Fumbles, Punts, and Mini-Revision Work with Micro-Progression Charts

As I reflect on the last two weeks, it seems a lifetime in my world of teaching and learning has passed.  The first six weeks of school have been a roller coaster as I juggle many interesting challenges.  These challenges may or may not give context to the focal point of this post, and I feel it is important to lay them out first, especially since I have always tried to be honest and transparent about my work whether things are flying high or if I’m navigating rough waters.

The Struggle Is Real, Or When It Isn’t All Ponies, Fairies, and Unicorns

  • A heavier teaching load than what I was used to at the high school level (I teach 6 classes every day plus see an advisement group and/or my SOAR Art History and Artists group which essentially is like having 7 classes).  In my high school teaching experience, I have typically taught 5 courses daily.
  • I’m teaching writing courses that are brand new to our school—the exhilarating part is that I get to create everything from scratch and have complete control over what I’m doing!  The exhausting part is the time and energy it takes to create everything from scratch, but I am glad to have complete control over the direction of the courses.  With that said,  I do regular second-guessing of my instructional design.  I frequently vacillate between feeling I am absolutely on the right track and feeling I am just hopelessly misguided.  This is fairly normal when you’re teaching something new or trying new strategies, but it is still unsettling even when you to expect those feelings.
  •  I’m an academic elective not tied to any specific test for this academic year, yet I worry how I should be grading my students (and just about so many things problematic with grading in general); I also worry whether my students’ grades should align with the outcome on the scores for the writing task of the end of year state test (as in what if there is a huge insane gap between the two?  Does it mean anything at all?).
  • Because I’m in the “Connections” rotation, my classes meet only 40 something odd minutes on any given day (we run two schedules through the week, another source of befuddlement for this former high school teacher) compared to the normal 50-60 minutes for a regular academic class.  This time period feels insanely short to me, especially for students who are struggling writers and need time to get traction with their work.
  • Though I try to connect with other faculty, especially Language Arts teachers, my schedule doesn’t really allow any time during the day to do so, and I often feel like an island or outlier.
  • I’m trying to figure out who my writers are, their histories, and their literacy narratives.  What are their prior literacy experiences, what have been previous expectations from other teachers, and how do they see themselves as writers and learners?  I’m discovering there are many complex layers to peel back.
  • Most students did not choose to be in my classes; they were placed because of a score tied to writing on a standardized test.  Consequently, quite a few were angry and/or confused for the first few weeks even though I and the guidance counselor did all we could to allay those feelings.   I’m trying to figure out how we might reframe academic electives so that students don’t perceive them in a negative light.  There are days that I feel my class is not enough for some of my students whose needs are intense and possibly beyond the scope of our course though I’ll continue my best to do whatever I can.

I am thankful for colleagues in my building who have been a sounding board and source of support—our instructional coach Sarah Widincamp, my principal Jennifer Kogod, my assistant principals Libbie Armstrong and Chuck Bennett, and fellow Connections teacher Suzanne Ward.  I am indebted to many friends and colleagues for their virtual support, especially in the last month—Jennifer Lund, Nancy Steineke, Dorsey Sammataro, Anja Tigges, Tess MacMillan.  I am so tired right now that  I am sure I am omitting other people, but to everyone who has lifted me on days I’ve cried and celebrated with me when I’ve seen my kids take significant steps forward—you will never know what your good vibes, sage advice, and non-judgmental ears have meant!   I know many of you can appreciate the cognitive and affective dissonance you feel when you encounter unexpected situations and/or knotty challenges.

I don’t know if this backstory will contextualize the focus of this post, but as I shared earlier, I do believe it is important as I feel I’m constantly re-calibrating my lessons and activities.  Making adjustments is something good teachers do, but never in my 24 years of teaching have I felt I had to constantly tweak, drop back, and revisit my plans on a near daily basis like I have this fall.  It has been a consolation to see other experienced and skilled teachers have similar challenges, but it still is unsettling and frankly draining to feel so off-kilter.  However, I am trying to view this as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Assessing Student Work:  An Opportunity to Revisit, Reteach, and Revise

After spending an intense month on our personal narrative study, my students finished their revised drafts on Friday, September 2.   When I began evaluating their work over the weekend, I felt dismayed as the drafts fell short of my expectations.  I thought that with extensive time to write in class, modeling of the writing strategies, examination of mentor texts, LOTS of scaffolding, and plentiful time to draft, revise, and work with peers in class, my students submitted drafts would shine.   While there were merits to every submission, many students unfortunately still struggled with their writing and using the strategies for an effective personal narrative in their writing.    While a few students clearly put forth little to no effort, most truly put an enormous amount of energy into their revised drafts.  In hindsight, I could have looked at their work as progress if I compared it to where we began, yet I felt there were still some gaps in understanding that I just could not ignore.  I was worried that many students still didn’t quite grasp “exploding the moment” and “slow motion” writing to truly show  their “seed” topic instead of tell about their experience.  Consequently, many of the personal narratives were straying into “watermelon” territory with a great deal of telling but little showing with descriptive details.   In addition, I also recognized that many of my students were struggling to write clear, complete sentences to the point that it was difficult to understand their final drafts.

I knew that we were not yet at a point to jump into a major study of sentence structure because the time just was not right, plus I felt I needed time to think through what the best approach would be to address these writing challenges.  I decided that we would look at our major wobbles from a perspective of writer’s craft and sentence craft.    We revisited the major writer’s craft strategies for composing a personal narrative, and I pulled together a resource folder for every student table/center with hard copies of all our examples, notes, and strategies.  I also did a brief one day mini-lesson on the three major sentence problems (fragments, run-ons, and comma splices) knowing that this was not enough to do a deep dive with these issues, but I wanted to at least get it on their radar in a gentle way where we looked at the problems and simple fix-it strategies.

Because I had evaluated the writing pieces online in Canvas only to discover I had no way to pull down their completed as a printed hard copy, I printed blank copies of the rubric for students, and I gave them time to read their scored digital rubric and copy over the points they earned in each area.  They also had time to read the comments (I tried to give every student at least 3-4 comments) and ask questions about the points or comments.  I then gave students some benchmark point values and asked them to place a star by any areas where they may have come up a little short.  Once students could see their areas of struggle, I gave them a menu of writer’s craft and sentence craft skills that they could choose to target in a mini-revision of ONE paragraph or section of their personal narratives.  I asked them to choose two skills to target–one from each menu—based on their rubric scores and what they felt they needed to tackle.  I thought offering choice was a good idea, but in hindsight, even a limited menu of choices may have been overwhelming for my kids in all three grades (6, 7, 8).  Students were to mark their selections in a Google Form; I also gave them a hard mini-copy of the menu for marking their choices and keeping in their Writer’s Notebooks.

I thought a mini-revision of one section of their story and choice in the skill to practice/improve was reasonable/manageable for my kids, but I quickly realized even this was still quite overwhelming for most of my kids.   Even with this adjustment, I had kids who struggled to rewrite with intention and purpose one section; though I tried to make it explicit as to what we were doing with student created examples, checklists, and hard copies of these resources, I had quite a few in each class and every grade who still could not connect that we were doing a mini-revision of one section or paragraph and practicing ONE skill using the strategies I had provided them and that we had learned about the previous month.  However,  I had quite a few who either quickly caught on to what we were doing or then picked up the beat and jumped in with their work.

Students had three class days, a weekend, and a weeknight (last Monday) to get this revision completed.  For the revision, I asked them to:

Note:  I did not introduce all of these slides at once.  These slides were shared a few at a time over a period of about 10 days.   I shared them as one slide deck here to avoid posting multiple Google presentations.

  •  Draft the revision in their Writer’s Notebook.
  •  Highlight, circle, and or draw arrows to where they were practicing in the mini-revision the strategies for the skill they picked to target.
  • Write 2 sentence explaining how/why/what they were doing to demonstrate the writer’s craft or sentence craft skill.  I provided them a menu of sentence starters they could use to help them communicate what they were doing; even with this scaffolding, though, many struggled to convey specifically what they were doing as writers in the mini-revision.
  • I asked students to either hand copy or to cut and paste the original paragraph/section they were revising and tape/paste it onto the micro-progression chart I provided them (we did a mini-lesson on these charts as well).  In addition, I asked students to describe the problem or “wobble” with the original version.I thought the micro-progression chart, which I learned about from Kate and Maggie Roberts in their wonderful book DIY Literacy, would be a great vehicle for students to chart their growth with their targeted skill in their mini-revision.
    Again, in hindsight, maybe I should have incorporated this tool back in August and targeted each of the personal narrative writing writing craft skills with these charts.  However, I thought this time was opportune for introducing the tool.  After re-reading the section on micro-progressions in the book, looking at their video (linked above), and reading blog posts from other teachers, I crafted this template for my students thinking it was the perfect fit for what we were doing.2016-09-18
  • I asked students to copy the finished mini-revision draft (several students did two) into the “better” column of the chart (see below).    I asked students to copy the explanatory statements into the chart as well in the bottom box.  Below you can see their work in progress:fullsizerender_1
  • img_8824





I felt three days in class, a weekend, and a weeknight were more than enough time to accomplish this task.  Consequently, I had a hard deadline of students coming to class prepared with the draft in the Writer’s Notebook and the first two columns of their micro-progressions chart completed at the beginning of class this past Tuesday (September 13).  I stressed the importance of preparation because our next step was to do a gallery walk in which students would get to look at each other’s charts and provide “glow” and “grow” statements to help each other think about how to move from the “Better” version of their mini-revision to the “best” version they could do later in the week.

Sadly, very few of my students came with the completed pieces of work in spite of an abundance of time, support, and resources.  Here is a rough breakdown of the percentage who were prepared and able to prepare in the gallery walk; the rest of the students had an alternative assignment to complete.

  • 2nd period 8th Writer’s Workshop–about 4 students out of 16
  • 3rd period 8th Writer’s Workshop–about 6 students out of 20
  • 3rd period 6th Writing Connections–about 3 students out of 20
  • 4th period 7th Writing Connections–about 6 students out of 20
  • 5th period 7th Writing Connections–about 15 students out of 20
  • 6th period 6 Writing Connections–about 15 students out of 20 (many thanks to my co-teacher ESOL teacher Heather Blaker for the intense help she did with students who needed it to help them move forward).

As you can imagine, I was very disappointed with the classes with the low completion rates; it made for a difficult day in those classes as something happens to the energy of a gallery walk when few students are able to participate.  With the exception of my 7-4 class (I had to leave to attend an IEP meeting, and I think my absence factored heavily into the less than stellar experience they had), the students who were prepared put forth a great effort and got some valuable feedback.  Once I got everyone settled who was prepared and who wasn’t, I reviewed the gallery walk instructions with those able to participate.

Students laid out on their table area/assigned seating their Writer’s Notebook entry along with their charts and their “Grows” and “Glows” feedback form.


Students then walked about and gave each other grows and glows; I kept suggestions on the board to help students if they got stuck for a glow or grow comment to share.

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When students finished, they completed a Gallery Walk reflections handout in which they recorded:

  • What they liked most about the gallery walk
  • Their favorite glow statement
  • Their favorite grow statement
  • What they thought their next steps might be to move to the “better” version of their mini-revision after reading the feedback.

It was exciting to see the students who participated in the gallery walk taking their work as writers seriously.  In addition, two of my administrators were able to attend the gallery walk in period 7-5; my principal, Jennifer Kogod, stayed for over 15 minutes and participated, reading student work and providing feedback.  I was absolutely over the moon that she was part of our learning experience, and I think the kids were energized and thrilled about her participation as well!  Mrs. Kogod is such a literacy advocate, and she is so encouraging of my work even when I’m filled with self-doubt.  To have your administrators make time to visit your classroom is just everything; those of you who teach understand the importance of these moments, especially when they happen regularly.  I am deeply appreciative of their visibility in our classrooms and genuine interest in the work of both teachers and students!

Final Steps

Students then had Tuesday evening, Wednesday evening, Thursday in class, and all of Friday to compose one more draft of their mini-revision.  I reminded them to use the gallery walk feedback and the resource folders with our strategies and examples to help them think about how they  might move from “better” to “best”; I also asked them to articulate how/why the best version was their very best work.  We reviewed the checklist of what would need to be finished for their charts; students received a hard copy of this chart to keep handy.


Most students worked very hard both days in class, especially my last class, which is 6th grade Writing Connections.  After so many ups, downs, and struggles, it was gratifying to see students having “writerly” conversations and really thinking about their work.  The best part was seeing smiles on students’ faces as they turned in their work and seeing that sense of accomplishment in their eyes.




Next Steps for Me:  Assessment and Reflection

I am now preparing to assess their charts and will do a follow-up post in a week or two.  I am hopeful that this process has pushed students’ thinking.  I’m still not sure if my rubric is the right or best evaluation instrument, but it’s the one I’ll go with for now.  I will pull the exemplary charts that show growth and progress; I hope to photograph them and create a living wall in the hallway outside my classroom by incorporating QR codes into the chart photos and linking  QR codes those to video interviews with students who will briefly tell us about their work in their charts.  As soon as I can make this happen, I’ll post photos and videos of this living wall of student work!

I plan to have students put these charts into their writing folders (these stay in class) and become part of the student portfolio.  I want to give my students chances to reflect on their work and progress as we move through the year, and I also want to look closely at their work for signs of growth as writers.  I need to finish reading a couple of professional books on assessing writing to help me move forward on this front; though I have taught for a long time, I find myself increasingly uneasy about the way I evaluate writing and question so many concepts about grades.  I will save these worries and my professional readings I’m undertaking to tackle these concerns for a post to be published soon.

While I feel uncertain about so much, I can say with certainty that I feel the micro-progression tools are valuable ,and I will definitely use them again though I feel I’ll bring them into our work at an earlier point in our next unit of writing study, poetry.   With all this said, what do you do when a writing unit doesn’t go as you planned?  How do you gauge if you expected too much or not enough from your students?   I think I should have done a little more modeling and perhaps brought in a few more mentor texts, but I’m still reflecting on what else I will do differently in the future.  I also wish I’d had this book by Georgia Heard in my hands about a month earlier (my own fault for not ordering sooner).  Are you using micro-progression charts as part of your work as writing teachers?  If so, how?  I welcome any constructive feedback you all might have to help me keep growing as a teacher!

You can grab the PDFs of the handouts I created by clicking here (shared folder in Google Drive). 

Strike a Pose: Active Learning and Text Engagements with Tableaux!

This is another post from my library blog that I’m cross-posting here about strategies I learned at the Santa Fe inquiry workshop in January. I hope you’ll find it helpful or inspirational!

The Hooch Learning Studio

Are you looking for a way for students to engage with a work of fiction or to think more deeply about a piece of informational text?  Do you want to interject some energy into your world of learning and that of your students?  Would you like to incorporate kinesthetic learning into your classroom?  If so, consider trying the Tableaux strategy from Nancy Steineke, one of the ten great strategies featured in her book Assessment Live.  This strategy was one of the several great learning structures I learned about recently at fantastic inquiry workshop in Santa Fe, NM.

What is tableaux?  Here is how Nancy defines it in Chapter 8 of her book:

The Tableaux strategy is a series of scenes presented by groups of four to eight students who are frozen in poses or positions that depict an historical event, famous speech, scientific concept, or scene from…

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Southeastern Library Assessment Conference 2015: Introduction and Space Assessment Session 1

library asssessment conf

My friend and former Norcross High colleague Jennifer Lund and I attended the Southeastern Library Assessment Conference on November 16 that was held at the historic Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia.  Though we were probably the only school librarians there, we felt welcome and gleaned many pearls of wisdom from the sessions we attended.  I was sadly only able to attend Day 1 (Monday, 11/16) due to district meetings I needed to attend on the second day (11/17), but I got MORE than my money’s worth from the sessions I attended.  I highly recommend this conference if you are looking for smart, thoughtful perspectives that are grounded in evidence based practice and data collection with integrity.  The conference was limited to 125 people and had a pleasant, intimate feel; in addition, we were served a gourmet lunch buffet (it was fabulous) and many delicious amenities throughout the day (Starbucks coffee, tea, water, sodas, cookies).  Many thanks to the conference organizers who did a fantastic job with every aspect of the conference—it is by far one of the best and most meaningful conference experiences I’ve had in my career—every session had substance.

This is the first in a series of posts on the sessions Jennifer and I attended on Monday, November 16, 2015.

Space Assessment: How They Use It, What They Want, Sara DeWaay, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Session Description:  Getting student input on the library space can be a multi-layered effort. Come hear about the methods used to get an understanding of use patterns, as well as the students’ desires for a small branch library, as we work to transition towards a flexible space.

My Notes:
The emphasis was on users and feedback from students; Sara thought about the feedback in terms of “low cost easy” vs. “high cost hard” solutions and ideas from the students.  When she began the group study, she thought of the library space in zones:  group study, circulation area, lounge, quiet study, flexible, and creativity.  She began by doing a literature review on space assessment, and she focused on both qualitative and quantitative assessment methods.  She also looked at space assessment from a “before” and “afterwards” perspective since assessment should continue after the space remodel or redesign is initially completed.  She also did research on user centered design.  She formed a Student Advisory group; positive aspects of this group included input, support, connection, and ownership for the students, but challenges were maintaining momentum and a sustained sense of meaningfulness for the students after their participation ended.  In the future, Sara would try to make sure students received some sort of course credit for participation, perhaps as part of a project based learning assignment related to space design.

She organized a student event where students could come and vote on designs; approximately 40-50 students participated.  She basically used big notepads where students could vote with sticky notes on larger sheets of bulletin board or flip chart paper housed on easels.  For example:


She also used flip charts to get feedback from students using open-ended questions; she interspersed the flip charts with the buffet of food to “guide” them to this part of the feedback session.    Students also had a chance to mark up floor plans; she provided them a variety of tools for doing this activity including crayons, sharpies, ballpoint pens, colored pencils, and regular pencils.  Students then could tape their proposed floor plan on the wall.  Afterwards, she coded the feedback from the student floor plans using categories like “atmosphere” (and specific elements assigned something like letters A-J) and “physical space” (specific aspects were numbered 1-14).  This method of floor plan coding then allowed her to look at the data in a “layered” way (example:  2B).

Another strategy was student surveys.  Unfortunately, her sample size of 40 was not ideal, but nonetheless, she was able to ask more detailed questions about services as well as questions about the library in comparison to other spaces in the building.  She also had library student assistants help track space use; using iPads and Suma, they were able to gather data and plug it into LibAnalytics to get a better idea of space usage.

Once she looked at all the data, she was able to better understand student needs and could classify possible changes and redesign elements into these categories:

  • Low cost/easy to do
  • Low-cost/difficult to do
  • High cost/easy to do
  • High cost/ difficult to do

Unfortunately, the budget for the renovation was put on hold, but if it moves forward, Sara would get faculty input in the future and do similar activities with staff.  The major takeaway for me from this session was the idea of space assessment as cyclical—it should be ongoing and is important to do even after you complete a renovation or redesign project to make sure the new space is continuing to work for students or to see what areas of new need/adjustment may be needed.  This idea was especially helpful for Jennifer and me since she has opened a new library space, and I’m in the middle of working on a redesign project for the library here at Chattahoochee High.

My next post will be about the second session we attended on battling survey fatigue.

Formative Assessments: Our Compass for Understanding Affective, Cognitive, and Physical Aspects of Information Search Processes

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton
Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

I’m currently working with a section of American Literature/Composition students who have been asked to look at a historical or current event that embodies a degree of hysteria or abuse of power and compare that to the hysteria or abuse of power in the play The Crucible.   This research task is a fairly typical high school assignment for this text and course.  Initially, the teacher wanted me to cover five major areas of research in one class period in lecture format with no hands-on learning activities because she initially thought they had a greater degree of prior knowledge.   However, after a series of email conversations, we worked out a series of learning experiences to implement this week to address student learning needs in a richer and more meaningful way for students.   As many of you know, these collaborative conversations are sometimes really difficult and uncomfortable to broach, especially when you are new to a school or don’t know a teacher very well as you want to be respectful yet honest when you realize a particular request for instruction might not be realistic or effective for students.    I also try to remember that many teachers have never had the experience of working with a school librarian who is genuinely interested in being a co-teacher and instructional designer, so they might not want to ask much of you simply because they’ve never had that kind of expectation or instructional services.

We began our efforts earlier this week by introducing the students to specific databases and search tools in GALILEO through our project LibGuide.  We also talked briefly about some basic search features and tips for each of the databases.  I also showed students how to sign up for our EasyBib account and how to export potential sources to their EasyBib project bibliography.  In an ideal world, I would not attempt to cover so much territory in one session, especially with students who have little experience using databases, but when forging new collaborative partnerships with faculty, it often takes time to establish the trust and rapport needed to jointly fine-tune project pacing and the instructional design process.  It is also a regular challenge many school librarians face as we try to balance our desire to go deep with hands-on learning activities and time to engage in inquiry while respecting the pressures and time constraints classroom teachers face with pacing calendars, common assessments, and other aspects of modern classroom life.

Yesterday we formed “Birds of Feather” groups by research interest.   Topic areas/groups included McCarthyism, post 9/11 racial profiling, Japanese Internment Camps, and then “undecided” for students who were still exploring.   I created topic placeholders for each table to make it easier for students to self-form groups because I wanted them to work together to talk about search terms and databases they were trying so that they could hopefully tap into the power of collaborative thinking.   My plan was for them to collaborate as searchers, to work on their search maps, and then complete a group debrief/”ticket out the door” assessment we’d do with big sticky pads (see below).


Teens being teens, though, some decided to sit with friends rather than by topic; as a result, we lost a little instructional time because the teacher wanted to get them in the “like” groups at the beginning of the period before we proceeded any further.   Once everyone was settled in, though, we jumped into the day’s agenda:  I reminded them how to get back to the LibGuide (and they also had a set of notes/graphic organizer I had provided the day earlier to help them as well) and did a brief introduction to search mapping.    I did not take as much time as I normally would because:

1.  We had already lost about 10 minutes of class.
2.  I originally thought this might be an optional activity,  but after observing their initial seach efforts on Tuesday, I realized they needed this form of scaffolding to help them navigate the databases with some deliberation and intention.

I told the students I would collect their maps and whatever progress they had made as their ticket out the door and provide feedback the next day.  They then set about searching the databases and beginning their search maps; the teacher and I walked about providing feedback and answering questions with individual students and small groups. This was also a great opportunity to just observe and see what students were doing and how they might be thinking. Toward the end of the class period, I asked students to flip their maps over and complete the simple and fast self-assessment below:


I collected their maps at the end of class; this morning, I read through their work as well as their self-assessment reflections for about 90 minutes taking time to provide brief written comments and making notes about points of confusion and questions.  By looking at this simple self-assessment, I was able to see patterns of misunderstanding or difficulty while noting specific questions to address/answer.   In particular, I could see that students were struggling with:

  1.  Slowing down the process and doing pre-search with more intention as they worked with the search mapping process (new for all students).  This “slowing down” process  also included reading beyond skimming and scanning.   I call this “doing the work”; I recommend this brief but terrific post by Pegasus Librarian on this challenge of reading and search; also see her brilliant post Information Literacy in a Utopian High School.
  2.  Working through informational text—-some were having difficulty pulling out the big ideas, so I pulled together some resources from Cris Tovani and Stephanie Harvey on text annotation (this is not new or unfamiliar territory!).  I also decided to create a template for a Venn diagram to help students visualize their big ideas since the teacher had suggested that to some students yesterday, and it seemed to help them make sense of the research task (another area that I soon realized later in the day was a clear area of misunderstanding for some)
  3. How to deal with dead-ends with search terms and understanding that one database would not be enough for this research task as well as additional strategies for search terms specific to databases.

By looking at the students’ work, I could provide some specific written feedback and help resources (either in print format that I attached to their maps and/or as resources I added to the LibGuide this morning).

When students arrived today, we returned their maps.  I then shared how I had looked at their work and the three big areas of concern/patterns of response; I also showed them resources added to the LibGuide (handouts, graphic organizers, how to videos, website links) to help them negotiate those challenges.

I also tried to allay their uncertainty and discomfort by talking about the fact that search is often just difficult and takes a great deal of reading, browsing, and persistence in trying different strategies.   We also talked about “digging in”, making sure our conversation with peers was constructive, and advocating for ourselves by asking questions and choosing a different seat if the current workspace was too distracting.  Last but not least, we celebrated the exemplary search maps from Day 1, and I showed them where they could download or print a copy of these model search maps (which of course are still in progress) on the LibGuide.

The class was then given the rest of the period to continue their presearch/search mapping , and they were encouraged to seek help from both me and the teacher.  She circulated about and answered content related questions for the research task while I set up an area where students could come and do 1:1 or small group conferencing with me, an activity that was very insightful for me as well as the students.    These mini-conference/conversations were very revealing and helped me see that some students just needed verbal reinforcement of what to do while others clearly didn’t understand the research task at all.  Other students needed a visual graphic organizer to unpack the research task (see this simple Venn diagram I was inspired to create for the students after hearing Ms. Sidell, their teacher, suggest it to a student yesterday).

Sidell Venn Diagram

It was also a great opportunity to ask students about what they had learned in their initial reading yesterday, and that opened up honest yet encouraging conversations with individual students about taking time to actually read the texts and the importance of reading in developing search vocabulary and ideas for interpretation and discussion in their papers.

These two methods of formative assessment in 24 hours reminded me to look to the work of Carol Kuhlthau to help me contextualize much of what I was seeing and  hearing from the students.    Her Information Search Process model underscores the affective aspect of information seeking behaviors and reminds us that we need to help students acknowledge, honor, and own the feelings of confusion, doubt, and frustration that can come with the messiness of Initiation and Exploration.  Teachers, students, and librarians can embrace the discomfort and leverage these teachable moments as opportunities to help students hone and grow their strategy toolkit that will ultimately help them develop persistence and resilience in the face of challenging information seeking tasks.  I highly recommend you read these three posts from my colleagues and fellow practitioners Heather Hersey, Marci Zane, Meg Donhauser, and Cathy Stutzman:

As many of you know, working through these rough patches is often a healthy mix of tough love and patient TLC with a generous helping of practical strategies for learners.  By engaging in formative assessment in various formats early in the inquiry process, I stay grounded and can better understand the stumbling blocks for the students.   It also helps me to unpack what might initially be seen as negative behavior such as resistance or even hostility when in reality, that behavior is camouflaging sincere student distress and fear, especially if they have little experience in negotiating challenging or difficult academic endeavors.  Consequently, I’m then better positioned to offer practical coaching and help rather than getting stuck in the weeds of frustration that can spring up as quickly for us as it does the students.    These formative assessments also give us evidence and guideposts for adjusting instruction, something that is particularly important when we are helping the classroom teacher think through the kinds of learning activities students need and how to appropriately pace them by being responsive to student needs.

How are you engaging in formative assessment?  Where does this intersect with Kuhlthau’s ISP for you, and how do you help students and teachers work through the messy and uncomfortable chaos that is in inherent in search and information seeking tasks?  How do you help frame the feelings of uncertainty and confusion in a constructive and positive light?