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:
For the last month or so, I’ve been working with a section of Honors 9th Language Arts (hopefully, another more comprehensive post coming on this endeavor later in the spring). After completing a class study of To Kill a Mockingbird, the students selected a motif of choice and began presearching a topic of choice related to the motif. After completing a presearch search term map and arriving at a narrowed topic (which I’ve blogged about earlier this semester), we moved forward with another and more focused round of presearch while using EasyBib to capture information sources and take notes. After approximately two and a half weeks, most students had a body of notes on their focused topic. However, after many 1:1 student conferences and a formative assessment of collecting and reading their notes, the teacher and I realized many students were struggling with:
1. Recording relevant information from their information sources.
2. Taking notes in “bite-sized” portions.
3. Being discerning about information that would help them go beyond merely reporting and instead, help them dig into the higher level thinking and questions that we wanted to anchor their inquiry.
After addressing some of these challenges with a mini-lesson and small group or individual conferences, we felt the students needed a more concrete way of discovering the patterns of information as well as the gaps in their notes. We asked students to print out their e-notes from EasyBib and gave them supplies (Sharpies, markers, large/oversized sticky notes) to help them map out the information they had collected up to that point in their notes. We discussed some strategies for identifying major topics and subtopics as well a sample mindmap of notes. Students were assigned a working area with a partner so that they had a “research buddy” to help them think through their process as needed and worked on their maps about a day and a half.
We wanted the class to have an opportunity to look at their peers’ maps and provide feedback; we knew our students would need a little scaffolding to provide meaningful peer feedback, so we took a few minutes to review their peer review activity guidelines with them. We spread out the maps and placed pads of lined sticky notes at each table of notes mindmaps. We asked students to write their feedback on these sticky notes and to include their name, their feedback, and the feedback category number (see the handout embedded below). We discussed ideas for meaningful feedback (including a list of idea/conversation starters) that were numbered so that they could include the “feedback category” ID number on the sticky note as an extra layer of clarification.
As students walked around giving feedback, we also instructed them to keep a running record of the maps they were reviewing and quick notes about what they were seeing (see page 2 of the document embedded above).
We initially thought the students could complete the activity in 12-15 minutes, but in spite of our best efforts to be proactive, we had about a quarter of the class that had difficulty staying on task, participating, or making a legitimate effort to provide meaningful feedback. Because our studio space had been reserved for another activity the following day, we had to adjust our plans to complete the activity in the teacher’s classroom, a space that really was not conducive to the activity or an ideal learning environment for this kind of activity. However, we had no choice, so we had to adjust as best we could. I hung some of the maps on whatever wall space I could find; for the rest of the maps, I had students place desks together in pairs and utilized that surface space for the remaining maps. We thought they could complete feedback within another ten minutes, but some of the very same behavior issues that plagued us the day before were again problematic even after we enlisted the assistance of an assistant principal to conference with some of the students outside of class as part of our efforts to address the previous day’s issues. However, we stayed the course and tried to redirect students as needed so that we could get as much helpful peer review for everyone as possible.
Once we brought the peer review to a close, students paired up once again with their research buddy and used the Making Thinking Visible learning structure of Compass Points to help students reflect on the mindmapping process and peer review activity. Each pair received a graphic organizer to complete their ideas they were to share and discuss.
After having 5-7 minutes to discuss and record their observations and ideas, we asked each pair to do a quick share of their notes with the large group. Students noted effective map organization strategies as well as what constituted “good” or quality information from the notes in the maps. However, many students noticed that quite a few maps lacked depth of information; others noted that better organization was needed in structuring topics and subtopics. In spite of some of the challenges we encountered, we felt most students truly benefitted from the mapping activity itself as well as the peer review.
When we returned from spring break, we returned maps to the students along with the sticky note feedback others gave from the peer review activity. We then asked students to think about what they had in their notes and maps that was helpful and what was missing. Students then had the class period to complete two thinking/reflection exercises:
1. The question lenses activity that I borrowed last semester from my friend Heather Hersey (and blogged about; also see Sarah Ludwig’s awesome adaptation of this thinking exercise–I would have totally done her version if we had more time in our schedule for this project). We framed this thinking exercise as a way of addressing gaps or “struggle areas” of their mindmaps and as a means of thinking about next steps for our new round of additional research for the week.
2. They then had time to complete mindmapping reflection questions via a Google Survey embedded in the project LibGuide.
We collected the hard copies of the question lens activity; I downloaded the responses from the Google Sheet as an Excel spreadsheet and then ran a mail merge so that the teacher and I both had easy to read hard copies of the student responses. Common feedback ran along the lines of these statements:
I’m happy the mindmapping activity and peer review provided students the opportunity to wrestle with their notes and the information they had gathered during our first round of presearch. My hope was that the process would nudge their thinking because it was clear within the first few days of working with the students that they were used to reporting information as opposed to researching, a distinction my colleagues who blog at Letting Go have made in previous posts. I know that for some students, the uncertainty and our pushing them to think more deeply beyond shallow, surface level work has been uncomfortable, but we have tried to give them as much support as we can to help them develop new strategies and resilience in this inquiry focused project. I think it is especially important with freshmen to provide and scaffold these kinds of learning experiences, particularly if they have had few or no opportunities to develop these kinds of information literacy skills and processes.
Their teacher and I are proud nearly every student has either had the confidence and persistence to move forward this past week wherever they have been on the spectrum of the quality and depth of their work. Several have regrouped and have been digging in to act on the next steps they identified from their insights and reflections on their work. It takes grit on the part of students, teachers, and librarians to grapple with these kinds of challenges, but it is so gratifying to see the individual growth and forward momentum for each student. They are now starting to sketch out their multigenre products, and we’ll be moving forward with creating those artifacts and the supporting notes narratives/compositions.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This past Friday I was lucky to sit down and get insightful feedback from Linda Katz’s 6th period AP Literature students who have been one of our pilot groups using pre-search term mapping strategies and Think Puzzle Explore as part of our deeper approach to pre-search and our efforts to help our students and faculty take a more inquiry-oriented stance on research. I think you will be awed by the insights and honesty of these four students; many thanks for their valuable and feedback as we co-learn with and from them. If you are thinking about trying these strategies, this firsthand feedback will be incredibly helpful for you. We hope to have some additional interviews to share with you here on the blog later this week!
Links of Interest
Earlier this week, I shared how we used Think, Puzzle, Explore as a fun and meaningful learning structure to ignite student interest in a topic and to build prior knowledge as we started a unit of study on sustainability with 11th grade AP students. Those of you who work at the high school level and with AP courses know that carving out sufficient time for research projects can be a challenge when so much of the course hinges on the AP courses as well as other state or district assessments administered in the spring of the year. We know that helping teachers feel comfortable in devoting more in-class time for research projects often happens in baby steps; like many of you, we always are excited when we co-plan a research unit and are able to incorporate learning activities we know will grow students’ information literacy skills.
As we negotiate concerns and tensions about budgeting time and the constraints that inform those challenges, we also have conversations about how to slow down inquiry processes. How can we provide students time and opportunity to dwell, wrestle, and grow as searchers who can develop effective strategies and techniques for finding information and using that information to narrow a topic? How do we help students learn techniques for cropping and focusing a topic area? While we have been advocates for pre-search for a long time, we are excited that we seem to be getting more of our fellow teachers excited about this aspect of research and inquiry processes as well.
In reflecting on our inquiry work with Sarah Rust last semester, I wondered if there might be a better way to get kids to think more intentionally about their search terms and to build some prior knowledge for an initial round of topic focus prior to the work with modified KWLs and annotating I’ve done during pre-search and then mindmapping with both Sarah and other projects I did with teachers while at Creekview High in the past. After revisiting the work of my colleague Tasha Bergson-Michelson and a great post from friend and colleague Carolyn Foote, I decided to adapt Tasha’s search strategy mapping technique for our sustainability research unit with Linda Katz and Elizabeth Hollis. After running my ideas by Jennifer and doing a little brainstorming together, we decided we would adapt Tasha’s technique to help students map their first round of pre-search strategies to help them find a path to a more focused topic area of sustainability. I actually went through the process and worked for about two and a half hours off and on doing search and creating a model I could use as a think aloud with students this week on the first day of formal instruction in the library. I began with the topic of urban garden (food sustainability) and wound my way to a more focused topic of food justice. My first version I did in a freehand fashion, but I replicated it using Mindmeister to show students what their maps might look like if they used a free online mindmapping tool. I felt it was important to draft models related to their area of study and that would hopefully be accessible to our students. Here are my drafts:
This past Monday, I modeled the process for students each period while sprinkling in some search strategies and tips for specific databases; this part of the lesson took about 10-12 minutes. I showed them how I began by skimming and scanning 3-4 articles from sources like databases, search engines, and TED videos. For each place I searched, I noted key vocabulary words, terms, and concepts that seemed important and/or new to me. I showed them how I then incorporated new terms into my running list of search terms/phrases I was trying out and how that helped me discover new articles. I shared how my discovery process kept building on each search effort and what I was getting from the reading and how that led me from a topic of urban gardening to a more focused topic of food justice.
We encouraged students to skim and scan at least three articles from three sources to find vocabulary, terms, and concepts that could help them grow their search terms; just as I had done in the think aloud modeling, I told them to keep a running list of search terms/phrases they were trying . Because we did not want to overstructure the mapping process, we told students to not worry about citation or identifying specific articles or web resources although they certainly could capture permalinks/bookmarks/URLs for resources that seemed notable. We provided students plain and colored paper (they love choices) as well as Sharpies for those who wanted them. We made sure students also had access to digital and hard copies of my drafts so they had a tangible model to see once we finished the lesson. While we were not able to secure the same timeline Tasha uses with this approach, students did have a day and half to work on the maps in the library (the submission deadline established by the teachers was the end of class on Tuesday) although some students might have benefited from an additional half or full day to work on their search and maps. We, along with the classroom teachers, told students to use Monday evening to try and make progress on their maps and search as well.
Yesterday, we spent the entire period with Katz’s classes since she was away due to a death in her family. We were available to answer students’ questions or to serve as a sounding board when they wanted feedback or needed to think through their ideas; Ms. Hollis interacted with her students in the same way. Since Jennifer and I had not worked with Katz’s students prior to this project, we felt we needed them to also complete some sort of quick reflection on their search/mapping work to submit with their maps. We devised a “lightning reflection” to help students to share a little of their process and to help us better understand what we might be seeing in their pre-search strategy maps:
We asked students in each of Katz’s classes to complete this form and then attach it to the mapping work they had completed at the end of class yesterday. Jen and I then struggled to think about an effective yet fast way to give them some helpful feedback today since we had anticipated returning the maps either today or Thursday. After much trial and error (and some additional revising to add some comment checkboxes related to the search term notes—we noticed after assessing one set of student work, some students were noting more facts than terms and vocabulary, and it was time consuming to write the comment repeatedly), we crafted this form thinking the checklist and “green, yellow, red” status indicators would help students think about next steps in class this week.
After looking at their green reflection sheets and maps, I spent this morning completing the feedback form and providing written comments as needed. Jen assisted me in this process, and we enjoyed seeing patterns of their thinking as well as gaps as looking at student work helps us to better understand what students know at this point and where they may need additional help or instruction.
Ms. Hollis was able to share these completed forms with Katz’s afternoon classes today and start a conversation about the feedback that Jennifer and I will finish tomorrow as we help the students more forward with additional pre-search now that most have come to a point where they have narrowed their topic and can continue searching and gathering information before they do some mindmapping of what they have found. We also plan to share some of the exemplar work with students tomorrow to both celebrate the interesting ideas and thinking of our students while giving those who might need more scaffolding some additional models to examine. You can see a sampler of these exemplar maps embedded below:
While we will probably do a little fine-tuning with our next efforts, but overall we are very pleased with the quality of work and thinking we saw from our students! We’re excited that this strategy worked the way we hoped it would and impressed by how the students used the strategy to move from Point A to B in a thoughtful and more deliberate way with their search strategies and terms/phrases. It was also exciting to “feel” the student interest in their topics and their discovery process as some of them made some really interesting moves from broad topics to more focused subtopics. We cannot wait to see where they go next as they refine these newly focused topics! If you are using this technique or something similar, we’d love to hear how you are incorporating it into inquiry and research processes with classes.