As any classroom teacher knows, time is a valuable commodity. It’s always a struggle to squeeze every last drop of the instructional time we have with students and still provide meaningful learning experiences. One of our English teachers, Kim Cooney, recognized she needed a way to negotiate two major class activities with her 10th grade students:
- She needed to have small seminar discussions with students.
- She needed for students to have some instruction on EasyBib and research databases for a project in which students are investigating issues related to social media.
Ms. Cooney asked me if I would be comfortable working with half of her class in the media center while she did seminar with the other half in her classroom. I immediately said yes, and we scheduled two days with her 1st, 2nd, and 4th periods to “flip” between us. I was super excited about being able to work with a smaller group of students as it feels more personal, and I think students get more from that setting than they sometimes do with an especially large class.
A series of events over the last 24 hours helped me craft a better approach to our mini-lessons today. I realized after school yesterday we didn’t have enough computers available (our lab was already booked) for all sections to do some hands-on work after the mini-lesson. I then arrived at work to this morning and learned Ms. Cooney was very sick and that a substitute teacher had not been found. Our fantastic department head, David White, and I discussed options and we agreed to move forward with the small group plans as scheduled. He and fellow English teachers stepped in to facilitate the seminar “speed dating” discussion style while the other class half came here for their instruction.
After wondering what to do in lieu of no computers, I decided on the fly that kicking off the mini-lessons with a conversation was the best course of action. I quickly drafted a graphic organizer for students—-this served the purpose of them jotting down answers to these two questions as well as taking brief notes:
- What topic(s) are you thinking about? ( I made it clear it was OK if they had not picked one or had time to think about it just yet)
- What gives you the most difficulty when doing a research assignment?
We met in our small group area I organized this morning and students had a few minutes to jot down their responses. We then did a whole-group conversation with each student sharing his/her responses to those two questions. Not only did this give me a chance to get to know the students a little, but I think it also give an element of humanity to the experience, especially since I had not seen most of these students until today.
Here are some of the challenges students identified; I have boldfaced the ones that bubbled up most frequently.
- Getting started or knowing how/where to start
- Staying on task/dealing with distractions
- Finding valid and credible sources and knowing that they are such
- Finding relevant resources (to the research topic)
- Search terms
- Managing citations (EasyBib to the rescue!)
- Knowing which sources to use (MackinVIA groups FTW along with LibGuides)
- Knowing how to use the databases
- Keeping up with notes/organizing notes
- Pacing self through the project
We took time to talk about each student’s challenges as I wanted to be sure to validate and honor each area of concern. This discussion was a perfect springboard to our research guide and how the resources there and the mini-lessons from today would help mitigate and address many of those concerns. We also talked about how their responses would help me shape future conversations with teachers about research assignment design, especially with pieces like more formative assessments to help keep everyone on track and take the “pulse” of student progress (and not in a punitive way) as well as more time in-class to do hands-on work. We also talked about possibilities for more collaboration as part of research projects and perhaps birds of feather groups to meet periodically to share successes and challenges (this was super helpful for my Media 21 students a few years ago).
The feedback also helped me collect informal data that might help me sway teachers to build in more time for topic selection with activities like reading frenzies or Think/Extend/Challenge. These activities encourage inquiry and give students some concrete starting points to get ideas for topics or to introduce topic ideas that might not be on their radar.
In hindsight, this activity seems like it should have been an obvious starting point; I honestly feel a bit sheepish I didn’t initially plan to do this as part of the instructional time today, but I’m glad it came to me on the fly this morning. Sometimes we get so busy that we forget the ultimate starting point is the student point of need, especially if we as librarians get caught up in trying to work within a very limited amount of scheduled time with students. I am excited to listen to what the kids have to say when I see the next round of small groups tomorrow as we “flip” students and engage in “research chats”!