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.

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.


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.

tok2 tok3 tok4


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 consistently 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.




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).


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:

Battledecks: It’s Not Just for Librarians!


The Challenge 

A few weeks, IB History of the Americas teacher and one of our regular collaborative partners Dan Byrne came to us with a challenge:  he needed his students to research different nationalist movements and revolutions as well as present their findings to their peers.  The dilemma?  His students were suffering a severe case of early onset SENIORITIS.  He needed a way to challenge the students with their presentation format and skills yet avoid crafting lengthy PowerPoints that were primarily an exercise in boring regurgitation.

After some thought, my solution was a modified form of Battledecks, the legendary form of “PowerPoint Karaoke” that has been especially popular in library conference circles.   Drawing on my own experience as a participant, watching others, and some great advice from fellow librarian Andy Woodworth, I pitched the idea to Dan.   After some initial conversation, we worried a true Battledecks might be a little overwhelming for their first effort; in addition, Jen and I were worried about prepping slidedecks for three classes even though the presentations were going to be shorter than a typical Battledecks sesssion.    After a little research, I found a modified version from teacher Tom Woodward that seemed to be the perfect balance of creative thinking and enough structure to push our students but not send them over a cliff.

Processes and Procedures

Our rules were as follows:

Byrne Battledecks Instructions and Sample Slides March 2015

I decided to expand my photo pool (shared with students via Google Drive and the link was posted to Dan’s course page) to 45 images since I was worried presentations could get a little stale with a smaller photo pool for three classes.  After explaining the purpose, guidelines, and a sample slidedeck with students, they were off and running.

Because students had already distilled their research into a poster, they had a great starting point for pulling out the big ideas and details they wanted to convey through the image based slides.    We also gave our students a little more prep time with two days total for introduce the concept, to craft slides, and to do a little individual rehearsal.  On Day 2, students completed a quick reflection via Google Forms; this survey also served as a database to help me generate individualized scoresheets thanks to good old-fashioned mail merge.  Finally, we gave the students the option of using a notecard if they needed a “safety net” to help them although we had quite a few who either used no notecards or who barely glanced at them because they had done such a great job creating their presentations and remembering the details based on the images they chose.

For assessment, we borrowed from our ACRL colleagues and developed these evaluation guidelines:

  • Content and Credibility: did it make any sense, did you highlight the key events about your topic, accuracy of facts
  • Poise and Gesture
  • Flow: minimal pauses and stammering
  • Audience Response
  • Creativity: how well did you connect your talking points to your image choice? (bonus points for connections to images that clearly are not an easy connection)

We assessed students on a scale 0-5 in each of these areas and took notes as students presented.  Students were also asked to jot down a few notes or a big takeaway for each presentation; Dan provided these feedback strips to students.

Students presented over approximately 2.5 days; presentations were uploaded to the course dropbox in D2L, the district course platform, so students can download them and present easily for the most part.   We drew for names, so the presentation order was random, and each period a student assisted us as official timekeeper.  Overall, we were pleased with the work and performance of the classes as well as the atmosphere of support students gave each other. Each day we awarded a tiara and wand to the most interesting presentation from each class period.


Student/Teacher Feedback and Next Steps

Students were generally very enthusiastic about the Battledecks presentation, and many expressed they would like to do a “true” version of it after our spring break as part of their end of review.   While some students shared they would like to do a true Battledecks individually, others thought it would be fun to do it with a partner or to even have a version where they play off each other in pairs and one participant gets eliminated.  Others shared they would not feel comfortable participating in a true Battledecks presentation but would want to help out in some way.  Most students liked the pool of images and having that pre-selected as well as a mix of abstract and unorthodox photos to work with rather than finding the images themselves.  While most students indicated they liked the larger photo pool, others felt the challenge element would have been greater with a smaller photo pool.  Overall, the student response was incredibly positive and many shared they felt it was a great creative stretch for them that was fun and meaningful.  Check out what Dan has to say about the Battledecks learning experience in the short video below:

Other teachers who have heard about this activity are now planning on using this strategy as a way of having students jigsaw and share information.  It’s a great presentation structure that is flexible and can be adapted as a formative or summative learning performance.    We are looking forward to helping Mr. Byrne and his student stage an authentic Battledecks later this spring and sharing that with you.

Conversation 3: Student Reflections on Inquiry, Choice, Participatory Learning, Information, and Digital Literacy

Last week, we held a large group share/think/brain dump/reflect session with our Media 21 students over a series of four days after students completed initial written self-assessment and summative reflections.  This video is the first of a series of conversations in which students share their summative reflections about their experiences in a collaboratively taught English course by Susan Lester, English teacher, and Buffy Hamilton, school librarian in 2011-2012.    I’d like to thank our students for their willingness and permission to share with a global audience as well as their participation in these conversations.   While these are lengthy conversations, I hope the thoughts and insights they share will be helpful to other teachers, librarians, students, administrators, and community members in thinking about the possibilities of learning and libraries and the potential of the collaborative partnerships we can forge.  I’ll be following up this series of video conversations with a written post highlighting the insights, reflections, and self-assessments shared by our students.

In this discussion, Ella and Cynda discuss information literacy standards they’ve mastered, how participatory learning has built their confidence as students, and the decisions behind their multigenre, transmedia learning products.   You can see Ella and Cynda’s work by clicking  here.