Sticky Notes for Assessing Student Learning Needs and the Bigger Picture of Information Literacy

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a simple yet rich activity I did with tenth grade students as the kickoff to a “one-shot” mini-lesson; this activity was helpful in getting specific feedback on what was particularly challenging for these students with research.  Last week, I spent two days with English teacher Meg Batchelor’s sophomores and decided to do a similar activity.  This time, though, the two focal questions were:

  1.  What is most challenging for you when doing research papers or projects?
  2.  What are you “go to” sources when doing research?

I thought it would be fun to have students share their responses anonymously using sticky notes and then capture their responses in three ways:

  1.  photographing the responses
  2.  capturing the responses with the Post-It App
  3.  identifying all the responses and corresponding number of responses for each response

Students jotted their thoughts on the sticky notes and then placed them on the appropriately labeled “parking lots” (a bigger jumbo sticky note–so very meta!) on the wall.

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Take a look at the tallied responses below:

table 1 responses from batchelor sources used march 2016 table 2 challenges of research from batchelor march 2016

I found both data sets fascinating and saw some overlap with the responses from the previous group (valid/credible/reliable surfaces bubbled up again as well as sources with information relevant to the research topic or question), but as you can see, there are some nuanced differences, too.   We can also clearly see that the students rely heavily on Google and Wikipedia; at first glance, the responses don’t seem to reflect much prior knowledge or experience in using other sources such as the school and district owned databases from Gale or specific EBSCO databases provided at the state level through GALILEO.   More research would be needed to peel back the layers of the stories behind the data and to better understand what might account for these responses, especially for me as a newcomer who has been here only since August.  It would also be interesting to see do a large scale open-ended survey by grade level and compare results.

If we group student responses to identified challenges of research into the three categories of learner experience and six stages of information seeking using Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process model; we can see the majority of these responses would be related to cognitive tasks.  However, we can also see evidence of what Kuhlthau identifies as the principle of uncertainty  reflected in the student responses.   This is an imperfect first pass at coding and categorizing the student responses—I could see how some of their responses could fall into multiple areas of experience (both affective and cognitive) as well as overlap in information seeking stages since students often move and back forth between uncertainty and clarity as they continually explore, formulate, and collect (see this great blog post on this interpretation by my colleagues at the Letting Go blog that is all about ISP).  You can click on the image below for a larger view.

student responses and ISP spectrum

We could also categorize responses more broadly into these areas of challenge:
areas of challenge

However you look at it, these kinds of data sets provide conversation points to evaluate and assess student information literacy skills in the context of current research practices by each subject area in our school.  I see this data as a set of conversation points to help us look more closely at current practices with research assignments in the context of:

  • alignment to the state standards—where are we hitting the sweet spots, where are the gaps, where are engaging in overkill?
  • the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (most high school teachers don’t know about this set of information literacy learning outcomes; thank you University of West Georgia academic librarian and Information Literacy Coordinator Andrea Stanfield for pointing me to this LibGuide on the standards–I love how they organized the content.)
  • engaging in some soul-searching and really thinking about what we believe about research—what do we need to keep doing, what should we let go, and what do we need to begin doing (see this great example).

Having the courage to interrogate what you believe about research practices is not always easy, but I think it is essential if we are to take an inquiry stance on many kinds of literacy practices.

On a side note, several of you from Twitter asked me to share the technical aspect of this activity with the Post-It App.  Overall, it worked fairly well, but the image captures were limited in size, and responses recorded in pencil didn’t pick up very well or at all.  You can see the less than ideal quality of the images here.   If I use this app again as part of data collection, I will make sure students write on the post-its in pen; I also am curious to see if the app functions in a more robust manner on an iPad versus an iPhone.

In closing, I am deeply appreciative to Ms. Batchelor and her two sections of 10th Literature/Composition for their candid responses and the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges as well as an opportunity to introduce resources through our project LibGuide to help address some of those concerns.  Their feedback and these conversations are wonderful opportunities for me to learn from the students and to continually revisit what I think know and how I am interpreting student learning.

Podcasting with Spreaker

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We’ve been megabusy this week in the Hooch Learning Studio learning about podcasting.  10th Literature/Composition classes from Ms. Harrison, Ms. Garth, Ms. Smith, and Mr. White have participated in a live class podcast using Spreaker, a podcasting platform that allows students to create podcasts through several mediums:

  • A web-based application that students can use (helpful in school environments where students can’t download an application like Audacity)
  • A downloadable desktop app that works for a PC or Mac.
  • Mobile apps for IOS or Android devices
  • The ability to upload an audio file a student might record with a tool like GarageBand or Audacity and then upload the file for easy publishing

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After some face to face planning with Margaret Garth and then some virtual planning through emails, I began working on the project guide and looking for the best tool to fit our project needs.  Though I received many great suggestions from friends in my PLN, I settled upon Spreaker, a tool I discovered on my own.  I then began to think about what could I do to introduce Spreaker in a meaningful way to the students.

I decided to actually take on the student research task—students can choose any topic they want, but they will fold the research into the podcast they’ll create.  After much waffling about a topic, I became very interested in food deserts and went through the process of presearch, annotating articles and taking some notes, creating my Works Cited list with EasyBib, and then crafting the podcast script.  I decided to craft my podcast as an interview with a panel of different experts and individuals impacted by the challenges of food deserts in metropolitan Atlanta.  By walking in the students’ shoes, I felt I would be better able to give them some authentic tips and strategies for taking their topic and research to a podcast script and then actual broadcast.

I really enjoyed doing the research (of course, I am a librarian!), but I also loved the creative aspect of folding the research into a podcast script.  As I began working through the process of drafting the script, I decided that I would set it up so that students could actually “perform” it as part of a cold read and live broadcast to show them how easy it is to record and publish a podcast with Spreaker.  I’ve never done anything quite like that before, but I thought it would be tremendous fun and a great learning experience for all of us.  As I worked on drafts and revisions, I found that having students read it aloud with me was a valuable technique for doing traditional sorts of edits but to also “hear” how the podcast might sound and feel with the students.   I am thankful for lunch students who graciously agreed to read the script aloud with me!

It took the first day to do a little fine tuning with the pacing and order of activities, but the general game plan for the class period was:

  • Briefly introduce the research guide.
  • Open Spreaker and showcase the cloud-based “DJ Console” and how to use it to record, mix in bumper music, and add sound effects (Spreaker has a copyright friendly library of this multimedia).
  • Introduce the podcast script and get volunteers to read parts.
  • Prep the audience on how to support their classmates as listeners.
  • Discuss the best tips/strategies for approaching the assignment:  topic choice, research, text annotations and notes, resources, drafting/revising/rehearsing the script (this page has those slides plus my text set, my Works Cited link, and a PDF of my script).

The whole experience was intense, exhilarating, and tremendous fun!  Here are some scenes from the last few days:

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You can hear our live productions on this part of the research guide. Some of our broadcasts turned out a little bit better than others due to wireless connectivity issues, figuring out the best placement for students near the Snowball microphone I purchased, and varying levels of voice projections.  I am very appreciative to all of the teachers and their students for the opportunity to work with them and engage the classes as well as their positive feedback!

When Less Is More: Discovering Student Points of Need with Small Group Conversation

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As any classroom teacher knows, time is a valuable commodity.   It’s always a struggle to squeeze every last drop of the instructional time we have with students and still provide meaningful learning experiences.  One of our English teachers, Kim Cooney, recognized she needed a way to negotiate two major class activities with her 10th grade students:

  1.  She needed to have small seminar discussions with students.
  2.  She needed for students to have some instruction on EasyBib and research databases for a project in which students are investigating issues related to social media.

Ms. Cooney asked me if I would be comfortable working with half of her class in the media center while she did seminar with the other half in her classroom.  I immediately said yes, and we scheduled two days with her 1st, 2nd, and 4th periods to “flip” between us.    I was super excited about being able to work with a smaller group of students as it feels more personal, and I think students get more from that setting than they sometimes do with an especially large class.

A series of events over the last 24 hours helped me craft a better approach to our mini-lessons today.  I realized after school yesterday we didn’t have enough computers available (our lab was already booked) for all sections to do some hands-on work after the mini-lesson.  I then arrived at work to this morning and learned Ms. Cooney was very sick and that a substitute teacher had not been found.   Our fantastic department head, David White, and I discussed options and we agreed to move forward with the small group plans as scheduled.  He and fellow English teachers stepped in to facilitate the seminar “speed dating” discussion style while the other class half came here for their instruction.

After wondering what to do in lieu of no computers, I decided on the fly that kicking off the mini-lessons with a conversation was the best course of action.    I quickly drafted a graphic organizer for students—-this served the purpose of them jotting down answers to these two questions as well as taking brief notes:

  1.  What topic(s) are you thinking about? ( I made it clear it was OK if they had not picked one or had time to think about it just yet)
  2.   What gives you the most difficulty when doing a research assignment?

We met in our small group area I organized this morning and students had a few minutes to jot down their responses.  We then did a whole-group conversation with each student sharing his/her responses to those two questions.  Not only did this give me a chance to get to know the students a little, but I think it also give an element of humanity to the experience, especially since I had not seen most of these students until today.

Here are some of the challenges students identified; I have boldfaced the ones that bubbled up most frequently.

  • Getting started or knowing how/where to start
  • Staying on task/dealing with distractions
  • Procrastination
  • Finding valid and credible sources and knowing that they are such
  • Finding relevant resources (to the research topic)
  • Search terms
  • Managing citations (EasyBib to the rescue!)
  • Knowing which sources to use (MackinVIA groups FTW along with LibGuides)
  • Knowing how to use the databases
  • Keeping up with notes/organizing notes
  • Pacing self through the project

We took time to talk about each student’s challenges as I wanted to be sure to validate and honor each area of concern.   This discussion was a perfect springboard to our research guide and how the resources there and the mini-lessons from today would help mitigate and address many of those concerns.  We also talked about how their responses would help me shape future conversations with teachers about research assignment design, especially with pieces like more formative assessments to help keep everyone on track and take the “pulse” of student progress (and not in a punitive way) as well as more time in-class to do hands-on work.  We also talked about possibilities for more collaboration as part of research projects and perhaps birds of feather groups to meet periodically to share successes and challenges (this was super helpful for my Media 21 students a few years ago).

The feedback also helped me collect informal data that might help me sway teachers to build in more time for topic selection with activities like reading frenzies or Think/Extend/Challenge.  These activities encourage inquiry and give students some concrete starting points to get ideas for topics or to introduce topic ideas that might not be on their radar.

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In hindsight, this activity seems like it should have been an obvious starting point; I honestly feel a bit sheepish I didn’t initially plan to do this as part of the instructional time today,  but I’m glad it came to me on the fly this morning.    Sometimes we get so busy that we forget the ultimate starting point is the student point of need, especially if we as librarians get caught up in trying to work within a very limited amount of scheduled time with students.   I am excited to listen to what the kids have to say when I see the next round of small groups tomorrow as we “flip” students and engage in “research chats”!