Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

Collaboration has become the magic “c” word, recently. Everyone wants to do it. Everyone wants to hire someone who can do it. “Collaborative” has become code for “team-player;” “positive;” “adaptable.” The idea that you can sit down with a teacher from another department, and enhance a lesson together is a powerful one, and it fits so nicely with our school-librarian-goals that it’s become one of our major focuses. Collaboration between the library and other departments is no longer an option; it’s a requirement of the job.

This past Friday, I finished up a project with a library colleague and an English teacher, and it’s served as a great reminder: as important as the collaboration is the evaluation that comes after it. Being willing to try new things is only the first part of the challenge– next comes looking at what you did and figuring out what you could have done better.

The Project

Back in October, the head of our English Department came to me and said that he wanted to find a way to encourage fun-but-active reading with his students; to let them read something they enjoyed, while making sure they were actually reading.

Well. Reading and the library? This was a match destined for greatness.

Book groups! Book groups were the thing to ensure the student were work-ing. Take fun-reading, add self-regulation, and shake with a liberal helping of group work and bingo bango, here’s your active-fun-reading-experience. And because I was fresh from Annual and floating on a lot of great presentations, we decided to add a multimedia-tech aspect to the end: 90 Second Newberys. A great opportunity to let the kids have a bit of fun, while making sure they read and took enough to put a script together. And Bonus Gold Star Sticker: it offered a great chance for the kids to use their iPads for class.

We started with a book tasting. My last post talked a bit about how the great thing with middle schoolers is that they’re willing to play along with the gag, and our wonderful 7th graders did not disappoint. Soft lighting, Kenny G playing through the Smartboard speakers for ambiance, table cloths and cafe menus transformed our reading room into Cafe Katz, home of great literature and wonderful prix fixe meals.

Using a QR-code linked Google form and their iPads, students rated each book on a scale of 1 (I would NEVER read this) to 5 (Give me a copy right now!) This way the teacher had multiple options for each student, and could assign groups based on interest without letting the kids cluster together with just their friends. (They like to do that, you may have noticed.)


The Debriefing

Over the course of two months the students read their books in groups, discussed, wrote a script, filmed it, edited it, and showed off their awesome films. On Friday we had a mini film festival, complete with popcorn and comfy chairs. It was like seeing a painting come together after months of work, or tasting a cookie baked fresh from a complicated recipe.

And just like biting into a cookie and thinking “Hey, next time, I’ll add cranberries,” good collaboration requires a debriefing; gathering feedback, discussing what went on, and evaluating what you’re going to do different next time.


Ask the Kids

Kids are great resources. They’re generally honest, want to be heard, and love pointing out when adults have done something wrong. Plus they’ve bearing the brunt of whatever program you and your partners put together– giving them input is imperative.

Our students reported:

-Time management issues– “It was hard to find the time to meet together as a group to record/edit/discuss outside of class.”

-Scheduling issues- “We didn’t space out the reading well enough.”

-Technical issues- “Recording stuff on the iPads has its challenges.”


Ask the Adults

After the kids had run to their next class, we took a half hour or so to sit and talk with the English teacher we’d partnered with. Together with my coworker Ashley Landry (who’s amazing and currently a one-year replacement; I envy whichever library is fortunate enough to hire her next year), the three of us came up with our own list:

-Technical issues- Getting the kids to email the video or bring it in the day before class for a dry run would help cut down on last minute oopsies, and give the kids a chance to see how their finished product looked and sounded.

-Book choice- Our books were chosen because we had enough of them on hand between the library and the classrooms, but that meant not every book was the same page length, difficulty level, etc. Better curated choices would help.

-Tighter scheduling- We left a lot of things up to the students; we let them set their own reading goals, plan their own timetables, and manage their own schedule. Kids are kind of bad at that. A bit more overseeing might not be a bad idea.

-iMovie- The students put their movies together in iMovie. We did a quick tutorial before we got started, but that might not have been enough. In the future, we’re thinking of doing a dedicated one to two class session just for editing, with librarians on hand for assistance.


Ask Yourself

So, Self, what would you have done differently?


-More examples– The kids could have benefited from more example videos, scripts, etc. and from a heads up about certain pitfalls (e.g. recording audio on the iPads is hard; good sound effects can make or break a movie; everyone else in the class has access to the iMovie stock screens and audio– use something else to really make your movie pop.)

-Different timing- A project this big that gets split in half by winter break? Yeah, no. Let’s plan that differently next time.

-More troubleshooting before hand- The iPads are great, but they provide new tech challenges. For example: importing video from the camera into iMovie used to be a snap, until the new iOS came out. This would have been good to know before I went to give the classroom demo on how to do it and found out it worked for one out of ten kids. (A good lesson to remember when doing tech demos: technology gets stage fright. Always have a back-up plan.)

Next Time

With the stamp of “This Was Great!” approval from our teacher-collaborator-in-crime in hand, there will definitely be a next go-around for this project. He’s been a wonderful advocate for the library among his colleagues, and we’ve already had a few teachers reach out to us about doing similar projects together. And with the experience of the last couple of months firmly in mind, our next project will be even better.

Good projects are like good governing documents– they have to live; to grow and to change and improve with age and tweaking. And the better you can make them through experience and reflection, the better the quality of your input the next time a teacher sits down across from you and says “So, I want to do…”

6 thoughts on “Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

  1. Nice post, Clair. I’ve found that the De-Briefing element of the project is vital, but it’s also the part that often gets left in the dust as we rush on to the next crazy activity. Thanks for the reminder that project evaluation is key to creating a better project.

  2. You’ve given me some wonderful ideas for our grades 7-12 school, Clair. We’ve done “speed dating with books” with our World History classes, which helps students decide quickly the books to use for their research. I like the tasting activity as a substitute for book talks, which we rarely, if ever, get to do in classes. I’m thinking of a lunchtime activity in our downstairs reading room. Thanks so much for a great post!

  3. Clair, nice to read this at home while I deal with the flu. And even though this was happening right in my own library, it is nice to hear your reflection on the process so you and the teacher can work to make it better and tighter for next year.

    I’m having my own moment with the huge 9th grade project I do that is spaced out over three months to accommodate all of the history classes. After this year I will never again allow any of the groups to break their assignment over winter break. It just doesn’t work. For the groups who are in that moment, I think it’s been really difficult to get momentum going again, especially when we tell them that they shouldn’t feel compelled to work on the project over break. When my last sections are done with the project at the end of January, I will ask the nine teachers with whom I collaborated to have a debriefing while it is all still fresh. This way we can avoid the break issue and other pitfalls next year, including continuing to tweak this massive research undertaking. Considering it is one of the few moments in their Upper Division career that I get to work with every student in the grade, I’d like to make sure that we make the process as rewarding as possible.

  4. This is James Kennedy, the curator of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. I’m thrilled you did the 90-Second Newbery as a class project, and I’m glad to hear it was rewarding!

    Any chance of you uploading your movies to YouTube or Vimeo or whatever? I’d love to feature them on my blog and perhaps even show them at the upcoming 90SN screenings in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Tacoma!

  5. This is a great reminder, Clair, of the value of the de-brief — which often doesn’t happen despite our best intentions. I find myself in similar situations frequently and will advocate with teachers for the debrief as a valuable tool for each of us in improving program delivery. Thank you!

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