Resilience: The Most Undervalued Information Literacy Disposition

Disclaimer added 5/17/17:  Due to erroneous information being circulated by certain academic librarians, I would like to clarify this post was written with appropriate permissions.  If you have concerns, I would appreciate your being professional and contacting me directly.

Update 5/18/17:  Due to misinformation that has been spread maliciously by at least once academic librarian through social media about this post, I have edited the original for clarity to keep the focus on the original theme of the post, resilience as an essential information literacy disposition.  It is unfortunate that some academic librarians who perceive themselves as the FERPA police and who know nothing of K12 education posted erroneous information about this post through their social media channels before bothering to contact me about the post, behavior that is unprofessional and most decidedly not in the spirit of the kind of librarianship I would hope colleagues would aspire to emulate.  When they did contact me, they did so in a manner I would not consider appropriate on many levels.  Here is the slightly revised post, and I hope you will glean food for thought whether you are a classroom teacher or librarian at any level.

When we think of information literacy, certain skills usually get great emphasis: understanding how to evaluate information and the sources of that information, search strategies, and citation management.  While these are all important skills, it seems that some dispositions get overlooked because they are soft skills that are not easily taught in neat tidy ways, nor can they be taught in a short time frame.  They are not considered “hard” skills that might be formally or quantitatively assessed with a test or performance task in some way.

I’ll be writing soon about my mini inquiry and research unit with 7th and 8th grade writers. However, there was a moment today I think is worth sharing and speaks to the importance of the soft skills and dispositions.  Ryland is one of my 7th grader writers who has gone from hating the class at the beginning of the year  to one who has flourished and thrived even with some setbacks as we took on more challenging academic writing during the second semester.  He has persisted in the face of assorted challenges.  He even signed up for my Creative Writing SOAR this semester (on top of having the regular writing class with me every day). Of notable importance, Ryland has discovered a love for writing poetry and shared that love of writing poetry with others.

As part of our project work, students brainstormed topics, narrowed down topics, and then engaged in presearch to confirm or change a final topic of interest.  After we completed presearch, students generated 10 different research questions using our question lenses method (more on this soon in a blog post, I promise).  From the 10 questions, I asked students to select their three choices with the understanding we would only focus on two but keep the third on standby in case they discovered one of the top two was not a viable choice as they continued with additional research. Like many other students during the presearch phase, Ryland needed some extra support with his search strategies and efforts, but he dug into the resources I helped him access.

In Ryland’s original research contract, he identified two top question choices around his interest in the Chattahoochee River.  He struggled to compose his 10 questions and to select his top two choices, which originally included:

  • How did the people use the river a long time ago?
  • How long is the Chattahoochee River?

Of course, the second question is not one that really lends itself to inquiry.  However, I wanted Ryland to be able to figure this out for himself.  After being introduced to EasyBib for crafting bibliographies and taking digital notes, he continued his search.  He fell behind for various reasons with his notes, and did not meet his deadline for getting 10 notes (a suggested 5 per research question); I gave him an extension, and he continued working on notes.  Yesterday, he began drafting his introduction to his research essay.  As we conferenced over his draft, we talked about how he had a terrific hook but that the thesis was falling flat.  Through this writing conference, Ryland realized that the second question was one that was more factual and not truly researchable in a deeper way.   I asked him if he would consider going back into his sources and review some the ideas he had read, including an article I had shared with him about the water wars involving the river between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.  Though he looked a little discouraged, he said he would try.

Today he returned to class in an upbeat manner.  He cheerfully and excitedly took out his research contract and told me that after doing some thinking last night, he had a new research question:

How did the water wars get started in the first place?

Not only did Ryland show resilience in developing a new research question (and a damn good one at that!), but he did so in a calm and thoughtful way.  Even more impressed is that Ryland demonstrated this quality at a time of year when many students think school is over with only a week to go!  While this academic move may not sound like a big deal to us as adults, problem-solving and persistence are a big deal for a 7th grader, especially for one who has little experience doing research projects.  Of course, I praised him!  He then set about taking some additional notes and then writing his thesis statement for his introduction now that he had two major research questions/points that worked.   If we look at AASL’s Standards for 21st Century Learners, we can see Ryland demonstrated these dispositions under Standard 1:  Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge:

  •  1.2.5 Demonstrate adaptability by changing the inquiry focus, questions, resources, or strategies when necessary to achieve success.
  • 1.2.6 Display emotional resilience by persisting in information searching despite challenges.
  • 1.2.7 Display persistence by continuing to pursue information to gain a broad perspective.

He also demonstrated these self-assessment strategies:

  • 1.4.2 Use interaction with and feedback from teachers and peers to guide own inquiry process.
  • 1.4.3 Monitor gathered information, and assess for gaps or weaknesses.
  • 1.4.4 Seek appropriate help when it is needed.

I find that frustration, especially when faced with challenging or unfamiliar learning tasks, is a major obstacle for teen learners.  Many students have low thresholds for frustration and give up easily for different reasons.   The majority of the students I teach, all of whom were identified as struggling writers last summer and placed into my Writing Connections courses for this academic year, especially grappled with a low threshold for frustration early in the year last fall.   As I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to teaching writing through a workshop/studio approach this school year, I have found that being able to frequently conference with students 1:1 and coach them through these rough patches goes a long way in building confidence and students’ belief that they CAN overcome new or difficult learning challenges.  These opportunities to regularly conference with students about their writing is a integral and critical part of helping them develop resistance in the face of a demanding or exacting learning situation.

Giving students opportunities to struggle through something hard, that requires thought,  and even asks for multiple efforts, is essential to helping students learn how to problem-solve and build resilience.  At the same time, we as teachers monitor them through the struggle; we know when to step in and when to step back.  We can be there for them and scaffold their efforts by serving as a sounding board they think/talk aloud a challenge/problem,  provide the “just in time” question to prompt or shift their thinking, and celebrate all their steps along the way as they learn from missteps and then ultimately achieve success.

As a librarian, resilience, adaptability, and persistence are essential dimensions of information literacy that I honestly could not cultivate very deeply or frequently with students in the media center in any scalable kind of way.  Why?  Because I lacked that regular interaction with students as well as the deep trust and relationship building that come from working with a student every day of the school year as a classroom teacher.   As a classroom teacher, I have the learning environment and access to students to help develop these dispositions of information literacy.  I’m situated in the heart of our writing and learning studio as we model, practice, share, and revise our thinking and our writing.  As I’ve said in the past, information literacy is not the work of only the librarian, but it is the work of the entire faculty who can work as a schoolwide team with the help of the school librarian to infuse information literacy skills on a meaningful and significant scale with regularity that will have genuine impact on student learning.

Ryland showed a major growth spurt today and has come from far from the writer and learner he was in August. Will this show up in our school’s growth bubble or as part of his test scores on the Georgia Milestones?  Most likely  no, but it will be an important part of his growth as a student and an individual that will go with him far beyond K12 education and hopefully help him as he encounters life challenges beyond graduation.  It is a joy and honor to be part of my students’ journey as learners and to play a role in helping young people like Ryland develop these fundamental dispositions.

Crowdsourcing Our Knowledge With a Conversation Hotspots Gallery Walk

During the month of March, my period 6-3 (6th grade Writing Connections) selected drones as a topic they wanted to explore.  Over roughly 10 days, we read roughly 6-7 articles on the uses of drones; as we explored each article, we tracked the benefits and drawbacks to using drones as part of our front loading work for writing an argumentative essay.

I wanted students to have a way to talk about the pros and cons and see each other’s thinking, so I set up what I called “Conversation Hotspots” gallery walk after we had finished reading all of our articles and compiling a master list of pros/cons for drones.  I used pastel colored lined chart paper to set up 8 “hotspots” around topics from articles like drones and firefighting, drones and privacy issues, drones and farming, and drones and airplane safety.  Next, I assigned pairs and gave each pair a starting conversation hotspot.  Each group had 2 minutes to share a pro or con on that topic.  We then rotated to the next station where the next group had to either add a new pro/con statement OR clarify a statement that a previous group may not have written in specific terms.  While two minutes is a short time, it seemed to be just right for the students to review what others had written and to add something new.

After rotating to all the stations, each group eventually landed at their original station.  Each group then shared out the collaboratively built list of drones pros/cons with the rest of the class; this large group review/share also gave us an opportunity to add any ideas that may have been missed in our first pass during the gallery walk, and students could also update their individual pro/con lists.

The overall response to the activity was positive from the students.  The activity seemed to particularly resonate with one of my 6th grade students.   About six weeks ago, I got a new student who was very scared and anxious. He has had a chaotic young life and outside of band, very little academic success. He has also had a difficult time socially because he looks like a high schooler even though he is in 6th grade. He let me know right away he hated writing. Since arriving, I have watched his confidence grow and been proud of my students who have made him feel welcome. Flash forward to the end of our class today after we finished our Conversation Hotspots Gallery Walk. He came up to me and said, “Ms. Hamilton, are we doing this again tomorrow because this sure is FUN!!!!” I nearly cried hearing the joy in his voice and seeing his smile. That is something our state Milestones test can NEVER measure.

I love gallery walks because they get students sharing knowledge, talking with each other, fact-checking information, and an opportunity to physically move about the room (an aspect that is important for wiggly middle schoolers!).  How are you using gallery walks in your classroom to create “hotspots for conversation”?

Choose Your Own Learning Adventure: Enrichment Menu for Writer’s Workshop

I have encountered two significant challenges with my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade writers this spring:

1. I have a tremendous range in learning styles and abilities in each of my six writing courses.  Consequently, I have learners who always finish early, and I needed to find a way for them to use their extra time in a meaningful way and AVOID “busy” work.
2. Spring has sprung early in Georgia (as in 6 weeks ago), and students have struggled to stay focused yet energetic with their work as writers and learners.

My secret weapon for this March Madness? Enrichment stations. I have created a learning menu of nine different learning choices for students:

1. Vocabulary.com
2. NoRedInk.com
3. Creative Writing with Reader’s Theatre Scripts (may be done alone or with a partner)
4. Creative Writing with Tableaux (groups of 3)
5. Revising and Editing with Task Cards + QR Codes
6. Revising Task with QR Codes: Combining Sentences
7. Persona Poem (write a poem from the perspective of the topic or some aspect of the topic for our current unit of inquiry)
8. NewsELA Reading and Writing Club: Women’s History Month
9. NewsELA Evidence Detectives Club

I tried to craft a menu that had something for everyone:  individual work and collaborative work; creative endeavors that could tie into our inquiry units; review and practice activities for those who enjoy that kind of activity.

These activities are designed for students to work on when they finish work early; in addition, I’m setting aside one “enrichment day” a week to let them go more deeply into their selected activity. After doing an initial “test” soft launch with a few students, I took a day last week to do a brief presentation with all classes to help them think about their options and how our enrichment activities would enhance our learner experience.  You can learn a little more about each activity here:

Here is how I have launched the my “center” for students:

  • I have a “menu” placeholder with a brief description of the menu learning choice on back of my 2nd classroom door (see below).
  • Students then can get an informational handout on the selected activity to help them get started and move forward.  I bought a colorful cascading/hanging file folder organizer for $9 on Amazon to house the handouts.
  • Students let me know of their selection; if they need any help from me getting started, I provide it.
  • I have posted handouts with the QR code so that students can view the slideshow above at any time; it is also posted in our Canvas course.

Today was our first full “enrichment” day in my 8th grade writing classes (6th and 7th will have their day tomorrow).   We even had our first tableaux performance today on driverless cars which was an absolute HOMERUN!  I did not film it, but they students have agreed to do the performance again this week so I can video and share with all of you as well as my other students.  As you can see from the photos below, students are engaged with their selected learning activity.

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We wrapped up with a virtual Ticket out the Door through our Canvas course.

Here are some take-aways from my two 8th grade classes:

  • I’m learning to write complete sentences and more complex sentences; I am feeling more confident about sentence writing.
  • I’ve learned that acting out scenes is harder than I thought!  It is fun, though.
  • I *LOVE* tableaux!  It is so much fun!
  • I’m learning all kinds of new words!  I never knew learning vocabulary could be fun.
  • I like getting to work with other people and talking about our topic as we do our tableaux script and scenes—this has caused me to be understand our topic of driverless cars.
  • I was not expecting I’d need to go back so much into the text set of articles we’ve read, but it has been fun and helped me understand our topic better (this feedback was from the persona poem, tableaux, and Reader’s Theatre script projects)
  • Clauses are pretty interesting!
  • I like the mastery learning we do in NoRedInk.

So far I am thrilled with the feedback and the excitement I’ve seen from students about their selected project or learning choice.  What kinds of activities would you add to the menu for a writing class?  My plan is to continue to do enrichment for the rest of the year at least one day a week to supplement our current units of study and to give students something meaningful to do if they finish early.  I will refresh and add to the menu as we move forward through the last nine weeks of our school year.

Learning About Creative Writing with Real World Experts: Jenny Sadre-Orafai

virtual-visit-1

We are indebted to Jenny Sadre-Orafai, Associate Professor in the Department of English at Kennesaw State University, for her time today in our “virtual visit” with a creative writing expert! We appreciate how she took time to really think about the questions sent to her from the students, and how thoughtfully she shared her expertise with us. I learned so much today as a writer and teacher, and I know my middle school writers did, too! I am so pleased my SOAR Creative Writers had this opportunity to learn about writer’s craft, poetry writing, and literary journals.

Dr. Sadre-Orafi took great care and time to answer each of the student questions:

• What is your favorite writing genre?
• Did you want to be a writer when you were younger?
• What’s your writing process like?
• How much do you write in a day?
• What do you find most difficult about writing?
• How do you deal with writer’s block, especially when writing poems?
• What do you think it takes to be a professional writer (career)?
• What inspired you to write?
• Who are your favorite writers and why?
• Do you have favorite writing topics? If so, what are they?
• How did you figure out your passion?
• How do you get ideas for writing?
• Where is your favorite place to write?
• What are literary journals?
• Does creative writing get easier as an adult?
• What made you choose to write creative nonfiction instead of fiction?
• What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
• What advice do you have for someone who is interested in writing for a career and choosing a college and major?
• How often do you write?
• Where do you grow up and did your childhood influence your writing in any way?
• Do your life experiences influence what you choose to write about?
• Did you choose your career or did it choose you?
• Do you ever feel “powerful” because you are in control of a piece of writing like a poem?
• What is creative nonfiction?

virtual-visit-2

Some of the insights and “take aways” we gained from our virtual visit include:

  • To be a writer, you must be curious.  Soak in everything around you.  Think of yourself as a being with antennae and pay attention to everything around you.  Notice and observe!
  • If you want to be a poet, read as much poetry as you can; Dr. Sadre-Orafi specifically recommended we read contemporary poetry (yay!).
  • Very few people become “professional” writers, but majoring in English or a similar field can allow you to use your writing talents and find pathways into related career fields.
  • Literary journals are a great pathway to publication, especially for poetry.
  • A professor once told her that there is no such thing as writer’s block.  If you find yourself getting stuck for ideas, physically remove yourself out of your comfort zone if possible.  For example, walk down a different street or hallways.  A change of scenery or placing yourself in the unfamiliar can help you notice things around with you fresh eyes.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Grooms of the Creative Writing program at KSU for connecting us with Dr. Sadre-Orafai, and thank you to our tech expert Greg Odell for helping us connect through Zoom!  We will be connecting with three more faculty from Kennesaw State this month and in early March; we look forward to learning through these upcoming virtual visits.