I invite you to check out my latest post for DMLcentral as I explore the possibilities for writing literacies in libraries. In this post, I share how we are using writing as a springboard for inquiry and engaging with texts here at Norcross High; the post also features a video interview with colleague and friend Sara Kelley-Mudie and her use of written conversation strategies. Many thanks to our faculty here at NHS and to Sara for sharing their experiences and being willing to explore the boundaries of writing as a tool for inquiry and learning. Please be sure to check out my previous posts in this series for DMLcentral that explore the ways libraries can and might function as sponsors of literacy.
Last year, Jennifer Lund and I worked with a small group of Language Arts teachers to pilot an independent reading component to their courses. This initiative focused on providing students a dedicated day a week (most selected Wednesday) to read any text of their choice for an entire class period. We worked with teachers and students to provide targeted readers’ advisory, individualized and small group recommendations, and ideas and strategies for formative assessments; we also documented best practices and interviewed students about their learning experiences. This year, all Language Arts teachers who teach Honors and College Prep courses are implementing the independent reading time component into their curriculum and class time.
We’re continuing last year’s efforts and striving to work with faculty more closely to implement creative and meaningful formative and summative assessments of students’ literacy experiences. We know from other colleagues who teach Language Arts that teachers sometimes struggle to find ways to either help tie together so many different readings that are ongoing at any given time; others wonder how they might connect the independent reading students are doing to larger class thematic studies.
Sarah Rust was one of our Language Arts teachers who was interested in the written conversations strategies we introduced to staff early in 2014 and has been playing with her own variations of these strategies. Today, her 2nd and 3rd period students met with us in our Learning Studio area (in progress!) to engage students in:
1. Paired book chats about the books they are currently reading for independent reading (IR)
2. Helping students connect their current individual readings to four larger ongoing class themes: perceptions, justice, identity, and conformity.
3. Bringing together students in small groups to share their thematic connections and collaboratively develop a broad statement about specific themes based on their texts and shared insights.
We’d like to share with you an overview of how the activity flowed today with her two classes this morning and some initial reflections/observations. Yesterday, the students were asked to complete a short homework assignment in which they were asked to do some brief guided reflections to bring to class today as a springboard for conversation; she refers to this set of guiding questions as the Book Talk Prep Form.
After doing a quick check of student work as they arrived in the Learning Studio area (formerly Fiction as you may notice from our photos), Sarah first reviewed the procedures and tips for engaging in a paired book chat. After making sure every student had a partner and giving students an opportunity to move themselves to a partner if needed, the discussions were on! Many students referred back to both their book chat prep form as well as their texts (mostly print but some eBooks on phones). While students were encouraged to focus on discussing with their partner, we noticed some students engaging in a larger group discussion at their tables.
After the first five minutes or so, Sarah paused the student conversations to remind them to slow down and encourage them to go more deeply into their discussions; she also provided some tips on talking about thematic connections and engaging in some higher level questions they might ponder as part of the conversation. This scaffolding was helpful for those students who might have been less experienced with these types of book chats and who needed some gentle support.
After students had chatted roughly five additional minutes, we paused again to review instructions for the next phase of the activity. Sarah distributed sticky notes and provided a short template to help students think about how their books related to one of the four larger thematic themes of class study (justice, perceptions, identity, and conformity). Students had about five minutes to compose a rough working statement about how their book embodied one of those four themes; students discussed ideas with their partners and peers at their table and when needed, conferred with Sarah for clarification or a short think aloud with her to process their thoughts.
Once students completed their rough statements on the sticky notes, they then got up and moved to tables with large post it notes that served as “parking lots” for each of the four themes. Because “identity” was a popular theme in both classes, we created a second parking lot for this theme on the fly. Once students had grouped themselves by them and shared their sticky note statement in the “parking lot” on the jumbo post-it, each student shared his/her statement.
Interestingly enough, the 2nd period students all chose to stand as they talked while the 3rd period students immediately seated themselves at the table for the shared conversations.
We then asked students to come up with a collaboratively crafted statement about their interpretation of the theme based on their shared statements rooted in the individual readings/texts. We chose to use our Steelcase Verb whiteboards and easels for students to record their group statement.
With the 2nd period, Sarah provided the recap of student statements…
…but for our 3rd period, we all decided to let students share their work from their tables and discuss the group statement they had crafted. This second variation definitely had a better flow and student engagement in terms of their large group share aloud component—we love being co-learners in these experiences!
The student response was positive, and we loved having the opportunity to use our new learning space and furniture to support Ms. Rust and her students in these conversations about texts and inquiry. We are looking forward to our continued collaboration with Sarah this year, and we’ll be incorporating this kind of work into an upcoming inquiry/research unit we’re doing later this fall with her classes. We invite you to think about how you might use these strategies and structures for your own independent reading program or how you might adapt them for content area study!
“For perhaps the first time in the history of mass literacy, writing seems to be eclipsing reading as the literate experience of consequence. What happens when writing (and not just reading) becomes the grounds of mass literate experience, when more and more people ‘think about audiences’ as part of their daily routine engagement with literacy? How does a social shift in that and energy toward writing affect the ways that people develop their literacy and understand its worth? And finally, how does the ascendant of a writing-based literacy create tension in a society where institutions organized a reading literacy, around a presumption that readers would be many and writers would be few?
Dr. Deborah Brandt, “How Writing Is Remaking Reading.” Literacy and Learning: Reflections on Writing, Reading, and Society.
I encourage you to read my latest post in a series exploring the ways libraries function as sponsors of literacies and learning for DMLcentral. In this new post, I outline Dr. Deborah Brandt’s arguments for writing, not reading, as the primary literacy of time, and what that might mean for libraries and how we function in a larger ecosystem of learning. If we accept Brandt’s assertions, what kinds of profound shifts might take place in libraries and how would that accelerate the movement for library as a space for multiple literacies, creating, and making through multiple mediums? How do we help all members of our communities engage in lifelong learning through writing, and how might that impact the ways literacy impacts communities at an individual and collective point of need? Where and how might this paradigm shift fit with the model of connected learning? I invite you to think aloud and inquire with us at DMLcentral.
A few weeks ago we co-facilitated write-around text on text conversations with Emily Russell’s Language Arts classes in the library. The activity was such a hit with students and Ms. Russell that we decided to take our collaboration to the next level by combining a Twitter chat with Socratic circle discussions as the culminating conversation for the reading of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I shared Ellen Hampton Filgo’s write-up of her experience as an embedded librarian via Twitter with Emily and Jennifer Lund, my co-librarian; we all felt this would be another great medium for “written” conversations. Because she had been using Socratic circle discussions with her classes since August, Emily asked if we could combine the Twitter element with this method of class discussion. We all felt this would be a wonderful medium for incorporating a Twitter chat into the classroom. After some date shuffling due to winter weather, we scheduled Friday, February 7 as the big day to debut this activity with our students.
We visited Emily’s classes the day before the chat to introduce the concept of a Twitter chat, share examples of real world Twitter chats, and then discussed Twitter chat manners/etiquette for constructive conversations. We also reviewed the hashtags that Emily had developed for each class period since we wanted to capture each discussion with Storify. Emily then reviewed Socratic circle protocols and explained how that would blend with the Twitter conversations. Students prepared questions for the discussion by sharing their lines of inquiry via notecard with Emily, and these became the springboard of initial discussions to spark conversation and additional question the following day in class.
To accommodate students who did not have a smartphone or who did not comfortable using Twitter, we offered a couple of alternatives way of participating in the virtual discussion:
1. Jennifer and I brought about 5 extra laptops to the room, and students could elect to use the laptops to Tweet with their own Twitter account.
2. For students who did not want to use Twitter, we originally planned to have them pass us their questions via an index card. However, we forgot that Emily has a set of mini-whiteboards that students use in class, so we had students write their initials and questions or comments on the whiteboards. When they were ready to “Tweet”, students held up their whiteboard, and either Jennifer or I acted as a scribe Tweeting their question or comment on their behalf along with their initials.
Emily had planned ahead of time which students would be in the initial inner circle; we posted this information on the whiteboard via a PowerPoint slide to help students get seated quickly. Emily took a few minutes to review the procedures for the day and to answer any last minute questions. She also reminded students to show love for each other by helping classmates who might be struggling to jump into the conversation by asking them a direct question to give them a gentle entry point into the discussion. Jennifer and I were in the room each period to actively participate in the Twitter chat to scribe Tweets for our “unplugged” students, to share resources of relevance to each class discussion in a responsive manner, and to interact with students in the back channel while photographing each class discussion. I also wanted to project a real-time stream of Tweets so that all students could see the Twitter conversation in progress on the whiteboard. Initially, I began by using TweetChat, but after one class, there seemed to be technical difficulties with the site, so I switched to tchat,io. This alternative turned out to be a great choice, and I highly recommend it if you want a quick and easy way to follow a Twitter chat.
Much like the write-around text on text, there was an arc of energy building with the conversation both in the Socratic circles as well as the Twitter back channel. Overall, each class felt energetic and engaged! We were also excited that fellow Language Arts teacher and collaborative partner Darrell Cicchetti and two assistant principals came to observe what was happening—the adults were just as jazzed as the students! One of the most interesting observations was to see students continuing to Tweet comments as they walked out the door. Jennifer and I were busy the entire period for each class as “embedded librarians”, and in hindsight, it was definitely an advantage to have two of us to help facilitate the Twitter conversations and to help distribute laptops, answer student questions at the beginning of the period on how to follow the hash tag on their smartphones, and to act as scribes for our “unplugged” participants.
I was easily able to capture each class’s chat with Storify and embed those conversations into a LibGuide for this activity. You can also see photo sets for each class for the day on the LibGuide as well.
The following Monday, February 10, Emily collected student feedback—what she calls “glows” and “grows”—from students via notecards as we wanted student feedback and suggestions for the future from each class. Jennifer took the notecards and compiled these highlights of student reflections:
- Overwhelmingly, students enjoyed using Twitter (got lots of favorites, loves, fun).
- “What I liked most about the Twitter chat was how we were able to be on our phones in class, but still related to school. Let’s do this more often!” -6th period student
- “What I liked about the seminar was the way the class connected. It was fun because the tweeting allowed the class to be involved in an activity that they’re used to.” -2nd period
- “Likes – being a part of the conversation without having to talk.” -2nd period
- “The tweeting was also very academic because we were able to tweet when we weren’t in the inner circle. We should definitely do that again.” – 3rd period
- “Shy people didn’t have to feel left out because they had the option of tweeting to earn points.” – 6th period
- “People engaged inside and outside the circle.” – 6th period
- “I liked the Twitter seminar because everyone was participating and no one was left out. I really did enjoy how when someone was in the inner circle the people that were in the outer circle were resounding to our conversation or giving opinions.” – 6th period
- “I liked how the outer circle tweeted while the inner circle talked. It made sure that everyone was involved and gave everyone a chance to talk.” – -2nd period
- “…everyone stated their opinions and disagreed in a respectful way.” – 2nd period
- “Everybody was into it. It was really intense and good points were brought up. Everyone had something to say.” – 3rd period
- “I felt that we were teachers on seeing each others’ insight of the Glass Castle. I would let people start off on a topic and let the conversations start.” – 3rd period
- A few mentioned how fast-paced it was – some thought too fast.
- “I didn’t like how fast we were moving from topic to topic. We also should have gotten more in depth with it.” – 6th period
- “Super fun, fast paced; loved hearing and seeing everyones’s thoughts and comments.” – 3rd period
- “Too fast. I feel like we rushed and there wasn’t enough time.” – 3rd period
- “One thing I didn’t like was how fast-paced it was and it was kinda hard to read everybody’s tweets.” – 3rd period
- “I basically loved and enjoyed everything from the desks were set up to how people were still tweeting after the bell rang.” 2nd period
- “More seminars!” – 2nd period
- “I would like to do it again. Maybe more than 1 a month. Usually we don’t talk a lot in class but Friday everybody wanted to talk and share their ideas.” – 2nd period
Overall, most of the “grows” comments were related to the oral discussion piece – wanting better questions or more time for discussion, people to speak louder. We will also definitely think about how to address the concern about the pace of the discussion and strategies to help students adapt to that challenge. A few were self-reflective in their communication skills; for example, “I will speak up next time” or “I will work on my discussion skills.” The majority of students mentioned they liked that everyone participated, everyone was actively engaged, and getting to hear other people’s opinions/thoughts.
In closing, I think we all feel like this strategy was successful, and we are already looking forward to incorporating it into Emily’s classes again and hopefully encouraging other teachers in different content areas to try Twitter chats and Socratic circles as well. Jennifer and I continue to be elated to participate as instructional partners and co-learners with our teacher and students in the library and in the classroom! We sincerely appreciate our teachers and students being willing to try new strategies and to help us pilot these kinds of literacy practices together.
I would like to thank friend and colleague Dr. Antero Garcia and the Colorado State University Department of English for the opportunity to participate in “The Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life” speaker series here in Fort Collins, Colorado. I appreciate everyone who came out to hear the talk in person; we also captured video of the talk through a Google Hangout. The joy in these experiences is not only having a chance to contribute to a conversation, but to also learn from others—my thinking has been pushed today through my interactions with the CSU English Department community as well as wonderful morning of discussion with fellow librarian Ally Garcia of the Clearview Library District. I feel confident seed ideas that have been planted and nurtured today will find their way into future blog posts!
If you are interested in the ideas central to the talk, I encourage you to check out my ongoing series of blog posts from DMLcentral here; I will have a new blog post soon for this series that relates directly to some of the concepts in this talk. Thanks to a historic winter storm that is battering Atlanta, my stay here is extended that will give me the chance to explore Fort Collins and relish some “found” writing time.