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.