Last year, I piloted Research Reflections blog posts with our Media 21 students as a means of getting students to actively reflect and think about their information literacy skills and research processes.    Susan Lester and I decided to incorporate these blog posts once again into our Fall 2010 Issues in Africa research project; the directions for blogging research reflections below are nearly identical to the ones we used last year.

However, after reading the first round of research reflections with this year’s Media 21/ Learning 21 students, I quickly realized that more scaffolding was needed in the writing directions and the assessment rubrics to nudge students to think more deeply and to avoid repetition in their reflections.  For the second and third research reflections, I created more specific writing prompts and corresponding rubrics [see below]:

While I hate being so prescriptive with the directions for writing and reflection, I’ve come to realize that few students come with enough prior experience in actively reflecting on the research process:  the information literacy skills they’re acquiring and using, strategies for evaluating information sources, and decision-making processes as they engage in inquiry.  The experience of articulating the how and why of information seeking behaviors and participating in active self-assessment of how they are demonstrating standards for learning and specific information literacy skills is one that has required some intense scaffolding this fall.

As you can see from the rubrics above, the emphasis is on the content and thinking reflected in the blog posts.  However, I also incorporated evaluation criteria for grammar conventions and usage as well as sentence structure since these are reflected in the course Georgia Performance Standards; in addition, we want to reinforce the expectation that clear and coherent communication as well as careful editing/proofreading are hallmarks of quality blog posts.  Although we emphasize that blog posts are read by a global audience, this concept is still new and abstract for many of our students as this is their first experience writing in this type of public space for an audience beyond the classroom teacher.

The research reflections not only provide students an opportunity to engage in metacognition, but they also provide me meaningful insights into their thinking that help me understand their perspectives on information sources and how they evaluating those sources through student eyes, patterns of research skills problems/challenges they are encountering as a group, topics for writing and grammar mini-lessons, and any gaps in understanding that we might need to address as a whole class, small group, or one on one.

As you can imagine, it is fairly time-consuming to read, evaluate, and provide written commentary on each post.  I have been evaluating and providing the detailed feedback for each set of research reflections; I provide written commentary on a printed copy of each blog post as well as the corresponding rubric.  With roughly 65 students in both sections, I’ve been knee-deep in assessment the last month, but the experience of taking even more of a hands-on approach in the creation and structuring of the writing prompts and rubrics (these were all spearheaded by me and then rolled out with Susan’s approval as my c0-teacher) has been one that has given me important glimpses into how students are evaluating information and applying the information literacy skills we’ve been introducing and emphasizing in class.    Although they have not necessarily been thrilled with all of the individual assessments I’ve provided, many of the students have taken the constructive criticism to heart and shown progress in moving forward on the continuum of deeper and more critical thinking.  I have tried to stress to our students that the feedback is intended to help them grow as learners and to challenge them to engage in more specific and thoughtful self-assessment and inquiry.

Below are a few of the exemplary blog posts from our students; these posts are linked here with permission from each student:

I’ll provide some additional links as I receive additional student permissions in the next week from Research Reflections 3.

I think the research reflection blog posts have also encouraged students’ participation literacy in being active agents in the research process rather than passive beings who aren’t thinking through their information seeking behaviors.  In addition, these blog posts are a springboard to the annotations they will compose for each information source on their final Works Cited page created in NoodleTools , a digital learning portfolio,  and a cumulative VoiceThread portfolio assessment they’ll be creating after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’ll be blogging soon about the final set of research reflections (#4) that students submitted this past week; I’ll also be blogging about the learning portfolios and VoiceThread assessment projects students will be creating in the next six or so weeks as well.   In the meantime, how are you assessing students’ information literacy skills and processes beyond a traditional quantitative tool?  Are you as a school librarian actively  involved in the creation and evaluation of assessment tools?  What qualitative assessment tools or pieces are you using with students to encourage active participation in the learning process and to gain insights into their thinking?   Please share your experiences and insights in this space!