Vote, Discover, Learn: Edublog Awards 2010

While the Edublog Awards honor excellence in educational blogging, social media, and social networking, this annual opportunity to vote is also a fantastic medium for discovering new voices to add to your personal learning network.    Check out the nominees in these categories to expand your thinking and nodes of wisdom to your personal learning network:

Assessment and Metacognition: Blogging Research Reflections

Last year, I piloted Research Reflections blog posts with our Media 21 students as a means of getting students to actively reflect and think about their information literacy skills and research processes.    Susan Lester and I decided to incorporate these blog posts once again into our Fall 2010 Issues in Africa research project; the directions for blogging research reflections below are nearly identical to the ones we used last year.

However, after reading the first round of research reflections with this year’s Media 21/ Learning 21 students, I quickly realized that more scaffolding was needed in the writing directions and the assessment rubrics to nudge students to think more deeply and to avoid repetition in their reflections.  For the second and third research reflections, I created more specific writing prompts and corresponding rubrics [see below]:

While I hate being so prescriptive with the directions for writing and reflection, I’ve come to realize that few students come with enough prior experience in actively reflecting on the research process:  the information literacy skills they’re acquiring and using, strategies for evaluating information sources, and decision-making processes as they engage in inquiry.  The experience of articulating the how and why of information seeking behaviors and participating in active self-assessment of how they are demonstrating standards for learning and specific information literacy skills is one that has required some intense scaffolding this fall.

As you can see from the rubrics above, the emphasis is on the content and thinking reflected in the blog posts.  However, I also incorporated evaluation criteria for grammar conventions and usage as well as sentence structure since these are reflected in the course Georgia Performance Standards; in addition, we want to reinforce the expectation that clear and coherent communication as well as careful editing/proofreading are hallmarks of quality blog posts.  Although we emphasize that blog posts are read by a global audience, this concept is still new and abstract for many of our students as this is their first experience writing in this type of public space for an audience beyond the classroom teacher.

The research reflections not only provide students an opportunity to engage in metacognition, but they also provide me meaningful insights into their thinking that help me understand their perspectives on information sources and how they evaluating those sources through student eyes, patterns of research skills problems/challenges they are encountering as a group, topics for writing and grammar mini-lessons, and any gaps in understanding that we might need to address as a whole class, small group, or one on one.

As you can imagine, it is fairly time-consuming to read, evaluate, and provide written commentary on each post.  I have been evaluating and providing the detailed feedback for each set of research reflections; I provide written commentary on a printed copy of each blog post as well as the corresponding rubric.  With roughly 65 students in both sections, I’ve been knee-deep in assessment the last month, but the experience of taking even more of a hands-on approach in the creation and structuring of the writing prompts and rubrics (these were all spearheaded by me and then rolled out with Susan’s approval as my c0-teacher) has been one that has given me important glimpses into how students are evaluating information and applying the information literacy skills we’ve been introducing and emphasizing in class.    Although they have not necessarily been thrilled with all of the individual assessments I’ve provided, many of the students have taken the constructive criticism to heart and shown progress in moving forward on the continuum of deeper and more critical thinking.  I have tried to stress to our students that the feedback is intended to help them grow as learners and to challenge them to engage in more specific and thoughtful self-assessment and inquiry.

Below are a few of the exemplary blog posts from our students; these posts are linked here with permission from each student:

I’ll provide some additional links as I receive additional student permissions in the next week from Research Reflections 3.

I think the research reflection blog posts have also encouraged students’ participation literacy in being active agents in the research process rather than passive beings who aren’t thinking through their information seeking behaviors.  In addition, these blog posts are a springboard to the annotations they will compose for each information source on their final Works Cited page created in NoodleTools , a digital learning portfolio,  and a cumulative VoiceThread portfolio assessment they’ll be creating after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’ll be blogging soon about the final set of research reflections (#4) that students submitted this past week; I’ll also be blogging about the learning portfolios and VoiceThread assessment projects students will be creating in the next six or so weeks as well.   In the meantime, how are you assessing students’ information literacy skills and processes beyond a traditional quantitative tool?  Are you as a school librarian actively  involved in the creation and evaluation of assessment tools?  What qualitative assessment tools or pieces are you using with students to encourage active participation in the learning process and to gain insights into their thinking?   Please share your experiences and insights in this space!

The Power of Social Media: An Expert Responds to a Student Blog

Ms. Lester, I, and one of our students, Nolan, were thrilled that a real world expert took time to respond to one of Nolan’s blog posts.  Nolan, who is researching the latest advances in military prosthetics, received a gracious and helpful comment with suggested research information sources to one of his posts from Troy A. Turner, Research Portfolio Manager for Advanced Prosthetics & Human Performance with the U. S.Army Medical Research & Material Command Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center in Maryland.    Nolan, I, and Ms. Lester are hoping to arrange either a class Skype interview with Mr. Turner or an e-interview in April.   These kinds of meaningful and authentic connections are exactly what Ms. Lester and I envisioned a year ago when we first began thinking about our collaborative learning project and plan for our students.

Here are Nolan’s thoughts on receiving feedback and information from a real-world expert via his blog:


Media 21 Update: Literature Circles and Research Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

cc licensed flickr photo shared by iirraa

I have been remiss in posting an update for the Media 21 project for a couple of weeks, but we are now moving into the “meat and potatoes” phase of the project.  Two weeks ago, we introduced the framework of our research and reading project.   There are basically two primary tasks we are juggling between now and Thanksgiving: literature circles and research.

Literature Circles

Based on their selections from the book tasting, Ms. Lester and I formed literature circle groups and tried to give every students his/her first choice selection for a fiction or nonfiction book that reflected an issue in an African country or countries.  Students are maintaining their reading journals on their individual blogs; they have two posts due per week as each group will meet for a total of 10 times (2x for 5 weeks).  For more information on the reading journal and blog posting requirements, please visit this link. Handouts are available at that site as well as here on our class Google Site document library.

In addition, each group has created a Google Site for their lit circle group; they are posting their meeting notes here (two per week)  and commenting on those notes once a week using the commenting feature.   Each student signed an individual AND group lit circle contract (again, see previous links above for the learning contracts).  I showed the students how to enable site sharing so that everyone can contribute to the site since groups decided in advance who is to be the group “scribe” for each meeting.

One item of interest—I noticed this evening one group had found a book trailer for their book, Chanda’s Secrets, from YouTube and embedded it on the main page of the literature circle group Google Site!

In addition to collaborating on the requirements with Ms. Lester, I created all the handouts you see in the document libraries above.  I used my prior experience as an English teacher to design the literature circle handouts as well as the reader response journals and guidelines for blogging; in addition, I designed the weekly research reflections element (see below) and research/learning/journey of learning portfolio template/guidelines.    I feel proud that I have such an active role in the design of learning activities and framework for this project!


At the same time, we are working on researching an issue related to Africa that is reflected in the lit circle book reading.  Students are keeping weekly research reflection blogs (see here or visit here for more information and the handouts).  In addition, students will be posting elements of their traditional research paper and even more on an individual learning portfolio they are creating with Google Sites.   For more details on this part of the project, please see this link .  In addition, you may want to visit the template students will be using to create their learning portfolios in Google Sites so that the reading and research process is transparent. I will be posting links to individual learning portfolios later this week, so stay tuned!

We are actually introducing the research pathfinder for this project on Tuesday, October 13; we wanted to give them a week to get oriented with the literature circle meetings that are held in class every Monday and Thursday before jumping into the research.

Students will be expected to use both traditional as well as social media sources to research their projects; students will also be expected to actively reflect on their research activities and processes through their learning portfolio website and weekly research reflections on their individual blogs.   Mini-lesson that are on tap this week include social bookmarking and Google Reader to help students organize information streams; in addition, students will learn to how to bookmarks for themselves as well as how to share them to the class Diigo group!  We’ll also begin conversations about evaluating information sources, particularly social media sources. I am especially excited about some of the new features in Google News (see my resource page for the upcoming mini-lessons on Google News).

In addition to the traditional research paper elements (which are a district requirement), students will be incorporating multigenre elements into their projects/learning portfolios.  Having done this with my own students as a classroom teacher, I know the process of creating alternative learning artifacts will be one that will stay with the students.  This past year, my summer school students (in the library—I did not teach English classes this past summer) from the previous year lamented the fact they were not getting to create multigenre elements for their research experience (in addition to a paper).   I know that if this stuck with them from a summer school experience, then something powerful is going on.

My Reflections

The whole idea of juggling these two major units of study is to help students have a more connected learning experience and to make connections between reading and writing.  Our work will culminate in a unit on presentation zen to prepare us for face to face presentations to our learning community and hopefully, virtual presentations as well!

In summary, here is a listing of important page links for this project:

The process of designing and creating the resources for this project have been an investment of time, but I feel it has been worth the effort.  The most challenging aspect so far was helping the kids see all the pieces of the assignment puzzle and how they fit together, but everyone now seems to have their bearings.   I  am fortunate that Ms. Lester and I are truly working together as a team—I have been on the road a good bit in recent days with conference travel, but because of the great collaborative relationship we have, classroom life has proceeded smoothly and with no disruptions.

One other management task I did for myself was to add each student blog to my Google Reader and created a folder for each period to make it easier to keep up with reading their individual blogs.  In addition, I am now relying heavily on the class Google Site for posting the daily class agenda (I used the announcement feature in Google Sites); the announcement feature is wonderful because you can embed a widget on for those on any page; you can also attach PDF documents to each day’s agenda so kids can easily backtrack any handouts to a particular class date. This ties into the creation of a document library in Google Sites; this is a feature I highly recommend and that I will be incorporating more on a regular basis soon as I transition our library website from Wikispaces to Google Sites!

There are only two somewhat frustrating challenges I am facing with the project right now.   Like anyone else, we need more hours in the day!  I so wish we were on a block schedule—it would dovetail perfectly with our project-based/inquiry approach we are taking for the project.  Secondly, I have not been successful yet in getting permission for students to access YouTube or iTunes on library computers, but I will continue to submit my “petition” to get these resources in the hands of the students during the school day.  In the meantime, we will explore alternate sources for podcasts, and I will show students alternate video resources to supplement YouTube.

This past Monday, I received an email from one of our students.  She had dropped a line to send me the link to her group’s literature circle site, but she also included this note:

By the way, I really am enjoying this research project/essay assignment. I think it is a great and creative way to learn about another culture while also incorporating research skills that will be valuable to us in the future.  Thanks!

I am hopeful that by offering students choice and plenty of scaffolding for the learning activities, they will be engaged learners who will begin cultivating personal learning networks that will carry over into future research endeavors.   I will be collecting some formative assessment the next two weeks, and I am looking forward to sharing my finds in about two weeks with you on that front.

One last addition that I will be attempting to better document for the remainder of the semester is the embedding of AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner.  I will be referring to the benchmarks and using the lesson plan/action plan template in Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action that I just got a few weeks from AASL.  If you don’t have this book, I highly recommend you purchase it for your school and/or personal professional collection–I am rather enamoured right now of the resources available in this book to help me better implement and document the teaching of the AASL standards.  I’ll be blogging soon about how I plan to use the tools in this book on a larger scale and as an integral part of my monthly reports (I’ll be keeping a lesson/unit plan for each collaborative project with each teacher, and that documentation/template will be incorporated into the monthly report!); I encourage you to watch for that blog post sometime in the next week or so.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my wonderful conference experiences of the last two weeks, but I am looking forward to being back with the students and incorporating some of the terrific ideas I have gained from those conference experiences with my Media 21 students as well as my other classes!