As I began drafting my first blog post, my weather app began showing snowflakes for the upcoming week. Snow warnings are not an infrequent occurrence, but my town usually does not get anywhere near the predicted amounts of snow and often we end up with no snow at all. Not this time. Snow started falling on Monday and we ended with 8-10 inches of snow and ice across our town. As a mid-sized Southern city we are not prepared for this level of winter and the city basically shut down. Last week was spent at home, all appointments canceled, and a total of 6 school days were canceled. Coming so soon after our winter holidays, the extended break was not “needed,” but I did appreciate the slow days and ability to leisurely finish planning for this year’s research season. My forced time at home, away from the distractions of my daily work and interruptions, allowed me to reflect on our current research practice and make some plans for improvement.
After six years of splitting my time between the high school and the middle school (and feeling like I was not fully successful in either building), I am now full time in the middle school library. While change is always hard — and not always something that we choose — I am embracing the opportunities that I have to lay a strong foundation for information literacy and research skills. My previous interactions with students were often limited to a few one shot info lit instructions, with an extra lesson or two during research time. Students often viewed me as the one who popped in to tell them not to plagiarize, but not as a true partner in the learning process. This year, I am able to change that perception.
During the 2023 fall semester, I focused on working with our 6th grade team across the curriculum on a variety of lessons. We talked about everything from the basics of the internet (what is the difference between a browser and a search engine?) to where to find our library databases to how to write a citation. A lot of this work built upon the knowledge they received in lower grades so I was not starting from scratch. As their research project begins in earnest around the middle of February, I scheduled a few more lessons for foundational work with the research process.
The other two grade levels start their research projects this week. Both projects are familiar ones and I have supported the classes in the work over the years. I am looking forward to more daily involvement with the classes and the opportunity to have small groups and one-on-one work as needed. We planned staggered start dates beginning last week, to give both the students and myself time to work together over the course of a few days, but our snow event has compressed that schedule.
Small group work is the new piece for this year’s projects. With almost 9 weeks to work on the various steps of the projects, I have time to meet with students in groups of four or five to fine tune keywords and to record the first two sources. I plan to share a digital copy of the form below via Google Docs so that I (and the teachers) can see the work completed. We will also use Noodletools for the citations and notecards so instruction for that part will be woven into our sessions. Most of the 7th and 8th graders have used Noodletools on previous projects so my work will be mostly a refresher session. Using a shared document with a rubric will allow both the classroom teacher and me to see the work in real time and provide guidance as needed. As we move through the project the small group work will change as we approach new milestones.
This has been a year of change in ways that I did not seek out or anticipate. Embracing these opportunities means that I am more deeply involved in the classrooms and can make a stronger impact on my students’ learning. As we move through these projects I look forward to finding new ways to improve my work with students! I would love to hear more ideas about how you connect with students during the research process.