Connecting and Assessing Individualized Independent Reading with Paired Book Chats, Collaborative Thinking, and Big Group Share

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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.

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

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.

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

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.

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

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.

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

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.

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

With the 2nd period, Sarah provided the recap of student statements…

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

 

…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!

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

IR Book Chats and Collaborative Thinking About Themes

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!

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Growing Learning Communities Through School Libraries and Makerspaces-Creating, Constructing, Collaborating, Contributing

Thank you once again to Jennifer Finley-McGill, David Kates, and the Independent School Library Exchange of Southern California for inviting me to speak at their summer retreat in beautiful Ojai, California.  I am grateful for their hospitality as well as my friend and hostess Elisabeth Abarbanel for treating me to a great week of fun, learning, and sharing!  The slides below are from yesterday’s presentation about the possibilities for makerspaces and school libraries.  Please note all links referenced in the session are live and accessible via the SlideShare post below.

 

Partnering for Possibilities: NHS Media Center, Gwinnett County Public Library, 3D Printing, and More

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The grand finale to Teen Tech Week 2014 was the first step in a partnership (more details later in this post!) between our media center and our friends from the Gwinnett County Public Library.  Training Manager Christopher Baker, Information Technology Director Michael Casey, and Grayson Assistant Branch Manager Steve Thomas joined us for three lunch/guided study periods to introduce 3D printing to our teens.   Christina Gangwisch, Public Services Librarian from our neighboring Peachtree Corners branch, was also part of the festivities and provided students information on getting a public library card as well as details about the library’s eBook collection and activities for teens.   Armed with the library 3D Makerbot Replicator 2 printer, enthusiasm, and lots of 3D artifacts created on the printer to share with students, the three facilitated small group, 1:1, and large group conversations with 59 of our NHS teens!  Steve joined my colleague Jennifer Lund and I as co-learners with the teens (we’re all newbies to 3D printing)  while Michael and Chris wowed all of us with their artful expertise and interaction with our students.   It was a day marked by joy, curiosity, wonder, and excitement as nearly every teen who attended saw the 3D printer in action for the first time.  The conversations were organic, and we appreciate how responsive Michael and Chris were to the learning needs and interests of our students.

We were especially excited that most of our core group who attended our other Teen Tech Week sessions earlier in the week not only attended the 3D session, but several of them invited friends—the result was a vibrant cross-section of students who got to see the possibilities for both the public library as well as our own.   One of the participants, Brianna, shared this reflection:

The 3D printer was really cool.  When I first saw it, it was making a small robot.  There were other things like a small owl which was really cool because it looked like an actual owl.  Watching the 3D printer make stuff was an amazing experience.  I hope to see it make stuff again in the future at the public library because I really liked watching designs people created get made.  I also hope to come up with with a design of my own to be with the 3D printer.”

Another student, Nanier, offered these reactions to the day:

The 3D printing machine was an awesome thing to see at work.  I think that if the school had one, it would be really cool because we could use it to do prototypes for a project.  So I would really like for there to be one, or for us to do or help to get one.

In addition to getting student responses to our day of collaborative learning, I also asked our GCPL colleagues to share their reflections.  Michael Casey wrote:

As this was the first time that we’ve taken the printer anywhere, I was surprised by almost everything. I liked that we attracted what appeared to be lots of different types of students. There were some real science/tech kids there but there appeared to also be some students who never really heard of 3D printing but were curious. It was fun, in talking with them, to see and hear their thought processes regarding the possibilities of 3D printing. Many immediately jumped to far larger projects — biological matter, complex part production, etc. I’m hoping that a few kids went home and went online to learn a bit more about the possibilities.  It’s always great to be able to connect the theoretical with the practical and, in this case, the tactile. We were able to talk about very complex printing uses (human organs, etc) and also hand out small items that were made with a real 3D printer — a pedestrian version of the more complex printers, true, but still an actual 3D printer that has a cousin out there who may eventually save lives.

Chris Baker also found the student’s excitement energizing for him:

I had an awesome time demoing the MakerBot and talking with everyone who stopped by to watch the MakerBot do its thing! As Michael mentioned in his message, it was great to have such a diversity of students involved and interested in the session! My favorite takeaway from the session revolves around the reception the MakerBot received from the students vs. the reception it often receives from adults; there was a total lack of cynicism regarding the MakerBot with the teens on Friday! I’m defining cynicism very softly here because the MakerBot always receives a warm reception, but often with adult audiences, it comes with a few leading questions that belie underlying feelings of cynicism and/or fear, i.e. “Aren’t people using 3D printers to make weapons?” or in a smaller way, “I wouldn’t even know where to start with this thing”. Not only did the students seem amazed by the technology, they also seemed amazed by the possibility! Thanks again for this opportunity for feedback; Friday’s session was one of the most inspiring and encouraging sessions I’ve been a part of in some time!

Steve Thomas’s reflections very much echo the participatory practices from our colleagues in museums as he views the opportunity to be a co-learner and to take the students’ learning experiences as “grist” for next steps in designing learning experiences:

As I’m still in the early stages of learning about 3D printing myself, I was delighted to see how the students’ eyes lit up with the potential for the technology; it will be fun learning with them at this summer’s MakerCamp. Even the quietest students had good questions about how the MakerBot worked, wanting to learn more about its potential applications but also about how the underlying technology worked. The future is coming fast and I’m excited to be part of the effort to collaborate with our public schools to usher in this new service. The lessons we are learning from this initial partnership will help shape how we use the 3D printer and other new technologies with the rest of our community.

We all feel confident that this three hour investment in our students has ignited interest for many of our teens in 3D printing and design and will be a bridge to additional learning opportunities co-fostered by NHS and GCPL.  So what are our next steps from this initial day of ideation and immersion? What might those opportunities be?

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The Partnership

The partnership between NHS and GCPL was born out of an initial conversation between Michael and me when we realized very quickly that we have a shared interest in participatory learning and services.  Together we spearheaded an initial core team that includes ourselves, Chris, Steve, Events and Outreach Manager Amy Billings, my fellow NHS librarian Jen Lund, Robotics Team sponsor Joe Floyd, NHS LSTC (Local School Technology Coordinator) Victoria Dodd, and science teacher Alix Hardy. We’ve had a series of three meetings and numerous conversations since early December that have culminated in these first steps that we hope will lead to additional and organic work as we learn together and from our students.

Pilot 1: Beginning Small:

The first is a small -scale program between the public library and our Norcross HS Robotics Club. This will be a series of four visits to the club after school this spring with both staff from the public library and NHS Media Center participating/facilitating an hour or ninety-minute session of ideating, designing, doing, and learning.  The club will  use various software like Tinkercad to create objects on the 3D printer and participating club members will share their knowledge (existing and growing) with the library staff so we can together learn various software applications beyond the basic two we currently understand. This series is designed to be a learning opportunity for us as the librarians as much as the students.

Pilot 2:  Summer Maker Camp at the Public Library

Final details are still being fine tuned, but here is an overview of how we will scale the first pilot into a larger participatory experience:

  • Norcross HS Media Center will host  A “Tech Petting Zoo”  celebration and sharing day in the library with the 3D printer and Makey Makey kits to encourage students to participate in the upcoming Maker Camp. This event will be co-facilitated by NHS MC staff and GCPL staff; students who participated in the Robotics Club may also help facilitate during the day.
  • A four session Summer Maker Camp at the Peachtree Corners branch (Monday to Thursday) will take place in early June. Over these four days,  a mix of high school and library staff will introduce camp makers to the various software applications, offer training, and offer library resources (PCs, Chromebooks, etc) for the students to use, in-branch, in designing their objects. We would begin printing the objects in the final session.  Robotics Club members interesting in serving as co-mentors may also help facilitate during these four days.
  • The closing community event for participants, family, and friends, probably the following Monday or Tuesday, will be a celebration of learning and students will be recognized for their work and unique talents they’ve demonstrated.  
  • We hope to broadcast (via a live video feed) the actual printing of the objects and learning activities to share our learning with the larger community and perhaps even invite vetted experts to participate in the conversations for learning as we create and make.   Students will also help staff capture the experience through other forms of multimedia such as Instagram and Vine.

We are all excited by these seed ideas and cannot wait to see what grows from these collaborative learning opportunities.  While we see eBook creation/publishing, web design, and composing practices as future potential areas of partnership, we also are eager to see how student interests may inspire additional sustained projects.  We hope to work together as a team so that the learning spaces between the school library, classroom, and public library are seamless spheres of learning that overlap and inform each other in rich, robust, and equitable ways.  I think there is much potential for us to explore how we can frame our collaborative work through a lens of connected learning, and we all look forward to forging these pathways to many kinds of learning!

Teen Tech Week DIY 2014: Duct Tape, Squishy Circuits, and Makey Makey

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On our first day of Teen Tech Week, we had fun creating tech cord covers and friendship bracelets; several students returned Tuesday to continue working on those crafts.  On Wednesday, we brought out multiple rolls of decorative duct tape in different colors and patterns for students to use for creating decorative accessories.  While we scaffolded the activity with handouts and videos of instructions for some crafty creations, many students used these resources as a springboard to devise their own unique duct tape artistry.  Some students fashioned jewelry, while others made backpack and pencil accessories; some students designed duct tape bookmarks.   One student who had learned duct tape crafting at a neighboring branch of the public library wowed everyone with  a whale themed wallet she created in about twenty minutes!  Students worked together as they showed each other techniques for measuring, folding, and shaping duct tape into something more than a sticky tool.    Just like Monday, the hour was a time to socialize, design, wonder, imagine, and help each other.

circuits and makey

On Thursday, we debuted our new purchases of Makey Makey kits and basic Squishy Circuit kits. Jennifer and Victoria Dodd (our instructional technology specialist and coach) whipped up our very own conductive and insulating playdough the week before to use with these kits.   We readily acknowledged to our teens that we were new to these mediums for creating and experimenting and that we’d be learning side by side with them—this day was definitely one of tremendous learning and fun for all of us!    We kicked off each lunch/guided study period of DIY time in the library by doing a demo of the MakeyMakey piano and bongo; Victoria served as the “ground” while Jennifer and I high-fived and tapped Victoria to make the music.  This demo was both fun to demonstrate and for the kids to see in action; this was just one of many activities on Thursday that brought much laughter and delight!  We then showed a couple of quick videos to spark everyone’s imaginations and then turned our students loose with the kits.

Again, the beauty of working with the squishy circuits and Makey Makey kits was that we learned by DOING and engaged in collaborative problem-solving.  How often do most high school students get to do that in these test-crazed times?  To see these teens thinking so intently, experimenting, and learning through trial and error in a relaxed setting was truly a joy and a way for us to grow the kind of culture of learning we want the library to embody.  These are also elements and mediums for learning we want to embed into our library as learning studio redesign that is in progress.  We had several students wanting to know if these kits would be available not only the next day but beyond Teen Tech Week to play with during lunch and guided study time, and our answer was a resounding YES.  We were thrilled that the day sparked excitement and interest that will carry over into the spring even though Teen Tech Week has ended.   It was also heartening for us to see that our first core group who attended Monday attended both the Wednesday and Thursday sessions—and while some of that group are teens we consider “regular” visitors during lunch and guided study, we saw a lot of new faces who now see the library in a different way and that we have fun, creative activities that speak to their interests as learners.   These three days gave us a glimpse of what could be and should be for the library as we move forward with the physical and conceptual redesign to a comprehensive learning studio that invites students and teachers to learn, create, and experiment together .  Stay tuned for the last post on Teen Tech Week–I’ll be sharing how we partnered with our friends from the Gwinnett Public Library to introduce the world of 3D printing to our teens!

Advances in Citation Management Technologies: How Do They Shape Inquiry and Literacies?

Two years ago, I adopted EasyBib as my primary citation subscription service for a multitude of reasons, but the driving factor was to spend less time on the mechanics of citation and more time helping students and teachers dwell in research projects from an inquiry oriented stance.  Although we had always had high database usage statistics, that did not always translate into those sources finding their way into student projects and papers to the extent we would expect given our high number of hits; we knew from observation in the past that the primary reason was the amount of time and struggle it took students to create entries using the database wizard with another citation tool.  While we very much liked the original citation tool we had been using, our students were not coming with enough prior knowledge or usage for it to be the best fit for them as learners.    Within the first year of adoption, we noticed some significant changes:

1.  Students were not only citing more database sources in their bibliographies, but they were also incorporating the database content more into the body of their paper as paraphrased and directly quoted material.

2.  Because less instructional and working time was spent on citation mechanics with EasyBib, students were spending more times reading their articles critically and having opportunities to reflect on the content individually and with their peers in small groups.

3.  Teachers were more willing to devote longer chunks of  time and take more of an inquiry stance on research projects since they knew the citation piece of the learning experience would be more seamless and would not take as much time for students to complete.  Being able to invest more time in designing  inquiry driven projects using Stripling’s model of inquiry and helping teachers move along that continuum was exciting and energizing; for some teachers, it was also a pathway to pushing back against the pressures of testing.

At the time of our adoption in midwinter, we thought we had jumped light years ahead by being able to download .ris files to then import into EasyBib.  I have vivid memories of students AND teachers clapping when I showed them this fast new method that  felt like a revolution in citation.   That fall, we saw a glimpse of the next wave of citation innovation when we trialed Sage databases and saw one-click integration of direct export for the first time with EasyBib.  Not that it was terrible to download the .ris file with the publication data and then upload it to EasyBib, but to see that citation could be done so seamlessly in one click was a tantalizing possibility to imagine for other databases.

In August 2013, my colleague Jennifer Lund and I were overjoyed when we learned that Gale Virtual Reference Library and Gale Literature Resource Center had been re-configured to offer the ease of one-click citation export and integration with EasyBib. That feature was then enhanced to be even a little cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing in December.  Our only disappointment was that the feature was not yet integrated into our Gale “In Context” databases.  Because we are fortunate to have access to quite a few of these databases in that particular series, we often felt frustrated trying to explain to our students why the one-click integration was available in some Gale databases but not in others.    For young teens who did not have the same schema we did as experienced researchers, this discrepancy was sometimes difficult for them to grasp even though we had created tutorial videos to reinforce the “how to” steps we showed in person.  Worse, this feature was not only missing from the EBSCO databases that we were using as part of our research guides, but the direct export feature failed to deliver the file with the .ris extension essential for EasyBib to read the data file, so students also had to remember to rename the file and add the .ris extension.   For fledgling researchers, these differences and the appropriate steps for exporting citations from one database to another, even those under the same publisher, were sometimes challenging to remember.

student-resource-center-easybibexport-march14As of this week, the beautiful one click citation feature is now available in all the Gale In Context databases.   I literally felt like dancing around the library when I discovered the platforms had been migrated and sooner than I anticipated!  Some of our students came in this morning and said, “Ms. Hamilton, did you know Student Resources in Context now has that one click choice?!”  Jennifer and I were beaming as we discussed the ways this small but important change might help us in our larger efforts to reframe, disrupt,  and transform research experiences here at NHS as acts of inquiry across the curriculum.  If you are in a school that might be facing challenges of a large student body and faculty with a premium on spaces and time for research both within the library and the school building at large as well as curricular and testing mandates, a technology that is seemingly so simple can be a catalyst in how you budget your time for research instruction.   Now that we will have consistency in citation export within our  suite of Gale databases, we anticipate less confusion with this piece of research and more student confidence in using both the databases as well as EasyBib.  Now that we will be spending less time explaining why there are differences in the steps for exporting the citations, we are excited that hopefully more time will be spent incorporating learning experiences that will give students time to engage in deeper inquiry  and to think more deliberately about their research and composing (in whatever format the final product takes).  Of course, we hope that EBSCO will transform their direct export feature soon to be consistent with the Gale experience our students now have.

bibcardWhen we think about the catalysts for richer learning experiences that can shift perceptions about research as a one shot activity to something that is a natural part of an inquiry-driven culture of learning, we know that school culture, collaborative partnerships and strategies, physical space and the design drivers that inform those spaces, testing and curricular mandates, and pedagogical shifts are all important points of access.  As we try to help our students acquire the academic capital and citizenship skills they need as learners who attribute and share information in appropriate and ethical ways, I wonder how shifts in citation technology will impact learners and research experiences in ways we don’t yet foresee. Think about how approaches to citation have changed in your own lifetime (some of us more than others) due to the technologies available for both citing and accessing digitized information sources.  I honestly don’t remember much about crafting bibliographies as a newbie researcher in my junior year although I have vivid memories of painstakingly crafting footnotes, a tedious task.  In my senior year of high school as well as my undergraduate years, I relied heavily on the MLA handbook and resources provided by teachers/professors.   When I began teaching in 1992, my students used index cards and a MLA handbook to cite sources cite sources.  By the time I was a technology specialist in my district’s Technology Services department in 1999 , a free version of NoodleTools had arrived on the scene, and I was tinkering around with that before moving to a paid version purchased by my district.   As a graduate student between 2001-2005, I relied heavily on my NoodleTools subscription to help me format my citations for scholarly research; at the same time, I began incorporating NoodleTools into my instruction at Cherokee High first as an English teacher and then as one of the school’s librarians.   I marvel when I think about the changes in citation technology (or lack of) and how it impacted my work as a teacher and researcher over twenty years.

I can’t help but wonder what the implications are for learners (K12, undergraduate, and even graduate) who do AND who don’t have access to these technologies for research and learning.  How does access or lack thereof impact the learner experience and students’ information literacy skills? How do these changes impact the ways people compose research-based writing and literacy practices as readers of informational texts in a variety of mediums and formats?  How might less emphasis on the mechanics of citation change people’s perceptions and connotations of “research”? How do these technologies and access or lack of access to them function as sponsors of literacy?  These are questions I’ll be pondering as I continue to think about the ways libraries function as sponsors of literacy in their communities and learning ecosystems.