Author: The Unquiet Librarian

I'm a librarian who loves learning, critical literacy, stories, social media, dogs, poetry, fabulous shoes, and good lip gloss; I'm also a 2011 Library Journal Mover and Shaker.

Moving from Our Mindmaps to More Focused Topics with Question Lenses and Musical Peer Review

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In my last post that is part of this series, I shared how we used mindmapping after our second round of pre-searching to begin honing in our a more specific topic for our research.

After students shared out their mindmaps and big ideas, we asked them to look at their topic through different question “lenses” using an activity shared with me by my colleague Heather Hersey, a school librarian in Seattle.  Heather, who adapted her version of the handout from An Educator’s Guide to Information Literacy: What Every High School Senior Needs to Know (Ann Marlow Riedling, 2009), graciously shared her template with us, and we used it to help students look at their topic from multiple perspectives by “trying on” a question lens (see below).

Large Group Share of Mindmaps and Topic Triangles

This exercise was a stretch for the students as it forced them to look at their topic from an angle they might not have considered; we asked them to see if they could generate a question for at least 2-3 of the question lenses.  For some students, this was a helpful endeavor as it helped them in their thinking process about narrowing a focus even more for their topic; other students, though, were a little overwhelmed by the task and/or the cognitive dissonance that came along with the activity.   I love the activity because it is yet another way to encourage wonder, but in retrospect, I think it might have been more beneficial had we incorporated it sooner.   After conferring with Heather via email, I realized I missed that she utilizes it earlier in the pre-search process; I will consider following her lead on the timing in the future although I want to get student feedback on this aspect before making a decision for future efforts.

Once students had some time to muck around with this exercise, we asked them to then see if they could arrive at a more focused topic and compose a research topic statement or focused essential research question—we wanted to give them the option to write about their more focused in either format.  This statement/question writing was the springboard to an activity, “Musical Questions:  Broadening and Narrowing our EQs,” that we did on Friday (October 24) that we adapted from Marci Zane, Heather Hersey, Meg Donhauser, and Cathy Stutzman.   Sarah Rust came up with her own brilliant take on this activity:

1.  We arranged our tables in a conference style arrangement so that students could move about the “square” easily.

Musical Research Topic

2.  At the beginning of both classes, Sarah instructed the students to take out their document with the focused research topic statement or question they had composed earlier in the week.

Musical Research Topic

Musical Research Topic

3.  We explained that there would be four rounds of peer review; during each review students could provide four types of feedback:

  • a suggestion to broaden the topic statement/research question if needed
  • a suggestion to narrow the topic statement/research question
  • pose a question to nudge the peer’s thinking
  • share a constructive piece of feedback to help the peer with fine tuning that statement or question.

We asked that they put their names next to their feedback in case the owner of the statement/question needed to confer with them later about their statements or questions they had shared.

4.  We then explained that when there was no music, they would get up and begin walking around the table until music began playing (we let the students choose the music, and interestingly enough, they chose 80s and 90s tunes!  Their input made the activity more fun and gave them a sense of ownership).  Once the music started, they were to sit down in the closest chair and document and begin writing their feedback to the peer.   We gave them roughly 3-4 minutes to provide the feedback before stopping the music and starting our rotation again.

Musical Research Topic

Musical Research Topic

We honestly were not sure what to expect with the activity, so we were delighted by the positive response from our students.  We were also joined during our first class by assistant principal Christine Dailey who was there not only as an observer, but also as a participant—her jumping in and working side by side with the students was fantastic and of course, great modeling for our kids.  After the four rounds, we asked students to return back to the original seat and work and read over the feedback provided.  They then had an opportunity to pair-share with the person sitting next to them and to reflect on next steps or ideas that came from the four rounds of feedback from their peers.

Musical Research Topic

From what we observed, many students found this activity helpful in getting concrete suggestions for being more specific with the wording and in some cases, the scope, of their topic statements/research questions. We definitely would do this activity again as it gave students the chance to collaborate and work together  in a meaningful way as we continued to work through our research/inquiry processes! We would like to thank our students for their efforts, Christine Dailey for her time and feedback, and Heather, Meg, Marci, and Cathy for so generously sharing their ideas and experiences with us to create learning experiences that have helped us all as learners.

In addition, a big thanks to our New Jersey/Washington state friends for reminding us that the affective aspects of inquiry that our students are cycling through—confusion/frustration/doubt and clarity—are normal and that activities like these help mitigate some of the emotional lows or challenges our students are feeling, especially as the inquiry approach pushes them out of their comfort zones.  Even when you’ve experienced this process with students in the past, it is always reassuring to hear from others their approach to honoring that uncertainty and helping nudge students forward when they get stuck.  This same post has also given us some helpful guidance as we’ve wrestled with issues of grading and assessment of process-oriented, formative work.

In my next post, I’ll share how we are moving through the research design proposal process for the multigenre projects that students will be crafting.  The next couple of weeks will be interesting as students complete their proposals and move recursively between investigating, constructing, and expressing.   Until then, we’d love to hear your ideas and strategies for helping students narrow their topic statements and questions after pre-search–what have you tried that has been successful?  We’d love to hear your suggestions!

 

New Publications, Fall 2014

I am delighted to share two recent publications I’ve co-authored that have recently hit the press this fall!

First, my Cleveland Public Library colleague Anastasia Diamond-Ortiz and I have co-written a chapter for Reimagining Reference in the 21st Century from Purdue University Press that is part of the Charleston Insights in Library, Archival, and Information Sciences.   Our chapter,
“Participatory Approaches to Building Community-Centered Libraries,” focuses on an expanded conceptualization of “reference” and how community needs and the data we can glean from our community can drive library programming, services, and instruction.   A heartfelt thank you to our editors David A. Tyckoson and John G. Dove for the invitation to write and for their encouragement.

Secondly, Kristin Fontichiaro (University of Michigan) and I have co-authored an article for the September-October 2014 issue of Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians.   Our article “Undercurrents” calls into question the traditional precepts of defining school librarian success and invites our fellow librarians to be part of a larger conversation to rethink what it means to be a “good” school librarian today.   A sincere thank you to guest co-editors Beth Friese and Melissa Techman for their efforts with this issue.

Pre-Search and Mindmapping to Narrow a Topic Focus

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In my last post, I shared how we were moving deeper with our second round of more targeted pre-search after students had narrowed topic choices to one from their work with the first phase of pre-search.  To help our students begin to make sense of the information they had collected during their second round of pre-search, Sarah and I introduced mindmapping to our two classes.   There were a couple of factors that influenced this decision:

Getting Started and What We Did

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We introduced the concept of mindmapping by defining what it was, discussing ways we could use utilize it, looking at examples, and then offering three approaches to give students a starting point.  We gave them the choice of using one of our approaches, mashing and mixing up those options to make it their own, or mapping in an original that made sense to them.  We encouraged them to go deeply back into their annotations and KWL notes as they looked at their work both horizontally and vertically through the mindmapping processes.  We provided them oversized blue sticky notes although a few students selected a larger version of the easel-sized Post-It Notes.  In addition, we provided a small tub full of different colored Sharpies, and Sarah provided a jumbo box of Crayola markers.  We also gave students many choices in sizes of smaller sticky notes they could use if they wanted to identify patterns they were saying or to incorporate into the mindmap as an organizational tool for smaller bits of information.

Note:  In hindsight, I would introduce Evernote to students as a tool for organizing or capturing their work on the Post-it notes and purchase the sticky note types recommended by Evernote so that students could later easily search their handwritten notes (also see these recommended oversized Post-It notes that would be perfect for this activity).  Evernote would be a perfect way to help students archive and organize these types of notes, and it would be a great medium for students to take advantage of our district’s new BYOD policies this year.

Students spent roughly 3.5 days working on their maps.  We were struck by how intensely they worked and how focused they were in class on drafting their mindmaps as well as the diversity in the ways they organized their ideas.  While some students worked alone, most chose to partner with a research/inquiry buddy as they composed their mindmaps.

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At the end of each day, we asked students to hang their works in progress in the windows of our rotunda area for safekeeping; these maps, though, quickly became a conversation piece in the library as well as a form of art!   The mindmap gallery is something I highly recommend if you have wall or window space to do it.  We were a bit awestruck that nearly every student came in on the second and third days and grabbed their mindmaps with no prompting before immediately settling into their work.

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Sharing Our Thinking Aloud in Small and Large Groups

The next step in our process upon completing our mindmaps was to have students pair up and interview each other about their mindmaps.  We asked students to share with each other:

  • how they approached their mindmap
  • how the mindmapping process helped them hone in on their topics
  • how the mindmapping process helped them think more deeply and/or differently about their topic
  • what was clearer to the student about their topic after completing the mindmapping process
  • patterns or themes that might have emerged through the mindmapping process
  • gaps or missing pieces of information/questions still lingering after the mindmapping process

We provided the students a handout to help them take notes about their responses, but after seeing how our 2nd period students were stymied from verbal conversation by having this handout during the interviewing piece of the activity, we waited until after they had to time to discuss before giving it to students with our 3rd period class.  Once students finishing interviewing each other and recording their responses, we asked them to look at the topic triangle/funnel on that same handout and to to share/discuss/record how they had narrowed their topic through the mindmapping process. This part of the activity took roughly 25 or so minutes.

We then moved to large group share with each pair of students coming up to the Verb easel board, hanging their mindmaps, and sharing their responses from the pair-share interviews with the entire class.  This part of the activity served a couple of purposes:

  • We wanted students to hear each other’s thinking and processes aloud so that they could hopefully gain insights from each other and to see the diversity in the way they approached the task and how the mindmapping was helping them toward a more focused topic for further research.
  • It was an opportunity for Sarah and I to constructively pose questions about the ideas they were sharing and “conference” aloud with the students as part of our efforts to confirm they were heading on the right track or to “nudge” their thinking if they were still a bit unfocused or too broad with their topics.  Students could also ask questions of those speaking or to offer suggestions.  Most students were very comfortable with this aspect of the group share, but we did find there were those who were pushed out of their comfort zone since many of their previous “research” experiences were somewhat superficial and did not require them to really focus a self-selected topic.  While it is a challenging endeavor, we know that students building resilience in developing a topic is an academic skill they will need for future academic experiences.  We will continue to follow-up with individual or small group conferences over the next week with those who still needed some help in further focusing their topic.
  • We like giving them opportunities to speak in front of their peers–these experiences are gentle “rehearsals” that help them warm-up for larger presentations.

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This large group share took about a class period’s worth of time over two days.   I hope to have a follow-up blog post to this one up tomorrow or Monday with some student feedback/interview with their reflections on these processes and activities.

In the meantime, I want to share just  a few things Sarah and I have observed in this extended inquiry unit so far in recent days and that we’re contemplating:

  • As energizing as inquiry-based work is for some students, it can be frustrating or even threatening to other students because this approach disrupts the traditional ways of academic success and learning in our test driven culture (I know, you’ve heard me say this multiple times in the past!).   Finding the balance between gently pushing students and honoring that discomfort as you try to help students work through it is not always easy, especially when their frustration may even manifest itself in negative behaviors toward you as an instructor or even toward fellow students.
  • We’ve both been thinking more intentionally about assessment and struggling with the realities of grade-driven school experiences that impact both teachers and students.   Helping students keep their eye on what they are learning, encouraging them to risks as learners, and asking them to have faith in you during this process can all be challenging tasks, but we believe they are all worth our efforts to help our students.  I’ll also write more about formative assessment related to their annotating skills and KWL charts in an upcoming post to share dilemmas of assessing this kind of “process” work in a way that is true to the spirit of our inquiry unit as well as what we have learned in looking at these pieces of work.
  • It is an absolute joy to work with another teacher in this way—I have learned so much from Sarah over these last few weeks and so admire how well she knows her students and how that factors into the way she not only responds to them and interacts with them but how those insights inform the way we shape and tweak our learning activities to meet them at their points of need as learners and individuals.  I also love that I’m learning from the students and genuinely appreciate the opportunity to have extended time with them in this unit.

As part of our efforts to give them some strategies for narrowing their topics or to look at their topics through different lenses or perspectives, we utilized a strategy from my friend and colleague Heather Hersey, a school librarian in Seattle.  I’ll discuss this strategy and how it led to one final activity in this progression of learning experiences for helping students narrow a topic in my next blog post.  Overall, we are very pleased with the incorporation of mindmapping into the inquiry process—so much in fact that students will actually be incorporating them into their multigenre projects they’ll be creating soon (yes, a blog post forthcoming on that, too).  We hope you’ll continue to follow our journey of learning through our LibGuide where our Tweets, photos, resources, videos, and previous blog posts are all housed.

What strategies are you using to help students narrow their topics and take an inquiry stance on learning?  I would love to hear from anyone who is using mindmapping or other techniques to help students focus their topics and their pre-search in an organic and authentic way!

Written Conversation Strategies PD with Our NHS Faculty

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My fellow librarian Jennifer Lund and I were delighted yesterday to have the opportunity to do an hour PD session on Harvey Daniels’ written conversation strategies with our NHS Faculty.  Roughly 25 teachers, our principal, and one of our assistant principals attended the session; the mix of different departments, including Modern Languages, Science, Math, Language Arts, ESOL, Special Education, Social Studies, and Health and Physical Education, created a wonderful energy as all of our participants were truly engaged and enthusiastic!   This session was just one of many tasty offerings on our “Connect and Engage” staff development menu jointly offered by the Media and Technology Team with our awesome colleagues Logan Malm and Hope Black (our building Local School Technology Coordinators (LSTCs).

We kicked off the session by doing an actual write around text on text activity around the current hot topic of Ebola.  Our texts for annotating and discussing included:

  • Print copies of news articles
  • A PBS NewsHour video teachers could watch
  • Infographics
  • Photographs
  • A curated Storify from the Cleveland Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com
  • Charts

After reviewing the protocols for the first part of the activity, our faculty dove right into quietly annotating the different “texts” and responding to their peers’ comments and questions.

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After roughly 12 minutes of quiet writing, we then invited teachers select a table and to sit with at 2-3 other people.  Teachers were invited to look over the content (the texts and the responses from their peers) at their table and to discuss what stood out to them.  We then gave each group one of our Verb easels and asked them to summarize what they saw, thought, and wondered as well as questions they had about the content at their table.

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We then invited each group to do a brief large group share out:

share-out2

share-out

We took some time to answer questions about what we had just done from teachers, including some incredibly thoughtful questions about differentiating for different learner needs and ideas for scaffolding the activity.   We then did a short presentation of about 20 minutes to outline best practices, tips and strategies, and profiles of how we had utilized this learning structure with two of our faculty.

We were thrilled to get immediate positive feedback yesterday and have already signed up one teacher to come to the library next week to try the strategy!  Our day has been made today by several emails from participants sharing how much they enjoyed the session and how they are planning to implement the strategy in their classes soon.   We all look forward to seeing what collaborative partnerships may grow from this session and thinking about new ways to support our teachers and students through this learning structure!  We also want to extend a heartfelt  thank you to our colleagues Hope and Logan as well as our administration for supporting us and for their encouragement.

Below are our slides for the entire session:

Simple Yet Powerful Formative Assessment of IR with Sarah Rust

IR Sticky 3

Every Wednesday is Independent Reading (IR) day here in our Language Arts classes here at NHS.  Today, Language Arts teacher Sarah Rust, one of our awesome collaborative partners, did this very simple yet interesting formative assessment with her students.   The instructions:

IR Post It Instructions Rust

Students selected a sticky note of a color of their choosing and then composed their responses.  As an extra touch to celebrate the concept of IR, Ms. Rust then took their responses and fashioned them into the letters “IR.”   While this idea seems simple on the surface, the student responses were revealing and showed a wide range of book selections as well as reactions to the IR experience.  These can be a springboard to future IR learning activities and learning experiences for book selection and peer sharing.

IR Sticky 2

 

IR Sticky 4

 

It’s another reason why sticky notes are my favorite “technology” as of late!  This approach is a great way to do a quick individual assessment of student learning or where they are with their current IR as well as make an artistic class statement that represents every student voice.