2013

First Efforts at Written Conversations Strategies: Write-Around Text on Text

A collaborative post by Darrell Cicchetti, Jennifer Lund, and Buffy Hamilton

Background

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

Earlier this month, my colleague Jennifer Lund and I attended a half day workshop sponsored by our Gwinnett County School District.  We spent a Saturday morning with the smart and funny Harvey “Smokey” Daniels, who engaged us in a variety of strategies for helping learners transact with text more deeply while building writing fluency.  Through his presentation as well as our hands-on exercises based on his new book, The Best-Kept Teaching Secret:  How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, and Grow Fluent Writers K-12, we came away energized with concrete and meaningful strategies we felt we could apply right away in a variety of ways with teachers and students across multiple subject areas.  One of the variations of written conversations that Jen and I really liked was the write-around, a strategy in which “Small groups of kids write and exchange notes about a curricular topic for several rounds—maybe 5 to 15 minutes of sustained writing–and then they burst into out-loud talk that’s rooted in their extended written rehearsals” (Daniels 155).

As soon as we returned to work on Monday, we immediately approached Language Arts teacher Darrell Cicchetti, a teacher we’ve collaborated with all semester to support the Independent Reading (IR) piece of his 10th grade classes.  Students read for an entire period every Wednesday and have free choice over their self-selected texts.  Thanks to a grant we received from the Norcross High Foundation for Excellence, we were able to purchase multiple texts by YA Author Paul Volponi for student formed literature circles as part of a culminating virtual author visit with Volponi (whom we highly recommend!).  We felt two of the written conversation strategies we learned in the workshop, the Write-Around Text on Text and Silent Literature Circle Write-Around, would be great structures for helping students dwell in Stripling’s recursive model of inquiry and to scaffold their efforts to build conversations for learning.  Although the class we chose for our first efforts had experienced some difficulty in small group work in the past, we all felt optimistic in trying these strategies with the students.  In this post, we’ll share our planning, process, assessment, and reflections on our first efforts at the write-around text on text strategy.

Write-Around Text on Text:  Prep Work, Implementation, and Reflections

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Definition and Planning

Harvey Daniels defines the text on text variation of a write-around as “what happens when you have several kids annotate the same copy of a text at the same time, jotting down their responses in the margins.  Quite naturally, students start reading other people’s comments and want to give their classmates a written high five, ask a clarifying question, or throw down a tough challenge” (184).   Essentially, you take a copy of a piece of text, affix it to a large piece of butcher paper or sticky note poster, and provide different colored markers or Sharpies for students.   Students work in small groups to literally “write around” the text and engage in their annotations and responses to each other as they compose; each student uses a different colored pen so it is easy to distinguish each student’s written responses.

write-around-prep1

Template for Gathering Student Selected Passages from a Text

We first began preparing by creating a template (we recommend installing Rockwell and Bebas Neue fonts to see the document properly) for students to select a favorite passage they wanted to share and discuss from their chosen Volponi book.  We did this so that we would have time to copy the page for each student selected passage, mark it, and then affix it to the butcher paper for the write-around activity.  This document also included a space for students to pose five questions they were thinking about related to their book; we felt these questions could be a “safety net” for the silent literature circle write around activity if they were struggling for a conversation starter.  Darrell then returned these templates and included a roster of groups by book so that we would know how many sheets of butcher paper we’d need to prepare as well as any other organizing materials.  I chose to do the copy the passages on different colors of paper since our butcher was white, and I thought it would help differentiate each passage since we actually included 3-4 passages per piece of butcher paper since we wanted the students to write-around each group member’s selected text.

Once the colored copies of the pages were made of each student selected text, I took a black Sharpie and marked off the passage with brackets.  If students selected only a sentence, I went ahead and marked off the paragraph around it to help students see more context.  I then trimmed them with our paper cutter and organized piles of texts by group.  Next, I took large sheets of butcher paper (2-3 feet) and laid each one on a table in our rotunda area.  I then taped each passage onto the butcher paper, usually working a triangular pattern so that students would have room to write around each piece of text on the butcher paper.  I also created little “nametags” of group rosters using PowerPoint and taped those to each piece of paper so we would not lose track of which group owned each write-around. The other prep work involved writing up simple and direct instructions for students to frontload the activity.  We knew they would need start-up instructions and wanted to include visuals with concise steps to try and mitigate confusion.  Since the students had little prior experience with text annotation, we also printed copies of possible conversation prompts in case students experienced any difficulty thinking of how to engage in the written dialogue once they were at the tables with their groups.  Finally, we included rosters of each group so that it would be easy to quickly get groups to their writing tables.  I incorporated all of these elements into a PowerPoint that I showed at the beginning of our session in the library; I also used the slides to print out the group nametags and copies of the writing prompts.

Implementation:  Our First Efforts
Students Writing Around Text on Text

Students Writing Around Text on Text

It took about 10-12 minutes to review the introductory directions and to show students examples of how they might annotate their text.  We also encouraged them to use both written dialogue as well as any visuals/drawings they wanted to draw as part of the write-around composition.  Once students got to their tables and selected a pen, we told them we would take about 10 minutes to write as quietly as we could; I used my iPhone as my stopwatch.   Once I gave them the verbal “go”, they were off and writing.  At first, they looked a little hesitant, much like a wobbly newborn deer standing on its legs for the first time.  However, they soon jumped in and began “writing around”!  Darrell, Jen, and I walked around listening and observing.  At times, we redirected some of our “social butterflies” who might have strayed from their groups; we also monitored for students who appeared to be stuck in neutral and helped nudge them back on track as needed. As we observed, listened, photographed, and videoed the activity, some students occasionally asked for clarification or just wanted a little verbal assurance that they were working in a constructive direction.  It was exciting for us to see them moving around, ruminating deliberately, and interacting with the texts as well as with each other in positive, constructive ways!  Once time was up, groups sat down at their tables to  “debrief”  reflections on the process.  We gave each group a response sheet to record their three big take- aways from the activity; we encouraged them to think on what ideas seemed most important or interesting.  Some groups appointed a scribe to record their reflections; in other groups, each student wrote his/her ideas.  We had planned on doing a large group share, but we ran out of time.

Students Writing Around Text on Text

Students Writing Around Text on Text

Although Daniels recommends the writing period of the activity as a silent one, a hallmark of the write-around process, this might be difficult in some situations.  While we encouraged our students to write as quietly as possible, we found they felt comfortable with some level of verbal conversation, most of which was actually related to their texts or affirmation from peers in their small group that they were moving through the process as we had outlined in the instructions.  While our students were initially a little tentative in their confidence about their first efforts, we saw them becoming more comfortable as they moved deeper into their writing.  For these students, this kind of student facilitated, visible, and public literacy practice was somewhat risky since most of their school literacy practices have tended to be private, solitary, and teacher dominated. Here is a short 90 second raw footage video clip of the write-around with text on text in action:

Assessing Student Work

We honestly did not have any kind of rubric or preconceptions as to what to expect for this first effort. Because this particular group of students had experienced difficulty working in groups or collaboratively earlier in the semester, we were just hoping they would participate and have a positive experience working in small groups.  Since this was a first effort, we were more interested in student responses than actually “grading” content or participation.  Instead, we wanted to focus on looking at students’ written responses and seeing the types of written conversation they composed.  The plan was to code student responses and tally the number of responses in each category to get a sense of the types of written conversations and to get some baseline data that we could work from to track the trajectory of responses over the course of the next 18 weeks as we hope to fold this structure for learning into Darrell’s classroom life.

The three of us first looked at the student work together after class the day of the activity.  After debriefing on what we had observed in action and our first quick look at their work, we felt we needed the weekend to process it all.  When we returned the following week, we devised some broad categories of student responses.  Initially, the categories included:  questions, opinions, annotations of text, response to text, drawing/graphics, and off topic.  However, as I began making the first “deep” pass at looking at student work yesterday, I had a couple of realizations.  After looking at the first group’s efforts,  I realized that  all the responses were really a form of annotation; however, I felt it was important to keep a category of explicit traditional types of annotation.  Secondly, I felt a bit sheepish when I realized very quickly we needed a category for “response to peer”.    After tweaking the document, I was ready to dive into looking at the student work.

Coding Student Work

Coding Student Work

My plan was to attach sticky notes to each response and label the sticky with the category abbreviation as I coded.   Initially, I attached the coded sticky notes and recorded the number of responses for each category.  After I had coded two groups of student work, though, I realized I needed to be a little more intentional in my tallying process  to avoid getting confused as to what responses I had counted and which ones I had not.  I started recording by clusters of text and then began adding check marks to the sticky notes as I recorded the responses.  It took about an hour to code eight groups; I then tallied the overall results.  It was fascinating to me to not only look at individual annotations by students, but I also enjoyed seeing patterns within specific groups as well as the larger picture of overall responses.

Final Tally of Responses

As you can see, the dominant student talk included responses to text, questions, and opinions.  Within individual groups, some conversation was primarily one category; only one group’s responses consisted of mostly graphics or drawings.  We were not surprised by these patterns, and this coding process helped us to see that students will need additional modeling and opportunities in how to respond to peers to grow their fluency in developing written conversations.  We were very pleased to see that many developed thoughtful questions and that many made clear connections back to the text in their responses.  This student work, as well as feedback in interviews we are doing with Darrell’s students, underscore the importance of choice for readers engaging with texts, particularly for students who have not felt a sense of passion or success as readers.

Reflections and Next Steps

After having the opportunity to take a more deliberate pass at coding the student work and looking at the results, Darrell had a chance to talk with us about his insights and how he might move forward with using this strategy in his classroom.  Here some of Darrell’s reflections and next steps for second semester in January:

  • “Flip” the conversations by rotating groups during a write-around to spark responses within a given period to “jump-start” written discussions.  By “flipping” and moving to other write-arounds from peer groups, less confident students might have a schema or jumping off point to jump into the conversation–think of it as a little nudge to give them a starting point and help them get momentum.
  • Consider doing write-arounds over a two-day period so that there is a bit of break in the “flipping” of groups. Because some students are very defensive about any response to their work, splitting the write-around into two days might provide some degree of anonymity when groups rotate and defuse any possible confrontations. While we’ll work with students to develop strategies for sharing, receiving, and acting on constructive criticism, we know now this is a real issue for several students and feel that a “breather” in the write-around until they build their capacity to draw positive energy from tensions in ideas.
  • Clarify the annotation category to hone in on student conversation that relates to specific literary talk (i.e. theme, symbolism, figurative language).
  • Help scaffold students’ tactics for challenging someone’s opinion or idea in a positive way.
  • Student self-selection of texts for the write-around activity itself is important for building buy-in from students.

Jennifer and I are looking forward to our continued work with Darrell and his students.  We were absolutely thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students about the activity—we felt like they enjoyed it based on our observations, but their written feedback more than confirmed our instincts.  We hope to report back to you all in the spring the data we are collecting and updates on the ways students are engaging with text and each other through this and other write-around strategies.  We also feel these strategies will be a seamless medium for collaboration with content area teachers as they strive to meet curricular and schoolwide literacy goals; we also see applications for using this and other write-around strategies in the context of information literacy instruction.  Jennifer also has some terrific ideas on using written conversation strategies from the Harvey workshop to invite participation and grow conversations in professional development activities and meetings!  We are now working on a proposal to offer PD to our faculty on this specific strategy and then grow that work as we hopefully have the opportunity to help teachers and students pilot other strategies for written conversations in both print and digital mediums.  We look forward to seeing how we can grow our efforts to be collaborative partners and instructional designers with our learning community second semester!

References:

Daniels, Harvey, and Elaine Daniels. “Write-Arounds.” The Best-kept Teaching Secret: How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, Grow Fluent Writers, K-12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy, 2013. 155-91. Print.

New DMLcentral Post: Questions for Auditing and Peeling Back the Layers of Ways Libraries Function as Sponsors of Literacies

http://dmlcentral.net/blog/buffy-hamilton/libraries-%E2%80%98sponsors-literacy-and-learning-peeling-back-layers

Libraries as ‘Sponsors of Literacy and Learning’: Peeling Back the Layers | DMLcentral via kwout

In my newest post  for DMLcentral , I share a list of questions libraries (academic, public, school) can use to “audit” the kinds of learning experiences and opportunities privileged as well as silenced within their institution.  I see this working script as a springboard to conversations that can help a library take an ongoing stance on their literacy practices.  The “audit” is designed to address a broad range of literacies and to help libraries engage in more critical practices.  While seemingly simple, these questions are designed as a series of provocations.  Issues of equity, learning, power, community, participation, and multiple forms of literacy—all of which are deeply important to me both professionally and personally—are at the heart of this audit.  I invite you to be part of the conversation for my latest post; if you would like to read previous posts in this series, they are available here.

Librarians as Instructional Designers: Strategies for Engaging Conversations for Learning

School, academic, and public librarians often cite collaborative partnerships as one of the greatest challenges of the profession—how do we invite collaboration, how do we nurture and sustain those partnerships, and how might those efforts translate into additional endeavors?  Identifying common goals and cultivating trust are two fundamental building blocks in this process, but libraries and librarians being sensitive to the needs of the community, whether it is an individual, group, or organization, is also paramount.

As a school librarian, I have found over the years that my thinking and work as an instructional designer and learning architect are the tasks I dwell in most of the time since they are so critical to the ways that the library can impact the learning culture in very direct and important ways in the larger school environment.  Helping teachers craft inquiry driven projects and learning experiences is nearly always complicated by the tensions created by time constraints, standardized testing, and curricular mandates; negotiating these waters in a way that is respectful and sensitive to these challenges is a process that requires honest yet diplomatic discourse.  This design process can be especially tricky if an instructional partner is used to a solitary mode of teaching and/or is more content-oriented and can feel like a delicate dance.

As a new librarian here at Norcross High, I’m in the infancy stages of planting and growing trust “seeds” with faculty and students.  One of our English teachers, Ms. Steed, approached me in early November for help with a literary criticism research assignment she wanted to do with her students yet do so in a way that would help them be successful in a short time frame.   So how might a librarian help a teacher and his/her students in this kind of situation where extended inquiry, while desirable and optimal, is not an option?  I like to approach this kind of conundrum like I would any conversation for teaching and learning:  I take whatever material and ideas the teachers has sent to me and use that as a starting point for an ongoing conversation.  Here is a quick breakdown of what this approach looked like with Ms. Steed through a series of emails and a face-to-face meeting:

1.  Utilize the principles of backwards design:  what are the learning objectives of this assignment or learning experience?  What kinds of formative, summative, and student self-assessments will be used?  What will be the strategies and resources needed to support the learning targets?  Thinking through these questions can help teachers and librarians take a general overarching goal or desired outcome and be more strategic in thinking through specific learning targets, how we’ll know the students achieved those targets, and how we will scaffold them to get to those outcomes.  This approach is especially helpful when a proposed project has a powerful seed idea but the first draft of ideas might feel a bit muddied or unfocused.

2.  Focus on the Learner Points of Need :  By taking Ms. Steed’s initial email with a list of working topics, I was able to use that document as a springboard to open a conversation framed through backwards design.  Consequently, we were able to refine the menu of research questions and build in an open-ended choice option in which students could develop his/her own line of inquiry. The lens of backwards design also helped us determine that it was more important for the students to have starting point for research than to spend time developing search skills that were needed for this kind of research assignment.  While we agreed that developing search skills for using databases to find literary criticism essays was important, we both also felt that given the time constraints  Ms. Steed could not change, we wanted students to spend the bulk of their time actually reading the literary criticism, thinking deeply about those ideas and questioning, and then developing their own analysis and conclusions.  Consequently, we agreed that rather pushing the students into individual databases and having them wallow through the sea of information with no support, I would instead link students to saved searches (hooray for permalinks and bookmarks to saved searches in databases) that I had crafted with certain limiters to give them a meaningful and relevant range of results to browse and read.  While everyone might not agree with our approach, this strategy was one that would still give students the experience of using the databases yet have more time to fully immerse themselves in literary criticism essays.  Like Brian Mathews, I feel that it is more important for librarians to be “pedagogical” partners rather than info-pushers”.  You can see how I designed these springboards on the assignment LibGuide by clicking here.

(hat tip to Lauren Pressley for coining the phrase “meeting the learners at their point of need“–it is one I’ve embraced over the last few years!)

3.  Scaffold the Learning Experiences: while I prefer to do instruction face to face, I’m finding that doing so is not always possible in a school of 3600 students and 250+ faculty!  Since Jennifer (my wonderful fellow librarian here at NHS) and I were already committed to face to face instruction with other classes during Ms. Steed’s time frame for the research assignment, I knew they would need scaffolding not only in terms of resources but also through virtual instruction.  I made a checklist of all the kinds of mini-lessons, skills, and processes I would show in a face to face context;  I then proceeded to use our institutional Screencast-O-Matic subscription (which was super affordable) to record video lessons for all of those items on my list (thank you to my friends at ALAO for showing me this awesome tool earlier this year!).  Video topics included:  how to get to the research guide, how to navigate the guide, explanations of how to use the links to the saved searches for each database, and specific instructions for citing different sources in EasyBib; video tutorials were then embedded on the home tab as well as the video tutorial tab of the project LibGuide.   These embedded videos could be shown to the entire class by the teacher and viewed individually as needed by students; they were also helpful for students who might be absent on any given day.

4.  Assessment:  this is the one area that unfortunately, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to participate in although I’m hopeful I’ll be able to take more of an active role in this area since it’s one I feel is important for librarians.   However, in talking with Ms. Steed this week, she reported several positive outcomes as the students conclude their research papers:

  • Students liked the LibGuide and the organizational method we used.
  • Students loved having a starting point of articles yet the flexibility of choosing articles from within that range.
  • Students felt the linked search results helped them successfully choose a topic of interest to them and had the information they needed to develop their analysis.
  • One student reported how excited he was about his topic and how much he was actually enjoying reading literary criticism! (if you have worked with teens, you know this accomplishment is smile-worthy)
  • Through observation and in 1:1 conversations with students, Ms. Steed noted that students were engaging in a higher and more extensive degree of metacognition with the literary criticism essays; she felt the scaffolding strategies we had incorporated through the LibGuides page helped us achieve the goal of students dwelling in those texts and thinking more deliberately.

My hope is that this initial kind of instructional collaboration will lead to future work and design thinking that will help us, in the words of Kristin Fontichiaro, “nudge toward inquiry”and spark additional conversations about teaching and learning that will ultimately impact students in meaningful and positive ways.  By meeting learners–both teachers and students–at the point of need, we can nurture trust and build a climate that invites partnerships to help us identify challenges, wonder and ideate a range of solutions, implement those strategies, and learn from our experiences together.  Even when circumstances are not ideal, I do believe it is possible to open up entry points that can lead to more nuanced ideation, implementation, and assessment if we contextualize collaborative partnerships as a continuum of trust and relationship building, the anchors of libraries that embody participatory culture and learning.  Many thanks to Ms. Steed and her students for these first steps!

Related Resources:

A Visit to the Lovett School Story Studio: Redesigning Learning Spaces, Rewriting Narratives of Learning

IMG_1287

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Lovett School Story Studio Project  in Atlanta, Georgia. This project, which I have been following since its inception a little over a year ago, began with these seed questions:

  • What might be a classroom of the future?
  • How can we design existing space to be more dynamic?
  • How might a space support different learning styles?
  • How can we be more intentional about this “third space”?

The original pilot (Phase I)  began with a secondary Language Arts teacher documenting the learning experiences of his classes and his journey as a teacher using a classroom redesigned to serve as a learning studio. (Please click here to view scenes of the original Story Studio classroom).  This experiment and prototype studio led to Phase II, “The Lovett Learning Ecology“, which is a cohort of nine teachers and two facilitators exploring the concept of teacher as designer with their students.  What learning ecology has evolved from the original prototype of the Story Studio?  In “The Role of Environment in Learning“, Lovett offers us this synopsis of the vision and work of the cohort:

If a classroom were no longer filled with immovable desks aligned in rows, could it become a space that invited–even required–student collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking? What if the front of the room disappeared and students owned the walls–writing, wondering, and questioning? What if the physical space could be transformed in seconds, flexing to support the moment’s work? What if lesson plans gave way to student learning experiences where the student, not just the teacher, designed the curriculum and the learning?

In conjunction with Cannon Design/The Third Teacher+, a school design consulting group in Chicago, and led by Laura Deisley and upper school dean of academic affairs, Marsha Little, the nine fellows have already engaged in significant professional development, as they focus on their role as designers–of curriculum, space, and student experiences. They’re teaching in renovated rooms with mobile desks, tables, and chairs; copious writable surfaces; and versatile technology.

As the traditional boundaries of room ownership and discipline-specific hallways fade, we’re already seeing innovative collaboration between teachers and a breaking down of boundaries that seemed etched in stone. Ultimately, our goal is simple and unchanged: offer the best possible learning experience to students as they become excellent collaborators, creators, critical thinkers, and communicators. We are excited to explore how that work might be more fully realized in the Model Classrooms as the year unfolds.

The six model classrooms whose physical spaces are crafted around these learning design drivers

  • Content:  what students know
  • Skills:  what students do
  • Mindsets:  how students think
  • Tools:  what students use to learn
  • People:  who students learn with
  • Environment:  where students learn

Untitled

Using the process of design thinking to ideate possibilities for what learning experiences framed around these design drivers might look like, the cohort and partner The Third Teacher of Cannon Design reconfigured the six model classrooms to reflect interest in these six scenarios for learning experiences:

  • Designing with Writable Surfaces
  • Designing for Inquiry
  • Designing with Micro Environments
  • Designing with Ubiquitous Technology
  • Designing with Flexibility and Agility
  • Designing for Learning Groups

My fellow Norcross High School librarian Jennifer Lund and I were interested in the Lovett model since their work aligned with our vision for not only redesigning our physical space and the kinds of learning experiences we want our library to facilitate, but to also help us recast our roles here as instructional partners more deeply embedded in the day to day work of teaching and learning with our faculty and students as we aspire to craft a more participatory culture of learning, a vision that also aligns with our school’s literacy plan.  Inspired by the work and vision of Brian Mathews at Virginia Tech and the model of Connected Learning, we envision the NHS library as a vibrant innovation hub of sorts to incubate, ignite and inspire larger change throughout our entire building, ultimately transforming learner experiences in a more seamless and cohesive way.   As part of our strategic plan for the revamping of our physical space, we have proposed housing a prototype space for teaching and learning where we work with faculty  and students to pilot, assess, model, and assess learning experiences.  We want to enable our teachers and students to take risks as learners, to reflect and learn with them, and to help then share and distribute those insights across multiple content areas for cross-pollination of innovative strategies.

Because our vision paralleled the design drivers and physical design elements embodied in the six prototype classrooms at Lovett, we reached out to my friend and colleague Laura Deisley, the Director of Strategic Innovation at Lovett, to see if we could come for a visit and to have a conversation about their work.  I know from my previous collaboration with Laura through Reimagine Ed that she is someone passionate about learning, libraries, and inquiry.  Laura and Upper School Dean of Academic Affairs, Marsha Little, graciously accepted our request.  Our visit yesterday, accompanied by friend and colleague Holly Frilot, Media Instructional Coach for our school district, was nothing short of energizing.
IMG_5912

As I watched students actively participating in learning experiences and discovering how the shift in physical space shifted teachers’ pedagogical stances, I literally quivered with excitement and joy—seeing how such simple yet profound changes were yielding impact and transformative learning experiences for both teachers and students was such a tremendous joy.  In my previous experiences and now here at Norcross, I have sought to break down the artificial barriers that seem to separate libraries from their communities and create siloed learning experiences.  The Lovett model reminds me that this scale of change is possible, scale that is needed to help our school grow into a learning community that embraces shared ownership of learning and connects contexts of academic driven, interest powered, and peer/mentor supported learning.  Because the teachers float through the day from one model classroom to another, they do not have a teacher desk or other teacher-oriented paraphernalia plastered all over the room. Instead, the student handprint is embedded in each room with student created content; I find Lovett’s concept of learning spaces co-curated by students to be quite powerful and participatory as it invites collaboratively created content and honors fluidity in the roles of experts and novices by positioning teachers and students as co-teachers and co-learners.  The purposeful and contextualized application of technology, rooted in learner needs and sound instructional design, was also refreshing.  I heartily applaud the cohort’s willingness to engage in this kind of messy, organic work and to grow from the friction/cognitive dissonance that comes from being outside of one’s comfort zone.
Untitled

Hallmarks of these spaces included:

  • Variations in furniture styles and functions as well as heights for flexible seating and multiple types of collaborative work.  Soft seating as well as hard seating were incorporated into the rooms.
  • Writable surfaces:  tinted glass affixed to the wall, mobile whiteboards on wheels (a favorite of the students and staff), IdeaPaint walls, writable tabletops.  (note:  Laura advises that if you are in an older building that has had multiple layers of paint or less than ideal drywall, you might want to consider the glass surfaces or mobile whiteboards (6 feet in length is optimal) since ghosting and the durability of the paint could potentially be problematic.
  • “Zones” of rooms for smaller groups or paired conferencing.
  • Wireless infrastructure to support 1:1 computing and/or BYOD
  • No teacher desk taking up the space.
  • Students and teachers capture the student work each period with their cameras; Evernote is also a great app for capturing and sharing the content on the walls.
  • Strategic lecture designed to facilitate, rather than dominate, the conversation, conversation that is fueled by students being contributors and active participants.  Some teachers also time themselves to limit themselves to short chunks of lecture at a time.
  • Rooms feel clean yet cozy; they are quickly and easily transformed since the space is open and supports transitions and reconfigurations of seating/workspaces/students.
  • Time for individual reflection and work as well as active, collaborative time with small and whole group discussions/conversations for learning.

Experiencing this learning ecology firsthand affirms our belief that our library can be the Story Studio prototype learning space for Norcross High; we see it as a springboard to future work in developing and working with a cohorts here to scale the pilot and more explicitly situate our work in the context of our classrooms.  We are deeply appreciative that our principal, Mr. Will Bishop, supports this vision and the kind of work we want to do; we also appreciate the encouragement and feedback from assistant principal John Decarvalho and our LSTC (Local School Technology Coordinator) Dr. Victoria Dodd.  By being a catalyst for designing learning experiences with our teachers and students that will meet our learners at their point of need, we can expand the possibilities for our library as both a learning space and a change agent that creates more diverse entry points for all learners, helps young people leverage the knowledge across multiple learning boundaries, and honors multiple ways of learning.  We also see this an opportunity to more deliberately examine and expand the ways our library functions as a sponsor of literacy here at Norcross High.  Ultimately, we hope to crowdsource with our students and faculty our own “learning playbook” that we can share with others as we engage in conversations for rewriting and composing new narratives of learning for everyone who is part of our learning community.

A heartfelt thank you Laura, Marsha, the faculty, and students of Lovett for so generously sharing their wisdom and for giving us the opportunity to experience their learning ecology firsthand!

Resources of Interest:

Poetry and Possibilities: Do They Live at Your Library?

Those of you familiar with my work over the years know I am a passionate advocate for poetry.  Thanks to a life-changing course I took with Dr. JoBeth Allen at the University of Georgia during Spring Semester 2003, my world changed, and so did my outlook on the importance of poetry in the classroom, libraries, and life. In my work as classroom teacher at Cherokee High and then Polaris Evening School, I tried to give my students many kinds of experiences in immersing themselves into reading, writing, and dwelling in poetry. As a librarian at The Unquiet Library, I published student works of poetry via blogs, bound books, leaflets we hung on our poetry clothesline about the library, and on posters we created from students’ original compositions and placed throughout the library on easels as part of a “poetry gallery.” I also worked with teachers to help students compose their own poems and then share that work as part of a poetry reading celebration; we also captured images, audio, and video from these shared poetry reading experiences.  I know many of you in public, school, and academic libraries are also champions of poetry—not as a brutal exercise in explication but as a means of creative expression and providing community.

Many of you know I am also a huge fan of Natasha Trethewey, our U.S. Poet Laureate.  Trethewey has partnered with PBS for a new series, Where Poetry Lives, as she explores the places poetry takes root in our lives.  Tonight’s segment featured a visit to the Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit where PBS NewsHour explored the ways that poetry integration into the school is making a difference in the lives of its young students who are blossoming as learners, writers, and individuals.  With the help of the InsideOut Literary Arts Program, poetry is a medium opening doors of possibility as part of the learner experience at Marcus Garvey Academy.   Take a listen to what these three young wise poets have to say about the ways poetry reflects what is important in their lives and their thoughts on the importance of writing poetry:

How does your library honor poetry as a medium of art, exploration, participatory learning, and civic discourse? How might your library create these kinds of experiences to help people find their voices and to make the invisible stories of your community visible?  ,I encourage you to now take a look at these links from tonight’s feature story, which includes Trethewey’s recollections, thoughts from the InsideOut founder Terry Backhawk, the school principal’s reflections on the importance of poetry in his school, and additional commentary from the students.

Additional Resources: