Participatory Librarianship and Learning

Mucking Around in the Questions: Libraries and Critical Literacy

“Teacher librarians have tremendous opportunity to enhance student understanding and engagement with the cacophony of languages, discourses and cultures that are clashing and merging in new communications spaces. Critical information literacies would give different takes on language, text and knowledge than do the acritical, print-based pedagogies of current library curricula. Researchers and theorists have documented the powerful influence of transnational capital and global media, which frame and are framed by the identities of youth, and which distribute educational services and products hand-in-hand with advertising and entertainment (Kenway & Bullen, 2001;McChesney, Wood & Foster, 1998). These economies and cultures of identity formation work in and through text and discourse. Considering that text and knowledge are forms of capital for exchange, issues of ‘truth’ and/or ‘error’ may still be necessary, but they are also insufficient. Instead, key questions for curricular activities of substantive worth to learners and library users should revolve around issues of who gets access to which texts, and who is able – socially, culturally and politically – to contest, critique and rewrite those texts. Based on these criteria, much of the literate work currently undertaken in school libraries is not as effective and empowering as diligent and well-intentioned teacher librarians are led to believe” (Kapitzke, 2003, p. 64).

Have you ever wondered if you are inadvertently impeding learners rather than helping them? Ever since my M.Ed. days in Language/Literacy Education at the University of Georgia, critical literacy has been a lens that has colored my work and way of thinking about our practice.  Like many librarians and teachers, I have striven not only to deepen my understanding of critical literacy, but I have also struggled to put action into practice behind the ideas in a K12 public school setting.

During my time as a Learning Strategist at the Cleveland Public Library in Ohio, precepts of critical literacy bubbled to the surface in my thinking and reading as I tried to better and expand my understanding our branch communities and to contextualize the challenges, hindrances, and successes our staff faced in opening up literacy experiences and learning opportunities for people of all ages.  Conversations there with my Knowledge Office colleagues Tim Diamond and Anastasia Diamond-Ortiz about critical literacy encouraged and broadened my questioning; these “think aloud” sessions eventually led to some helpful email conversations with Dr. James Elmborg, a respected academic librarian who has tried to advance greater conversation about critical literacy and its application to libraries.  In my year and a half here at Norcross High, I’ve had similar conversations with my fellow librarian Jennifer Lund as well as faculty and administration here, including people like Darrell Cicchetti, Emily Russell, Sarah Rust, Logan Malm, Hope Black, and John DeCarvalho.  In my blog posts of the last year for DMLcentral, I’ve attempted to think aloud some of the obstacles as well as possibilities of how librarians might rethink our practices in multiple kinds of libraries using Deborah Brandt’s concept of sponsors of literacy.   Here at the end of 2014, I find myself continuing to dwell in these ideas yet feeling a greater sense of urgency as of late to find concrete ways of taking more meaningful and intentional steps to integrating this into the collaborative work we do with our teachers and students.

For the last three years or so, I’ve increasingly found myself questioning everything I believe our profession and our values.  Many professional and personal events during this time have informed this self-interrogation, an ongoing period of questioning that while uncomfortable at times, is ultimately a positive one that has generated more questions than answers yet deeper and organic reflection that is similar to what I experienced during my graduate school years.   Through a series of events in the last few weeks, I stumbled upon a new reading, “Information literacy:  A review and poststructural critique” by Cushla Kapitzke; while a little dated (2003), many of the ideas feel especially relevant as my experiences as a librarian at Creekview High, Cleveland Public Library, and now Norcross High push me to challenge how I conceptualize information literacy and how a critical literacy stance might lead to more transformative and more germane practices.    How might we deepen research, inquiry, and literacy experiences by giving students the opportunity to look at texts and ideas through lenses of race, class, and gender to better understand the power dynamics, inequalities, privileging/silencing of groups of language and information and to perhaps make the invisible more visible, the strange familiar, and the familiar strange?  Kapitzke warns us that “Unless teacher librarians provide students with knowledge of the way language works to ‘evaluate information’, they could be considered culpable for disempowering the students they strive so hard to serve” (2003, p. 62).   Statements like these and readings of the last eighteen months have frequently given me cause to ask myself if my practices are indeed perpetuating barriers even when they are well-intended.

As we think about what effective practices are for contemporary school librarians (Fontichiaro & Hamilton, 2014), particularly ones that can have authentic impact on student learning and the culture of learning in a school, I can’t help but think of Kapitzke’s 2003 prediction:

“…radical change is inevitable. It will also be contentious because new forms of production challenge assumptions and practices reified in libraries, in disciplinary practices, and in the attitudes and beliefs of the textbook author cited in the introduction of this article.  Situated as they are at the nexus of teaching and learning, knowledge and technology, teacher librarians will contribute to or hinder this ‘inevitable’, educational change” (63).

How how much has actually changed in information literacy instruction and other kinds of literacy learning experiences in school libraries in the last decade?   As we begin a new year and semester in just a few weeks, I hope to think through these questions and wonderings more publicly with my colleagues both here at NHS and in other libraries and schools; I also hope to share our thinking and how we’ll apply that to our instructional design and practice.  I think there is a tremendous amount of fear in our profession (both education and all walks of librarianship) to openly speak about these messy aspects of our work, to challenge all that has been held sacred, and to accept we don’t have all the answers in a nice neat tidy package.  These fears are exacerbated by the emphasis on standardized testing, student growth models tied to teacher evaluation, and pressure for curricular conformity to meet state standards.  It is my hope, though, that the fear of hindering transformative practice and participatory opportunities for our students will spur us to take a bolder stance through a lens of critical literacy in 2014.   I look forward to continuing the conversation with all of you as teachers and librarians in a diverse range of settings (academic, public, medical, school, K-12, higher education, urban, rural, suburban) in the next year.

References
Fontichiaro, K., & Hamilton, B. (2014, September). Undercurrents. Knowledge Quest, 43(1), 56-59. Retrieved     December 15, 2014.
Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information literacy: A review and poststructural critique. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 26(1), 53. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

 

Processing Texts, Ideas, and New Understandings with Twitter Chats + Socratic Seminar

tchat1

Jennifer Lund and I had the opportunity to partner this month with IB Theory of Knowledge teachers Dan Byrne and Dr. James Glenn.  Our instructional design challenge was to think about how we might help student process the first chapters of an advanced text, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why, by Dr. Richard Nisbett.  Inspired by our previous efforts with Socratic circles and Twitter chat with Emily Russell’s Language Arts classes, we all agreed this medium would help us meet our student learning targets.  After two short meetings and one extended planning session, Dan and James organized three student groups (Groups A, B, and C)  that combined students from both of their sections since our learning activities would take place during a period on a “block” in which both sections had the opportunity to meet together.  Dan and James designed the three groups to help us facilitate inner/outer circle groups for a Socratic seminar over the readings that would also incorporate participation through a Twitter chat.   Jennifer and I developed the discussion hashtag, the Twitter Chat etiquette mini-lesson, and the logistics for organizing our space in the library learning studio to accommodate such a large group.  Jennifer and I also served as co-facilitators during the chat by participating in the Twitter discussion, providing technical assistance to students, and helping students with the logistics of following the chat.  We also captured an archive of the Tweets with Storify and photos of the #toknisbett chat.

twitter chat 2 twitter chat 3

tok4

The student response to the activity exceeded all of our expectations, and we were delighted that student reacted so positively to the experience in their “grows and glows” reflections!  Students enjoyed hearing multiple perspectives and opportunities to participate in the discussion, the Twitter stream, the organization of the 70 minute activity, and the physical space and setup for our Twitter chat/Socratic circle discussion.  They overwhelmingly loved having the opportunity for organic and free-flowing discussion; many expressed a desire to have a longer period of time for inner circle talk.

In response to student feedback, we’ll think about how to better incorporate the Twitter stream into the face to face discussion as well as help students interact more in the virtual learning space; we’ll also help students think through strategies for helping “quiet” students speak up more and how they can support those who might feel awkward jumping into the face to face discussion.

In the video below, Dan and James share their perspective on our collaboration process, their reflections on the learning activity, and their thoughts on how this mode of learning benefited students.  I invite you to take time to watch the video as they share their rich and nuanced perspective:

We are already planning our next variation of a Twitter chat and Socratic circle that will incorporate our write around text on text strategies and a gallery walk to help students generate the talking points and questions for the next discussion.  We will also continue to think about how these strategies help us elevate writing/composing processes and literacies as part of inquiry and visible thinking. We would love to hear how others are using Twitter chats and Socratic seminars or something similar to help students take an inquiry stance on a text and/or topic!

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.

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.

2014 BCTLA Summer Institute Presentations and Resources

Teacher Librarians Engaging in Inquiry Through Written Conversations Around Texts

It was truly a pleasure earlier this week to spend time with the wonderful teacher librarians of BCTLA—-they are truly among the nicest, most enthusiastic, and most progressive groups of librarians I’ve had the honor to speak to in my career.  I am truly grateful for their hospitality, their energy, and their passionate participation during the Summer Institute this past Tuesday!  I’d like to give an extra word of thanks to Arlene Anderson—she was the ultimate hostess and went above and beyond the call of duty in making my visit both possible and memorable!

Fabulous Librarians of BCTLA!

Fabulous Librarians of BCTLA! /Photo by Doni Gratton

Session 1:  Subject Guides

Resources of Interest:

 

Session 2:  Participatory Learning and Inquiry

Please let me know if I have omitted any resources you may have wanted as a participant or if you want to share any work related to our sessions as the school year gets underway!