Let’s Get Real

By Jeanie Phillips, AASL Standards implementation task force member

Young people astonish and amaze me. They are capable of so much. Kids like Marley Dias, ALA Midwinter 2018 keynote speaker, who organized the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. She sent over 9,000 books to black girls around the world while bringing attention to diversity in children’s publishing—all while in the 6th grade. Or seventeen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, activist and author of We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet, who is leading a movement to fight climate change. And more recently, the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who are speaking up and out about school violence.

When I heard about Emma Gonzalez, advocate for gun rights, I was inspired by her passion and her intensity, but I was also impressed by her understanding and her knowledge. She and her fellow Never Again MSD activists are engaged in the real work of democracy: speaking up for what they believe in.

So much of what they are doing aligns with AASL’s National School Library Standards. These high school students are exemplifying the Collaborate Shared Foundation, working together towards a common goal. They are sharing their experiences and their opinions with an authentic audience, a crucial aspect of the Inquire Shared Foundation. And the Explore Shared Foundation is at the core of their movement: their activism was ignited by a problem that was, unfortunately, made real for them.

When students are engaged in real work, they show up fully. I’m reminded of a favorite poem, one that guides my life and my work, To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy:

The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

So how do we provide opportunities for our students to do “work that is real?” Here are some suggestions.

Think Global

The Global Goals are a perfect starting point for real-world inquiry. Launched in 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals unite a global community in fighting injustice, poverty, and climate change. With seventeen goals to choose from, there are plenty of options for students to Explore a goal that is personally meaningful and Include perspectives from around the world. Find some examples of students doing real work aligned with the goals K-12 here.

Act Local

For years my elementary school library would smell like soil in the spring: students were sowing seeds for the school garden. It was important work, with robust literary connections, and they could observe their results (and continue the work: weeding, digging potatoes, harvesting basil!) through the spring and into the fall. This year I watched middle school students as they designed chicken coops, a first step towards building one and managing a flock of laying hens at their school. Local Farm to School initiatives are excellent community partners that create opportunities for students of all ages to get their hands dirty and their minds working.

Local history is another leverage point for “real” work. When my students entered the 3D Vermont competition a few years ago, they became the town experts. As they inquired into the building of some local stone houses they found inconsistencies in accounts from historians. Primary sources led them to some interesting revelations, and they were asked to present to local historians and correct the historical record. The Preservation Directory can help you connect to organizations in your area and engage students in the real work of being historians.

Be Citizen Scientists

Scientists and researchers are harnessing the power of ordinary citizens by asking them to collect data, monitor local plant and wildlife, and even snap and upload photos. Students can contribute in real time and see their data help to shape scientific knowledge and understanding. Looking to engage your students in the real work of science? Check out these resources from National Geographic and PBS.

Let Students Serve AND Lead

Service learning harnesses the energy of students while allowing them to pursue personal interests, and it can happen at all levels. Consider the iLead program, where students apply for jobs in their school and contribute to the community in important ways. What if every student felt like they had a crucial role in how their school was run?

Students can (and should!) lead adult professional development. The 6th graders at Tuttle Middle School shared their learning about social identity with teachers to great effect. Or they can organize community events like the Race Against Racism in Montpelier, Vermont. When we let students serve their communities we give them an authentic audience for their work, and we as a community reap the benefits: an engaged citizenry!

How are you engaging students in work that is real?


Share your stories of student engagement with the Knowledge Quest community in the comments below, or on social media using the #AASLstandards hashtag.

Author: AASL Standards and Guidelines Implementation Task Force



Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, STEM/STEAM, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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