Research Season is Here

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.

Image from University of Arizona Global Campus Writing Center, https://writingcenter.uagc.edu/synthesis-matrix

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.

Grades are gross: a new mantra for a new year

My school is spending this year looking at grading and assessment practices. While we’re drawing from many sources, our central text is Grading for Equity by Joe Feldmen. Some of you are probably familiar with Feldmen’s work, but I am reading it for the first time. As a school librarian, I don’t carry a gradebook (for which I am eternally grateful). I do, however, contribute to the assessment design for most of our research projects in grades 9-12, and this book is making me wish I didn’t have to do that either! Grading is gross! According to Feldman, it incentivizes compliance, decreases intrinsic motivation to learn, challenges the ability for students to trust their teachers, and the list goes on. Not to mention the fact that it was born from an early twentieth-century model for education that focused on obedience, punctuality, attention, and silence as habits people would need when they entered an industrialized workforce. YUCK.

Like I said, as a school librarian I am mostly free of worrying about this. Freeing myself of the power dynamic that comes with carrying a grade book was one of the best things that happened when I moved from the classroom to the library. I never liked the endless back-and-forth over one point here and one point there when students wanted to challenge a grade. I never liked the conversation that started with a student saying “Why did you give me this grade?” and me responding with “I didn’t give you the grade, it’s the grade you earned.” Ha! Yeah, right. I totally ‘gave’ that grade. There is a great quote in the Feldman book that sums up how I’m feeling about this topic at the moment. 

“[A grade is] an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite material.” Dressel (1983), Grades: One more tilt at the windmill

Isn’t that great? If true, however, then it seems like most “traditional” schools are in real trouble. How do we step away from points and grades when our school culture is so deeply entrenched in this way of doing things? How would students (and parents) respond to Feldman’s ideas?

As I was writing this, our dance teacher came in to discuss her upcoming modern dance research project. We do this each year and I love it. She has about twenty-five 9th-graders in Dance I. They will work in groups to learn about Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, José Limòn, and Katherine Dunham. During the two weeks they work on this project, I am able to work with them on source selection, note taking, citations, slide design, image usage rights, presentation skills, and more. It’s a good project and they enjoy it.

The more we discussed the project, the more I realized that I get a totally different reaction from students when I teach/review these skills in their dance class versus when I teach the same skills to students in freshman biology or English. I mentioned this to our dance teacher and we started to wonder, what’s the difference? Why do the students seem to latch on to the skills and ease into the practice of them in dance, whereas in other content areas they seem a little more tentative, perhaps too concerned they are “doing it wrong”? I suggested that in dance class they may just be more relaxed. That would certainly impact their ability to learn. Then she said, “Maybe it’s because I tell them on the first day that they don’t need to worry about their grade. If they show up and dance, they’re getting an A.”

Ding-ding-ding! That’s it. That has to be it, right? If they don’t have to worry about a grade, they can authentically engage with the subject matter just for the sake of learning. What a concept. Feldman argues that traditional grading “stifles risk-taking and trust” and “demotivates and disempowers students”. Does that mean, then, that students in our Dance I are more motivated, empowered, trusting, and willing to take risks simply because they aren’t concerned about earning a certain grade? That seems to be what my experience with this modern dance research project demonstrates. 

So now I’m really motivated to think about this for our other research projects. How can we adjust the way we assess, for example, our Junior Research Project (a big, multi-step, year-long project) to deemphasize grades and increase motivation and risk-taking? Can we do it within the system we have now? If we deemphasize grades, does that mean some students just won’t do the work because they won’t see the value in it (grades=value in a traditional system, after all)? Will the teachers go for it? What about the parents?

I have a LOT to think about. I’m grateful that my school is taking this full year to learn and discuss this work together. I, for one, am already seeing things differently and it’s only the second day of school. For now, I’m going to think more about Dance I, intrinsic motivation, risk-taking, and trust.

The Times They **Keep** A-Changin’

Welcome to a new school year! This post, despite its title, is a cheerful (hopefully cheering?) look at changes still underway….

Current library door decorated by Christina Appleberry, Library Services Specialist


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.

OK, we stopped Follett — Any righteous anger left for the bad actors forcing bad choices?

What do California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have in common? Each state’s legislature has considered and/or passed laws criminalizing databases, building a narrative of fighting against content that is “harmful to minors” (and other terms I’m skipping because they may trigger sensitive Internet filters). 

Update: These laws have passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho, and Utah. In some cases they make librarians and educators individually, criminally liable for students accessing sources deemed undesirable. Next legislative season they will be coming back in several more states.

This post will cover:

What is this legislation?

This particular movement has been underway since a Colorado couple filed a lawsuit against EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium in 2018, alleging that databases “knowingly [provide] sexually explicit and obscene materials to school children” and that the Consortium “purchases from EBSCO and knowingly brokers sexually explicit, obscene, and harmful materials to Colorado school children.” According to James LaRue, the former director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, it was the first known challenge to a library database. The lawsuit was dismissed, but in its wake a connected individual in Utah filed a complaint that led to the state turning off all access to EBSCO’s K-12 databases while it was investigated. Although specious, the state of Utah has since maintained over 1500 blocked terms in their state consortium-purchased K-12 databases and has now passed anti-database legislation (and demonstrated consistently via usage reports that students are not searching for inappropriate content). The pandemic has since helped popularize the narrative perpetrated by that lawsuit. Various political groups fed parents’ worries that children isolated at home during online school were using databases that – they led parents to believe – were giving students the capacity to access materials that were harmful to minors. 

“Harmful to minors” and the related designations are used in COPA and CIPA, though you may most clearly recall having seen them applied more recently to a wide range of books being pulled from library shelves around the country. This movement is occurring in states that span the political spectrum.

Legislators in many states have introduced bills designed to shut down statewide database access unless massive filtering takes place.

So far, I have seen three general flavors of legislation:

  1. Requires all databases purchased for use by K-12 students (generally at the state and/or school district level, sometimes including other entities such as public or university libraries) to have “safety policies and technological protection measures” that filter and prohibit sharing of materials that are harmful to minors, etc. 
    1. Penalty for noncompliance is termination of contract and withholding payment;
    2. Very common version of legislation;
    3. Appears across states to come primarily from a template; 
    4. Examples include Idaho (enacted), Utah (signed by governor 3/21), Oklahoma (in committee) and many more (many voted down or languishing in committee).
  2. Requires schools to provide convenient methods for parents or guardians to track, monitor, or view curricular and supplemental learning materials.
    1. Often part of a so-called “Parents’ Rights” bill
    2. For example, in California.
  3. Nebraska’s bill, currently undergoing amendments from the Judiciary Committee, is particularly pernicious and is intended as a model for other states. In addition to the requirements above, the Nebraska bill requires that schools:
    1. Assign each K-12 student an individual logins for any state-contracted databases, outlawing group accounts; and
    2. “Provide the account credential of each student in kindergarten through grade twelve to such student’s parent or guardian and allow the parent or guardian access to all materials accessible to the student.”

The bill also outlines situations in which individuals can sue database vendors and and claim damages.

History suggests that we will see continued attempts at legislation on this topic across the nation; the inciting rhetoric suggests that the library vendors’ products themselves are not the actual target. Rather, the legislation seems to be aimed at libraries and the schools they serve. All of which leaves students caught in the crossfire, impacting their access to information as well as their privacy.

Why support vendors?

Last week, a nationful of librarians raised voices in protest when Follett reached out to say they were considering complying with so-called “Parents’ Rights” legislation being promulgated in a number of states. Many librarians responded viscerally–not only due to our belief in intellectual freedom, but also in the knowledge that many administrators might see that optional “fix” as an easy answer if Follett made it available. Furthermore, we worry about whether technological changes demanded in one place might come to impact our students’ access to information in another place. So we fought back against Follett and now feel empowered and righteous in our victory.

Meanwhile, the laws and bills that forced Follett to consider adding optional modules remain in place. Of course vendors with business models requiring money from libraries need to act in accordance with the ethics of librarianship. That said, I could not help spending last week wishing to see the energy that went into anti-Follett advocacy aimed instead at our state legislatures and the encoding of censorship into law. 

If we want our students to continue to have intellectual freedoms, it is critical that we focus our efforts on ensuring that our vendors will maintain the legal rights to provide all of us with the educational content they can provide.

What can I do?

So, if you have energy to give, how can you help? A group of librarians is working on a strategy now. We are happy to have more hands to make this work lighter. 

  1. Now: you can help identify if any legislation is passed or pending in your state that would impact database access. Whether in so-called “parental rights” bills, freestanding bills requiring enhanced filtering, or other mechanisms for parental reviews of “supplemental educational materials,” we are trying to get a sense of what attempts to block intellectual freedom through databases are out there. Please feel free to use this anonymous form to point us towards legislation impacting databases.
  2. Sign up here and we will reach out and find a volunteer task that works for you. Also, watch this space. We are constructing a crowdsourced monitoring tool so we can try to keep an eye on what is being blocked in different parts of the US. 

In gratitude: So many people have helped me understand what is happening here. Many of them cannot be named due to risk in their workplaces. However, the entire ad hoc working group for building realistic databases has worked together to reach this point. Some of our colleagues’ comments about unsearchable terms on my last blog post started a process. Several anonymous individuals helped me understand more about what was going on. EveryLibrary tracks legislation and has helped me better understand the movements underway. My family have been supportive as I have lost sleep, and … well, everyone I have encountered has had to listen to this tale as we followed its twists and turns. Thank you to each and every one of you. And, thank you to to village of librarians and Americans committed to intellectual freedom that it will require to move forward and safeguard our students’ right to learn.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If you are reading this, you believe that collaborations between teachers and librarians make a difference and are worthwhile. Whenever librarians come together, we invariably end up discussing collaborations – our successes and our frustrations.

“Making Co-teaching Stick” at AISL Boston

My AP Language students are just finishing a unit on Rogerian argumentation, making me think about the shared ground for collaboration between teachers and librarians. The best collaborations need shared time (for planning and for implantation), shared goals, shared vocabulary and shared respect.

We all have our *gold* standard of collaboration, that project that looks like it was designed to ace our MLIS Research Methods class. And we all have our practical “yay we collaborated because we talked” standard. Getting the foot in the door and setting the tone for research might be enough for some projects because it shows that the library skills are being integrated across the curriculum even if students don’t set foot in the library. For the purpose of this post, teachers fall into three categories:

  1. Eager Beaver collaborators look for any opportunity to co-teach. Students are used to seeing me in their classes and the teacher and I can finish each other’s sentences. This is where I spend most of my time, designing curriculum, in the classroom, and meeting with students.
  2. I Appreciate Libraries collaborators believe in school libraries. They tell their students to use the library and incorporate research but don’t necessarily include the librarian in their planning or scheduled library time.  
  3. Someday Maybe collaborators is the optimistic term for teachers who don’t fit into the above categories. These individuals don’t tend to see any connection between their curriculum and the library program. It’s (hopefully!) not that they dislike the library, just that they don’t see a place for it in their classrooms.

Recognize that teachers also feel the time crunch familiar to all of us. Many conversations with my Physics teacher husband led to my thoughts on how to best reach the I Appreciate Libraries contingent. Eager Beavers don’t need more encouragement, and Someday Maybes are, well, someday maybe when the time is right. But for I Appreciate Libraries; I can offer support in a way that enhances their projects while preventing me from trying to find a way to schedule three different classes during the same period.

Offer virtual help. The library webpage, libguides, slideshows, and help videos are available on demand for students in the midst of researching. Not as personal as a class session, but they can be accessed anytime students are researching. They also have the advantage of being available for multiple classes and shared between department members. 

“Some of the students were asking how to get to History Reference Center, so here’s a visual help sheet with arrows they can follow if you want to post to SSESonline.”

Offer in-person help at surprising times. Office hours, popping by classes, and having teachers recommend students meet with me during study hall have led to conversations and research consultations with individual students. I know I’m not the only librarian whose desk is next to a printer. A friendly question when students pick up work is a great opening for project assistance.

“I heard the outline is due Friday and it’s supposed to be at least two pages. How much do you have so far?”

Offer suggestions for next year. It’s hard to fix a project that isn’t working mid-stream. Personally, I’ve never been successful at it. Students are already working towards their goal, and the class as a whole gets a bit of tunnel vision. By taking notes on what’s not working and approaching the teacher afterwards, you can set the tone for a more successful project next year.

“I noticed those MLA bibliographies seemed to be in a new format that I’d call untraditional at best. If you want me to work on that before they turn them in next year when you do this, just let me know.”

Teach the teacher. I was surprised in a chance conversation in the faculty room earlier this year to learn that a teacher wasn’t bringing his classes to the library because he “knows how busy I am.” True, but my passion is teaching. I will put off cataloging and user analytics for any time with students. But also, sometimes teachers don’t plan ahead as much as would be ideal or our schedules don’t work. (Might I mention that you can all think of me next Friday when I’ll have 8 classes in 5 periods?!?) Many of my teachers know how to use JSTOR or evaluate websites after seeing me work with their classes before. It’s been really hard for me to think that it might be a sign of a successful program that teachers feel empowered to conquer these subjects on their own and that it’s really an endorsement of what the library offers, even though it feels like a rejection in the moment.

“I heard you’re evaluating health sites tomorrow. That’s awesome! Let me know if you want me to pop by or if your students have any questions you weren’t anticipating that we can work on in the future.”

Much as I want to collaborate with every teacher, I know that amongst all the classes, I’m reaching all the students in my Middle and Upper School in at least one of their courses. Instead of spending my energy worrying about teachers who aren’t looking to collaborate, I’m working on providing the skills that my students need for college and career readiness in a format that works for more of my teachers.

It’s time to think creatively. Please leave any suggestions or recommendations below.

Sharing is Caring with our Youngest Learners: Bibliographies in the Lower School

Research in the Lower School in one word: kaleidoscope.

The range of skillsets, prior knowledge, teacher applications and expectations, and scope is wide and always shifting. One place where I can create consistency is in the writing of a bibliography. I apply a few basic principles in my teaching of this essential part of a complete research experience.

I. All Lower School students can appreciate the power of MINE, YOURS and OURS.

Figure 1 Venn diagram retrieved from Wikimedia.com

Developmentally, Lower School students can fully appreciate what belongs to whom. Giving credit to someone for their hard work is well in the grasp of our youngest learners. Bridging understanding from the physical book to the work that went into it by one or more authors can be compared to an art piece a student just completed, or a fiction story just written. All Lower School students can appreciate their own hard work! When we do research, we are using previously published material to create something of our own. We are borrowing the work of others. Writing the Bibliography as a part of the complete research experience is a great way to show sharing and caring for the work of the authors.

Figure 2 Overview image of hurricane retrieved from pexels.com

II. Do we really expect Lower School students to write bibliographies? You bet!

Ready to dive into the eye of the storm? Bibliographies contain the sorts of material that our youngest learners have little or no connection to other than TITLE and/or AUTHOR. The copyright page is nearly always in font sizes you need a magnifying glass to read, and is largely passed over in early reading experiences. As has been posted previously on the blog, teaching the vocabulary of a bibliography is a natural and necessary first step. I have made it a point to embed lessons that include awareness around AUTHOR, TITLE, PUBLISHER, CITY OF PUBLICATION, COPYRIGHT DATE.

Figure 3 Figure with magnifying glass retrieved from Pixabay.com

III. Lower School students relish being a super sleuth.

Developmentally, students in the Lower School are curious seekers and love a challenge. When beginning bibliography lessons, I first turn it into a game. I start with the easiest information first, then mix it up until we get to what I have found to be the most challenging: publisher.

Once I have introduced vocabulary, here is a framework I use:

PK, AUTHOR, TITLE: even though not fully reading, PK students can look at the front of most nonfiction books and point to where the title is and where the author’s name is located.

K, AUTHOR, TITLE: emerging readers, K students can look at the front of most nonfiction books and point to where the title is and where the author’s name is located, and can occasionally read this information.

Grade 1, AUTHOR, TITLE, COPYRIGHT DATE: emerging and beginning readers, Grade 1 students can find the author and the title, and when shown the copyright page, can find the copyright date.

Grades 2-5, AUTHOR, TITLE, CITY OF PUBLICATION, PUBLISHER, COPYRIGHT DATE: students aged 7 and up can find all of this information with varying degrees of support.

At each age and stage, I provide a simple way to record the information except for PK where we create a group bibliography, as the research is usually done at the class level. In K, my students can copy the author and title onto paper and include at the end of their report OR the tech integrator can assist with having them type it into a new document. In Grades 1 through 5, I have created graphic organizers that stair-step up with developmental stages.

Figure 4 Rainbow check mark retrieved from publicdomainpictures.net

IV. Checking it once, checking it twice!

When recording information for a bibliography, I encourage students to trade their organizers and assist in the super sleuth checking. When we are finished, these organizers go back to the classroom for the students to connect to their completed research project. My faculty especially appreciates the collaboration because of the hybrid need-hate relationship most have with this step of the research process. However, it is ESSENTIAL to build these habits young, and with relative ease of use, so that the task is less daunting as an older student – and seen as an essential, credible part of the research experience.

Share your Bibliography experiences in the comments below!

Librarians as Vocab Teachers

Following a revelation I had last year regarding serving ELLs and international students at my school comes another, courtesy of my ESL teacher colleagues.  At the beginning of this year, they led a best practices session for faculty in which they emphasized that we all, no matter our disciplines or the language levels of the students we teach, need to be teaching vocabulary. They presented the three tiers of vocabulary development among other resources (mentioned below) and asked for our support in helping all students learn words in the second and third tiers, which become progressively more academic and domain-specific.

As an educator whose lessons can be jargon-heavy and full of words that have meanings specific to the library context (catalog, database, call number, collection) or the research process (authority, operator), this struck a chord. I often explain these terms during the course of an orientation or lesson, but I don’t directly teach them. In the month or so since that in-service day, I have been seeking tools and strategies to help me in my journey toward becoming a library and research process vocabulary teacher.

Maniotes & Cellucci have written in Teacher Librarian about how being a researcher and following an inquiry process leads students to develop domain-specific vocabulary related to an academic discipline or their research topic. However, at the moment I am more focused on the domain-specific vocabulary related to learning to use libraries and do research. I have started my own word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words that appear in my own teaching, are found in places we might take for granted such as NoodleTools and the OPAC, and on guides for international students from academic libraries. I’ve taken a stab at categorizing them as Tier 2 (general academic words) or Tier 3 (library and research specific), tricky since “research words” do cross academic disciplines. Anyway, here’s a sample:

Tier 2:

  • Source
  • Resource
  • Publisher
  • Author
  • Title
  • Subject
  • Original
  • Journal
  • Academic
  • Keyword
  • Topic
  • Process
  • Electronic
  • Purpose
  • Content
  • Copyright

Tier 3:

  • Call number
  • Primary source
  • Scholarly
  • Database
  • Periodical
  • Reference
  • Archive
  • Dissertation
  • Thesis
  • Relevant
  • Collection
  • Accurate
  • Multi-volume
  • Catalog
  • Full text
  • Citation
  • Peer-reviewed

As a new researcher, let alone a new researcher working in their second or third language, these terms are not easily understood or may not make sense out of their previously known context.  Figuring out the appropriate word list for a research unit would depend on the level of the class and the input of the classroom teacher.

My toolbox for direct vocabulary instruction is growing as well.

  • In Vocab Rehab, Marilee Sprenger offers vocabulary instruction techniques that can be used in a class period with limited time. These could be handy during library orientations or one-shot lessons, provided there is opportunity for continued practice and reinforcement.
  • As new words come up, they could be added to a library word wall. Then a few minutes each inquiry session could be dedicated to engaging vocabulary review.
  • The Frayer Model could be used to help students understand the terms represented by the acronymic CRAAP test, for example.
  • Academic Word Finder identifies Tier 2 words for a certain grade level within a text, sometimes with surprising results.

I can’t wait to put some of these ideas to use as the year moves ahead and our ESL classes begin research projects. Building Tier 2 and Tier 3 word lists will be a wonderful opportunity for furthering collaboration with ESL teachers, and will benefit all student researchers too.

Do you do direct library vocabulary instruction? How and when? What words would you add? Any Middle or Upper School librarians with a word wall in the library (who would like to share pictures?)

References

Maniotes, L., & Cellucci, A. (2017). Doubling up: Authentic vocabulary
development through the inquiry process. Teacher Librarian, 44(3), 16-20.
Retrieved from http://teacherlibrarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/
4B-maniotes.pdf

Sprenger, M. (2014). Vocab rehab: How do I teach vocabulary effectively with
limited time? Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.

Further reading:

Bernadowski, C., & Kolencik, P. L. (2010). Research-based reading strategies in
the library for adolescent learners. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries
Unlimited.

Lehman, C. (2012). Energize research reading and writing: Fresh strategies to
spark interest, develop independence, and meet key common core standards,
grades 4-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Student Achievement Partners. (n.d.). Selecting and using academic vocabulary in
instruction [Guide document]. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from
Achievethecore.org website: https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/
Selecting%20and%20Using%20Academic%20Vocabulary%20in%20Instruction.pdf

The Way of the Ninja

Katsukawa Shunsho, Nakamura Sukegoro II as Aso no Matsukawa, 1768. Woodblock print. Art Institute of Chicago.

I have two sons, one who is twelve and one aged eight. “Ninja” as a term gets thrown around a lot in my house: “You are a total ninja in the kitchen, Mom.” “Get out of my room before I go ninja on you!” “When I grow up I’m going to be a pilot. Or a ninja. Or both.” You get the idea. Cluttering up the costume closet (what, you don’t have a costume closet? We’re the only ones?) are little black balaclava masks, several sets of plastic nunchaku, and at least one pair of those split-toed socks. They are not real ninjas . . . but you can be! Without, you know, all the killing.

In fact, real ninjas in medieval Japan were employed more often as information-gathering agents, or to spread disinformation where that was useful, than as assassins, although that aspect was certainly true as needed. Black pajamas are very slimming, but you don’t need those either, for the goal of the ninja was to blend into ordinary society and work from within – your cardigan sweater will do just fine.

If you have limited paid databases due to budget constraints, below are some terrific resources to help you track down requests from faculty or students without depending on the kindness of strangers. All of us at AISL are prepared to send the occasional article to one another in answer to a request on the listserv, but you’re a librarian – your superpower is in tracking down information in places that regular humans fail to consider. Remember, real ninja were collectors of intelligence, able to blend in with regular people, and that’s definitely you so you can do this. At the very least, consider it a professional challenge to try at least one or two of these. Hone your skills as sharply as a ninjato blade and prepare to cut through reference requests all day long. Some of these resources will no doubt be familiar to many of you, but other approaches might surprise you.

Unpaywall: a browser extension that will reveal whether a requested article is available for free. Once installed, the small lock icon located in a tab to the right of your screen will turn green if the article is located for free anywhere online. A lot of us overlook the value of a straight-up Google search for an article, when plenty of resources are actually out there for free, even the ones that are of a more weighty, academic type.

Remote access to public library databases: your state library system may provide remote access to databases either by detecting your IP location or with a library card barcode number. I realize that it may give you pause to use your personal access to source database articles. Some library systems may be willing to issue a library card to your school. You may also wish to encourage your students to use their own library card numbers if they have them; if their families pay taxes in the state, they are entitled to use its library collections whether it is for public school homework or private school homework.

The Library of Congress does offer free remote access to a great many periodical titles. The link provided here takes the user to a page of subject areas – pick your area of research and browse what’s available remotely. Links at right will connect to the periodical itself, and users can search by date of publication for the exact article they want.

Contact the scholar: scholars are allowed to share their articles privately with you themselves. They are generally not paid for scholarly articles that appear in peer-reviewed academic journals, and they are usually thrilled to be asked to share their work. If you have an author’s name, contact him or her directly via email or phone at his or her college or university, and ask for an offprint or digital copy of the article. You have absolutely nothing to lose by asking, and the scholar in question may send you other material that  provides you with more or better information.

A note about faculty or student requests: often it happens that a student or a colleague insists that he or she needs this exact article or the world will collapse into a heap of ashes, metaphorically speaking. Literally or otherwise, this is rarely true. Often a published scholar has written several articles on the same subject and one that you can find will do as nicely as the one you can’t. Search the resources that you do have using the author’s name and some useful keywords and see what full-text results come up. You may end up finding a nearly identical article, published with minor changes, for a different audience or perhaps an even better one.

WorldCat: literally a union catalog of the world and operated by the OCLC, WorldCat covers books, DVDs, CDs, and articles. It returns results ranked by proximity to a ZIP code that the user enters, so you can search a nearby library, or one in a city you plan to visit, or where you have privileges as a result of being an alumnus or some other circumstance. Almost any publicly funded library – including college libraries that receive state funds – will allow you to access electronic or print materials if you are on-site, so at the very least a researcher could scan a print article or download an electronic one.

Hathitrust: an online digital library of millions of full-text books, many of them with their illustrations intact. Because these resources are out of the public domain, which is why they are free, the material tends to be older. However, it means this is a particularly useful resources for books that may be out of print.

Directory of Open Access Journals: more than 12,000 open-access journal titles. These are high-quality, peer-reviewed, scholarly journals, and the DOAJ provides free access to the full text. These journals are valuable enough to be indexed by many major database vendors, but they are out there free of charge for anyone to use. Dive in!

These suggestions are limited to sources for periodical articles and digitized books. There are sources such as Researchgate and Humanities Commons, that I have purposely left out of this blog post, because they involve a component of networking amongst scholars that was beyond the scope of today’s topic. If you have a favorite free resource for high-quality reference material, please feel free to be the ninja I know you are and leave a link in the comments so we can all benefit from the intelligence you’ve gathered.

 

Curiosity killed the… wait, what?

 

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!

Is “All the World a Stage?”

As I see many of you at AISL this week, you may notice two things about me. First, I take a lot of notes. I’m someone for whom the process of learning is greatly assisted by the practice of writing things down, even if I never return to the specific notes again. Though AISL conferences are so full of information that is relevant to me, I keep my AISL notebook in the drawer to the immediate left of my chair. So even if a presenter says the entire presentation will be online, I’ll probably still have my pencil in hand. Second, I’m generally pretty quiet in group situations. Like many introverts I’m listening and I may seek you out to continue a conversation on the bus but I would literally hide behind a pole rather than belly dance in an airport. (Just a little reminder of what a multi-talented group we librarians are.)

So it came as a surprise to me this spring when my advisees, who know me pretty well as far as students go, asked why I hadn’t yet given a chapel speech.

Me-“Guys, I hate speaking in public. There’s no way…”
First student-“What are you talking about? You love it. Pause. Right?”
Second student-“Right! You talk like all the time.”
Me-“What?”
First student-“Yeah in our classes. You talk a lot.”
(Cue sad face for student-centered classroom failure…)

And so that brings me to my main thought of today, particularly for those of you with flexible scheduling who depend on teachers to invite you into their classes for co-taught units. Many people harbor a stereotype of a silent librarian, but are we all, secretly, theatre people? At least in one way, my answer is assuredly yes. I follow improv’s “rule of yes” whenever I can. With both students and teachers, I think it’s important to think about why you’re saying no.

 “Oh, interesting that you can’t write 1750 words on Nazi propaganda because there’s not enough out there? NO, here’s a 257 page book entirely on your topic.”

But for many questions, consciously thinking about learning goals rather than tradition might move a no to a yes or at least a let’s think about how this could work.

 “I know it’s not really history, but I don’t understand Brexit, and I want to know if it’s really about refugees. Can I research it?” YES.

“I know you want us to have a website, but I found this really interesting podcast and it’s led by doctors. Can I use it? YES.

“I have to read a fantasy book and this one takes place in the real world except that ghosts are real. My friend recommended it, and I want to know if it can count for the assignment.” YES.

“I want to include an appendix with a picture of “Guernica” so my readers can see it for themselves.” WHY NOT?

Formal research is a tough process for our kids in today’s “infobese” culture. This is especially true for perfectionists who want to get everything right the first time. Keeping foremost the learning goals for an assignment, why not challenge yourself to say yes when there isn’t a contradicting reason to say no? As my mom says…

Along with this idea, when I’m collaborating I try to focus on the things within my control. This includes my interactions with my school community and my management of my library. For many of us, we can’t control our colleagues, their assignments, the work ethic of the students, or delays due to weather, illness or alternate schedules that pop up out of nowhere. I attend classes at the invitation of the teacher. They know their class dynamics and they are the ones creating and grading assignments. Since I ultimately want to provide support to the teacher, I try to think carefully before “correcting” a teacher, particularly in front of students. Not every project is going to meet both my research goals and the classroom teacher’s subject-specific goals. That said, it’s often possible to start tweaking a project to improve it for next year even as you’re assisting with the current version. I’ve found a variety of ideas can help as I try to link these projects to the learning goals I’d like the students to attain. Take the long view and suggest some “adaptations” for next time. Or ask if a project can be used to help you “test a database’s effectiveness.” Offer to grade the annotated bibliographies you fought so hard to include. I’ve found this comes easier the longer one’s tenure at a school. So breathe easy, continually do your best in promoting your library’s resources and leave your feedback below.