If There Is Time …

If there is time at the end of a lesson, students will complete an exit ticket, one of my licensure candidates wrote in her lesson plan assignment for our class on the school librarian and the curriculum. After weeks of classes devoted to readings from Harada and Yoshina, Todd, and Wiggins and McTighe on thinking like an accessor, evidence-based practice, and assessment-focused instruction, and after admonishments that as school librarians we must demonstrate impact on student learning if we want credibility as instructional partners, this student planned to assess her students only if there were time. In that simple phrase, she indicated that for her practice as a school librarian, assessing student work was not a priority. It was an inconsequential afterthought, a lesson postscript, and perhaps, in its own way, an epitaph for a passing phase that never quite caught on – one of those ivory tower theories “full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.”

While she was the only student to voice the idea that assessment is something that may or may not fit in depending on the schedule, I’m sure most of the other students share her sentiment. They talk the party line long enough to get their diplomas but in their school libraries, assessment reverts to circulation statistics or the number of times classes come to the library. Even students who were classroom teachers in a former life find it difficult to embrace the idea of assessing student work when they thought they would be leaving it behind as a classroom thing. It’s also not like they are seeing it in action. Very few practicing school librarians, in my experience, are capturing much less using or sharing data that would indicate any value from what students are learning from the school librarian.

I get it. Students overall have struggled with this concept of school librarian as assessor, as someone who evaluates student work. It is a little more palatable when they accept that besides showing what students have learned, assessments also show them what students haven’t learned. They understand the logic of planning backwards basing what they teach on what is important for students to know, deciding on authentic or engaging products for students to showcase what they have learned, and developing appropriate assessments that gauge student success. However, in the real school library world with 30- or 40-minute back-to-back classes five times a day on a fixed schedule week in and week out – we are asking them to take on one more task, fit one more thing into their already overburdened schedule. My unapologetic response, however, is: if it isn’t worth the time to assess it then perhaps it isn’t worth the time to teach it.

Jenn Lofgren (2017), an executive and leadership coach who writes for Forbes, argues that if there isn’t enough time, time management isn’t the real problem, rather it is a choice management problem. “While you can’t control time, you can control your choices and priorities…. Choice is about spending your time and energy on what’s important.”

If what we as school librarians teach students isn’t important enough to take the time to assess and share what our students have learned, then it isn’t a priority. If student learning isn’t our priority, then it won’t be long before we are considered expendable and our time will run out.


Alexas_Fotos (2016 Oct. 13). Clock photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 on Pixabay.com.  Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/the-eleventh-hour-disaster-1738510/

Lofgren, J. (2017, April 19). If there’s never enough time, time management isn’t your real problem [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/04/19/if-theres-never-enough-time-time-management-isnt-your-real-problem/#19b7dc7c23d6

Author: Anne Akers

Clinical assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of NC at Greensboro working with school library candidates. Former elementary, middle, and high school librarian in Virginia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

8 replies

  1. This is a “soon to be classic” blogpost for my classes, Anne.

  2. Is there a book or article about library and makerspace assessment?

  3. Assessment is not limited to filling out an exit ticket. Assessment can be determined by observation, discussion, etc.

  4. Thank you for your post, Anne. Collecting student learning outcomes assessment data is the ONLY effective way for school librarians to know if their teaching was effective.

    Better yet, through coplanning, school librarians and classroom teachers/specialists design assessments that measure the targeted outcomes. Through coteaching the lesson, educators can validate each others’ observations. Coteaching educators can modify the lesson in progress to increase student success. As a team, they can also best assess the overall effectiveness of the lesson itself.

    Exit tickets and polling provide quick snapshots of learning. Other strategies provide more in-depth data: graphic organizers, checklists, rubrics, reflections (based on lesson objective prompts), and more.

    Bottom line: If school librarians hope to be considered peers with their classroom teacher/specialists colleagues, they must assess student learning, analyze the data, and use it to inform future instruction.

    As you note, Anne, there is no choice!

  5. Suzanne – I use Harada and Yoshina’s Assessing for Learning: Librarians and Teachers as Partners.

  6. Judi – Thank you for the complement. Just so you know, my students know your name well as I have referred to your work often.

  7. While I am reluctant to disagree with someone in the field as distinguished as Ms.Woolls, I provide reader’s advisory services to both ELA teachers and students. Students have a lot of choice and voice in my school and when it comes to providing materials that link to the curriculum and essential questions in units, the ARCs that I obtain and the information about what is coming out next is invaluable. In fact, in these difficult budget times, the free books I have obtained from vendors are the only print resources I may have on a particular topic.
    Meeting non-fiction writers such as Sarah Albee and Melissa Stewart and fiction writers such as Sarah Littman at professional conferences and workshops has led to school visits AND student and teacher & librarian workshops.

  8. There are so many ways to assess our work that we can offer quite a bit of flexibility at the high school level. My greatest disappointment is the generic teacher’s lament, “I don’t have time to coteach or allow you to teach research skills given my lesson plans.” Or stepping further into an abyss, “I assign research. They should have learned how to do this in middle school.” The truth is that students don’t always learn basic research skills in middle school, and research is a little different in high school. What passes as research is more commonly known as web searching or Googling, or looking at web pages a teacher has pre-selected.

    The fact of the matter is that there is a clear expectation that students know how to research and can demonstrate an active process by the time they receive a high school diploma. Unfortunately, without concrete support from all levels of leadership from department chair to building administrators to district leadership and on to the state level, our library instructional practice does not achieve lasting traction to truly impact student learning. We’re left “hustling for date” to implement our curriculum and working as closely as we can with the few who understand and see the benefit.

    The saving grace is the constant 1:1 coaching when students actively seek help, and the colleague who thanks you in the TEVAL annual report and tells you she sees “amazing growth in student research skills” that we began teaching in small groups last fall. Best of all, the grad who returns to visit and says “I learned how to use a database instead of just Googling, how look for information, got frustrated, kept trying, took those notes you said I should take, and now I know why you said it was a good idea.” In fact, it was a great idea. There is always hope.

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