libraries

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.

 

New DMLcentral Post—Writing in Libraries: Processes and Pathways to Inquiry and Learning

http://dmlcentral.net/blog/buffy-hamilton/writing-libraries-processes-and-pathways-inquiry-learning

Writing in Libraries: Processes and Pathways to Inquiry and Learning | DMLcentral via kwout

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.

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.

 

New DMLcentral Post: Writing as “The Mass Literate Experience” of Our Age and What It Might Mean for Libraries

 “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.