Learning, and Real-World Connections in Science Classes,” with science teacher Jennifer Damti and media specialist Dana Kepler, described a partnership in which AP biology students read portions of books including Mary Roach’s Stiff, Sam Kean’s The Violinist’s Thumb, and other science-focused titles. Damti and Kepler deftly tied the content of the books to class curricula, with Kepler participating in conversations about the titles, while the students produced a series of book trailers.

Is this effective data visualization? From “Data Visualization Strategies for the Age of Fake News.”

Meanwhile, as data literacy gains recognition as a vital aspect of students’ information literacy, a panel led by Fontichiaro presented “Data Visualization Strategies for the Age of Fake News.” Fontichiaro, who coedited Creating Data Literate Students (Michigan Publishing Services, 2017) with Jo Angela Oehrli and Amy Lennex, and received an IMLS grant for the research, challenged the audience to create a simple pie chart representing how their time is spent each day. From there, participants absorbed a group presentation exploring how formats and styles impact one’s understanding of data and tips for data delivery including tools such as Beam Venngage. Instructional programming librarian Tasha-Bergson Michelson also shared a data literacy project conducted at her school. “The goal of visualization is to make something clearer than can be described in text,” Fontichiaro said.

A rapid-fire session from Rene Burress,  assistant professor and  coordinator, Library Science and Information Services at the University of Central Missouri, and Jenna Kammer instructional designer-eLearning-specialist at the University, “Data @ Your Fingertips,” was more than a rundown of cool formative assessment tools. It demonstrated the importance of active thinking as students learn, communicate, and collaborate with each other and how librarians can find real-time feedback ensuring students’ needs are being met as they are growing in their mastery of skills.

Several sessions focused on library spaces. In particular, Tampa (FL) Preparatory School media specialist Diana Rendina’s “Reimaging School Library Spaces to Transform Student Learning” provided creative ways to ensure library spaces are functional and appealing from the students’ point of view rather than the adults. The idea that a space can influence the learning that takes place in it considers the need for active engagement of students in their own learning.

Wendy Stephens, library media program chair at Jacksonville (AL) State University, offered research and guidance on creating a mindful experience for students in her session, The Mindful School Library: Creating Necessary Liminal Spaces for Student Learning. The emphasis here is on the emotional needs of children and how brain development can be affected as children and youth experience trauma in their lives. Stevens invited librarians to create “brain friendly” environments that takes to heart a student-centered mind-set in school libraries.

Empowering with making, cosplay, & social media

Cosplay presenter Diana Maliszewski zips into a new outfit.

The focus on making, maker spaces, and design included “How to Reimagine Your Library Space and Transform Student Learning” from Diana Rendina, media specialist at Tampa (FL) Preparatory School, and “MakerSpace Your Literacy Program,” with teacher-librarian Melanie Mulcaster and Diana Maliszewski, educator and editor of The Teaching Librarian, the magazine of the Ontario School Library Association. Sharing maker space projects while also emphasizing process over product, the duo lauded the emphasis on growth mind-set in the new standards.

Maliszewski later underwent several wardrobe changes while presenting on “Cosplay MakerSpaces” with her daughter, award-winning teen cosplayer Mary Maliszewski. The dynamic duo shared tips for successful thematic cosplay projects and emphasized the confidence-building aspect of cosplay. They also addressed the fact that ‘cosplay is not consent” to be touched or photographed, the liberation of cosplaying across genders or body types, and other issues. Meanwhile, local cosplayers mixed with the librarian crowd Saturday; they were attending Phoenix Fan Fest, also taking place at the convention center.

Phoenix Fan Fest cosplayers.

Social media is one of those topics librarians have been talking about forever—or so it seems—and there’s always something new to learn. In Frisco, TX, high school librarian Nancy Jo Lambert’s session “Social Media in Your Library,” Lambert expertly laid out why librarians need to use social media and how to do so effectively.  Lambert, who continually tries out new social media platforms to better reach all her stakeholders, asked the important and central question: What networks do your stakeholders use? While parents may be more likely to be on Twitter or Facebook, students favor Instagram, SnapChat, or YouTube, she said. Some more social tips from Lambert:

  • Have separate professional and library social media accounts
  • Instead of using a personal or school email address to create your library accounts, make a new gmail account and share the login info with your administration. This will make it easier to pass the social media accounts to the next librarian if you move.
  • Use tools like If This Then That (IFTT) and Buffer to streamline the process of posting.
  • Create widgets to include your social media feeds on your library website.
  • Don’t use your face for the profile images on library accounts—this is their library, not yours.

Windows, mirrors, and #OwnVoices

Jason Reynolds

Authors were everywhere at the conference and at the Saturday General Session, Jason Reynolds’s storytelling skills and heartfelt messages were in full evidence. In answering the question about the appeal of his books. The always-inspiring Reynolds deftly connected that story with a favorite expression of his mother’s, a first-class airline ticket, and a bag of chips his flight mate couldn’t open, to describe what he believes his  readers respond to in his work.

Reynolds described the readers who have been affected by his books because they see themselves in the characters. Increasing diversity in our library collections is crucial, Reynolds stressed; all readers need to see themselves acknowledged and to build empathy.

This conversation continued in “Shining a Spotlight: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books For Kids,” in which Brown Bookshelf members Kelly Starling Lyons, Crystal Allen, Gwendolyn Hooks, and Tameka Fryer Brown discussed some of their favorite titles by black authors and featuring African American characters. The session closed with a lively African American kid lit quiz and book giveaway.

Kelly Starling Lyons speaks at the Brown Bookshelf panel.

“Mirror, Mirror: Reaching All Readers,” an author panel with Bill Konigsburg, Ellen Oh, Icy Smith, Charles Waters, and Irene Latham, moderated by Carole Boston Weatherford, continued the diversity conversation. On the question of whether it’s OK for authors to write about those outside of their own ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or other standpoint, the authors had much to say. They agreed that authors should write about what they want to—but it’s also vital to do research and write about what you know. Panelists also cautioned against writing “white savior” characters who saves the day, while less-developed characters of color sit on the sidelines.

Panelists also called for more fantasy and science fiction featuring people of color. These days, readers are more likely to find books with aliens or werewolves as main characters than people of color, they noted. When AASL convenes again in 2019, one hopes that picture will look different.

Diana Rendina, media specialist at Tampa (FL) Preparatory School, and Priscille Dando, coordinator of library information services at Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, contributed reporting to this article.

The New AASL Standards: A Brief Guide

By Wendy Stephens

There are three avenues to enter the new AASL standards: those of the Learner (student learning goals), School Library (the structure of the overarching program), and the School Librarian (professional competencies). Each of these builds upon a set of shared foundations.

At the AASL conference, the workshops focused on standards for Learners. The shared foundations articulate key commitments designated by Roman numerals: I . Include, II. Inquire, III. Collaborate, IV. Curate, V. Explore, and VI. Engage.

Each commitment is targeted through four domains: A. Think, B. Create, C. Share, and D. Grow. Under those two organizational schemes, specific standards are enumerated with cardinal numbers.

The goals don’t neglect the need for both traditional and technological materials to support learning (School Library II. D. 1). Threaded throughout, however, is a commitment to affective, inspirational goals to extend work toward school informational literacy beyond the local school community.

Empathy and equity

School librarians have license to express tolerance for diverse ideas and empathy and inculcate those values in their learners, for example, by fostering discussions in with multiple viewpoints (Learner II.C. 2) and “engaging in informed conversation and active debate” (Learner II. C. 1). Library programs are tasked with “enabling equitable access to learning opportunities, academic and social support” (School Library II. D. 2), a goal many at the conference heralded as ensuring all students had access to maker spaces, a range of literature, and experiential learning that had previously been sometimes viewed as enrichment for students meeting or exceeding basic objectives.

Thinking globally

All three strands of the standards involve pushing students to think and work beyond local and national borders. In the Learner standards, those concepts are manifested in the goal of articulating understanding of cultural relevance and situation within a global context (Learner II. A. 3). They are also specified as seeking interactions with a range of learners (Learner II. D. 1), demonstrating interest in other perspectives (Learner II. D. 2), and situating yourself within a worldwide learning community (Learner II. D. 3). This Is reinforced by a commitment to inclusivity and respect for diversity articulated in the foundations shared among the three suites of standards.

Wendy Stephens worked as a high school librarian in Alabama for 15 years before becoming library media program chair at Jacksonville (AL) State University. She is a past president of the Alabama Library Association and is AASL Region V director.

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