Debatable topic #4: Fanatically Flexible vs. Forcibly Fixed
Consider the following scenarios:
Fixed: Johnny can depend on the knowledge that he will be able to gain access to the media center and relevant instruction every Tuesday. He is excited that he will have opportunity to learn information literacy skills each week, without having to wait on availability of the media center to master these essential skills. As he visits the center weekly, he will begin to develop an appreciation for good literature and have a head start in developing lifelong learning skills.
Flexible: Johnny makes it to the media center with eyes bright and cheeks glowing. He can approach the media center any day he needs information, and today he’s anxious to use the OPAC to find out about dinosaurs, particularly the diplodocus. The media specialist takes time from her planning for a group of fifth graders that are coming in later to work with Johnny at this point of need. Since the need for specific information can occur at any moment, being able to access the “information center” is essential for Johnny and the other students.
What do the guidelines say?
In Georgia, the GA Department of Education addresses flexible scheduling in rule IFBD 160-4-4-01 which states that “A Georgia school library media program must include a plan for flexibly scheduled media center access for students and teachers in groups or as individuals simultaneously throughout each instructional day. Accessibility shall refer to the facility, the staff, and the resources and shall be based on instructional need. Flexible scheduling is maintained by allowing full participation of teachers and the library media specialist in collaborative planning and allowing students to come to the library media center at any time.”
Likewise, AASL has a position on this subject: “Schools must adopt the educational philosophy that the library media program is fully integrated into the educational program. This integration strengthens the teaching/learning process so that students can develop the vital skills necessary to locate, analyze, evaluate, interpret, and communicate information and ideas.”
What do YOU say?
Now, even though there is a Georgia DOE rule that media centers in Georgia should be flexibly scheduled, we are seeing that rule “broken” all across the state. Many media specialists feel that losing their ability to have classes and students come to the center at the point of need, for that “teachable moment,” has crippled their media program. Information should be available and accessible to ALL students in the school, at any time needed during the school day. If students need to conduct research, locate resources, or just check out a book for pleasure reading, they should be allowed to come to the center multiple times a week, or even a day, if necessary. To eliminate that opportunity literally limits acquisition of knowledge
Joy McGregor writes, “The conviction that flexible scheduling is a sound educational practice stems from the understanding gained through educational research into effective learning. Applications of brain research to the field of educational practice strongly suggest that because the brain learns by recognizing or finding patterns, it is important for learning opportunities to allow the learner to fit the new ideas into already existing knowledge.” Learning in this manner, through media center activities at the point of need, is paramount in teaching information literacy skills to our students.
Another point that should be considered, collaboration with teachers is only achieved when the flexibility exits for interaction and planning to take place between the media specialist and the classroom teacher. Collaboration goes hand-in-hand with flexible scheduling.
There is, however, a school of thought that supports the regular scheduling of classes in the media center on a consistent basis. Doug Johnson suggests “you can’t teach kids you don’t see.” So many times, students are not allowed to come to the media center when they have a question because they only come when their class is scheduled to visit. Yet when there is a consistent, positive presence of media services for students, they will internalize those information literacy skills with confidence.
With fixed scheduling, teachers who are not apt to use the media center make the library a routine part of their week. Even without a major upcoming project, students who wouldn’t get to attend the library can visit regularly to return books, hear stories, and learn media related skills. Consistency is a powerful tool for younger learners!
One of the best ways to create life long readers and learners is to encourage frequent library use. It is consistent, planned lessons that promote lifelong learning, not the random research experiences in the media center.
Finally, teachers who are on fixed schedules leave teaching media related skills and research methods to the skilled media specialist. Teachers on flexible schedules depend on the media specialist for the next major collaborative project. This leaves teachers to teach students what they don’t have time to learn from the media specialist. Only the media specialist is trained and prepared to teach information literacy skills most effectively.
Neither flexible nor fixed scheduling is a perfect solution. Should we consider a mixed “flex” schedule for media centers, where students can access the media center at the point of need AND on a consistent basis where they learn basic information literacy skills that will serve them as lifelong learners?
Phyllis R. Snipes,
University of West Georgia
Johnson, D. (2001). Make your point – It’s good to be inflexible. School Library Journal, 47 (11). Retrieved April 18, 2008, from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA179495.html.
McGregor, J. (2006). Flexible scheduling: Implementing an innovation. School Library Media Research, 9. Retrieved April 20, 2008, from http://www.ala.org/ala/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmcontents/volume9/flexible.cfm#conclusions.
Phyllis R. Snipes,
University of West Georgia