Sunday, January 31, 2010

No 'Standard' Definition of "Standards"?

There is no ‘standard’ definition of “standards”. How ironic is that? In fact, according to, there are 22 definitions of what ‘standard’ means ranging from “a grade of beef immediately below good” to “ a long candlestick used in church” to “a flag indicating the presence of a sovereign or public official” to “a distinct petal on certain flowers that is longer than the rest”. Imagine how confused or frustrated a person would be if one goes into a store to buy a spiritual candle and ends up with beef. Now, I’m being a bit silly here, because most logical people would assume that it means one of the top definitions listed, being either “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison” or “a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment”. However, I can forever hear my mother’s voice in the back of my mind saying “to assume something makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’”. The simple fact is that when it comes to school standards and expectations of what our student should know and be able to do upon graduation, we can’t assume that they’ve learned what we well-intentioned teachers have set out to teach them. We have to be able to assess, and evaluate, fairly and comprehensively whether or not they have the skills, ability and know-how to be successful in the 21st century. To do that effectively we need national, provincial or district wide standards that outline the skills, resources, tools and support that students, teachers and administration need to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum, as well as measurable performance indicators for all stakeholders.

Many school districts across Canada now expect that technology and information literacy will be included in all aspects of curricula and it is often included as part of the learning outcomes. However, there are very few explicit instructions in terms of instructional time or assessment for them in most school districts in Canada. It is being assumed that they are ‘embedded’ as part of existing practice, when that is not necessarily the case. “This type of assumption is akin to one in which classroom teachers and school administrators assume that we are preparing students to be successful in a 21st century world because we are already living in it" (Zmuda & Harada, 2008, p. 84). There has been more of a focus on purchasing equipment and knowing how to use the new technology than on the integration of those technologies in classroom instruction for differentiated learning. As a colleague of mine reflected this week, “students need librarians who are information specialists to support them as they become self directed learners”(MacIsaac, 2010). I found this to be another poignant reminder that it's not enough to simply keep buying new resources and technology, but taking the time to train teachers and librarians on the best ways to integrate and use them to their fullest potential.

The second assumption that I want to refute loudly is that: standards = standardized testing. Standards and standardized tests simply ARE not and I sincerely hope (here in Canada) they DO not become synonymous. I truly believe that standards can be extremely positive because without a "clarity of focus, school leaders will continue to lament the lack of collaboration among staff, the minimal effectiveness of staff-development resources, and the impotency of school improvement efforts" (Zmuda & Harada, 2008 p. 4). However, "while there has been a significant push in the past decade toward a guaranteed and viable curriculum that is standards-based and measured by performance tasks, many students still experience coverage-driven, time-compressed units measured by short answer, multiple choice, and recall-based prompts that are taught via lectures and disconnected activities. Students deserve learning experiences that are rigorous and relevant" (Zmuda & Harada, 2008, p. 4).

What we need to provide for our students today, are authentic inquiry based tasks that are meaningful and relevant to real-life situations. The technology and Web 2.0 tools that we introduce and use with our students should develop the skills that all students should have to be successful in the 21st century. According to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL, 2007) all students should be able to:
1. Inquire, think critically and gain knowledge
2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge and create new knowledge
3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of society
4. Pursue personal growth

“School libraries are essential to the development of [these] learning skills” and it’s important that every school can provide equitable physical and intellectual access to the resources and tools required for learning (AASL, 2007). Until our administrators, governments and communities recognize the important role of technology and expertise that teacher-librarians offer, and invest in technology and programs that will improve teaching and learning opportunities with technology, it is unlikely that students will be given the best possible chances to learn the skills that are so essential for being successful in the 21st century. It is one thing to invest in the necessary equipment and quite another to learn how to use them to their full potential.

How will this impact my teaching in the library? I will be using the book Achieving Information Literacy: Standards for School Library Programs in Canada, along with the ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and the AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner to guide my use of technology. I will also be revising our library handbook’s scope and sequence for all grades to incorporate the technology skills that are outlined in our province’s curriculum guidelines for each subject and strive to create meaningful inquiry projects that utilize a variety of Web 2.0 tools to enhance their learning experiences.


American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Retrieved from:

Asselin, Marlene. Branch, Jennifer. Oberg, Dianne. (2003) Achieving Information Literacy: Standards for School Library Programs in Canada. The Canadian School Library Association and the Association for Teacher-Librarianship in Canada. Ottawa.

MacIsaac, Dawn. (January 25, 2010). Information Tech for Learning: Standards Discussion Question Two [Msg 2]. Message Posted to:

Zmuda, A., & Harada, V. H. (2008). Librarians as learning specialists: Meeting the learning imperative for the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credits
Beef Image. Retrieved from:

Standardized test results cartoon. Retrieved from:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Learning in the 21st Century: Flinstones or Jetsons?

If anyone had told me 20 years ago, that I would be sitting on a plane one day with my laptop computer and conversing with my friends on a video call or socializing on a networking site called Facebook while 30, 000 feet in the air, I would have scoffed and told them to keep watching “the Jetsons”. I never would have believed that I would actually find myself here, in seat 10A on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Seattle participating in online discussions with my classmates from across Canada on the University of Alberta’s eclass system. It is mind boggling to see the technological changes that have take place in my life over the last few years. The advent of digital cameras, cell phones, and laptops with multifunctional capacities to video conference and surf the web are just to name a few. My students think I’m from the Stone Age when I tell them that I grew up with a black and white TV (with no remote) and I get only blank stares when I mention the words “rotary dial phone”. These are truly digital natives I think to myself. It is indisputable that technology has emerged, become omnipresent and is creating a new environment, not only for ourselves, but for our children and students as well.

In the new Kaiser Foundation report, daily media use among teenagers is up dramatically from only 5 years ago. It has been calculated that they now spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using media – more if you take into consideration that most of that time is spent multi-tasking and using more than one device at a time (Richardson). As Will Richardson said in his Blog a few days ago “Anyway you slice [it], kids are immersed in media, and that immersion is having a huge effect on the way they see the world and the way they learn”.

Sadly, the learning that I experienced as a student myself in classroom settings was not always relevant, timely, or applicable to real-life. Prior to starting my masters and taking courses online, it was always text book-based and I was often bored; as I’m sure many students still are today. The times in my life that I felt I was learning- deeply and completely, have involved real-life problem solving situations or being put in a position where my life or health was at stake. The scenarios differ widely from performing a killer whale necropsy to discover why the animal died to taking safety courses in sailing, scuba diving, avalanche awareness or rock-climbing. The common thread however is that these lessons involved hands-on, personal inquiry questions that were engaging and applicable to real life situations and the learning that occurred was much more profound as a result. So how do we create these “just-in-time”, “just-for-me” learning situations that Joyce Valenza refers to? And what are the skills, knowledge and expertise that our students will need to be successful in the 21st century?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been a leading advocacy organization for infusing 21st century skills into education and is comprised of educators, community groups and business leaders. They promote the following skills, knowledge and expertise as being necessary for students to succeed in work and life (Johnson):

1.Core subjects and 21st century themes such as: language arts, mathematics,
science, global awareness and financial literacy
2.Learning and innovation skills such as: creativity and critical thinking and problem solving
3.Information, media and technology skills
4.Life and career skills such as initiative and self-direction.

Based on this, I can envision a school that would involve other learners that had similar interests and learning objectives from other schools and countries. It would certainly involve the sharing of background knowledge from multicultural perspectives and the sharing and synthesis of new ideas and the celebration of new discoveries. It would be presented in a collaborative fashion for anyone and everyone who was interested to appreciate or critique. The resources and technological tools that the learners would use would be those that would aid in their communication, collaboration and networking. It would involve changing our current way of thinking and teaching to create a community system instead of a classroom system.

“It’s hard to think of a century in which it wasn’t important to think critically as well as be analytical, creative and collaborative. Imagine a prehistoric group on a hunt for food that did not employ this kind of approach. You’d have to imagine it, because society would not last” (Manthey).

As educators, it is paramount that we find ways to infuse these skills into all aspects of the curriculum and combine them with the available and engaging Web 2.0 tools. By “integrating 21st century skills deliberately and systematically into the teaching of core subjects appears to empower educators to make learning relevant and to help students be successful” (Trilling, as cited in Weis). In doing so, we have the opportunity to make the giant leap from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. As Will Richardson says “We may not feel comfortable in a world filled with technology. But our kids don’t have a choice. And if we’re going to fulfill our roles as teachers in our kids lives, neither do we.”

What kind of educator would you rather be? Fred and Wilma Flintstone or George and Jane Jetson?


Johnson, Paige (September 2009). The 21st Century Skills Movement. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from:

Manthey, George. (November/December 2009). The Knowledge vs. Skills Debate: A False Dichotomy? Leadership. Retrieved from:;col1

Richardson, Will. (January 21, 2009). No Choice. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved from:

Valenza, Joyce. (2010). You Know You’re a 21st Century Librarian If…Wiki. Retrieved from:

Weis, Charles. (November/December 2009). Innovative Paths to Improve Learning. Leadership. Retrieved from:

Image Credits.
Jane Jetson Making a Video Call Image. Retrieved from:

Flintstones and Jetsons Image. Retrieved from:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A New Digital Divide

For the last 10 days I have been on a rock climbing trip in North Central Mexico. El Potrero Chico is a series of Limestone Mountains that grace the relatively small town of Hidalgo. It is not a tourist destination but a typical town and the only businesses are a cement factory located prominently in the town centre and the various campgrounds and small restaurants that cater to climbers a few kilometers outside town limits. It seems as though the internet access here is as reliable as hot water…intermittent at best. I can usually pick up a wireless connection at our campground when the weather is good. However, it has been rather cold and rainy the past few days and I had to venture into town to find something more reliable. I spent part of yesterday working at the sole internet “cafĂ©” (and I use that term very loosely). It is an unmarked, unpainted cement building that has 10 computer terminals for a town of 30,000 people. (Only 6 of the terminals actually worked.) Fortunately for me, the Policia picked me up as I was hitch-hiking into town and delivered me to the front steps otherwise it is unlikely that I would have found it. As the afternoon school session let out around 5:30pm a few high school students dressed in their red uniforms arrived to work on their homework. Six students shared the only 3 open computers and were working diligently as I left for dinner. Never before have I been so cognizant of the economic and technological divide between Canada and Mexico. The disparity between our countries still boggles my mind in this day and age. At home, I get frustrated by only having one smart board in my entire school, when the reality for most Mexican students is having no computers or internet access until they reach high school. It made me think of some of the articles I read this week, particularly one entitled “Things that Keep us Up at Night” by Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson.

In this article, Valenza and Johnson state,
“We have no textbook for what 21st century school library practice looks like”. So how do we ensure that all learners have access to new tools and resources? Not only that, but how do we ensure that all learners are taught the necessary skills to navigate this world? This may present a “new digital divide” that is no longer about access to computers but is about whether students “can appreciate, understand, and create quality information”.

In Canada, most students are fortunate enough to have easy access to computers and the internet. I am becoming increasingly concerned however, that they are not receiving proper instruction on how to navigate the Web 2.0 world and building the proper communication skills that they will need to work and be successful in the 21st century. Many of the other articles I’ve read lately show that despite their avid use of computers and technology many students are not as proficient as was previously thought with these ‘new literacy’ skills such as using search engines effectively, reading websites, selecting hyperlinks and comparing information across sources (Asselin & Doiron, Todd). For me, a shift is occurring from advocating for more and better resources to promoting their use more effectively. “It’s not about learning to use the software, it’s about the skills our students will carry with them that these tools and others like them allow. It’s about our students expressing themselves clearly, beautifully and skillfully” (Foote). If we can guide and teach our students to do that throughout their lives, then in my opinion, we have achieved our goal as educators.

A colleague of mine questioned me this week why I would start my Master’s in Education in Teacher-Librarianship when my position has been reduced dramatically to one hour a day and my budget has become so dismal it’s practically nonexistent. To be honest, I sometimes do get frustrated that I don’t have enough time in a day to do my job as effectively as I would like. However, I am strongly reminded this week that my school is more fortunate than others in that we have easy access to computers and a welcoming, warm environment that is rich in print and digital resources, with a caring Library Assistant and part-time Librarian. Not all schools in Canada are that fortunate and certainly not in Mexico or other parts of the World. I am also privileged to work with an encouraging, supportive and collaborative staff that consistently model life-long learning and strive to inspire their students. I am grateful for what I have, but I believe it has become an integral part of our jobs as Teacher-Librarians to promote what we have to offer and strive to continually improve our practice and make our current education system better to meet the changing needs of our students. It is becoming clearer that "today’s students are no longer the people our education system was designed to teach." (Prensky, 2001 as cited in Asselin & Doiron). And it is a call to action that Teacher –Librarians should take a leadership role in advocating for and promoting changes in our own practice that respond to particular needs within our own schools.

For me, that means concentrating on closing this new “digital divide” that is forming. What does it mean for you?

Asselin, Marlene. Doiron, Ray. (July, 2008). Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries 2.0.e School Libraries Worldwide. Vol 14. Iss 2. Retrieved from

Foote, Carolyn. (November 30, 2009). What are We Really Fighting For? Not So Distant Future blog. Retrieved from:

Todd, Ross J. (July, 2008). Youth and their Virtual Networked Words: Research Findings and Implications for School Libraries. School Libraries Worldwide. Vol 14. Iss2. Retrieved from:

Valenza, Joyce. Johnson, Doug. (October 1, 2009) Things That Keep Us Up at Night. School Library Journal. Retrieved from: