SGO's and Library Media Specialists: Problems and Solutions
If you're like me - and many other High School Library Media Specialists - you don't have scheduled classes. I don't have a specific pool of students that I see all of the time. I don't grade. I rarely do lesson plans. That's just not how I service my students. Guidance counselors, school psychologists, nurses, and other fellow non-instructional staff also have the same problem. We need to show measurable student growth without access to our own students.
I'm by no means an expert on SGOs and how to write them, but here's a list of obstacles I've personally experienced in trying to come up with SGOs, and suggestions on how to overcome them:
PROBLEM: No students of your own. You don't have a set schedule of students. Or maybe you only teach small sections during a part of the year that doesn't coincide with your SGO data gathering time. Or maybe you see students regularly, but they rotate constantly and you're never guaranteed to see the same student twice. Either way, getting students to take your SGO assessment is a logistical challenge. If you don't have your own students, you'll have to "borrow" someone else's. There are idealistic and practical ways to do this though.
- Ideally, with administration involved, you can set up a system that is mandated throughout a core subject in your school. For example, all Social Studies or English teachers "must" hand your SGO pre-assessment to all of their classes. This will indeed hit the most students (perhaps even all of the students in your school), but takes not only advanced planning, but a great relationship with your administration and teachers. If you're a new nontenured teacher like me - or just don't have a school environment that's conducive to such grand scale operations - this is not a practical approach. But if you are well-established (or gutsy) and think that your school supervisors and administration would be open to the idea, go for it! Not only would it meet your SGO needs, but it would be a fantastic way to collect data on the information literacy skills of all your students.
- More practically, just find a teacher you like and trust and start small. Ask them if you can borrow one of their sections and use the SGO just on those kids. For example just hit the Shakespeare elective or AP History. It might mean reaching 70 kids instead of 1,000, but it's a great way to get started. Eventually your teachers will get used to you needing to do an SGO and you can gradually increase the number of students you hit with your assessments each year. This is also a good introduction for Library Media Specialists who aren't accustomed to writing assessments or grading. I don't have a background as a classroom teacher and I have never created an assessment or graded one out of grad school. As I stated before, that's just not how I serve my students here. Dusting off what I learned back in grad school and trying to create an assessment, while also trying to grade those assessments, can be a little scary if you're not used to it. Parsing the data of 70 students is much easier than parsing the data of 1,000, and you'll need to know that data very well when you're writing your SGO.
- Team up with another non-instructional staff member who doesn't have students either. Maybe there's a guidance counselor who already has an established system for doing an SGO with a large group of students they don't normally see. Check in with your fellow non-instructional colleagues and you might find willing team members who will be happy to share the SGO burden. Perhaps they have the students but you'll be willing to help with the grading or vice versa. Offer your services - and the space in your library - and you might just create a beautiful partnership. Besides, how often do Library Media Specialists get to partner with school nurses or psychologists? What a great opportunity!
PROBLEM: My teachers won't collaborate with me. Teachers are under a tremendous amount of pressure right now. New initiatives seem to constantly rain down upon us from the state. More and more classes are added to teacher's schedules with no additional prep time. Class sizes are increasing, salaries are freezing, and experienced teachers are leaving the profession forcing us newbies to pick up the slack. (Cause let's face it, if you're new, nontenured, and NEED this job, you'll say yes to almost anything, even if it makes the NJEA frown at us.) These stressed-out classroom teachers are the ones we have to approach and ask to take even more of their classroom time away so we can do our mandated SGOs. That can often be terrifying, especially when teachers you approach keep saying no!
- Offer to do part or all of the work for them! Don't just hand them an SGO pre-assessment that has nothing to do with their class and expect them to administer it. If they say they have no time in their unit, perhaps a part of their unit can be tweaked as an SGO pre-assessment. That way they stay on track, you get the data you need, AND the teacher gets to know how their kids are doing along the way. Make sure to offer to grade it yourself! This would not only give your classroom teacher more prep time, but one less grade they'd have to assess.
- Talk to your supervisor and other supervisors in the building. You're talking to them NOT to force teachers to collaborate with you. I would only recommend that if you had absolutely no other option because it will have consequences for any collaborating you need to do in the future. However, the supervisors might know of teachers who are struggling and could use some help. I've learned that super green first-year teachers who have only been on the job a month and suddenly have to come up with SGOs are so overwhelmed and panicked they don't even have time to ask for help or know who to turn to! A supervisor may be able to team you up with a teacher like that and you can help each other through it together. They supply the students and get a few periods off and you do the assessing and instruction. Everybody is happy.
- Make your SGO a sub plan. This one is a little more risky because it depends on teachers being absent. I would recommend using this one with more than one subject just to cover yourself, unless you have an enormous school. The way it works is you inform the teachers that, if they are calling out for any reason, to make YOU their sub plan. Teachers love this because they don't have to submit lesson plans at the last minute while sick. Instead they just shoot you an email to give a heads up and report in their sub plan that the two of you have a pre-established emergency lesson. You'll have to be ready to cover a class at a moment's notice, but if it works you'll have a room full of students all to yourself for your SGO.
PROBLEM: My SGO isn't rigorous. If you've been paying attention to anything coming down from the higher ups lately, you probably have heard the word "rigor" being thrown around a lot. The actions we take, especially when it comes to our students, should ideally be more than just lip service. It's very tempting to just provide the bare minimum; put in an SGO that measures something easy to measure and call it a day. Pick something that the students will definitely score low on initially and then make you look awesome when they take it again. There are times when that's all you can do and/or that is exactly what you should do. But that might not sit right with you this time. You might feel that, if you're going to have to do an SGO, you want to adopt one that makes a real difference. Many Library Media Specialists have curricula that are very difficult to implement for a plethora of reasons, the biggest of which being that we don't have our own students. SGO's can be an opportunity to accustom our student body to regular information literacy interventions, if they aren't already. In other words, if you need to push-in to a class to do SGOs, maybe your teachers will let you push-in for other topics that your students desperately need. So here are some tips on writing more rigorous SGOs.
- Piggyback on an existing research unit. Do you know of an already practiced research unit that is a part of your school curriculum? I'm not talking about a book report, but something that really forces the students to walk through the information search process, but they don't even know it? I've learned that veteran teachers do this more often than I realized. They just don't include me because they established a system that worked long before I came to this school. They don't come to the library. They don't use all of the resources available to them because they don't know what new opportunities I've brought to the table and they just plod along. It is definitely intimidating to approach these teachers because it feels like "if it ain't broke don't fix it" but you might be surprised. Some teachers are bored with the unit because they've been doing it for over a decade and would love to shake things up - as long as they don't have to shoulder all of the work themselves. Others have noticed that their students are struggling with the research process, but don't really know how to fix it because they've never had formal information behavior training, like we have. I was terrified the first time I approached a teacher about helping his kids walk step-by-step through a big research project but was rewarded with an SGO that will assess student information literacy skills at the beginning of the project, and allow me to strengthen problem areas while the students are applying and practicing those same skills. It's an SGO that will hopefully make a difference.
- Focus on content that will serve the students beyond high school. Maybe you already have a group of kids and a willing collaborating teacher, but you want to give your SGO a little kick without rewriting the thing from scratch. One aspect of information literacy that I've noticed students struggle with is that every data storage unit is different. Every library is different. Every catalog and database and search engine is different. They eventually learn how THIS library works, but then struggle with applying generalizations to their academic or public libraries. Tweak your SGO so that you are hitting those generalizations. Assess them on public library skills or maybe team up with a local college so you can access their databases. Hand them a college research assignment and have them explore databases other than your own, if you can. The more unfamiliar the resources the more your students will have to think and actually use those precious skills we want them to leave HS with.
- Target your SGO to specific problem areas. This was a recommendation from my awesome supervisor, Damian Bariexca, when I was trying to create a more rigorous SGO, but found the umbrella of information literacy far too vast to implement. He recommended that I make the pre-assessment for my SGO broad, use the data to recognize areas of concern, and then focus my SGO on just those specific areas. That was a much easier pill to swallow. Instead of being responsible for the instruction of all infolit, I just had to pick a few and focus on them. This not only means fewer lesson plans for me to write, but it also meant I would have to "intrude" on classrooms teachers less because I would require fewer lessons between my pre and post SGO assessments.
PROBLEM: Students don't take my SGO's seriously. You barely know these kids because you don't see them often. Classroom management is difficult because they don't see you as their normal authority figure. You don't grade them and you aren't likely to speak to their parents. In other words, they have little incentive to do what you're asking, let alone take it seriously. Ideally all students would strive to do their best no matter what, but that isn't reality. Sure there are classroom management strategies that show us how to engage our students to do the most onerous of tasks, but let's face it. Most classroom management strategies depend on the assumption that you will see those same students again the next day. I have found few classroom management strategies that work with complete strangers every time, outside of a looming threat. Therefore, trying to administer a pre-assessment that students have to take, followed by instruction to grow the students towards their objective that culminates in a post-assessment that they're supposed to take seriously can be extremely challenging. How do you get students to really try to succeed on your SGO?
- Get it to count as a grade. This is an obvious solution, but can be harder than you think. You'd need a collaborating teacher's help on this one because they would have to be willing to put this in their grade book, even if you do the assessing work for them. They may be hesitant to add another grade, especially if their colleagues teaching the same section don't have those same number of grades for their students. This one might need a supervisor's blessing, but if you can swing it, is probably the easiest way to ensure student participation.
- Provide a reward. Inform the students that those who score in the top 10% (or any number you choose) will get something awesome. It can be anything from a free pass to the library during lunch for a week or as big as a pizza party. Only you and your school can determine what is or is not feasible and appropriate. Collaborating teachers might be willing to give extra credit or a "get out of homework" opportunity as well.
- Don't tell them it's an SGO! When students find out that what they are currently taking will directly affect your evaluation score as a teacher, sometimes the reaction is far from desirable. If at all possible, don't tell them that it's an SGO or what an SGO means. Find some other reason for explaining the administering of the assessment. If you do your SGO right, it should mean more than "just" an SGO anyway.
If you would like to know the details of what I did for my SGOs this year, please don't hesitate to contact me.