21st Century Skills in Action in School Libraries

If you thought the 21st Century Skills list of Information Literacy expectations for 21st century learners was impressive in the previous Post, then just read what the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) [See # at bottom.] has developed as guidelines for school librarians and libraries in their December 2008 publication “Standards for the 21st-Century Learner IN ACTION”*.

Learning in the 21st Century has taken on new dimensions with the exponential expansion of information, ever-changing tools, increasing digitization of text, and heightened demands for critical and creative thinking, communication, and collaborative problem solving. To succeed in our rapid-paced, global society, our learners must develop a high level of skills, attitudes and responsibilities. All learners must be able to access high-quality information from diverse perspectives, make sense of it to draw their own conclusions or create new knowledge, and share their knowledge with others.

In recognition of these demands, the American Association of School Librarians has developed standards that expand the definition of information literacy to include multiple literacies, including digital, visual, textual, and technological that are crucial for all learners to acquire in order to be successful in our information-rich society. The new standards, entitled Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, take a fresh approach and a broad perspective on student standards in the school library field by focusing on the learning process. The Standards for the 21st-Century Learner lay out underlying common beliefs as well as standards and indicators for essential skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies for all learners.

These standards represent high expectations for today’s learners, because they will provide the foundation for learning throughout life. The standards and indicators will serve as guideposts for school library media specialists and other educators in their teaching, because these skills and dispositions are most effectively taught as an integral part of content learning.

The focus of these standards is on the learner, but implicit within every standard and indicator is the necessity of a strong school library program that offers a highly-qualified school library media specialist (a term used interchangeably with librarian), equitable access to up-to-date resources, dynamic instruction, and a culture that nurtures reading and learning throughout the school.

(*This publication complements the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs publications by AASL.)

As I’ve written before, school librarians are miles ahead of public librarians in understanding and embracing 21st Century Skills and all that it entails. While their efforts are aimed at developing life-long learners ready for the 21st Century world in which they will live and work, public librarians’ efforts should be aimed at providing these same skills to those customers who did not receive this kind of 21st Century education.

Below is just one example of the Standards AASL is promoting, and which many states’ departments of education are adopting as their own state standards in their public education system.

7e. Benchmarks to Achieve by Grade 12

Standard 1: Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.

Strand 1.1: Skills

Indicator 1.1.1:  Follow an inquiry-based process in seeking knowledge in curricular subjects, and make the real-world connection for using this process in own life.

·Independently and systematically use an inquiry-based process to deepen content knowledge, connect academic learning with the real world, pursue personal interests, and investigate opportunities for personal growth.

Indicator 1.1.2:  Use prior and background knowledge as context for new learning.

·Explore general information sources to increase familiarity with the topic or question.

·Review the initial information need to develop, clarify, revise, or refine the question.

·Compare new background information with prior knowledge to determine direction and focus of new learning.

Indicator 1.1.3:  Develop and refine a range of questions to frame the search for new understanding.

·Recognize that the purpose of the inquiry determines the type of questions and the type of thinking required (e.g., an historical purpose may require one to take a position and defend it).

·Explore problems or questions for which there are multiple answers or no “best” answer.

·Review the initial information need to clarify, revise, or refine the questions.

Indicator 1.1.4:  Find, evaluate, and select appropriate sources to answer questions.

·Identify the value of and differences among potential resources in a variety of formats.

·Use various search systems to retrieve information in a variety of formats.

·Seek and use a variety of specialized resources available from libraries, the Internet, and the community.

·Describe criteria used to make resource decisions and choices.

Indicator 1.1.5:  Evaluate information found in selected sources on the basis of accuracy, validity, appropriateness for needs, importance, and social and cultural context.

·Evaluate historical information for validity of interpretation, and scientific information for accuracy and reliability of data.

·Recognize the social, cultural, or other context within which the information was created and explain the impact of context on interpreting the information.

·Use consciously selected criteria to determine whether the information contradicts or verifies information from other sources.

Indicator 1.1.6: Read, view, and listen for information presented in any format (e.g., textual, visual, media, digital) in order to make inferences and gather meaning.

·Restate concepts in own words and select appropriate data accurately.

·Integrate new information presented in various formats with previous information or knowledge.

·Analyze initial synthesis of findings and construct new hypotheses or generalizations if warranted.

·Challenge ideas represented and make notes of questions to pursue in additional sources.

Indicator 1.1.7:  Make sense of information gathered from diverse sources by identifying misconceptions, main and supporting ideas, conflicting information, and point of view or bias.

·Create a system to organize the information.

·Analyze the structure and logic of supporting arguments or methods.

·Analyze information for prejudice, deception, or manipulation.

·Investigate different viewpoints encountered and determine whether and how to incorporate or reject these viewpoints.

·Compensate for the effect of point of view and bias by seeking alternative perspectives.

Indicator 1.1.8:  Demonstrate mastery of technology tools for accessing information and pursuing inquiry.

·Select the most appropriate technologies to access and retrieve the needed information.

·Use various technologies to organize and manage the information selected.

·Create own electronic learning spaces by collecting and organizing links to information resources, working collaboratively, and sharing new ideas and understandings with others.

Indicator 1.1.9:  Collaborate with others to broaden and deepen understanding.

·Model social skills and character traits that advance a team’s ability to identify issues and problems and work together on solutions and products.

·Design and implement projects that include participation from diverse groups.

Seriously, can any public librarian read this list of expectations of what the high school graduate will soon know about information literacy and NOT question their own role in the library profession? School librarians have always supported the curriculum, faculty and students, but the public librarian role is NOT so clear cut.

Presuming that a high school graduate has actually become competent in all the Standards described above, how many librarians (MLS or not) can say they are MORE proficient than that? Maybe these standards should be the new standards for librarians. Public librarians have the opportunity and the challenge to become more than they ever thought they could be, or …………….. The alternative is not enticing!

# “On Sept. 1, Julie Walker, executive director of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), assumed the role of strategic council chair for P21. Walker will serve for the 2010-2011 academic year.”


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3 responses to “21st Century Skills in Action in School Libraries

  1. Those standards certainly sound great. Unfortunately, school librarians are not mandated in every state … which means that too many K-12 students have not gotten any consistent and articulated development of these skills by the time they graduate.

    • You are absolutely correct, and it is very unfortunate. It will take at least another 10 years (IMHO) before young people graduating from high school have any significant proficiency with these Information Literacy skills. That will also depend on whether a state’s education system has progressed in that area and recognized the value of school librarians and library media specialists. One that I am acquainted with is the Jordan (UT) School District’s Engaged Classroom Project. There should be thousands more.

      Which means for public librarians, there is still time to acquire the skills that most of our patrons will have in 10 years. Identifying those skills and acquiring them may take 10 years, considering that the whole situation is a moving target. Our schools are preparing 21st Century students for jobs that don’t currently exist that will use technology that hasn’t been invented to solve problems we don’t yet understand. We all have to catch up!

  2. Pingback: What Future Will Watson and DPLA Make for Libraries? | 21st Century Library Blog

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