Teaching and Learning

Markerboard Surfaces, Collaborative Conversations, Academic Literacies, and Libraries

Yesterday I blogged about the use of our new markerboard surface tables as a way for students to collaborate and capture their group thinking.   I’d like to briefly share another use of these dry erase surfaces in our library learning studio from last week with our Theory of Knowledge (TOK) students.   This was an activity that came together very quickly Thursday morning and while not tied to a formal research project, threads of inquiry were essential to the learning experience.  The group came to the studio to watch a short clip of a PBS video related to their content/unit of study.  Dr. Glenn and Mr. Byrne developed discussion questions around this segment and composed them on our dry erase surfaces.

tok1

After watching a short segment of the video, students had approximately 10-12 minutes to visit each table; students were encouraged to discuss their thoughts and reflections with their peers and then jot down their responses.    We also observed students continuing the conversations around the written responses as they engaged in some truly meaningful and deep dialogue with each other.

tok2 tok3 tok4

tok5

Students were able to jump into the activity quickly and confidently and participate in richer, more nuanced conversations (both written and oral) because Dr. Glenn and Mr. Byrne consistnetly integrate learning/thinking structures as a regular part of classroom life.  As I watched these students immerse themselves into the learning activity with depth and intensity, I could not help but think of the huge participation gap that Jennifer and I have observed the last two years.  We have seen a wide range of academic and social skill sets across multiple content area classes, course levels, and grades; I feel I have struggled to articulate what I’m observing and to contextualize it although the recent readings are helping me to take first steps in doing so.   The academic discourse and social behaviors of the TOK students were reflective of the academic literacy framework I referenced in yesterday’s post; in particular, these students were demonstrating:

1.  Disciplinary literacy: “…the join understanding of discipline-specific literacy features through which knowledge is created and practices are shared” (Kiili, Mäkinen, and Coiro 225).

2  Argumentative literacies:  “As students work to establish themselves as contributing members of a domain-specific discourse community, argumentative literacy practices enable them to consider alternative perspectives, broaden and deepen their knowledge, and make judgement to inform their decision making.  As a result, students are able to identify, evaluated, and produce arguments within a wide range of individual and social literacy events…students are able to effectively composed, evaluate, and learn from arguments by adopting the social practices of the target discipline” (Kiili, Mäkinen, and Coiro 225).

3.  Collaborative literacies:  “…those literacy practices in which two or more person engaged in reading and/or writing together are equally responsible for negotiating meaning through talk.  The goal of collaborative literacy practices is to produce a joint interpretation of a text” (Kiili, Mäkinen, and Coiro 225).  In this case, our texts were previous knowledge and the PBS video segment.

Like many other activities we’ve helped design and/or facilitate this academic year, common threads are woven into learning activities:

  • Writing as a medium for thinking and sharing
  • Collaborative conversations
  • Individual work, small group discussion, and large group share

We then moved to a large group discussion facilitated by Dr. Glenn; students from each table had the opportunity to share their thoughts about the question posed at their table.

tok6

tok8

 

tok7

Because we ran out of time, the activity was continued into the next day.  Many students captured the ideas on each table with their cell phones as they prepared to leave for lunch.

Reflections:  The Library as Learning Studio and Site of Literacy Practices

While not a formal research type of activity or project, we love working with teachers and students to provide them space and assistance for these kinds of learning opportunities.   So often we call the library the “biggest classroom” in a school, yet learning experiences are often limited to formal research projects and/or storytime.  In many schools, it’s a challenge for teachers and administrators to see the library as an additional learning space that can accommodate many kinds of experiences because the quiet, book-centric model and/or prior experiences dominate their perceptions.  In other school libraries, limited budgets and restrictive physical space hinder the efforts of librarians to sell the library as a studio and alternate kind of classroom.  When our spaces are designed with flexible areas that can be repurposed quickly, mobile furniture, and technologies for multiple modes of learning (low tech and high tech), the library can support a more diverse range of learning experiences and be better positioned to support the growth of academic literacies for all students throughout the school year, not just when it is time for formal or informal research projects.  These learning space design drivers  expand the possibilities of libraries as sites of practice for multiple literacies and can potentially position the library as a “commonplace for interpretation” in exploring, expanding, and theorizing the literacy practices within its learning community (Sumara), hence shifting and expanding the role of the librarian as a sponsor of literacy (Brandt).

References

Brandt, Deborah. Literacy in American Lives. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

Kiili, Carita, Marita Mäkinen, and Julie Coiro. “Rethinking Academic Literacies.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 57.3 (2013): 223-32. Professional Development Collection [EBSCO]. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Sumara, Dennis J. Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters: Imagination, Interpretation, Insight. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum, 2002. Print.
Note:  If you are interested in the “Rethinking Academic Literacies” article, you may also enjoy teacher Gary Johnston’s series of blog posts on this article.

CU Boulder Symposium Keynote: Literacies for Every Season of Their Lives

Many thanks to my colleagues at UC Boulder for the opportunity to participate from afar in your symposium today! Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of your day of learning and sharing.

Links of Interest:

Scaffolding Student Presearch and Topic Ideas with Reading Frenzies

Photo by Sean O'Connor

Photo by Sean O’Connor

Like many of you, we’re always looking for ways to support students in their presearch processes.  Finding starting points for topic selection is often difficult for students, especially if they have little or no experience in choosing a topic.  In late March, we collaborated with Language Arts teacher Sean O’Connor and his freshmen classes to incorporate a blend of brainstorming/writing around topic ideas and a learning structure, Reading Frenzy, he learned earlier this year from Nancy Steineke at a workshop in New Orleans.   Like us, Sean is a big fan of the work that both Nancy and Harvey Daniels do with inquiry, literacy, and ways to facilitate conversations for learning.  Below is a video interview with Sean about the processes I have outlined below:

Sean kicked off their inquiry with having students write around motifs they had studied throughout their novel unit of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Students used our large blue post-it notes to brainstorm historical and current topics related to a motif of interest; they then moved about and posed questions and feedback to their peers using smaller post-it notes.

sean2 sean3 sean4

sean5

This activity was the springboard to the reading frenzy, a learning structure that is flexible and gives students opportunities to skim, scan, and discuss multiple texts in a set time period.    After we looked at the ideas students generated from the brainstorming/write-around activity, I pulled a wide range of articles related to their topics of interest from the web as well as our databases (Academic Search Complete, MAS Ultra Student Edition, various Gale databases) trying to include a variety of reading levels, publications/information sources, and perspectives on the issues and events.

sean1

Students passed around the articles and read them; they also discussed what they were reading with a neighboring buddy as something of interest got their attention.  As students began thinking about more specific topic ideas as they read the article, they requested additional articles, and I was able for the most part to either produce those on the demand to go or to provide them the following day in class for follow-up.  Other students who read an article that resonated with them requested I print additional copies, and I was more than happy to do this.  After the first class, I decided to make article categories to make it easier for the students to go directly to piles of articles of interest to them.

sean6

We love these structures because they support students who already have a topic idea as well as those who might be a little less certain about a topic interest.  It can also introduce new topics or more nuanced aspects of a topic to students.  This investment of time ensured students enhanced their understandings of the novel’s motifs and connections of that motif to contemporary as well as historical events.   This process also reinforced our efforts this year to really focus on helping teachers and students find ways to narrow or “crop” topic so that they can hopefully engage in deeper and more thoughtful inquiry.  We feel this entry point is a particularly effective way to scaffold students who may have little research experience OR more experience at “reporting” vs. researching (see the blog of my colleagues at Letting Go for more on this idea).  These activities prepared students to move forward strategically into presearch and to find articles on their own.  They have now narrowed and refined their topic and are composing their research design plans to Sean.  We are looking forward to seeing where they go from here with their research after our spring break as well as using the reading frenzy strategy with other classes!

Battledecks: It’s Not Just for Librarians!

bd1

The Challenge 

A few weeks, IB History of the Americas teacher and one of our regular collaborative partners Dan Byrne came to us with a challenge:  he needed his students to research different nationalist movements and revolutions as well as present their findings to their peers.  The dilemma?  His students were suffering a severe case of early onset SENIORITIS.  He needed a way to challenge the students with their presentation format and skills yet avoid crafting lengthy PowerPoints that were primarily an exercise in boring regurgitation.

After some thought, my solution was a modified form of Battledecks, the legendary form of “PowerPoint Karaoke” that has been especially popular in library conference circles.   Drawing on my own experience as a participant, watching others, and some great advice from fellow librarian Andy Woodworth, I pitched the idea to Dan.   After some initial conversation, we worried a true Battledecks might be a little overwhelming for their first effort; in addition, Jen and I were worried about prepping slidedecks for three classes even though the presentations were going to be shorter than a typical Battledecks sesssion.    After a little research, I found a modified version from teacher Tom Woodward that seemed to be the perfect balance of creative thinking and enough structure to push our students but not send them over a cliff.

Processes and Procedures

Our rules were as follows:

Byrne Battledecks Instructions and Sample Slides March 2015

I decided to expand my photo pool (shared with students via Google Drive and the link was posted to Dan’s course page) to 45 images since I was worried presentations could get a little stale with a smaller photo pool for three classes.  After explaining the purpose, guidelines, and a sample slidedeck with students, they were off and running.

Because students had already distilled their research into a poster, they had a great starting point for pulling out the big ideas and details they wanted to convey through the image based slides.    We also gave our students a little more prep time with two days total for introduce the concept, to craft slides, and to do a little individual rehearsal.  On Day 2, students completed a quick reflection via Google Forms; this survey also served as a database to help me generate individualized scoresheets thanks to good old-fashioned mail merge.  Finally, we gave the students the option of using a notecard if they needed a “safety net” to help them although we had quite a few who either used no notecards or who barely glanced at them because they had done such a great job creating their presentations and remembering the details based on the images they chose.

For assessment, we borrowed from our ACRL colleagues and developed these evaluation guidelines:

  • Content and Credibility: did it make any sense, did you highlight the key events about your topic, accuracy of facts
  • Poise and Gesture
  • Flow: minimal pauses and stammering
  • Audience Response
  • Creativity: how well did you connect your talking points to your image choice? (bonus points for connections to images that clearly are not an easy connection)

We assessed students on a scale 0-5 in each of these areas and took notes as students presented.  Students were also asked to jot down a few notes or a big takeaway for each presentation; Dan provided these feedback strips to students.

Students presented over approximately 2.5 days; presentations were uploaded to the course dropbox in D2L, the district course platform, so students can download them and present easily for the most part.   We drew for names, so the presentation order was random, and each period a student assisted us as official timekeeper.  Overall, we were pleased with the work and performance of the classes as well as the atmosphere of support students gave each other. Each day we awarded a tiara and wand to the most interesting presentation from each class period.

bd-champs

Student/Teacher Feedback and Next Steps

Students were generally very enthusiastic about the Battledecks presentation, and many expressed they would like to do a “true” version of it after our spring break as part of their end of review.   While some students shared they would like to do a true Battledecks individually, others thought it would be fun to do it with a partner or to even have a version where they play off each other in pairs and one participant gets eliminated.  Others shared they would not feel comfortable participating in a true Battledecks presentation but would want to help out in some way.  Most students liked the pool of images and having that pre-selected as well as a mix of abstract and unorthodox photos to work with rather than finding the images themselves.  While most students indicated they liked the larger photo pool, others felt the challenge element would have been greater with a smaller photo pool.  Overall, the student response was incredibly positive and many shared they felt it was a great creative stretch for them that was fun and meaningful.  Check out what Dan has to say about the Battledecks learning experience in the short video below:

Other teachers who have heard about this activity are now planning on using this strategy as a way of having students jigsaw and share information.  It’s a great presentation structure that is flexible and can be adapted as a formative or summative learning performance.    We are looking forward to helping Mr. Byrne and his student stage an authentic Battledecks later this spring and sharing that with you.

Bridge to Presearch and Growing Student Understandings: Connect, Extend, Challenge

dream5

One of our ongoing goals this academic year as instructional designers has been framing the importance of process in research projects and emphasizing the frontloading of presearch experiences as a critical point of helping students select and narrow a topic of authentic interest.  As we tried to collaborate with our 11th Language Arts teachers earlier this semester, Jennifer and I wanted to experiment with the learning structure Connect, Extend, Challenge to see if we could nudge student thinking about the overarching research theme of The American Dream. We decided to do a modified written conversation read and discussion starter that incorporated Connect, Extend, and Challenge.  We were able to schedule Linda Katz’s two classes for the activity and felt they would be a great group to pilot our first efforts since they had spent some class time discussing and brainstorming as a group what they felt The American Dream meant and individuals or events that might represent some aspect of it.  Below is their initial conceptualization:

brainstorm list

After seeing their list, Jen and I wondered if we could use the activity to introduce some contemporary issues related to The American Dream through the critical lenses of socioeconomics, class, race, and gender to push their thinking beyond contemporary individuals and to broaden their event/issue menu from the initial list they developed.  In our minds, we thought the activity would help them focus on a timely issue and hopefully be inspired to inquire about it.  It took me about a day to find articles I felt were a right fit, and I organized them into eight folders (one for each table).  Each folder contained two sets of articles:

  • A common set of readings that usually was an overview of a working definition and explanation of The American Dream.  These were designed to be quick reads that each group member would read (I envisioned four students per table, so I had four copies of the common read in the folder); they all came from our Gale and EBSCO databases.
  • A set of four different articles so that each group member would have a different article to read.

DSCN1365

Our game plan was for the students to have 10-12 minutes to read the articles; they would then discuss/share out their readings and reactions to those readings. We then wanted them to collaboratively respond to the prompts for Connect, Think, and Extend so that they could draw on the prior knowledge they had started building in the classroom but hopefully grow or expand through the group readings.  Each group would then share their responses on a large sticky note before rotating to another table and set of readings for a second round.  On the day of the activity, Jen reviewed the protocols and helped facilitate the activity; we tried to reinforce the conversation protocols by taping the guidelines on each table.

dream3

dream1

The outcomes were a bit mixed.  Quite a few students discovered new information and some different directions for researching The American Dream and contextualizing it from a modern perspective.  Some even expressed surprise, especially around statistics and data, about what they read in the articles.  We were impressed some students developed their own coding system while annotating the articles to tie directly into the thinking/learning structure of connect, extend, and challenge.

dream2

dream4

While Jen and I were happy to have put these topics and issues on the students’ radar, many still chose to go with their original focus on how an individual embodied an aspect of The American Dream; others, in the spirit of the research assignment, picked 1-2 concepts from the list and then researched multiple events and/or persons that they thought represented their chosen aspects of The American Dream.  We realized that some students would have benefited from the activity taking place over two days so that they could have had more time to:

1.  Read (the articles were of varying length and complexity, and we noticed some students needed more time to engage with the text).

2.  Share as a small group and then craft their collaborative responses to really go deeper with the connecting, extending, and challenging aspects of the activity.

3.  Share out as a large group and then help students think through the connections of what they had read to their initial class-generated list as well as new possibilities for inquiry.  Dr. Katz agreed that the extra time and the chance for a large group discussion would have been more optimal.

Now that we’ve tried the activity, we know that we might want to build in a longer or extended activity time window to help students immerse themselves in the texts, the conversations, and thinking without feeling rushed.  Jen and I  also realized that because the final details of the research assignment didn’t come together in the original time frame any of us (media staff as well as 11th Language Arts) anticipated, we were not cognizant that the teachers were focusing more on students looking at different issues or individuals through one or more of those class generated aspects of The American Dream.  While the activity did not result in our (Jen and I) goal of generating enough excitement to shift the research focus to a specific present day issue and a deep dive into how that issue related to the viability of The American Dream, hopefully from a critical literacy inquiry stance, we still feel this learning structure has great potential and hope to use it as part of presearch with another project.  What types of presearch learning activities or structures have you tried to nudge students’ thinking about topics related to a particular theme or to grow how they conceptualize a particular topic?