Evidence-based practice for librarians : Sounds like a Rove McManus ‘What The…?’

Thanks to all the people who contributed to the recent thread on the Schoollib listserv about what librarians might NOT do, in order to find time for more important things. There were great ideas shared, and I know from the responses I had, off-list, that many of you found it valuable to step back for a moment and give that some thought.

Today, I’m pondering evidence-based practice. It is an oft-spoken phrase, but can be difficult to put real structure around. We don’t traditionally have access to assessment data which measures the learning which can be directly attributed to the work we do with students. I had some experience in my last school which showed that it was possible to work with teachers to include this in assessment data gathering, especially if you are able to work collaboratively with teachers during the planning process. We did use the National Education Monitoring Project kit as well, (which can be purchased here) to evaluate student skills in the library and in information gathering, and repeated the activities (with modifications) later, to measure student learning. Here are some of the other ideas I/we employed:

The teaching staff met at the beginning of the year to look at various data sets gathered – you will know the variety of testing done in your school. I attended those meetings, and engaged with teachers around data related to literacy and information literacy. It gave me a picture of what the level of abilities were in different classes, and introduced me to the language of this kind of assessment. Invaluable. If you cannot do this, I’m sure individual teachers would be happy to share their class data with you.

I used simple observation tactics, moving around a class using the library (or accessing websites), and collated simple data about their skills and methods, and used this data to engage with teachers around student learning needs, and ways in which I could add value. This often led to follow-up lessons, or just-in-time learning, which can be anecdotally recorded.

Another method used was to engage with a class prior to beginning a research activity, ask them to place themselves on a continuum (usually a physical line across the library), expressing things such as level of confidence in using the library or a particular kind of resource. Take a photo, engage in the teaching and learning, and repeat the process – measure the shift in confidence. Very simple to do, and teachers appreciate that it doesn’t take a lot of time out of ‘their’ lesson.

I also worked with some teachers in looking at the final product of a research activity, and this allowed us to unpack the learning outcomes, what had we taught well, what had we missed, what was our next step. Often the greatest learning was the teacher-to-librarian learning. Reflective practice at its finest!

What methods do you use to gather evidence that what you do in your library makes a difference to student achievement? And how do you report on them to your learning community? Please post your ideas on this topic to the listserv, so that we can develop our collective wisdom.

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5 Responses to Evidence-based practice for librarians : Sounds like a Rove McManus ‘What The…?’

  1. Rosalba says:

    For staff development/appraisal this year our teaching staff were asked to explore some area of learning with a “buddy” from another department. One part of their brief was do complete some professional reading on their subject. Lots of kudos for the librarian (moi) !! (and interesting stuff to read – to connect her with what’s going on) Then I was asked to join a group who were researching why the Year 7s didn’t make connections between questions and information they were given. Basic IL – but room for the librarian to collect some evidence. The question was prompted by an english class who were asked questions but failed to pick up the answers from their reading (of a novel – the Garbage King) and the various forms of information provided for them. The teacher had given them little scaffolding. So along comes the next novel (Why the whales came) and the research process was repeated except that they were given some IL lessons, framed some questions from their first big question, had a pathfinder used their information with the librarian or teacher… and of course the result was much better. Evidence in in practice – but not always easy for us to do – needs a willing teacher. I have tried to do this through the academic committee, but it doesn’t seem to work. Howevevr in this case the word got out and now we are practising it with some Year 7 scientists.
    Secondly I keep an anecdotal book of notes when staff, students, parents come back to comment on the usefulness of our service. Little thanks yous go a long way.

  2. Brian Waddell says:

    Two strategies we use are:

    Collaborative planning and teaching for information literacy is the key to obtaining a true reflection of leaning outcomes. Reflecting with the teacher is an aspect of this collaboration as we reflect on the specific learning outcomes for the inquiry task.

    To gather school wide data we have developed information literacy benchmarks for years 3, 5 and 7. This was a collaborative exercise involving all teaching staff and one that is reviewed every three years.

    • Thanks Brian. Collaborative planning is key, I agree. For many school librarians, getting that entree into the collaborative planning process is the stumbling block. I worked through my management team to get that particular ball rolling. Uptake was slow, and the road was strewn with boulders, but it was, nevertheless, the best possible way forward. That is where we can build teacher buy-in to the need for integrated information literacy teaching. I appreciate your comments!

  3. Brian Waddell says:

    Yes I think Lisa’s post on the list sums it up well when she writes about the importance of gathering evidence in a planned way e.g. ” to actively working with a teacher in a planned way around a learning outcome, or teaching the concept and tools of personal knowledge curation to a group of students, we need to know what our baseline is, what we will measure, how we will measure and when we will measure it. ”

    The interpretation of this is for the librarian to be involved in the unit planning so that the appropriate specific learning outcomes can be negotiated, collaboratively taught and then assessed.

    Interesting in that in the last NEMP Social Sciences report many students where unaware they were learning about Social Sciences, that thought the subject was “Topic”!

    So as you say being specific is the key.

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