On Being Strong Instructional Partners

This week our graduate student chapter of the Massachusetts School Library Association hosted a career panel (note: these graceful dancers were not part of the event, just a fitting illustration of a strong partnership, I thought), where several recently hired school librarians offered their soon-to-be colleagues advice on interviewing, teaching demonstration lessons, and starting their practice of professional school librarianship.  A common theme across the presenters was how impressed (and even surprised) principals and interviewing teams were with the knowledge of teaching and assessment that the candidates brought to their interviews.

The role of the school librarian in student assessment is a critical and much-discussed topic at the moment, as schools implement updated district- and state-level teacher evaluation instruments.  Gathering evidence of student learning requires librarians to attend to diverse forms of assessment every day, including those which may have “thing” to show for the learning – a graphic organizer, a citation, a digital product – and those assessments that do not have an artifact – like crafting an essential question or responding effectively in a discussion – yet still demonstrate whether students know the content or can perform the skill.

In my Zite app today appeared the October 2012 blog post, “What Does Formative Assessment Look Like at the High School Level,” by Pat Sachse of the Alberta High School Completion Strategic Framework.  Among the strategies for maximizing student engagement and learning is the careful planning of discussions:

“Engineer effective discussions that elicit evidence of learning – To find out where students are in their understanding, teachers need to purposefully plan for questions that cause thinking and provide information that informs them about what to do next. Questioning too often consists of low-level, closed questions posed on the fly, and teachers miss the opportunity to check for the transfer of understanding by planning to use higher-level questioning. No Hands Up (except to ask a question) is a technique that can be applied in any classroom, ensuring every student is responsible for providing an answer. To be effective, students must feel comfortable in taking a risk to respond. It may be important to give students time to turn and talk with a partner for a short period to clarify their understanding. Students also need to know that if they provide answers that are incorrect, it is okay as these can be used to clarify misunderstandings.”

This purposeful consideration of questions, prompts, and support of critical thinking is particularly important in inquiry and research.  Whether students are developing research questions, interpreting and talking about sources after or during reading, or working collaboratively to construct a project, the librarian must seize the opportunity to make discussions a valuable tool for assessment, and show what strong teaching partners school librarians can – and must – be.

Read the rest of Pat Sachse’s blog for more strategies on formative assessment in the secondary setting, including understanding learning intentions, providing feedback that moves learners forward, and activating students as instructional resources for each other and as owners of their learning.

–Rebecca Morris

Image: Surrey Celebration Dancers, by Dance Photographer- Brendan Lally on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.



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