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Real Flexibility

Real Flexibility (and a variety of responses, pro and con, to the article)

School Library Journal, Nov 2001 (Also a paper by graduate student and media specialist Christine Hurley exploring the topic.)

Look, I’m tired of getting beat up about our fixed scheduled library media programs. I’ve offered my last apology. I know the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) through its position papers, standards, and editorial policies says in no uncertain terms that flexibly scheduled library programs are good and programs with fixed library schedules are bad. Granted there is some research about the benefits of flexibly scheduled programs, and anytime we can work toward proven best practices, we should.

But unfortunately what many dedicated professionals hear is: “School media specialists in flexibly scheduled programs are good and school media specialists in programs with fixed schedules are bad.” This one-sided philosophy takes the wind out of the many media specialists’ sails who are in fixed schedules. Is there no room in the AASL tent for both the flexible and the fixed? I believe there are some serious downsides to flexible scheduling and strengths to fixed scheduling that I can’t find addressed in the literature:

1. You can’t teach kids you don’t see. I’ve never met a media specialist in a flex program that meets with every teacher on staff, let alone for an equal amount of time. Granted those students whose teacher is cooperative get a superior learning experience. But what about the kids whose teachers are so isolationist that they don’t even get to the library for book checkout, let alone to learn media skills? Shouldn’t we be asking: Do we give some kids great skills and other kids no skills, or do we give all kids the ability to learn some skills knowing that we could do better in an ideal world?

2. We are enabling teachers to deviate from the curriculum. High-stakes testing will be a fixed mountain in our political landscape for some time, like it or not. One benefit of testing has been to standardize our curriculum to make sure all teachers actually teach the skills they are expected to teach. Unless “flexible” scheduling is mandated for every class, it encourages the rogue-teacher mentality of teaching: “what I want to teach and when I want to teach it.” Shouldn’t we be asking: Does a flexible or fixed schedule work better with a prescribed curriculum?

3. It’s not just research, but reading. The library media program’s emphasis on improving reading skills by encouraging independent reading practice may prove to be the hobbit that saves us from the goblins looking for “nonessential” programs to whack. Every child deserves time every week to experience story times, book talks, and, for goodness sake, book check out! Shouldn’t we be asking: Do we sacrifice our role in promoting life-long readers that can be best done with regular library media center visits to our role in teaching technology and information literacy skills in flexibly scheduled programs?

4. Inquiry should be a daily activity. Flexible scheduling seems to encourage teachers and media specialists to work together on only big projects during the school year. But how accurately does this reflect how adults conduct inquiry? Most of us do little bitty inquiry “projects” every day. (Where do I get the best price on that lawn mower?) Weekly mini-lessons that apply a single aspect of the inquiry process, tied to a class topic, may well provide better practice in real problem solving. Shouldn’t we be asking: Can smaller but continuous opportunities for practicing information literacy skills be as or more beneficial than a few, isolated larger projects?

5. We are neglecting our part in the containment agreement. Schools have three charges from society: teach, socialize, and contain. Yes, keeping an eye on the community’s young people while Mom and Dad are working. When media specialists in a fixed schedule also provide prep time, they are helping hold up the containment part of school’s obligation. And let’s just get bottom-line pragmatic—it’s hard to fire prep-time providers. Shouldn’t we be asking: Do we want to work with a fixed schedule and have job security or with a flex schedule and be vulnerable to cuts?

Like it or not, we operate in a real world with budgets, differing teaching styles, and community expectations that impinge on our professional dignity. All good professionals play the best game they can with the cards they’re been dealt and never let a fixed schedule be an excuse for an ineffective program. Come on, AASL, take the blinders off.

Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 07:32PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | Comments1 Comment

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Reader Comments (1)

After reading PM Creighton "Just How Flexible are We?" and C. Hurley "Fixed v. Flexible Scheduling in Library Media Centers" the research by Lance, Rodney, Hamilton-Pennell convinced me that the impact of flexible scheduling on student achievement can be significant when individual students visit the library independently. And group work does not impact achievement. I would love to know what help the individual students receive but that's for another article. The impressive results in Blue Ribbon Florida schools also gave support to the effect of flexible scheduling.
As difficult as flexible scheduling is for the elementary school because the skill level of young children is low -- they are learning how to answer their own questions, learning what reference materials will help them, and how to use page numbers, indexes, glossaries, dictionaries, web sites etc. we should still pursue it. Given the research results and the AASL's persistent stand on flexible scheduling we need to push toward the goal. Elementary classes need to be able to have as much access as a high school student with independent time on an as needed basis. Libraries need to stay open throughout the day with lunch coverage, before and after school coverage and continually look for ways to encourage students to come use the library independently. The AASL's standards for the 21st Century has goals of gaining skills to use technology, become life long independent learners, and pursue personal growth.
Let's get to work through advocacy and each explain to the powers that be what specific obstacles we meet when trying to have flexible scheduling. There's a way to do this everywhere.

April 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdtwombly

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