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Con Responses to fix sched article

Responses to School Library Journal opinion piece on flexible and fixed scheduling

Thanks to every one who took the time read, think, and respond. Please add any additional comments.


What's Good? A Fixed or a Flexible Schedule?

What is good? A fixed schedule or a flexible schedule? Doug Johnson raised that question in November's School Library Journal (p. 39). I'd say that what is good is a library media program that is flexible and focuses on its school's students becoming lifelong learners.

We, as school library media specialists, know that everything can be thought of as an information learning opportunity just as Jon Scieszka's main character in Math Curse (Viking, 1995) ends up thinking of everything as a math problem. Theoretically, we want our students, staff, and school community to realize that students use information literacy skills in every subject, in their personal lives, and soon, in their professional lives. What students are learning and using in the library media center will be used throughout their lifetime.

On the practical side, recent findings point out that flexible access to the library media center, the flexible scheduling of library literacy lessons, and collaboration between the library media specialist and teachers are proven practices used by the Library Power schools and affirmed by the data collected by the Library Research Service. These concepts enable the Information Power standards for student learning to be met and empower the four roles of library media specialists.

Flexible access to the library media center, its materials, and its services makes the library media center an annex to the classroom and certainly encourages students and members of the school community to become lifelong learners.

Flexible scheduling highlights the who, what, where, when,ä and how for teaching library literacy lessons. All of those factors represent many possibilities and combinations. Maybe a class is taught a fifteen-minute refresher lesson in the classroom just before they start using indexes to locate needed information. Perhaps a class starts and completes a project using the materials in the library media center over a period of two days with one-hour classes each day scheduled at the particular subject time or as close to that time as possible. Or possibly two classes come to the library media center to hear a local author speak about writing science fiction before the classes start reading and writing in that genre.

One thing for sure, as we review Doug Johnson's points, all students (1& 2) deserve equal access to the library media center and the library media program so we must help assure that every who in the school is taught the same or similar ãwhatä with no class being left out. I think (3) we also realize that every lesson may not be a library literacy lesson. There are certainly times during the year when literature, general interest, or holiday lessons are appropriate.  Also flexible access allows students to come to the library media center as needed to check out reading materials any time of the day, any day. Flexibility allows library literacy lessons (4) to be of any length and to be presented as an introduction of a curriculum unit, part of the overall unit, the culminating project, or woven throughout a curriculum unit. Not every meal we eat is a Thanksgiving meal nor is every lesson part of a six-week long unit.

The data from Library Research Service points out a third best practice, collaboration, which is energized by flexible scheduling. With flexible scheduling, we have the opportunity to really fulfill the role of instructional partner. After all, we are not teaching a separate discipline or a leisure-time activity; we are resource teachers. Just a casual form of flexible scheduling gets teachers and library media specialists cooperating in setting a lesson's content and teaching time. Coordination comes next as teachers and the library media specialist formalize their teaching relationship. When the library media specialist and teachers engage in comprehensive planning and continue learning together through in-service training opportunities, collaboration occurs and students are encouraged to become lifelong learners.

If a contract dictates (5) that library media specialists provide prep-time for teachers, they still could within a flexible schedule, but the when of the teacher's planning time will no longer be fixed.  What's more important is providing opportunities for the library media specialist and teachers to plan jointly so that collaboration can occur. When a school sets about the task of developing lifelong learners, its focus changes from counting each prep-time minute to counting the learning opportunities.

Flexible access, flexible scheduling, and collaboration with teachers are best practices that enhance, facilitate, and support students becoming information literate, lifelong learners, and socially responsible. What is good is a library media program that is flexible and focuses on its school's students becoming lifelong learners. That takes time, effort, community support, staff development, and mentoring; but what develops is good for everyone in the school community!

Karen Browne Ohlrich is a former school library media specialist from MD and the author of Making Flexible Access and Flexible Scheduling Work Today (Libraries Unlimited, 2001)

Since you invited comments on your piece entitled "True Flexibility," I am sending my response. When I first read it in SLJ last month, I intended to write a letter to the editor, but was sidetracked. And I had the view that the article could do no harm, for who would be reading it besides other librarians? But placed as it is on your web site, non-librarian/technology coordinators are reading the piece and here it will do irreparable harm to what I believe is best practice in library instruction. (Indeed what prompted my response this evening was an e-mail from a technology staff developer with the comment, "Interesting.")

(Before I respond I wanted to say that I am a long time admirer and have downloaded so many of your other pieces that I found it necessary to place a dougj folder on my desktop.)


1. You can't teach kids you don't see:

Under a Library Power grant I moved from a fixed to a flexible schedule. I saw every student in the school and I collaborated with every teacher in the school. The building administrator monitored the library use and the collaboration. When the grant funding ended, 90% of the faculty chose to continue the flexible schedule.

2. You are enabling teachers to deviate from the curriculum:

4. Inquiry should be a daily activity:

The teachers and I collaborated by beginning with the standards and developing a unit that was a fleshing out of the curriculum. Rather that "covering content" the teachers designed standards-based units which aligned curriculum, instruction and assessment. I integrated the information literacy skills, but the unit was not a "library unit," it was an inquiry that went on when students were in the library or in the classroom. Many teachers in the building said that the collaboration was the best professional development they had experienced because it combined a thoughtful plan, the implementation and reflective practice. Inquiry was ongoing.

3. It's not just research but reading:

Flexible scheduling enabled every child a weekly book checkout. (For they would visit as a class to check out while I taught in another part of the library.) It also allowed open access; if students chose to check out books each day, they did. It also allowed rotating classroom collections in addition to the books checked out in the library. In the first year of Library Power, circulation was up by 20%.

5. We are neglecting our part in the containment agreement:

I have no answer for this, except to say that the educational value of flexible scheduling with collaboration far outweighs the pragmatic concerns.

I had a very nice program when I had a fixed schedule; it was effective within the constraints of my schedule. With a flexible schedule I had a meaningful and authentic program. The research bears me out. In Philadelphia, under Library Power, student's SAT-9 scores were significantly higher than the scores of students at non-Library Power schools. The Lance research in Pennsylvania confirms this finding with PSSA scores higher at schools with flexible scheduling in the library.

When I moved from building level librarian to Supervisor of Libraries, I advocated for flexible schedules for all librarians. I don't devalue the job the elementary librarians do, they work hard; they do a wonderful job. I just believe that deep understanding and meaningful learning is increased through flexible scheduling and collaboration.



Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 07:42PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Flexible v. fixed scheduling that is the question. Somehow a combination seems to be the best way in order to fulfill standards for the 21st century that allows students to follow their questions about the world and gain access to ways to answer those questions as well as learning skills ( library skills) that will help them find their way through the vast amounts of information we have at our fingertips.
Like each teacher with their own effective teaching methods, library flexible v. fixed can include collaboration and Power Library methods. When only one type of approach is advocated it seems to me to be stifling those who work effectively in another way. Some students need the discipline of a structured once a week class and check out time to learn the benefits of what a library has to offer. Others want to come into the library every time they have a question or a research project they want to investigate.
I go both ways on this debate.

April 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdtwombly

Hi Deb,

Thanks for the comment. You've reached the same conclusions I have. In addition, I don't like to see any of us make others feel unprofessional for holding other, reasoned opinions.

All the best,


April 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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