AASL Standards for the Twenty-First-Century Learner
By Johns, Sara Kelly
“For students to arrive at the destination mapped out for them, these standards need a commitment from the whole school, lead by the school library media specialist from the school library media center. We cannot meet these standards in the library, taught only by us in isolation.” I love maps. My car’s map pockets overflow and the school libraries I’ve worked in have probably had more atlases than they really needed. I consider framed historical or geographical maps a valid decorative accent in any home, office, or library. I envied Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map as it guided him around Hogwarts. I enjoy using the Grokker search engine and seeing a visual map of my search results. I appreciate the Jet Blue screen that can be tuned to show exactly where the plane is as I fly.
When I drive to new destinations, I find just the right area road map, check the road atlas to see the larger picture, and then compare driving directions retrieved from at least two of my favorite online services: Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, MapQuest, Rand McNally, and AAA. Now, I also have “Richard,” the voice of our GPS, the most advanced technology available to me for finding my way. But Richard has a sometimes-annoying habit of assuming that I want to take the highways, not the often more interesting and rewarding secondary roads. If I alter the route and get momentarily lost, Richard or one of my road maps can refocus my route to reach my destination. I have a need to know where I am headed and where I am on the trip at all times.
Thus it was not surprising that, when I first contemplated the new AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, I discovered a GPS for a learning journey and for our role as our students’ guide. It’s a role that requires us to hone our leadership skills, to work collaboratively, and to be better teachers. For students to arrive at the destination mapped out for them, these standards need a commitment from the whole school, lead by the school library media specialist from the school library media center. We cannot meet these standards in the library, taught only by us in isolation.
The new standards focus on the learner. They outline the content and process that students need to learn now and will need in the future, a process taught through the school library program by a school library teacher. The standards are not a scope, sequence, or curriculum guide. They are, instead, a framework for the integration of information and other literacies with curricula in other subjects, taught in classrooms and libraries.
During an active and thought-provoking AASL blog discussion of the new standards, Gail Dickinson, speaking for herself in a personal e-mail, discussed the standards as a replacement for the previous standards, not an adaptation to be interwoven.
These [standards] are not “plop-n-go.” We can’t just pull out references to [Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning] standards out of existing lessons and replace them with these standards. And even if we can, it’s not the first step. That’s kind of like picking all of the mushrooms off the pizza and replacing them with pepperoni. We need to re-think the dinner that we serve. Maybe it will still be pizza with the lingering taste of mushrooms. Maybe, though, it will be a different type of meal.
These standards outline the skills our students need now, ongoing beliefs and attitudes (dispositions) needed for those skills to te practiced, the responsibilities or common behaviors of students as they learn, and strategies for personal assessment of their learning. Instead of being a curriculum guide or a scope and sequence of what skills are needed at which level, they are a framework for multiple literacies and are designed for delivery together with the classroom teacher. These standards focus on the students’
* skills (needed key abilities);
* responsibilities (common ethical and legal behaviors used by independent learners);
* dispositions (ongoing beliefs and attitudes that guide thinking and intellectual behavior); and
* self-assessment strategies (reflections on one’s own learning).
And among the well-stated nine Common Beliefs that begin the standards are two that I see as critical to our positions as library media specialists at this time: “Reading is a window to the world” and “School libraries are essential to the development of learning skills.” The connection to reading and literacy is intrinsic to our mission as school librarians. Since we have aligned ourselves carefully and systematically with emerging technologies in recent years, the school library’s crucial role in meeting the need for students to love reading and to read well (in order to use technology well, for one reason) is often lost on the decision makers who decide whether to maintain a well-staffed school library or hire literacy coaches or technology teachers. These standards remind them of that connection and us of the need to promote the magic we do to entice students to read.
These standards travel beyond information literacy to address multiple literacies, reflecting our students’ twentyfirst-century participatory culture. To prepare for the AASL Vision Forum that began the process of rewriting the standards, the participants read Henry Jenkins’ white paper for the McArthur Foundation, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. I first heard Jenkins discuss libraries’ role in that culture at a New England Educational Media Association meeting in Boston, and he defined it further in an e-mail to me:
For the past two decades, we’ve talked about the digital divide- which is defined in terms of insuring young people access to networked computing technologies. Both school and public libraries played a central role in making sure every child in America has a chance to access the online world. But we now face a participation gap. Powerful informal learning takes place through social networks, fan communities, multiplayer games, virtual worlds, YouTube, Live Journal, Flickr, and so forth. Some young people are acquiring important social skills and cultural competencies through their participation in such sites. But they are often asked to shed their most powerful ways of learning as they enter the schoolhouse. And other children lack access to this new “hidden curriculum” outside of the school hours and face policies in school that block them from exploring these emerging spaces for creativity and collaboration.
Libraries, once again, can play a central role in combating these problems. They can become sites where alternative learning takes place, where young people can experiment and learn with the affordances of the new media. Librarians will often be the people in these schools who have the best understanding of how these new media platforms work and what value they bring to learning. They will become research facilitators, helping young people navigate through this complex information space. Historically, librarians have also recognized the importance of unfettered access to ideas and information. They may be best situated to defend young people’s urgent needs to be able to participate meaningfully in what are some of the defining cultural experiences and social environments of their generation. (Jenkins 2008)
AASL’s current strategic planning includes the objective to “increase the currency and relevancy of AASL’s information literacy standards for student learning.” The strategies for that objective were to review the current standards and revise if necessary (AT A 2008b). The standards were the work of a writing task force created after the AASL board made the decision at the 2006 ALA Annual Conference board meeting to rewrite, not revise, the 1998 Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning.
The AASL task force appointed to write the standards was co- chaired by Cassandra Barnett, a high school librarian (now 2008-09 AASL president-elect), and Gail Dickinson, a library educator. Task force members included Gene Hainer, Melissa Johnston, Marcia Mardis, and Barbara Stripling-a state librarian, elementary librarian, library educator, and school library system director, respectively. They did not work in isolation; the profession gave input at a 2007 Midwinter Meeting forum and through a wiki that invited comments from the field. The task force carefully reviewed and considered every comment and had a final draft done in time for publication and distribution at the AASL national conference in Reno. It was intense, collaborative, excellent work by some of the best minds on our profession.
Kathy Lowe, the executive director of the Massachusetts School Library Association, is the chair of the AASL Learning Assessment and Indicators Task Force. That task force is the next leg of the journey for the standards. They will develop indicators, benchmarks, model examples, and assessments on the basis of the new standards. Several of the people on the task force are from the standards writing task force, and they are starting with work they did while writing standards themselves. Joining Melissa Johnston, Barbara Stripling, and Cassandra Barnett are Fran Glick from Baltimore City Schools and virtual member/assessment expert Vi Harada from Hawaii. To paraphrase Gail Bush of National Louis University, the new standards are like chapter 2 of the 1998 Information Power (ALA 1998) that contains the Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning. The Learning Assessment and Indicators Task Force work is the rest of the book. It will be an enduring publication for the profession.
Because the standards have come out first, the profession has an opportunity to study and reflect and develop ideas for teaching and curriculum. The first draft of their efforts is available on the AASL website for review and comment as I write this and there will be a forum at ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim on Saturday, June 28, at 9 AM; the comments from both will be carefully reviewed and considered for a September final draft.
But that is not all of the AASL work on standards and guidelines that is going on this year. Besides the Learning Assessment and Indicators piece, the implementation plan (that task force is chaired by Susan Ballard) is on its way, as are the School Library Media Program Guidelines, the task force chaired by Bonnie Grimble.
As this work continues, the standards are there for you to consider. How are you approaching the new AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners? Have you weeded Information Power from your collection? Or, are you keeping it handy for its definition of our roles as teacher, instructional partner, information specialist, and program administrator, as well as the definition of the information literacy process, one of the literacies incorporated in the new standards? Have you read the new standards, reflecting to determine how your program already meets the new standards and what you might do to refocus it? We need to write curricula around the new standards, connect them to our current teaching, and identify new routes for our students’ learning. One map for sharpening our own teaching practices would be reflection on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Library/Media Standards:
What Library Media Specialists Know
* Knowledge of Learners
* Knowledge of Teaching and Learning
* Knowledge of Library and Information Studies
What Library Media Specialists Do
* Integrate Instruction
* Lead Innovation through the Library Media Program
* Administer the Library Media Program
How Library Media Specialists Grow as Professionals
* Reflective Practice
* Professional Growth
* Ethics, Equity, and Diversity
* Leadership, Advocacy, and Community Partnerships (NBPT, nd.)
The standards are already “speaking” to other educators and even parents. As the “Spokane Moms” started their crusade to get school librarians and library materials funded in their state, they looked at the new standards and said that these are the skills their kids need in the 21st Century. Our new national standards inspired and excited them. In a meeting with Dr. Thomas James, the dean of Columbia Teachers College, he commented that the students described in the standards are the kind of students we want to graduate from our schools. The standards are a powerful advocacy piece for legislators and other decisionmakers as school library positions and programs are defended and funded. Many of us have made appointments to discuss them with our own administrators and presented them to our teachers.
Our questions to ourselves need to be: “What did I do today that reflects our new standards?” and “Who else in our school shares the Common Beliefs with me?” Your answers will be a personal map to a 21st Century program. When all the new pieces are completed and the standards implemented, our students will have school library programs that will prepare them for learning now and into the future.
American Library Association (AT A). 2008a. “AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner.” American Association of School Librarians.
_____. 2008b. “AASL Strategic Plan.” American Association of School Librarians,
_____. 2008c. Information Power: Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning.” American Association of School Librarians.
ALA and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. 1998. Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago, ALA.
Bush, G. Personal e-mail. Nov. 14, 2007.
Dickinson, G. K. 2008. “Yes, the Standards are Different.” AASL Blog. <> (May 5, 2008). >
Jenkins, H. 2006. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media.” Education for the 21st Century. Chicago: MacArthur Foundation, <> (May 5, 2008). >
Jenkins, H. Personal e-mail. Apr. 27, 2008.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Comparative Media Studies.” Project New Media Literacies. <> (May 5, 2008). >
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Library Media/Early Childhood through Young Adulthood Certificate.”
Sara Kelly Johns, 2007-2008 AASL President
Copyright American Library Association Mar/Apr 2008
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