Teaching and Learning

NHS Students Reflect on Learning Spaces and Design, Libraries, and Academic Capital

Today three of our TOK students stopped by to chat with me about their reflections on last week’s discussion activity anchored by written conversations around our dry erase/markerboard surface tables.  In this thirteen and half minute video interview, they share their thoughts on the ways the markerboard surfaces elevated and created a  more participatory medium for learning that they felt would probably  have not happened in a traditional classroom or library setting.  In the first third of the interview,  they discuss the ways the dry erase/markerboard tables helped them to focus their thoughts so that they could then develop deeper oral discussions with the group; embedded in their reflections is the notion of writing as a process that helps stimulate their cognition.  They also touch on the ways that the dry erase surfaces helped them to build conversations and thinking that were organic, sustained, and more nuanced.   I’m fascinated to further explore the ways these kinds of surfaces might help students grow their ability to contribute to their learning community through discussion, an important form of academic capital.   They also share their insights on library and learning space design, low tech vs. high tech learning experiences, and the importance of choices/”structured openness” in learning experiences.    I hope you will take time to listen to their thoughtful and insightful ideas!  Many thanks to these three students for so generously sharing their thinking with us and giving us permission to share it with all of you.

IB Teacher Dan Byrne Discusses Growing a Culture to Support Academic Literacies

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about our most recent collaboration with Dan Byrne and James Glenn and on a larger scale, the possibilities for libraries as  places and catalysts for growing academic literacies.  Dan was gracious enough to stop by for a few minutes this morning to share some quick but poignant reflections on growing a culture of learning with students that supports academic literacies.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!