You may have noticed the sparse number of blog posts so far in 2011—the relative degree of “quiet” here on the blog is in contrast to the buzz of activity happening offline.

Writing, Thinking, Reflecting

Some exciting writing endeavors have occupied a good bit of my creative energies and time outside of the school day over the last three or four weeks; I’ll be sharing more about these efforts closer to publication times later this spring. While the writing process is sometimes quite stressful, it also leads to intense and thoughtful reflection; in some cases, the discovery of new resources to better inform current and future practice/projects.

The Unquiet Library Is Decidedly Unquiet: Projects

The school day and beyond have been jam-packed with a multitude of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors engaging in their late winter research projects (folklore, American authors, archetypes and popular culture, current/hot events, needs/causes and service organizations that work to address these needs on a local, state, or national level) through their English courses.  I’ve also been working with science teacher Mary Panik on a unit about natural disasters, which included students creating a wiki for their research findings as well as a Skype session with a research vessel off the coast of New Zealand.  In addition, I’ve worked with Criminal Justice studies teacher Jason Hubbard and his students to research natural or man-made disasters and lessons learned from those events; I’ll be posting student created “presentation zen” style slidedecks to the pathfinder later this month once presentations are completed.   One of my favorite collaborative efforts from the last few weeks is a research project Susan Lester and her seniors are engaged in about the role of social media in recent political uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran.  I’m looking forward to reviewing with the teachers what they felt worked well and suggestions for tweaking these research assignments later this month as we try to improve the effectiveness of our collaborative efforts.

Observations, Questions, Worries, Action Steps, Goals Evolving So Far in 2011

  • Providing students scaffolding with tools like graphic organizers and “checkpoints” of research tasks to complete is essential, especially for underclassmen who may be coming to us with limited prior research experiences.
  • I need to provide tools for to our teachers to better pre-assess student prior knowledge about research skills before beginning a research project so that we can better target those skills as part of our focus on process.
  • I’m thinking about resources and strategies for improving nonfiction reading skills (periodicals, nonfiction books, essays in book chapters or databases, reference articles) for students.  While some students show great skill in identifying supportive details or evidence to develop a main idea, many need additional assistance in this area.  Even though some of the teachers did targeted practice in which they modeled and had students practice these skills with these types of texts,  many students need additional yet authentic practice with these kinds of reading skills and nonfiction texts. Nonfiction Matters by Stephanie Harvey (great for any age, really), Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, and Subjects Matter: Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading by Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman are three resources that come to mind; what others resources (print or virtual) would you suggest?
  • How do we more effectively engage students who seemingly do not want help or choose not to use class/library time work on their projects in spite of multiple efforts from teachers and librarians to support their work and learning needs?  Whether it is a traditional text-based paper, a wiki-based project involving choice, or even a multimedia project, I’ve observed an increasing number of students this year who seem resistant to taking advantage of class time to work on a project.
  • How do create more inquiry-oriented research assignments without overwhelming struggling learners with both content and process?
  • I continue to struggle with feelings about citation processes—our students are definitely making strides in differentiating information sources, both print and virtual, this year, and NoodleTools has been instrumental in that process.  However, in order to better meet students at their point of need, I have started creating “information organizer” handouts for assorted information sources to help students jot down the essential publication information they will need for citing the source.   In the past, I have balked at using these kind of paper handouts and felt that it was more efficient and effective for students to enter the bibliographic information as they worked through the NoodleTools wizard.  However, I’ve changed my stance and realized that for many students, particularly those with limited research experience, this extra layer of scaffolding makes the process of using the NoodleTools less stressful and tedious.    While I’ve always provided print and virtual copies of directions for citing sources, I’m now using these “publication information organizers” to help students record the bibliographic information in the order they will need it for the NoodleTools citation.  I’m still in the process of uploading handouts and tutorial videos I have previously created or recently created to this new NoodleTools portal (in the past, this was included as a separate tab or page in individual research guides), but you can see the beginnings of this new citation help portal here.   The most difficult source for students to cite is Gale Literature Resource Center simply because there are so many possible combinations of possible information sources, particularly those with 2-3 layers of publication information–I am hopeful that some new updates to NoodleTools this summer will help us work through some of the more complex citation challenges.

For next year, I will work with department heads to devise a formal list of information literacy/research/inquiry skills each student should be able to successfully demonstrate at the end of each grade level so that we can have better consistency in the skills we are targeting since our state and district curriculum do not provide a comprehensive or sequential list of benchmarks.  We’ll also include options for formative and summative assessments that both teachers and students can use for demonstrating mastery of these skills.   I also  hope to get more teachers to include reflective pieces in research projects for student metacognition, particularly when thinking about what they have learned from the research experience and to more effectively articulate information source evaluation with more purpose and thought.  While some teachers are already working on this skill with me through blogging, annotated bibliographies, or information source interviews we’re doing with students, I think this aspect needs to be more commonplace in all research assignments across every subject area.  Finally, I think some teachers are now more receptive to my encouraging them to consider incorporating more frequent but smaller formal research assignments into their courses throughout the school year to better support student learning while tackling some of the challenges I’ve identified in this post.

Looking Ahead to 2011-2012:  Shift Is Happening Now

As if all of these observations,  action steps, questions, and goals aren’t enough to think about, I have been working with a team of teachers to propose some shifts in our library program and how the library supports teaching, learning, and student achievement at Creekview High.   I’ll be blogging later this week about this new initiative that has our administrative support and that I believe is going to help The Unquiet Library take a huge leap forward in better supporting both teachers and students in 2011-12.  Not only I am thrilled about the new initiative we’ll be officially launching in August 2011 (although the groundwork is already in progress), but the teachers are equally excited and passionate about this new initiative as well—that in and of itself is energizing!  I look forward to sharing the details of this new initiative with all of you on the blog later this week.