New Media Literacies

A Visit to the Lovett School Story Studio: Redesigning Learning Spaces, Rewriting Narratives of Learning

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Lovett School Story Studio Project  in Atlanta, Georgia. This project, which I have been following since its inception a little over a year ago, began with these seed questions:

  • What might be a classroom of the future?
  • How can we design existing space to be more dynamic?
  • How might a space support different learning styles?
  • How can we be more intentional about this “third space”?

The original pilot (Phase I)  began with a secondary Language Arts teacher documenting the learning experiences of his classes and his journey as a teacher using a classroom redesigned to serve as a learning studio. (Please click here to view scenes of the original Story Studio classroom).  This experiment and prototype studio led to Phase II, “The Lovett Learning Ecology“, which is a cohort of nine teachers and two facilitators exploring the concept of teacher as designer with their students.  What learning ecology has evolved from the original prototype of the Story Studio?  In “The Role of Environment in Learning“, Lovett offers us this synopsis of the vision and work of the cohort:

If a classroom were no longer filled with immovable desks aligned in rows, could it become a space that invited–even required–student collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking? What if the front of the room disappeared and students owned the walls–writing, wondering, and questioning? What if the physical space could be transformed in seconds, flexing to support the moment’s work? What if lesson plans gave way to student learning experiences where the student, not just the teacher, designed the curriculum and the learning?

In conjunction with Cannon Design/The Third Teacher+, a school design consulting group in Chicago, and led by Laura Deisley and upper school dean of academic affairs, Marsha Little, the nine fellows have already engaged in significant professional development, as they focus on their role as designers–of curriculum, space, and student experiences. They’re teaching in renovated rooms with mobile desks, tables, and chairs; copious writable surfaces; and versatile technology.

As the traditional boundaries of room ownership and discipline-specific hallways fade, we’re already seeing innovative collaboration between teachers and a breaking down of boundaries that seemed etched in stone. Ultimately, our goal is simple and unchanged: offer the best possible learning experience to students as they become excellent collaborators, creators, critical thinkers, and communicators. We are excited to explore how that work might be more fully realized in the Model Classrooms as the year unfolds.

The six model classrooms whose physical spaces are crafted around these learning design drivers

  • Content:  what students know
  • Skills:  what students do
  • Mindsets:  how students think
  • Tools:  what students use to learn
  • People:  who students learn with
  • Environment:  where students learn

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Using the process of design thinking to ideate possibilities for what learning experiences framed around these design drivers might look like, the cohort and partner The Third Teacher of Cannon Design reconfigured the six model classrooms to reflect interest in these six scenarios for learning experiences:

  • Designing with Writable Surfaces
  • Designing for Inquiry
  • Designing with Micro Environments
  • Designing with Ubiquitous Technology
  • Designing with Flexibility and Agility
  • Designing for Learning Groups

My fellow Norcross High School librarian Jennifer Lund and I were interested in the Lovett model since their work aligned with our vision for not only redesigning our physical space and the kinds of learning experiences we want our library to facilitate, but to also help us recast our roles here as instructional partners more deeply embedded in the day to day work of teaching and learning with our faculty and students as we aspire to craft a more participatory culture of learning, a vision that also aligns with our school’s literacy plan.  Inspired by the work and vision of Brian Mathews at Virginia Tech and the model of Connected Learning, we envision the NHS library as a vibrant innovation hub of sorts to incubate, ignite and inspire larger change throughout our entire building, ultimately transforming learner experiences in a more seamless and cohesive way.   As part of our strategic plan for the revamping of our physical space, we have proposed housing a prototype space for teaching and learning where we work with faculty  and students to pilot, assess, model, and assess learning experiences.  We want to enable our teachers and students to take risks as learners, to reflect and learn with them, and to help then share and distribute those insights across multiple content areas for cross-pollination of innovative strategies.

Because our vision paralleled the design drivers and physical design elements embodied in the six prototype classrooms at Lovett, we reached out to my friend and colleague Laura Deisley, the Director of Strategic Innovation at Lovett, to see if we could come for a visit and to have a conversation about their work.  I know from my previous collaboration with Laura through Reimagine Ed that she is someone passionate about learning, libraries, and inquiry.  Laura and Upper School Dean of Academic Affairs, Marsha Little, graciously accepted our request.  Our visit yesterday, accompanied by friend and colleague Holly Frilot, Media Instructional Coach for our school district, was nothing short of energizing.
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As I watched students actively participating in learning experiences and discovering how the shift in physical space shifted teachers’ pedagogical stances, I literally quivered with excitement and joy—seeing how such simple yet profound changes were yielding impact and transformative learning experiences for both teachers and students was such a tremendous joy.  In my previous experiences and now here at Norcross, I have sought to break down the artificial barriers that seem to separate libraries from their communities and create siloed learning experiences.  The Lovett model reminds me that this scale of change is possible, scale that is needed to help our school grow into a learning community that embraces shared ownership of learning and connects contexts of academic driven, interest powered, and peer/mentor supported learning.  Because the teachers float through the day from one model classroom to another, they do not have a teacher desk or other teacher-oriented paraphernalia plastered all over the room. Instead, the student handprint is embedded in each room with student created content; I find Lovett’s concept of learning spaces co-curated by students to be quite powerful and participatory as it invites collaboratively created content and honors fluidity in the roles of experts and novices by positioning teachers and students as co-teachers and co-learners.  The purposeful and contextualized application of technology, rooted in learner needs and sound instructional design, was also refreshing.  I heartily applaud the cohort’s willingness to engage in this kind of messy, organic work and to grow from the friction/cognitive dissonance that comes from being outside of one’s comfort zone.
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Hallmarks of these spaces included:

  • Variations in furniture styles and functions as well as heights for flexible seating and multiple types of collaborative work.  Soft seating as well as hard seating were incorporated into the rooms.
  • Writable surfaces:  tinted glass affixed to the wall, mobile whiteboards on wheels (a favorite of the students and staff), IdeaPaint walls, writable tabletops.  (note:  Laura advises that if you are in an older building that has had multiple layers of paint or less than ideal drywall, you might want to consider the glass surfaces or mobile whiteboards (6 feet in length is optimal) since ghosting and the durability of the paint could potentially be problematic.
  • “Zones” of rooms for smaller groups or paired conferencing.
  • Wireless infrastructure to support 1:1 computing and/or BYOD
  • No teacher desk taking up the space.
  • Students and teachers capture the student work each period with their cameras; Evernote is also a great app for capturing and sharing the content on the walls.
  • Strategic lecture designed to facilitate, rather than dominate, the conversation, conversation that is fueled by students being contributors and active participants.  Some teachers also time themselves to limit themselves to short chunks of lecture at a time.
  • Rooms feel clean yet cozy; they are quickly and easily transformed since the space is open and supports transitions and reconfigurations of seating/workspaces/students.
  • Time for individual reflection and work as well as active, collaborative time with small and whole group discussions/conversations for learning.

Experiencing this learning ecology firsthand affirms our belief that our library can be the Story Studio prototype learning space for Norcross High; we see it as a springboard to future work in developing and working with a cohorts here to scale the pilot and more explicitly situate our work in the context of our classrooms.  We are deeply appreciative that our principal, Mr. Will Bishop, supports this vision and the kind of work we want to do; we also appreciate the encouragement and feedback from assistant principal John Decarvalho and our LSTC (Local School Technology Coordinator) Dr. Victoria Dodd.  By being a catalyst for designing learning experiences with our teachers and students that will meet our learners at their point of need, we can expand the possibilities for our library as both a learning space and a change agent that creates more diverse entry points for all learners, helps young people leverage the knowledge across multiple learning boundaries, and honors multiple ways of learning.  We also see this an opportunity to more deliberately examine and expand the ways our library functions as a sponsor of literacy here at Norcross High.  Ultimately, we hope to crowdsource with our students and faculty our own “learning playbook” that we can share with others as we engage in conversations for rewriting and composing new narratives of learning for everyone who is part of our learning community.

A heartfelt thank you Laura, Marsha, the faculty, and students of Lovett for so generously sharing their wisdom and for giving us the opportunity to experience their learning ecology firsthand!

Resources of Interest:

Deep in the Heart of Texas: TLA 2013

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

I’d like to thank the Texas Library Association and all of the attendees for their gracious hospitality and big warm Texas welcome to their annual conference here in gorgeous Fort Worth, Texas!  It was my honor to present two sessions today:

  • Transliteracy and Participatory Practices of Learning:  Praxis for Transformation of Today’s School Libraries and Learning Communities
  • Illuminating Learning Communities Through School Libraries and Makerspaces—Creating, Constructing, Collaborating, Contributing

What I enjoy the most about these conferences is the opportunity to interact with others and learn from their experiences and insights.  We had some rich discussions today that came out of our small group discussion and then large group share in the morning session on transliterate practices; I left with many new ideas simmering that I want to purse from that conversation!  I also appreciated the rich dialogue with fellow librarians and educators after that session as well as the afternoon makerspace session—it’s humbling to have such wonderful opportunities to network with colleagues and learn from their insights, questions, and experiences.  Thank you to everyone who shared such positive feedback and who posed questions in person or via Twitter—I will work this weekend to catch up on threads I missed or need to do some follow-up communication with in the next few days.   I’m also appreciative of time spent over lunch, dinner, and coffee with friends today, conversations with vendors in the exhibit hall, and of the feeling of belonging everyone extended to me—thank you for making me feel like one of your very own here in Texas.  I’d also like to give a special thank you to Julie Briggs and Elise Walker for their help in making my being a part of TLA a reality.

You can grab the PDFs of today’s slides either from SlideShare, or you can grab them PDFs directly below.

TLA Transliteracy and Participatory Practices of Learning–Praxis for Transformation of Today’s School Libraries and Learning Communities

TLA 2013 Illuminating Learning Communities Through School Libraries and Makerspaces–Creating, Constructing, Collaborating, Contributing

You can also view and grab the PDFs of the slides here:

ALA Midwinter 2012: Francey Harris Tells Us About the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults

Check out my interview with my friend and fellow librarian Francey Harris!  Francey Harris of YALSA talks about the http://www.ala.org/yalsa/products&publications/yalsapubs/jrlya/journal . I was impressed by their focus on multiple literacies and the open source, participatory nature of the journal.

Mimi Ito: The Positive Potential of Peer Pressure and Messing Around Online

from DMLResearch Hub’s YouTube Channel:

This past October, Ito spoke at the New School’s biennial conference series, The Politics of Digital Culture. In her talk, “Learning with Social and Mobile Media: The Positive Potential of Peer Pressure and Messing Around Online”, she examines the diversity of youth experience with new media and how it relates to questions of equity, access, and learning opportunities.

“We can debate outcomes of engagement all we want, but the thing that’s really important, I think, to have on the public agenda is really the question of ‘Who is getting access to the kinds of experiences that are productive and engaging, and who is not?’ And what are the factors contributing to that?”

Henry Jenkins and Liz Losh Discuss Participatory Learning and Public Education

from the blogs of Henry Jenkins and Liz Losh:

At Mobility Shifts: An International Future of Learning Summit Henry Jenkins (Team Cultural Studies) and Elizabeth Losh (Team Critical Theory) offer a progress report on whether and in what ways the public schools and universities are going to be able to absorb or meaningfully deploy what Jenkins calls “participatory culture.” Rather than an abstract discussion of a theoretical construct drawn from their supposedly opposite positions studying fan culture and institutional rhetoric respectively, the two will discuss concrete experiences of young people acting appropriately or not, inside or outside the classroom. What might a participatory learning culture look like? What policies make it hard for even supportive teachers to achieve in their classrooms? What stakeholders would need to be engaged in order to change the current cultures of our school? How might participatory learning take place beyond the schoolhouse gates? What is everyone afraid of?

I desperately wanted to go to this conference in October but could not get travel time or scrape up the personal funds to go although I hope to attend in 2012 if the conference is held again.  This video is timely as I’m drafting blog posts this weeks reflecting on the pushback I’ve encountered from students and faculty this semester on participatory learning.   I’ll be writing more about this video and my own experiences as a teacher and librarian over the last semester a little later this week; I’ll also be discussing the library’s efforts to nudge toward more inquiry based research as well as efforts to scaffold digital composition and the questions I’m left with midyear.