Last Friday was an especially exciting day for all of us here in the NHS Learning Studio as we partnered with Physics teacher Joe Pepitone to create learning opportunities for inquiry and student exploration of circuits. Below, Joe explains the seeds of this collaboration, reflections on the lab activities, and the impact of a team effort to create “centers” and “extension” circuit activities to extend and challenge the principles behind the primary circuit lab. I encourage you to take the time to listen to Joe’s in-depth reflections on processes and insights from our experiences.
Overview of Our Day of Fun and Learning with Circuits
Joe began by explaining the paper circuit lab that was the starting point for students and the learning activity to demonstrate learning targets.
Students then self-formed groups to do the first lab where the goal was to create a paper circuit that would result in the LED bulb lighting up.
Once they had demonstrated they had created a working paper circuit with a working light bulb, students could then move through our two extension and enrichment centers facilitated by LSTC Logan Malm (a former science teacher) and Jennifer Lund (my fellow librarian). Logan worked with students using the MakeyMakey kits while Jennifer helped students work with the squishy circuits (we had purchased our materials for these last year as part of our maker activities for Teen Tech Week 2014). These “centers” were designed to provide students additional hands-on opportunities to further their exploration of circuits; these were both a big hit with students, and many were interested in doing more labs using these materials and visiting the media center to utilize them for fun. We loved hearing them think aloud and problem solve together; many of them did not want to leave when the bell rang!
We were even joined by several of our assistant principals and fellow science teachers—I think it was very powerful for our students to see adults learning side by side with them.
We are deeply appreciative to Joe as well as Logan for this kind of collaborative experience that ultimately benefited our students and elevated learning to a new level; as Joe reflected in the video earlier, having other partners to help facilitate an activity like this enables him as a teacher to meet students at points of need and for instruction to be differentiated. These partnerships, fluidity in expertise and novice, co-learning, and energy are the very kinds of learning experiences Jen and I have envisioned for our library learning studio. To see it blossom and to be part of the vision become reality is joyful and exciting. We cannot wait to see what new partnerships might be inspired with other faculty and community members by this collaborative work!
I’ve been remiss in not following up on our end of the semester learning activities and experiences from our extended inquiry project with Language Arts teacher Sarah Rust. If you haven’t had a chance to read my series of posts about our collaborative efforts or would like a refresher, you can catch up with all of the posts here. In my last series post, I discussed different types of formative assessment we were using to evaluate student progress, processes, and products, including their research design proposals. I’d like to share with you briefly some of the structures, resources, and activities we used over the subsequent three weeks (excluding our Thanksgiving break) to help our students compose their multigenre projects.
As students submitted their research design proposals, both Sarah and I provided them written and verbal feedback through 1:1 conferences as well as the individualized feedback we crafted using mail merge and Word docs. These processes took approximately five days of class; students that were not meeting with us were either moving forward with additional research or starting to craft elements of their projects. One of the tools we gave students to help them manage and organize all the pieces of their projects was this project planner/checklist. I have found over the years that checklists, while seemingly simple, are powerful tools to help students stay organized and on track.
We also gave students concrete examples of finished project (both virtual and Word docs) templates to look at as well as hard/print copies my past students had created; students could browse the physical copies that we kept in folders in the library workspace. In addition, we had virtual and hard copy examples of specific multigenre products created by my previous students as well as examples we found through the web. We also built in days to do small group work on skills and project elements; some of these included:
Guided instruction for students who wanted to publish their work as a WordPress site. We showed students how to register for a free account, how to set up pages for each project element, how to establish a static homepage, and how to craft a customized menu so that the navigation reflected the order of the project pages we had established in the guidelines. We also provided reinforcement for students with video tutorials that we made and published on the project LibGuide. This instruction was probably one of the more intensive days since establishing the project website structure was essential early on for the students and helping them feel comfortable with multiple new skills at once. To their credit, both classes did a fantastic job following our step by step guided instruction and getting their project sites set up. Subsequently, they caught on to skills like editing pages and adding multimedia content very quickly—I was impressed by how they took initiative to self-help and to then show their peers a skill they had taught themselves.
1:1 help for students who chose to publish their work as a Word document (most students published virtually with WordPress, and we had one student who published his project as a Google Doc). Again, we provided reinforcement with customized video tutorials we published to the project guide.
1:1 and small group conferencing with students who wanted feedback on project elements as they drafted.
Whole group instruction and discussion about how to craft the notes pages (please scroll toward the bottom of the page) since these elements are the ones I’ve found students have struggled with most in the past and to help our students have a clearer idea for our expectations in terms of content and parenthetical integration of sources.
Most students had mastered citation of sources using our EasyBib tools (including the awesome direct export of citations), but I was on standby to provide clarification or help students cite non-database sources.
We essentially had about 10-12 days of working class time for the projects; we were able to meet students at the point of need as Sarah and I served as “on-demand” help and shared our different areas of expertise in terms of content oriented questions and technical-related inquiries. As we neared the finish line, we showed students how to submit their project information via a Google form; students who published via Word emailed their projects to me, and I uploaded their projects as PDFs to SlideShare. As students submitted their work via the Google form and email, I then added their content to our multigenre project blog (hosted at WordPress) and organized projects by period.
In my next post, I’ll share how I used Google Sheets and a nifty mail merge app to record student project notes quickly and seamlessly assessment notes with Sarah Rust. New posts are also coming soon featuring student interviews about their projects as well as some final reflections from Sarah and me on our inquiry adventures with our students! Finally, Jennifer Lund and I will be doing planning period professional development next week for our faculty and hopefully finding new partners in different subject areas to pilot different interpretations of multigenre projects.
“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.
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.
Jennifer Lund and I had the opportunity to partner this month with IB Theory of Knowledge teachers Dan Byrne and Dr. James Glenn. Our instructional design challenge was to think about how we might help student process the first chapters of an advanced text, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why, by Dr. Richard Nisbett. Inspired by our previous efforts with Socratic circles and Twitter chat with Emily Russell’s Language Arts classes, we all agreed this medium would help us meet our student learning targets. After two short meetings and one extended planning session, Dan and James organized three student groups (Groups A, B, and C) that combined students from both of their sections since our learning activities would take place during a period on a “block” in which both sections had the opportunity to meet together. Dan and James designed the three groups to help us facilitate inner/outer circle groups for a Socratic seminar over the readings that would also incorporate participation through a Twitter chat. Jennifer and I developed the discussion hashtag, the Twitter Chat etiquette mini-lesson, and the logistics for organizing our space in the library learning studio to accommodate such a large group. Jennifer and I also served as co-facilitators during the chat by participating in the Twitter discussion, providing technical assistance to students, and helping students with the logistics of following the chat. We also captured an archive of the Tweets with Storify and photos of the #toknisbett chat.
The student response to the activity exceeded all of our expectations, and we were delighted that student reacted so positively to the experience in their “grows and glows” reflections! Students enjoyed hearing multiple perspectives and opportunities to participate in the discussion, the Twitter stream, the organization of the 70 minute activity, and the physical space and setup for our Twitter chat/Socratic circle discussion. They overwhelmingly loved having the opportunity for organic and free-flowing discussion; many expressed a desire to have a longer period of time for inner circle talk.
In response to student feedback, we’ll think about how to better incorporate the Twitter stream into the face to face discussion as well as help students interact more in the virtual learning space; we’ll also help students think through strategies for helping “quiet” students speak up more and how they can support those who might feel awkward jumping into the face to face discussion.
In the video below, Dan and James share their perspective on our collaboration process, their reflections on the learning activity, and their thoughts on how this mode of learning benefited students. I invite you to take time to watch the video as they share their rich and nuanced perspective:
We are already planning our next variation of a Twitter chat and Socratic circle that will incorporate our write around text on text strategies and a gallery walk to help students generate the talking points and questions for the next discussion. We will also continue to think about how these strategies help us elevate writing/composing processes and literacies as part of inquiry and visible thinking. We would love to hear how others are using Twitter chats and Socratic seminars or something similar to help students take an inquiry stance on a text and/or topic!