I was tempted, but this blog was not written by AI or any Chatbox, one who loves me or not. But this piece is all about AI and its implications for librarians and education. It seems we can expect a flood of texts written by AI from now on. The question is how reliable will they be? Will the program pull from authoritative sources?
As of now, AI has no access to the “invisible internet” of database resources or print books that have not been digitized. Nor, does it have materials uploaded after 2021. When these programs scan sources, how will they determine the value of the sites? Just look for similar language and phrases? These questions have important consequences: for example, a recent Nature article noted that scientists were fooled by such texts.
The increasing usage and acceptance of AI, presents challenges and new opportunities. Perhaps the most important skill or students will need going forward will be to assess the accuracy and relevance of texts. Yesterday, for example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program announced that it would accept AI generated material if cited properly. Matt Glanville observed that “When AI can essentially write an essay at the touch of a button, we need our pupils to master different skills, such as understanding if the essay is any good or if it has missed context, has used biased data or if it is lacking in creativity.” So, assessing content will be vital. Granville states, “These will be far more important skills than writing an essay, so the assessment tasks we set will need to reflect this.” This approach is fine as long as students have time in school and home, to acquire this content in the age of distraction.
Emphasizing skills rather than content has become a trend lately. Memorizing facts is seen as boring and unnecessary. The idea being students should learn the skills to “do” history and science like the professionals.. Content could be learned later, or just by “googling” something as the need arose But if you don’t have a solid foundation of basic facts, how you can judge the credibility of AI-generated content? Will readers take the time to assess each fact? Of course, these demands were present with human-generated content, but now the need is greater. Perhaps it will help that the National Council of Teachers of English is placing greater emphasis on reading nonfiction.
Of course, the role of librarians is clear: acquire and highlight noteworthy, human-authored background content and nonfiction so that students can build this important reservoir of background knowledge when they encounter new texts, regardless of who or what created it. Encourage the idea that reading for information can be fun, especially if connected with previous knowledge and interesting facts. It will be essential in a world dominated by texts produced in 5 minutes by AI.
For me, the third quarter of the school year is my Research Season. Teachers of course assign small research projects all year long, and I work with them on most of those, but this time of year is when we do the big US History Research Paper. This is the biggest research project that many of our students do in their high school careers, and it is also the project where I get to collaborate the most with the teachers who teach it. Each year, we take a look at the results from the previous year, and what we’ve learned in professional development opportunities that year, and make any changes to the process that we think will help our students learn the process of research better. We’ve been tweaking this project together, year by year, for 7 years now, and here are 2 recent changes that we feel have made a positive impact.
The Synthesis Matrix
For a several years we tried to incorporate an annotated bibliography into the project, but the students never quite understood it or it’s place in the research process. Students would find things that had something to do with their topic in order to write the annotated bibliography entry, but when they started actually writing the paper, they would often need to find all new sources because they weren’t paying attention to how the sources answered their research questions. Then, in 2021 at the AASL conference, I attended a session that talked about using a synthesis matrix as an alternative to an annotated bibliography. We added it to the project last winter with great success.
In a synthesis matrix, you place the research questions or themes in the top row, and then add each source down the side of the grid. For each source, you answer how it fits each of the research questions/themes across the top, leaving a blank if that source doesn’t fit one of your questions. Our students create their synthesis matrix as soon as we start looking for sources and fill it in as we go. If a source is blank across all of their questions, they discard that source and keep looking. It helps students see right away that just because a source talks about the Civil War doesn’t mean that it’s useful for their specific research. It also helps them see which of their research questions aren’t addressed with the sources they have so that they can tailor their future searches for those questions. As a personal bonus, I end up with fewer freaked-out students who suddenly don’t have enough sources the day before the paper is due.
Free Research Goals + 1 Minute of Knowledge
Both of the following tips came from the AISL community in some way, and they go hand-in-hand. Shoutout to Erinn Salge, who got this tip from Dave Wee and then shared it on the list-serv – every time you have students do free research in class, set a goal for students to reach by the end of class. You could do this as an exit ticket, or like Erinn you could work with teachers to add it into the classroom participation for the day. I usually just have students tell me something they found. For example, in 2 recent biography projects, students had to tell me an interesting fact about their chosen person at the end of class.
For the US history research paper, I’ve combined this with the 1 minute goal from William Badke’s Research Strategies, a book that several of us read together last spring in a discussion group (it’s worth a read, though none of us agreed with everything Badke says). Badke points out that you need a working knowledge of a topic before you can dive in to full-on research, and a rule of thumb for what constitutes working knowledge is to be able to talk about a topic for 1 minute without repeating yourself. Today, we are exploring possible topics for the US history paper, and students are reading reference sources about whatever topic/s they’re interested in. The students’ daily goal is to be able to talk about their potential topic to a partner for 1 minute; if they run out of things to say, they know that they need to read a bit more. This is all taking place before students even turn in their topic proposals, so by the time we start looking for primary sources, students should have a decent working knowledge of their topic.
Today kicks off National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–and provides me, at least, with the chance to think about readers and writers–consumers and producers of books and information. In my past life as a liaison librarian at research universities the cycle of information literacy felt like a complete process. I taught a lot of undergraduate classes about finding, evaluating, and citing information (just like I do with my upper school students now), but I also worked with graduate students and faculty on publishing, sharing research, and scholarly conversations. We displayed research products, had sessions on metrics and predatory journals and lots more. The students and faculty I worked with readily saw themselves as creators as well as consumers of information. And they knew that the two were not separate or transactional, but an ongoing conversational process. As I prepped the library/writing support collaboration for NaNoWriMo, I realized that the information cycle feels very incomplete and spotty most of the time, and November is a great time to start to make it complete.
Like last year, our Writing Support teacher is hosting writing time during lunch in the library each day of November. I’ve built a collaborative spreadsheet where our participating students and faculty can log their writing throughout the month by day, time, and word count, and earn badges to mark their achievements–like hitting various word counts, writing 5 days in a row, attending the lunchtime writing blocks, etc. The library also has a display for the month that features books that were drafted or begun from NaNoWriMo projects. These are all pieces to support more of the creative (and creation) process for our community. I also plan to host a session on ways to share their work as we arrive at the end of the month so students can think about how to put their work into the world, and also how to think about intellectual property and copyright from the creators’ side of the desk.
I’m excited for the opportunity to work with our students as creators, and yet, it reminds me how infrequently I do this throughout the year. Some of the limitations for completing the information cycle are structural–I only get to work with classes when faculty invite me, and only have the time they allot. I regularly remind faculty that I can work with them and students on all parts of the research process and anything involving the using or sharing of information, but I still only get class time to talk about finding sources and citing them. Another structural piece is that the artifacts of student work go directly to the teachers and there is not a tradition yet for sharing those products beyond the classroom except in the arts. That said, opportunities exist–some initial work with our visual arts department has (hopefully) opened the door to more opportunities to work with students as creators. Our student publications are yet another way to work with students where they do see themselves as creators or information. These opportunities may be just the wedge in the door to help faculty see the possibilities to collaborate and inform their students about how knowledge is produced and shared in their disciplines, and how students can contribute their voices to the conversation.
For now, I’ll be focused on our creative writers who see that the works they read influence the stories they want to tell, and who already know their voices belong in the world.
Welcome to a new school year! This post, despite its title, is a cheerful (hopefully cheering?) look at changes still underway….
Show of hands: How many of you have returned to this year only to discover a new wave of changes to your program?
I may be the only one with my hand in the air, but I doubt it.
This week the ten-month-contract educators all returned to my school. Like many other schools, we have had a lot of shifting around: some new elements to our schedule and some new teachers; switching up who is teaching what class and changing out class deans, not to mention transitioning who is the lead teacher for any given class.
Amid this refresh, we have been discovering quite a few unanticipated changes that are a challenge to our program. For example, some tweaks to the school’s method of orienting new students – in order to avoid too much school time before the year formally begins, a response to the long arm of COVID-driven societal changes – is transforming the way we in the library will meet new students.
Similarly, I have intentionally ended the project that gave me the most relationship-building and instructional time with our 9th graders, the first year upper school students. During our January intersession, each grade-level has a special project. For the nine years I have been at my school, we have had the same (generally speaking) project for our ninth grade, and I have been on the teaching team since day one. During lockdown, the grade level-project was (by necessity) cut from an October-February, 40-50-hour project to being just 6 hours in January. We adapted the curriculum and the expectations, but we really needed to stop trying to figure out how to fit a big thing into a small box. As the newly minted lead of the project, I decided it was time to “murder my darlings” (to quote Arthur Quiller-Couch) and set that project aside altogether.
In doing so, I forfeit many hours of instruction and interaction with our ninth graders. Particularly, hours that colleagues were required to have me in their classrooms to prepare students for the project. Hours that I counted on to introduce the philosophy and basic logistics of upper school research education, not to mention time to interact at length with individual students and their four-person groups. It is a moment of letting go for the greater good. I am trying not to panic.
So – I am heading into this year well aware that there is very little that will be the same as it has been in past years. I have a lot less clarity than I have in about a decade about where my work will be situated in the coming year. All of this sounds very doom and gloom, but really – I am striving to remember – it is very exciting! I always strive to question what I have been doing, look it over, refresh it. It is tiring, but really a chance to question my assumptions, involve my Research TAs in decision-making and curriculum formulation, and learn. Well…here is my opportunity.
The truth is, I always have many more skills I want to teach than I will have the opportunity to undertake with students. Since I always have to make hard choices, I am focusing on the chance to pick what I think is most useful to students now, what skills they most need today. Might this year’s ninth graders not get some of the skills that ninth graders got five years ago? Certainly. Will they have a chance to learn something new and deeply relevant? Also, certainly. It is really mostly upside, with a side-order of hustle.
As I am writing, I am realizing that I want to frame conversations with colleagues as an exploration of what today’s students need that is different from past years. Approach with an assumption that change is in the air (as is the opportunity to keep what we have built in the past). It really is an exciting opportunity, now that I think about it.
So, thank you for listening. You have given me the opportunity to think through a scary moment to the excitement underneath.
Where will this year go? Who knows! I look forward to sharing the journey and hope that you will do the same. May you have a meaningful and uplifting new year.
Have you ever picked up a book only to discover at some point that you’ve already read it? I keep telling myself I’m going to stay current with my Goodreads account or try to find that small journal I started several years ago to keep track of books I’ve read. The busier I get the more this task sinks to the bottom of my to-do list, but every so often something jolts me back to reality and I know I really have to get more organized with my ‘have read’ list.
I recently picked up A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, a mesmerizing and meditative tale of time and how we inhabit it. It wasn’t until I was close to the end of the book (about 400 pages in) that the scene where Ruth’s dog is missing and turns up under her porch stirred a distant memory and it was then I realized that I had already read this book—probably about seven years ago if my memory serves me well. Lists are great, don’t get me wrong, but I realize if I had kept that list, I probably wouldn’t have reread this book given all the others in my ‘need to read’ pile. But, oh, what I would have missed by not being immersed once again in a book that brought me so much pleasure and that I’d gladly read again.
Book lists aside, I do, however, keep a list of the professional development I attend, mostly because I like to stay abreast of trends in the field of education and librarianship, and a list helps me keep track of gaps in my knowledge and areas I want to revisit. This summer, I’ve found a number of invaluable PD opportunities that are helping me hit my professional goals for the coming year. So here’s what I’ve added to my PD list so far—perhaps you might find them helpful, as well.
How to Save Ourselves from Disinformation with The New York Times
This webinar, presented by The New York Times, was short but packed with lots of great examples students, especially older ones, will likely be able to relate to. Of particular interest is the segment, “A Conversation With Former Radicals, Caleb Cain and Caolan Robertson” that starts at 2:51 and addresses radicalization that happens through YouTube. Later in the video, comedian Sarah Silverman talks about her perspective on who to follow for the truth. You can watch the entire webinar here:
NewsLit Camp with CNN and the Wall Street Journal
At the top of my list of research skills to focus on this year will be helping my students develop the skills to discern fact from fiction, understand the role disinformation and misinformation plays in the news landscape, as well as the role journalists and a free press plays in our democracy. I attended two of The News Literacy Project’s #NewsLitCamps and found them incredibly informative. Listening to reporters from CNN and the Wall Street Journal gave me personal insight into the challenges facing journalists and the media in reporting controversial and challenging issues. As part of the #NewsLitCamps, the NLP provides participants with an overwhelming array of resources to help put together a meaningful unit on this topic.
In addition to their outreach programming, they are the creators of Checkology, interactive lessons to test your students’ knowledge and understanding of what makes a source credible. These lessons help students develop skills to evaluate reliable sources and information and allow them (and you) to chart their progress. Last year I used their Checkology platform in my New Student Seminar and found the options to have students either work independently or as a group on their tutorials added to its functionality and allowed me to adapt assignments based on what we were covering or was happening in the news at the time. I’m pleased to see they have added a new lesson on Conspiratorial Thinking. Checkology is free and has lots of wonderful educator resources, including their weekly newsletter, The Sift, to keep you up-to-date on relevant media news along with examples of recent misinformation and resources to get the conversation going with your students.They also will connect you with a journalist for a virtual or in-person visit – check out their Newsroom-to-Classroom resources for more information.
Designing for Equity | The Global Online Academy
While my school will be back fully in person next year, I love the flexibility of creating hybrid lessons that I can use to support all of my students. Last year I took part in GOA’s Design Bootcamp and this year I continued with their free Designing for Equity five-day course. Each day we explored ways to disrupt, design, and discuss key elements essential to equitable design: Community, Content, Assessment, and Grading. We explored first-hand accounts, heard teacher and student voices and discussed ways to create a learning environment where all of our students feel welcome and one that encourages them to feel that they belong. I found the resources on grading for equity challenged me to think about what that assigned number really means—to me and especially to my students. I would encourage anyone who struggles with the concept and process of grading to check out Joe Friedman’s Grading for Equity. Readings from it have encouraged me to think more deeply about my grades and evaluate if they: 1) describe a S’s level of mastery, 2) evaluate Ss based on their knowledge, not their environment, history, or behavior, 3) support hope and a growth mindset, and 4) ‘lift the veil’ on how to succeed. Numbers three and four resonate with me as my goals for my students include helping them develop a sense of agency over their own learning and belief in themselves that they are capable of succeeding. This course left me with an extensive reading list which I plan to add to our Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism guide, so stay tuned if you’re interested in exploring more.
ThinkerAnalytix: How We Argue
The homepage on ThinkerAnalytix says it all:
ThinkerAnalytix has partnered with the Harvard Department of Philosophy to help students develop logical thinking skills through the use of argument mapping using the interactive platform Mindmup Atlas. ThinkerAnalytix offers a subscription-based course which a number of our member independent schools use, but there are also lots of free interactive puzzles/ argument maps (referred to as ‘toy arguments’) that you can use to help students master critical thinking skills, effectively communicate their independently formed ideas, and engage in productive discussions taking into account opposing points of view. This two-day workshop was truly inspiring as the sessions were run by teachers at the middle, secondary and university level who currently incorporate argument mapping into their curriculum. Many of the presenters were philosophy majors or faculty who taught philosophy courses and possessed strong argumentation skills. Listening to them makes me regret not having taken any philosophy courses in college—something all of our students would benefit from, as well. I could also see this being a useful complement to the question formulation technique (QFT) I explored in the Right Question Institute’s course on Teaching Students to Ask their Own Primary Source Questions, which I’ll save for another post.
AISL Summer Institute 2021: Incubating Creativity
Last, but definitely not least, my favorite PD this summer was our own AISL Summer Institute 2021: Incubating Creativity hosted by Melinda Holmes at Darlington School, Rome, GA and facilitated by the authors of the book of the same name, Incubating Creativity at Your Library, Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer. While I learned so much from the other PD I did this summer, I think you all can relate to the challenge of being a librarian in a sea of teachers. I’m approaching the learning primarily from the POV of how I can use this knowledge to collaborate with teachers on these skills, while their focus is on how they can incorporate the skills into their curriculum. It’s definitely given me insight into how I might approach future collaborations.
That said, the Summer Institute is great because as colleagues from an academic perspective, we share similar goals to more fully integrate our library program into the curriculum and the academic life of the school. I loved hearing what other folks were doing and appreciated the care that Melinda put into the structure of the day. Although it was virtual, between content sessions we had the opportunity to do stretching with Kate Grantham, slow drawing with Lisa Elchuk, and book art with Michael Jacobs who makes amazing book art for the Darlington School. During the content sessions we explored how we might bring creative programming into our ongoing library programs. I feel blessed to be part of such a creative, committed group of librarians. I’ll leave you with a sampling of some of the brainstorming/planning we accomplished individually and collaboratively.
If, like me, you find yourself having to explain why you’re spending so much of your time off actually enjoying a deep dive into PD this summer, perhaps edX will help—their motto is: “Restless learners change the world” (or at least our little corner of it).
Note: For those of you concerned that all I’m doing is professional development this summer, I would like to put your mind at ease. I have been indulging my newly found love of growing Dahlias, introduced to me by a colleague at work (thanks, Rebecca!). This is my third summer growing them and I’m just beginning to feel like I know what I’m doing. Each year, I learn a little bit more about how to care for them so they can be their best, most beautiful selves. Here are a few blooms from last summer to provide inspiration to my current plants, who hopefully will get the hint and start blooming any week now.
Here’s hoping everyone has a restful, growthful summer!
Recently, my younger child declared I have a new motto. He even put it on a shirt for me:
“When life gives you lemons, write Wikipedia pages about amazing women”
My child observed that I spent the afternoon of January 6, 2021, watching coverage of the insurrection in DC while editing Wikipedia furiously, and that I used editing to manage my worries during other periods of uncertainty over the last year. He is not wrong, but here is how I see it:
From my armchair I tangle with systemic inequities arising from the specific guidelines meant to make Wikipedia “more reliable.”
Even while sheltering in place, I have the ability to broaden the narrative of our nation and our world as it is shaped by a source which is, arguably, a de facto arbiter of truth in our time.
While I have been guiding students in Wikipedia editing lessons since about 2010, I worked primarily with upper elementary and middle school students editing Simple English Wikipedia. When I joined the Castilleja faculty in 2013, I took over a similar project my library director, Jole Seroff, had developed. Along with the project came her notes on gender imbalance among editors and how the skew towards male editors (85% of editors, and something like 91% of all edits) impacted the content we see when we access Wikipedia. A 2011 article in the New York Times noted that who edits impacts the emphasis of the source, comparing a four-paragraph page on friendship bracelets (“A topic generally restricted to teenage girls”) to the much longer page about “something boys might favor” like baseball cards. Setting aside for a moment the gendering of topics, it is notable that today these discrepancies remain:
Similarly, a study released in October 2014, noted that only 15.53% of English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. A number of groups, including WomenInRed, have focused on adding biographies about females, and they count that number rising to 18.79% as of 15 March 2021. Mountains of evidence point to lower number of pages being written about women and topics to do with women, as well as fewer editors adding information and a significantly higher deletion rate of pages about women/women’s issues because the subjects are apparently “not notable” (especially regarding STEM-focused topics).
If the numbers are so grim for women, imagine what inclusion might look like for other individuals and topics related to minoritized identities.
During the 2019-2020 school year some of my high school students became interested in hosting an edit-a-thon, and I decided it was time to actually learn how to edit for real. I attended my first in-person edit-a-thon at a local library in February, and then everything shut down. In June, my students and I decided to host a virtual edit-a-thon for Upper School students, and the real fun began.
In preparation, a number of our school librarian colleagues kindly joined me in an experimental edit-a-thon, which sufficed to demonstrate that I had picked a terrible way to organize my event. However, that afternoon also demonstrated the value of editing in community, as we each noticed different aspects of systemic prejudices in the structure of this venerated source. For example, one of our number is a classroom teacher in an English department, with a specialty in Southeast Asian American Literature. When she decided to work on the page Asian American Literature, another of our number called our attention to the Talk page, where editors discuss issues and challenges that arise in writing the page itself. In addition, due to the very reasonable desire to keep an eye on coverage in specific fields, and point out what work needs to be done, WikiProjects on various topics rate the importance of specific pages under their purview, like this:
…in which WikiProject Literature (that is, people who are interested in Wikiedia’s coverage in the field of literature) rated the Asian American literature page Low-importance.
Similarly, I was reading up on Patricia Roberts Harris. She was the first Black American female: 1. ambassador, 2. cabinet member (third Black American cabinet member overall), 3. dean of a law school, and 4. director of a Fortune 500 corporation. Here is her talk page:
Over time, that original meeting of teachers grew into a weekly editing group. We learn by doing together, and we have learned very well just how hard it is to prove notability for genuinely notable people of color. It was actually in trying to set up a middle school Wikipedia editing project in 2018, covering notable female activists, that I really ran up against to problem of databases containing predominantly-white-perspective sources and the challenges that ensued in finding articles about non-white, non-cis-male individuals. That lesson has held firm as I try to write about women of color and struggle to meet the standard that Wikipedia articles should be “based on reliable, published sources,” meeting Wikipedia’s definition of reliable sources. There is no question that these guidelines are needed so that people do not fill pages with self-promotional material, as often used to happen. However, there is also no question that the guidelines to block self-promotion make it extremely hard to write about many genuinely notable people, as well, especially if they are not media darlings.
As an instructional librarian, I focus on teaching research skills. Therefore, I find joy in digging and in piecing together sources and arguing for their reliability (when necessary), all while avoiding running afoul of Wikipedia’s “No original research” policy. I’ve come to believe strongly in the many benefits of teaching others to edit and editing in community. I now help run three Wikipedia editing groups for: alums from my college, my students and colleagues, and other librarians/teachers.
Editing Wikipedia is a way to:
“Do the work”:
Decolonize your mind – if the only astrophysicist you have spent time thinking about is a LatinX transgender individual, then the picture you have in your head of an astrophysicist will be of a LatinX transgender individual
Make people with minoritized identities discoverable
Create or expand or improve pages that will be seen by millions of people – the least-used page I have worked on has been accessed 14 times since March 1, others have been accessed several thousand times
Give others access to role models – a.k.a.: the perfect gift — I add women to Wikipedia as graduation gifts for young women who might not easily see role models in fields that interest them
Build information literacy skills (for students):
Explore the notion that “authority is constructed and contextual”
Develop a strong sense of what a range of authoritative sources might look like
Synthesize evidence to create a narrative
Practice writing in the register of an encyclopedia
Experience gatekeeping and its impact on knowledge construction
Question why needed systems give rise to systemic prejudice
Encounter systemic racism and other systemic prejudices and begin to understand their prevalence and impact
If you would like to learn more about editing Wikipedia with students or for yourself, please join Corey Baker, Amy Pelman, Linda Swarlis, and myself at the upcoming AISL conference on April 9 for “Equity through Editing: Contributing to Wikipedia for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom,” or reach out to any of us for more information.
This year, our school’s annual, 40+ hour, 5-month-long, co-curricular project with our ninth graders took place over six hours during the first week of January.
During this project students work in groups to research and ultimately present about a social issue of their choice to the grade-level parents. While this year’s nine-person faculty team determined that students would still make a brief Flipgrid video on their topic as a final product, I volunteered to design the week-long mini-course in which they would research and present their topics. I then had to decide what I really, really wanted our students to learn. Since our first run, eight years ago, students have consistently been asked to investigate multiple points of view with regard to their topic, and I have just as consistently been struck with how challenging it is for them to imagine what those viewpoints might be. So, I decided to focus on skills related to searching for and identifying multiple points of view. Specifically, our one requirement for the week was that they identify at least three perspectives on their topic.
Before winter break, students had studied Early Modern Islamic Empires in World History, and had submitted connections they saw among the political history of the Safavids, Mughals, and Ottomans and issues of global health and/or justice in the world today. I took these contemporary connections and, based on the topics each student highlighted, assigned them to groups. Since our time was so short, I framed broad research questions for each group based on their expressed interests. Almost every student articulated a pressing engagement with how personal identifiers played into political leaders’ use of power to privilege or repress different people under their influence, across a range of topics from voting rights to vaccine development to rights of women in Muslim countries (see the outcome of this last topic below).
They had their topics. I had my learning objective. Now, I just had to figure out how to teach the skill set of searching for and identifying multiple perspectives … in 40 minutes or less.
Through a day-long debate with my 20-year-old offspring, we formulated the following approach to identifying multiple perspectives. Though I taught it to 64 students at once in a Zoom meeting, I would definitively say my thinking is still in draft form. Please help me kick the tires and see if it holds up! I would be deeply grateful for critiques and feedback.
It always feels helpful to start with a framing activity that helps to ease students into the complexities we will be tackling in a lesson. In this case, I wanted to get them thinking about how the “government’s job” is not a unitary or settled notion. By adapting a few questions from the (wonderful!) World Values Survey and a recent budget survey done by the city in which our school is located, I asked them to answer four questions about what governments should prioritize.
Though I did briefly show them results to demonstrate that, even in the “room,” we had lots of varying opinions, I cared less about their answers and more about the students contemplating competing priorities.
Ultimately, we framed the lesson around the notion of “Priority-based perspectives,” the idea that points of view vary because individuals and organizations must sort through conflicting needs, and some must ultimately take precedence. I drafted a list of what some of these categories of priorities might be:
The big epiphany I had (though it seems obvious in retrospect) was that my students were never thinking beyond the moral concepts that drove their own interest in their topics. They simply don’t have the life experience to suggest another path for investigation. So, we spent some time discussing that, for example, no matter how strongly you consider rest a moral right, the need to feed and house your family might still require a higher priority than time to rest. Similarly, you may morally believe that everyone has the right of equal access to a COVID vaccine, but we have been witnessing the real logistical challenges of efficient and equitable distribution.
One element that turned out to be pivotally helpful was that this construct moved students away from the binary pro/con approach for identifying perspectives (“Who agrees with me? Smart people. Who has a different opinion? Mean people.”) and instead started their research in a fundamentally different place: “What are the economic considerations of vaccine development? What different priorities might be competing? What are the logistical considerations of vaccine development? What different priorities might be competing with regard to logistical issues?” and so on. It removed their thinking from themselves and their closely held beliefs and allowed them space to be curious about what issues and priorities might exist.
Of course, we reviewed a few key search tips:
1. Pay attention to search terms, which will yield specific POVs: — For example: Undocumented workers, illegal aliens, birthright citizenship 2. Search for your answer, not your question: — Think about what you might expect someone to write about a topic and search for that. — What words might someone use when they are talking about “morals”? How about “economic”? For example: budget, cost, price tag 3. Consider: how might people with the same goals have different priorities that lead to different POVs? 4. Remember to use stepping stone sources: — Identify expert vocabulary/pertinent search terms that appear in the sources you have read so far. For example: CRISPR, designer babies, genetic engineering — Who are some stakeholders mentioned in your sources who have points of view on this topic (people, groups, or organizations who care about the issue)? For example: 1.”According to the Department of Justice…” 2. “Emails leaked by the whistleblower” 3. “Professor Arvind Gupta, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma…”
There was one final issue that required addressing in this lesson: what does one do with points of view that do not meet with standards of evidence-based-reasoning? In the past, I have taught finding various political perspectives and a separate lesson on more diverse news consumption generally (finally this year I pointed out to a colleague that selecting sources by left-leaning and right-leaning just left out too many people, and ethnic, religious, and other community news sources needed to be included in any list of sources for reading political news). Yet, I try to balance understanding various perspectives against including harmful or factually incorrect perspectives in the classroom. For example, we do not accept as factual perspectives disproven medical studies (they may be mentioned for influence, but not presented as informational sources). I’ve never quite figured out how to walk that line effectively.
In this lesson, I drew on the World History course theme of historical empathy, and explained that identifying priority-based perspectives is an interstitial step that assists in identifying a range of perspectives; doing so also helps us understand the mechanisms that create structures in our world today, including the persistence of structural inequity. After identifying different priorities, and (potentially) sources that speak from the perspective of those authorities, it is the researcher’s job to evaluate the source (or, as we teach, identify the context and construction of the source’s authority) and determine whether it passes muster in our evidence-based environment.
The faculty for the ninth grade project all agreed that the students’ work this year was quite strong, despite the various emotional challenges everyone faced during our six hours of project time (including the events of January 6, 2021). I was particularly proud of the group that wanted to focus on women in Islam, as they moved themselves beyond a blind critique of the “other” and ended up delving deeply into a complex set of women’s perspectives about being a hijabi.
So, the idea of priority-based perspectives seems to work. Yet, I suspect I am missing (various) pitfalls or have elements lacking clarity. Thoughts?
This week, our 5th formers will be completing their U.S. History research papers in lieu of a mid-term exam. As they scramble to finish their product—find one last piece of evidence to support a claim, format their manuscript in Chicago Style, insert footnotes, polish their thesis statement—I find myself with the opportunity to look back over these past two months and reflect on the process. While it takes a village to shepherd and support our students through the process, our work moves them toward what is ultimately a uniquely solitary activity, the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, one that requires they bring together all of the skills and pieces of information covered over the course of this semester that hopefully will result in one cohesive work.
“It’s only a high school research paper.” —astute APUSH student
In much the same way my students need to grapple with and master the specific skills research requires of them, it’s also necessary for me to think about how I can help them with that process. As educators of secondary school students, I don’t think many of us are under the illusion that our students are truly finding a research gap and entering into the scholarly conversation in a way that will be acknowledged by the academic community at large. This is in no way discounting the fine work many of our students do in their research/writing, but as one of my APUSH students so aptly stated when a colleague was doing the classic deep dive we all do when creating a properly formatted citation, “it’s only a high school research paper.” Yes, yes it is. Somehow looking at it from that perspective has been wonderfully liberating. While my students may not have their work published in peer-reviewed journals (yet!), they do need to be able to read and think deeply and critically about any number of issues throughout their academic career and in their personal life. So, how do we maintain high standards yet keep the paper in its proper perspective and what exactly does keep me up at night thinking about all things research?
Make the Process Visible
Image Credit: University Library System, University of Pittsburgh
The Research Process is one that’s familiar to us all—an iterative process with students moving through the steps on the infographic above until they (finally!) reach the citing, reviewing, and editing finish line. If you’re like me, you probably see at least six or more points when it would be helpful to meet with a class to provide instruction. Depending on a myriad of factors unique to each school, we might have one “boot camp” style instructional session or we might be fortunate enough to meet on a regular basis with a given class.
Flip the Class
Regardless of how much instructional time we have with students, it’s never enough. Our general research LibGuide establishes a common language for students and faculty and provides a general overview of the research process. With links to available resources and the flexibility to embed these in our PowerSchool LMS, flipping lessons can make the instructional time I do have more productive.
The Class-Specific LibGuide
This year I worked with five sections of U.S. History and two sections of APUSH, all writing a long-form paper. My collaboration with these classes ranged from an average of two-three instructional sessions to a high of ten. While more is always better from my vantage point, I work hard to be flexible and adapt to the needs of each faculty. This means I have to plan well in advance to cover essential skills during my face-to-face instructional time. For each research project I collaborate on, I create a unique guide that serves as a home base for students and supports what I cover in class. The U.S. History guide has subject-specific curated resources for primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and additional information on writing process skills. I’m also working on an exciting new project with the AP AB Calculus class on symmetry in nature and their guide supports the exploration of academic as well as online sources. These guides make it possible to curate available resources that help our students develop familiarity with scholarly and trustworthy sources.
Embrace the Basics
Although our incoming 3rd and 4th formers take a semester-long New Student Seminar course which covers study and research skills, I find I still need to stress the basics to our 5th and 6th formers. What is a tertiary source and why can you use it for background information but not quote it or include it in the bibliography? How can a book and journal both be secondary sources, but only one is peer-reviewed? How do you use social media in a scholarly paper? How are we to think about an author’s bias/ point-of-view or their authority? I do use handouts that when finished resemble an annotated bibliography and find they help students record basic bibliographic information with space for relevant quotes and why they support their claims. I try to not overestimate their ability to locate and evaluate information and plan lessons that focus on meta-cognition—encouraging them to think about thinking.
Oh, where would we be without NoodleTools? Even my most reluctant students eventually come to see the benefit of organizing their research on this platform. The inbox feature allows me to have access to all my students’ projects and be able to work side-by-side with them as they add or evaluate sources. While students love the export to NoodleTools feature on most databases, I see great value in thinking about what goes into the creation of a citation: what type of source is it, where was it found, who is the author, what is the title of the journal, when was it published, etc.—all the questions students need to answer as they add sources manually. With the notecard feature, I see a range of requirements from faculty for students to create notecards on NoodleTools, but I find those students who use the notecard feature generally have a much easier time organizing their outline and keeping quotes and paraphrases attributed to the proper source. Whether required by their teacher or not, I encourage all my students to use the notecard and outline features.
Images showing a student’s exemplary use of the notecard feature
Make Personal Connections
One of the best changes to this year’s instruction has been the addition of conferencing thanks to two faculty who required their students meet with me to discuss their papers. To organize this as simply as possible, students signed up “old school” for a time to meet via a clipboard at the front desk. We have other sign-up clipboards, so this made the most sense for the sake of consistency. These reference interviews were an opportunity for me to connect with students on a personal basis, ask questions that encouraged critical thinking and helped them to clarify their topic or thesis. It was also a time to offer them support on anything they requested from finding sources to formatting their manuscript. Asking students how I might help them encourages them to think more critically about where they are in the process and identify what they need to move forward. I see these conversations as a way to model how they might enter into the larger research conversation.
The Research Process is Messy
Another benefit of these one-on-one sessions is for me to be able to share the messiness of the whole process. Whether searching for sources, developing a thesis, or finding that right piece of evidence to support a claim, my experience has been that students generally believe research is a librarian’s superpower, not something we ever fail at or struggle with. So when I meet with students, it’s not to impress them with finding the “just right” source, it’s to show them the search process can be totally frustrating and you constantly have to regroup and refine search terms. To help them develop their search muscle, we identify basic search terms together and then brainstorm how to expand or limit our search depending on the results. Because I have a large monitor, these one-on-one sessions allow students to easily see and follow along as we work through advanced search strategies – something not easily accomplished with group instruction. Since mid-December, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with over 70 students, many of those repeat visits with no mandate from the teacher. Connecting with students at this level has enriched my experience as their research librarian and I hope it has enriched their research experience, as well.
I’m writing today to share some reflections on attempting to create a set of non-examples of a project for students at my school. I was approached by a Chemistry teacher with a program that he had used in the past – a project about Glass. I really love the idea of the product from this project – a self-contained presentation, audio elements, high quality visuals. It is a target rich opportunity for co-instruction and individual student coaching to find resources.
I had also been given one class period to come in and offer some direct instruction to all classes – they are mixed ability students with individual 1-1 devices, but as a grade have not had any Library Instruction yet this year – so I wanted to use the time I had well to promote in-house resources as well as instruction…
I then fell into a small pit of despair – with one class period, and multiple objectives – how can I sell this cohort of students on vetted resources AND talk about research skills.
To pull out of this – I began throwing out possible ideas through twitter. While microblogging maybe has lost some of its luster as a generalizable tool, it is a helpful tool for me to get started with writing, teaching, and doing. And, sure enough, I threw out an idea that was then picked up by some other AISL-ers (Many thanks to Dave and Chris for follow up questions).
I wanted to focus on promoting the collection by creating a non-example of research. My initial thought was to create a google slide presentation of the first three hits on google and scrape the data off of them and ask students to evaluate how good a job this did of entertaining and informing them. I’ve done this in the past with non-examples of high quality presentations (THIS example of Tycho Brahe’s life in three minutes is my favorite previous lesson) I veered from this plan a bit, because I realized there might be a more dramatic way of nudging students further a field.
This Fall, our community began reading Artificial Intelligence in Education by Fadel, Holmes and Bialik, as an all staff read for a retreat day. The book covers a broad survey of ways that machine learning algorithms and automated assessments and learning environments might shift the classroom. It’s not a book that you could turn around and use immediately in the classroom, but it forced me to consider some tools that I often forget about – the voice assistant on my students phones.
So, to start this lesson, I picked out volunteers in the class to ask Siri ‘Tell me about Glass Art’ – while I displayed the front page from Wikipedia. I like displaying the front page of Wikipedia when starting to talk about research, because it allows me to verbally walk through criteria of usefulness for an assignment – some pages are better written than others – the History of Glass Art – And sure enough, Siri began reading that Wikipedia page out loud to the class.
The next piece of instruction was a reflective writing Think Pair and Share about how well this resource would allow them to answer ‘How’ they knew the facts presented by the article – this Wikipedia entry is pretty general without specific citations in the early paragraph.
I then walked them through google’s first hit on History of Glass – historyofglass.com
Pretty standard informational site with no citations or visible author. It took some prodding to have students articulate what might be problematic about the site, I include the image because it matches many of the sources that students find when searching the shallow end of the internet – it’s information without context. I then tried to walk them through finding who or why this information existed.
My go to first step for a long time has been to find the about section and unpack what content marketing company has paid a writer – no luck there, so I tried the contact page.
Nothing really there except normal google analytics.
The rest of the lesson ended up being focused more on finding music for presentations – a different topic than I want to talk about here, but I’ll share this symbaloo of resources I curated for my students for the project.
What tools are you using to interrupt the automated process of information retrieval? David Loertscher wrote about banning the bird project years ago, but on some level if your classroom teachers want a bird project – how can you use the automated tools to help the classes and students produce something extra? I close with a recommendation. The design podcast, 99% Invisible had an episode about Pepper farming that reflected a bit on the difficulty of designing a machine that could pick pepper plants efficiently. Machines have difficulty with the complex task of pulling the soft vegetable off the hard vine, they tend to either harvest too little, or destroy what they have harvested. They are not good at doing lateral thinking and problem solving to find the harvest. I think that our students need to own this distinctly human skill at problem solving
I’m spending this year thinking about what humans are good at that automation and machine learning alone can’t do. I’m starting my information literacy lesson in the shallows of the internet to make the case for making a deeper dive. What have you been teaching this week?
The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels (2017), aptly subtitled 10 Structures for Teaching with Student-Directed Inquiry, is one of those professional books you can read on the beach, in a busy airport, on the train, or anywhere else, really. It’s practical and conversational, with plenty of real-life examples, photographs of classrooms, and handy sketchnotes at the end of each chapter.
Read this book: If you are a lower or middle school librarian looking to boost curiosity and wonder at your school, wanting to let students take control and run with their own interests and ideas rather than focusing on the same old research project (is it birds this year? or animals in general?), grab a friendly and collaborative teacher partner and read this book together! This study guide will be gold as you’re reading together.
Having read this book recently for our Board Book discussion at the AISL conference last week, I’m left with so many nuggets of wisdom and little ideas to embrace students’ curiosity. Here are a few that I’d like to implement ASAP:
Idea: Why don’t I have a Wonder Wall in the library (Google it with a -oasis unless you’d rather listen to the song…)?! The setup is easy — a blank bulletin board with the words “Wonder Wall” and sticky notes or slips of paper for students to tack on. That’s such a simple way to validate and explore students’ questions!
Idea: I feel similarly about Genius Hour — this seems like old news, but I’ve finally found a way to make it work in our lower school library. We have scheduled time throughout the year for Friday afternoon classes that generally last three weeks called Interest Groups. I’ve led Library Helpers, Finger Knitting, Book Budgets, and a variety of other crafty and library-related groups, but I’ve never tried a Genius Hour. And this would be PERFECT for this structured time because students can choose to be in the group and spend their afternoons exploring and researching anything they wanted to! I love having small group research help time and feel like this would be such a natural way to support students.
Nugget: This tip (followed by an example) really made me reflect on my own practice:
With inquiry projects we sometimes spend too much time setting things up. And if we slow down too much, kids can lose energy and start complaining.
Though the example in the book seemed entirely too-smooth-to-be-true (in less than 5 minutes, students wrote down what they already know about the topic and questions they have), I know that one of my growing edges is to let go of some control and let kids start the work without so much frontloading. They’re going to stumble and make mistakes and get frustrated, and that’s okay! That’s real life!
The real struggle that I have been having with this kind of open, student-directed inquiry, especially for my young students, is that their interests are SO MUCH more complex than the texts written for them. Their questions are just not easily answered in a book at their reading level. So, we talk a lot about the research process, about the kinds of sources we have available to us and about which one would give us the best answer. We document our research process, noting the hard parts, and work towards making meaning of the information we find. This book validated that process for me, assuring me that it is, in fact, messy work, and if it’s not, then we’re not doing it right!