Personalizing the Library/Research Experience

I dare say that if we all shared our independent school mission statements,  a theme would emerge offering assurance of a deeply personalized educational experience. We tend to promise smaller class sizes, world class faculty, group and individual advisory programs, a multitude of electives, practicums, and then there are the capstone programs, the plethora of PE options, and team sports.

We as librarians strive to know our kids’ names, their interests, and their reading  preferences so that we can be ready to suggest their next favorite book. We ask for syllabi, we interview teachers about upcoming assignments, we lurk on the school’s LMS to anticipate potential collaborations. [Dave admitted to snooping through cabinets. I will admit to snooping through syllabi. There, I said it.]

We have to know what research topics our teachers are assigning and/or what our kids are interested in so that we can develop the best print + digital collections and so that we can tailor research lessons for the group and their grade level. I’m preaching to the choir, right? Our sincere effort at deep personalization is in many ways these families’ return on investment.

My assistant and I have been discussing ways to deepen our library program’s personalization for the ’16-’17 school year. After reading and discussing The Personal Librarian: Enhancing the Student Experience for the #AISL16LA Board Book social, and then coming home to explore the concept of the embedded librarian, we have decided to pilot two programs starting this summer.

PROGRAM 1: Personal Librarians

Our school serves grades 9-12. My assistant and I will divide the incoming 9th grade class, not alphabetically, but by history class. We will reach out to said students via email (or emailed Youtube video?) this  summer and we’ll introduce ourselves, tell them a little bit about our families (pets, hobbies, strange and unusual tricks?!?!), our roles on campus, and we’ll introduce ourselves as their personal librarian and explain what this means.
[What it means for us: we will reach out to them quarterly, suggest some resources that could help in an upcoming assignment, tell them about some new books we have in the library that they might like to check out before an upcoming break, and we’ll remind them that we’re available for 1:1 appointments any time that they need us. No pressure, no requirements, only demonstrating that we know their names, we’re familiar with their assignments, and we’re hoping to make their lives easier.]

This isn’t really a new idea, is it? It’s just a marketing technique. A marketing technique that we mentioned recently during an admissions speed dating event with prospective parents. Parents whose eyes absolutely lit up when they heard about it. They wanted their own personal librarian! “Why can’t we all have personal librarians?!”, they asked. {Please know that I pointed them in the direction of their local public libraries in that moment.} Anyway, it went over really well. Admissions loves it. It’s another layer of personalization and it’s coming from the LIBRARY. To quote my  kids’ favorite mindless Disney Channel show, “Bam! What?!“.

Oh em gee, this Personal Librarian has pet prairie dogs. Reason no. 1,926,823 why librarians are the most interesting people ever. My intro will NOT be this interesting. However, I’m sort of loving the Youtube intro idea.

PROGRAM  2: Embedded librarians

We are meeting this week with the 9th grade history teachers to discuss just how embedded we might be. Everyone agrees that the one and done research lesson is not working for any of us. We can’t fit all that we need to fit into a single class period, we’re talking like auctioneers, our girls’ eyes are glazing over, and teachers aren’t seeing discernible improvements in their students’ processes or products. We can do better! What we’re proposing is this:

My assistant and I will divide the freshman history courses and we will go with the classes for which we are the girls’ personal librarians. We want to know their names, we want them to know that we are real, non-scary, non-shooshy people. In short, we want to build relationships and trust with our students and we find that that rapport is more easily obtained by regular face to face interaction.  Our school operates on an 8 day rotation with 50 minute periods. Each course gets one grab block per week, giving them a 75 minute meeting. We will use the weekly 9th grade history grab block to work with the girls on research skills, breaking our research lessons into 15 minute “mini-lessons”.

I want to use those mini lessons in two ways: one, to introduce them to the research process slowly and with repetition;  to our library catalog, our physical tools, and to teach them about our digital resources, as well as those critical web evaluation skills. Secondly, I  want to target source literacy.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was totally inspired by Nora Murphy’s #AISL16LA talk about the need for source literacy. I see us creating 15 minute source ‘petting zoo’ opportunities for our freshmen. I’m making notes as we speak on sources that I feel we could introduce in those 15 minute sessions, and homework we could assign to cement search processes of each. Off-hand I can think of print magazines (scholarly & popular) that we could expose the girls to, trade publications,  digital repositories: LOC, PBS, NPR, museum collections, NYPL, the National Archives, etc.

With all of this time spent in the classroom, I feel like we can use bigger chunks of time in the weeks leading up to research projects, quilting the skills together. Asking better questions. Anticipating relevant sources. Building keywords. Mining data. Employing advanced search techniques in the physical and digital worlds. Note taking. Paraphrasing. Citation.

If you could use the comments below, I’m interested in hearing what else you think might be appropriate to include in the information literacy/source petting zoo. Are you already doing the personalized or embedded thing? If so, how’s it working for you?

We’re thinking of proposing a session at NOLA to engage in a conversation about personalizing library services.  If you are employing either of the strategies we’re piloting, or if you’re doing something completely different, and might like to apply to co-present, please let me know!

Wishing you all the best as you leave APs and slide into finals. Happy spring, ya’ll!


Barriers to Access

If it is possible for one’s PD cup to run over, mine is. In the past two weeks, I have been to two amazing conferences. First,  NEAISL at the lovely Milton Academy for a one day, action packed conference. Just a few days later, I headed to Los Angeles for the annual AISL conference, where I found myself surrounded, once again, by world class librarians from across the US and Canada, visiting beautiful, innovative library spaces in and around LA. My next thousand blog posts could be reflections on the new ideas that I have come home with, consider yourself warned.

What I thought I  might attempt in this first reflection piece is to identify a common theme that ran through both conferences. It’s about access to information.

NEAISL & Ebsco’s Discovery Service

NEAISL proved that our regional EBSCO rep has been very, very busy of late. Most of us are either-mid trial, in our first year or two with the product, and a few of us are well seasoned, early adopters of the technology.  I don’t refer to EDS here in the ‘to have or not to have’ context, Alyssa did an excellent job in sharing the pros and cons of the program in an earlier post. I do want to share a catchy quote that I heard at NEAISL though. One librarian observed, “Our students don’t care which database their information came from. They only want to access the information quickly, to find valid results that are easy to cite,  rich and varied enough to make their teacher happy, then they’re moving on.” Truth. So yes, I do like Discovery. That isn’t the point of this post, though. The point is ACCESS, with or without Discovery.

Jenny Barrows of the Hopkins School said,  “our students will never find our best materials if we have crappy records”. She and her colleagues believe that our shelves can practically sparkle with a quality, well honed collection, but the reality is that our students are still going through the computer to search for sources. Like all the time. They do not browse. They WILL NOT find our books if they are badly cataloged.

She and her team of 3  began a descriptive catalog project, hoping to increase access points. Read all about it and learn the steps it takes to implement in your own library here.

In essence, bad cataloging blocks our students’ access to information. This is going to take some time, but we need to be as diligent in weeding our records as we are in weeding our shelves. 

Welcome to Katie’s Summer Project Numero Uno. Good times! 

Speaking of cataloging/barriers to access, Liz Gray just shared this thought provoking article via Facebook. Do you check to make sure that your records are politically correct and not potentially offensive to your community?

On a semi-related note, do you think about teenagers’ natural language searching  or do you stick with standardized subject headings?

AISL16 & Access: Source Illiteracy as block to access

How can we access that which we are not aware of?

The next ‘access issue’ that I want to address is one that I thought long and hard about after attending what was easily one of the best conference sessions I have ever experienced. It was given by Nora Murphy of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, and is taken from an article that will soon be published in KQ…be on the lookout! Note: Nora is one of my new librarian sHeros. Check out her amazing library website.

Nora did not present the material as an access-issue, per se. I’m taking liberties with that part, but just go with it for a moment. I think hope that it will make sense in the end.

frog   axolotl




Nora began her presentation by showing us an image of a frog and an axolotl. Frogs are the publications that we are familiar with–magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, etc. (Note: not all of our kids know that these frogs are frogs.) Axolotls are things that resemble frogs, but really aren’t–they could include trade journals, government documents, blogs, and social media.

We as adults and professionals observe, categorize, ask questions. Our students aren’t typically this savvy (or simply have no exposure from which to draw).

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

From the Virtual Library. Used with permission via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Nora argues that we are missing a piece between location & selection of sources.

<——-Source Literacy goes here. This gap gets in the way of research in a serious way.

Source literacy requires knowledge of source types. What it is, where it exists, what it contains, who creates it, and why. Like anything we teach, we have to expose kids repeatedly to sources or they will forget. Nora suggests that we systematically create a bank of knowledge for them to draw on in the future.

She is all about the Source Bank.

Here’s an example she gave:

9th health class asks, “Why isn’t everything in the grocery store organic?”. What sources do you imagine will have relevant information on this topic? They think of some newspapers, a magazine or two, but really they don’t know much and aren’t able to predict what kinds of sources would have good information on farming, the food industry, or current trends.

How do we expand their source literacy beyond basic, standard publications?

Here’s another idea for a US History class. Convince their teachers that kids MUST know what an oral history is. It’s critical. Invite the teacher(s) to plan with you, to co-teach, co-assess—a unit, a year long goal, over next 3 years we will x, y, and z, whatever fits your school culture, but knowing that the repetition of a concept is what it takes to place it into long term memory.

9th Create assignment, what is an oral history? Characteristics? Do something with it.

10th grade: Studying the impact of religious, cultural, or racial persecution.

Explore sources that contain oral histories:

  • Holocaust Museum
  • Documents of the American South
  • LOC Civil Rights Project

Create a Digital Sourcebank. She likes Trello because it allows students to annotate (how they used a source, what they thought of it at the time, etc.

Nora is piloting Trello with a few of her students. She showed us an example of a students’ work exploring the China/Tibet Relationship. The student had created columns in her source bank which included: Preliminary/Informal sources (idea generation), Core sources (print and digital), Necessary Bias—she needs to consider, but knows it represents a particular point of view (HOW GREAT IS THAT REALIZATION?!), and finally, Visual Texts. Notice: the student is categorizing her own sources.

The benefit of the source bank being formed early in the research process is that it allows for source assessment EARLY ON, not when the bibliography is turned in.

There are so many wonderful, free resources out there, but if our students haven’t had exposure to a lot of different kinds of publications, frogs and axolotls alike, how can they possibly generate the kind of sophisticated, open source, research that could lead them to relevant results?

If we do not make source knowledge a priority, then aren’t we ourselves, a sort of human barrier to our students’ access?

I’ve hit you with a lot of information here. What are your thoughts? Please comment below. And please, if someone’s comment resonates with you, chime in! The more we can discuss, the better.

Google Drive, redux

Way back in the fall of 2014 when Independent Ideas was a newborn blog, my first post was Why I’m Drinking the “Google Drive” Kool Aid  As I finish January “research season” with my freshmen and am full force into Sophomore World History projects, Google Drive has been on my mind. We’ve tweaked our use of Drive over the past two years. We’re now spending less time mandating that everything be done in the same (exacting) format, and instead are focusing on freeing ourselves up to answer individual questions as students work independently in class and at home.Drive LogoWe’ve given each student a research partner who is his first responder for basic technology assistance and general questions. (This time of year we have a lot of students missing days for sports championships and Model Congress-type competitions, so partners were tasked primarily with keeping each other up-to-date and answering questions like, “Is there a rubric for the outline?”) Some students chose to share their project folders with their partner, and those who did so benefited from the extra set of eyes on their work. The Google Drive cloud-based platform has proven important not only for the ability to share work, but also for the ability to switch between devices. We’ve learned that the iPad is not the ideal (litotes, anyone?) device for writing a research paper with Chicago-style footnotes.

Basically, beware, the mobile interface sometimes eats your footnotes.File TypeWe have a class set of computers in the library, and students switch back and forth between PC and iPad depending on whether they are working on steps like note-taking and writing or steps like formatting footnoting and creating a bibliography. We want students to know that the format is standardized and is important, but we don’t want them spending time stressing about a hanging indent.Sample FileWith 80 9th graders this year and a month timeline for the freshman paper process, the teacher and I split up the classes in terms of commenting on individual assignments. We have a modified draft where we pick a few favorite topics (and a few students we specifically want to shepherd along), and then we each take the remainder of the students in two of the periods. Google Drive has shortkeys for commenting, and copy/paste has been my friend for many common concerns. We make sure to leave a trail so that we are supporting each other and providing the same feedback. We sometimes ask struggling students to respond so we know that they are reading our comments and making changes. I have my account set up so that anytime a comment is added or someone responds to one of my comments, I receive an email. These link right back to the document and provide context. “Is this too vague?” now refers to a sentence and not to the paper as a whole. I feel like feedback is targeted. In this particular project, two of the top freshmen worked diligently on their papers on their own asking for feedback electronically on an almost daily basis. Their final papers were much better because we were able to give them the individual support that they craved as they reached sticking points in the process.CommentsThe visibility and sharing are helpful for our internal coordination as well as for other supportive resources. As we plan our trip to the public library, we give the librarians at the Central Library viewing access to our topic/thesis/is this student on track spreadsheet that we update daily. They pull materials and run database searches on each subject. I can’t praise their reference department there too highly! Students working with tutors and with our Center for Academic Success staff share their folders so that the individuals working with them can use our comments to guide their work. Students have been known to share their files with other History and English teachers, especially during the revision process.Add ArticleAnother change over the last two years involves file types. On those occasions when I serendipitously come across the perfect article for a student’s research while working with another student, I’ll drop a file into her folder. These unpredictable surprises can’t help but lead to a little dopamine spike and maybe more time spent working on research. (On a related note, here’s how we talk about the compulsive desire for technology with our students.) We play around each year with requirements for notes, and for the past two years we stuck with this wording. “We encourage you to take notes in Google Drive so we can see what you’re working on and accelerate you to the next step. However, if you’re someone who learns better with paper notes, listen up. At the end of each class period, take a picture of your notes from the day and upload them.” The vast majority take notes in Drive, though a few students in each class thank us profusely for letting them work with paper and pen. Moving beyond photos, let’s talk about extra credit. Almost every student will admit that teachers recommend that they should read their papers aloud to themselves as they revise. But they don’t. We’ve taken to offering one optional extra credit point to freshmen who record themselves reading the first three paragraphs of their essay and then record a 30-60 second reflection of the experience. They upload the audio to Google Drive, and we check that it’s complete. The feedback is pretty consistent.

“My paper didn’t sound like I thought it did.”

“I hate my voice.”

“I have a lot of work to do over the next week.”

By now you’ve probably figured out our secret plan; the extra credit is just a gateway point to more time spent revising and a better final product.Multiple FilesAs this has been a relatively glowing review of Google Drive thus far, it’s time for the two caveats. Students are terrible at remembering to make their files Google Drive files and often upload Pages, Word, or pdf documents. This means that we can’t offer feedback, and we make them resubmit. These are often the same students who create files outside of the folders shared with us, who then wonder why we haven’t reviewed their work. I don’t know why these are the one sticking points, but it’s been consistent for a few students each year.

We’re not paperless yet, but we’re closer. More importantly, for us it’s been a collaboration miracle, letting us work more efficiently as one unit. Any other thoughts on Google Drive? Suggestions for projects or collaborations, particularly for schools that are Google for Education schools?

Passive Collaboration…aka “a foot in the door”

Collaboration is a buzzword these days. I’m all for collaboration. How can you be against collaboration? However, you may be familiar with what I have taken to calling “passive collaboration.” Some of the blog posts over the past few months have dealt with the difficulty of reaching every student. We all have students and teachers who recognize the value of libraries more than others. Teachers have a surefire way to access students and motivate them; I do not. While I’ve had success approaching teachers with my ideas, I’ve had greater success when teachers approach me and tell me the lessons that they are planning. Then I work with them and add in the research and information literacy components that I’ve been dreaming about. I feel like it’s in keeping with the “yes and” rule of improve theater. How can I build on your ideas?

“Oh, you want your entire class to research the biography of William Shakespeare without using Wikipedia?” How interesting. Yes and….while they’re in the library, can we use that time to compare different types of encyclopedias and see how that influences the information included in each entry? Or perhaps we can discuss why we don’t have firm dates for much of Shakespeare’s life and brainstorm the reasons scholars think they know what they do? Or I’ve found that most students have never heard of the “authorship question” regarding Shakespeare’s works, so I would love to hear their reactions to this short video and learn how that changes their understanding of Shakespeare’s legacy. Which sounds best to you, and which dates were you hoping to come to the library by the way? Let’s get you on the calendar!”

I’m a planner by nature—I think most librarians are—so this does not come naturally to me. But I’ve learned that there is a playfulness that comes with this level of adaptability, and it ultimately leads directly to more time with students, my favorite part of the job. One example that jumps to mind from this past semester is when a teacher asked me to come to a middle school Humanities class to hear each student present on a current events article of his or her choosing from the news. There were a few on global health and economics, but most were on immigration and refugees. As we started to compare the information in various newspapers and different countries’ responses to immigration, the teacher invited me (in front of the class) to come back every Monday to continue to analyze immigration reporting in newspapers around the globe. It ended up being a lot of fun, and student feedback last week indicated that they felt they had a much more nuanced understanding of immigration in December than in September. A separate example? When I was asked to help World History students provide feedback to student work from a sister school in Japan, it turned into a multiday lesson on how to write reviews and give feedback electronically, using our own town as an example. The time flew by. And I’ll be working with that teacher again in February on a longer project. A foot in the door….

I’m not saying that librarians should take a backseat to teachers, but I’m living in a world where doing so gives me so many more opportunities to collaborate. Think about the adage, “restrictions breed creativity.” Right now, enjoy the winter break, and when you come back to school, refreshed, in January, make it your resolution to go with the flow and try something new that a teacher presents to you!

More “un-fancy” things…

Each year, our 8th graders spend a week in Boston and are required to complete a month-long research project studying a topic that relates in some way to the trip. Because the librarian before me was incredibly organized, I have files for each project dating back to the early 2000s. For years, the final product was a five-page historical report, with many intermediary steps such as 40 notecards, a page outline, and a full MLA bibliography. In recent years, however, the project has been amorphously shape-shifting, as we’ve experimented with modernizing the assessment. David Wee just shared his experiences with teaching note-taking in the 21st century, and I feel the need to do the same with research projects.

This week has been a librarian’s dream….well, if you’re a librarian Energizer Bunny supplied with chocolate-covered espresso beans. Our 8th grade has four sections, and all week is collaborative interdisciplinary chaos. Students are being given two class periods in which to work with three educators —the History teacher, the English teacher, and me— on hand at all times to assist. As someone with a flexible schedule, it’s phenomenal to have the gift of time and the opportunity to work individually with students.

Thinking back to old-school quality research skills, here are some other ways that the project seems to be working well:

    • In the past, topics were limited to history and the topics necessitated that students write reports:
      • Lowell Mill Girls
      • Samuel Adams
      • James Fennimore Cooper
      • Wampanoag Indians
      • Boston Massacre
    • Now, all the 8th grade teachers are working collaboratively via GoogleDocs to develop analytical questions across subject areas. It’s not possible to simply “wiki-up” the answer:
      • How did depictions of the Battle of Bunker Hill differ from the American and British perspectives?
      • What characteristics best describe the Sons of Liberty and how did they go about seeking change in the colonies?
      • How did harnessing water power change the energy budget of Revolutionary times?
      • How have the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park played a role in Boston’s history and identity?
      • How have burial traditions changed from Revolutionary times?
    • These topics are more comparative and often ask the students to answer a how/why question without the stress of coming up with their own thesis statement. Middle school students benefit from learning what goes into analytical research questions so that they are more comfortable developing their own questions in future projects.
    • Students are able to choose their own topics from a list of 75 instead of picking a topic randomly out of a paper bag. I consider this a huge win for the kids! There’s more buy-in from students who are invested in learning more about topics they’ve chosen themselves.
    • By giving students 300 minutes of unstructured class time after returning from Boston, we’re helping them learn time management. We are able to monitor student progress on a minute-by-minute basis, eliminating the black box surrounding student work that’s sent home.
    • In a somewhat ironic librarian move, I requested that we get rid of the requirement for a “printed book source” and instead offer a range of source choices, of which each student must choose at least three. This means that students are able to choose the sources that best fit their individual topics rather than trying to pigeonhole a source that doesn’t quite work just to meet an arbitrary requirement. (In case you’re interested, the possible sources include the following: book, reputable website, primary source, EBSCO database source, Encyclopedia Britannica article, newspaper article, magazine article, informational brochure, and educational video.)
    • I’m a fan of choice; however, there is one additional source that is a requirement for each student. Since we wanted the students to pay attention during the Boston trip and to take advantage of the expertise of docents at each site, they were required to submit three interview questions to their advisor ahead of time and to interview one expert while in Boston. This lets them practice speaking with an adult in a “professional” setting and gives them direct answers to their questions. I love it!

And here’s the twist. While it might seem like all is well and good, I do have questions about the project in its current form. It is difficult if not impossible to create a project that will engage every student and will build skills for future endeavors. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself:

    • I requested that we broaden the list of possible sources. Therefore, I want to say that giving students the latitude to choose the best sources for their individual topics has been an unmitigated success. It isn’t true. Some students are confused by the different choices and feel like they don’t know where to search for their topics. They turn exclusively to their trusty friend Google. On a case-by-case basis, this is easy to solve, but it doesn’t address the quiet students who want to remain under the radar. When should we be teaching students the best types of sources for individual projects, separate from evaluating sources of a particular type on a particular topic?
    • Whenever you give students the latitude to work independently in a classroom setting, some use the time more wisely than others. For every student who diligently uses every minute, there is another who has gotten off track with cat videos. Then there are the aforementioned quiet students who assert “I have everything I need” whenever you stop by. However, my most urgent question is about the students who stick by the teacher needing constant approval without advancing independently. How do you balance your time with students during unstructured class time?
    • Next up would be the iPads themselves. I have already spent 4 ½ periods today answering bibliography questions. Some of our digital natives don’t know how to italicize, double space, indent, or otherwise meet the requirements of MLA style. And the mobile versions of websites can hide the publication information that you need to cite a source correctly. Do you foresee a major change in specific formatting requirements in the coming years?
    • The format of this project has shifted from a paper to a: “Product: The way you demonstrate your expertise is up to you.  Product should involve creativity or analysis. How can you most effectively and engagingly show your findings?  What skills do you have and how can you utilize them?” This comes shortly in the project description after the Product Objective, which I wholeheartedly support! “Use research to demonstrate expertise on your topic through analysis or creativity.” Again, I struggle with the balance between too much and too little freedom. Many students have chosen to write a five paragraph essay because it is a more familiar format to them. Others are designing posters or padlets. One girl is creating a comic book, and a few are writing a series of letters, such as between a mill girl and a miner and a doctor to his patients. I see some students spending more time on research and others on aesthetics. Some formats make it easier to demonstrate expertise in a subject. I also wonder how to keep grading fair across formats. Is a three minute video comparable to a five paragraph essay or a poster? And do we have teachers have the expertise in each format to gauge the quality of the student’s research as well as the quality of a particular format?
    • Writing takes practice. And that practice must be supported with feedback and revisions. And that takes time. And students don’t necessarily enjoy it. And it can be time consuming for all involved. Does that mean that it isn’t worthwhile? I will be working with the English and History department chairs to determine the approximate number of pages that students have written historically compared with the current year. Our upper class teachers have expressed concern that our students’ writing is not as strong as it used to be. If this is a direct result of fewer writing assignments, is that something we need to address or should we focus more on assignments that demonstrate greater digital literacy?
    • I have been working to align research expectations over the Middle and High school years. My ideal would include two research-based projects in each grade, one with a creative output and one with a written output. The projects could be split across disciplines and would give students the opportunity to practice the research process. We are getting there but aren’t there quite yet. Does anyone have a model they could share?

Just like Dave’s note-taking conclusion, I have no one-size-fits-all solution. There is a team of smart dedicated teachers who want to teach the research process in an approachable and engaging way, and this iteration is a work in progress.

How Do You Throw Like a Girl?

This summer our history department chair shared a collaborative document of resources for teaching Social Justice and Multicultural Understanding. I was immediately drawn to the link for Spike Lee’s short documentary, Throw Like a Girl about Mo’Ne Davis. In the summer of 2014, Mo’Ne became the first girl to ever pitch a shutout in the Little League World series. She was the first American girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2004. Even if you never plan to use the film in the classroom, I emphatically encourage everyone to watch the 16 minute profile of this incredibly talented, eloquent, and humble young role model!

Embedded in the document shared by our department chair were resources for utilizing the many links in the classroom. I scoured the internet for other ideas and found the Philadelphia Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League’s unit for teaching about gender stereotypes along with this film.

This idea for a new unit to share with my Fifth Grade students also got me thinking about ways in which I could creatively incorporate the theme of our school’s core values which we were rolling-out for this academic year. The core values are: Be Brave, Authentic, Compassionate, Curious, and Spirited. I had created resource lists of books in our library catalog for our teachers to use that showcase a core value within the theme of each book. And after researching more about Mo’Ne Davis, it was clear that she illustrated each of the core values in all that she has accomplished and embodies. In the film there are many references to Mo’Ne’s attendance at an independent school in Philadelphia, which is a great connection for our girls as well.

We began the unit by drawing pictures of baseball players. You can see from the students work below that not all of them chose to illustrate a male player! We displayed the pictures which were anonymous and then captured the commonalities and differences in our drawn characterizations of the players. This activity helped situate our current understanding and where we had areas to grow our learning.

IMG_0738IMG_0740The Fifth Grade students complete a capstone research project at the end of the year which culminates in a five-minute speech for the Lower School. I am fully integrated in this project, and work with the homeroom teachers to prepare the students for their research. As part of this unit on Mo’Ne Davis I sought to actively incorporate the skills students will use later in the year. To that end, I selected articles from the New York Times, CNN, and Time magazine to read and summarize for the class. Resources used for the Fifth Grade speech process typically include multiple formats and this lesson gave students exposure to the news articles most students would use as a source in their speech project. By sharing my rationale for using news articles to learn more about Mo’Ne Davis, I was thrilled to see the students understand my logic and dive in to the readings!

We discussed vocabulary related to the readings and used throughout the film such as stereotype, gender, discrimination, and role model. Our discussions were spirited and we will conclude the unit by viewing Spike Lee’s film: Throw Like a Girl, along with the video: #Likeagirl. The final step in our learning is to throw a baseball and see if we can “throw like a girl” and approximate this young athlete’s incredible speed and location!

The dreaded ‘web evaluation checklist’

As crocuses emerge from the frozen ground, I too reappear in mid-February after a month and a half of focused freshmen research. The freshmen research project is a keystone of 9th grade, the Western Civ teacher and I co-teach every day and every step, four classes a day Monday through Friday. The research is broken into daily tasks, and success in each task is valued as much as success in the final paper.

Website evaluation is one of these tasks. In 9th grade, students are confident in their web searching abilities. They are also, perhaps, overconfident in their ability to evaluate their sites as worthy of inclusion in their research. Thus, the dreaded ‘web evaluation checklist.’ We have adapted the checklist used by the University of Maryland Libraries:

We first spend a class searching for topics together and reflecting on what we find. We go over authority, accuracy, currency, bias, and coverage. Students are taught to “think about clues that will let them know if a website is good to cite in an academic research paper.” We try to frame our discussion using that specific vocabulary and students get that different levels of evaluation are needed for different purposes.

A pdf means it’s true.

If it’s a soldier’s account, that means it’s unbiased because he was there.20150206_093018

Thus, the web evaluation checklists. There’s no sugar-coating this. The kids hate the checklists. The only selling point is that their completion leads to a A on one of their daily assignments. However, the following year, when teachers are stricter about citing websites, students frequently return to the library to say that they are relieved that they know what they need to evaluate on the page before they begin to take notes.20150209_170047

The sheet can be completed by a diligent student in about two minutes, it’s mainly checkmarks, and the format forces students to click out of their specific page. Sections include: authority and accuracy; purpose and content; currency; and design, organization, and ease of use. Students finish with a one-sentence analysis stating why they think the site is good for research.20150213_105153

While it may seem surprising, we have purposely reverted to paper for the checklists. This serves three purposes. It keeps websites from being the easiest research option since they now involve an extra step that subscription databases do not. It also makes students consider the url and all relevant information because they have to rewrite it, which is more time intensive than copying and pasting. Finally, it gives us a visual for students who like to Google individually for each piece of information that they need. There are always a few students who search for single pieces of evidence, find one source for each, and ultimately end up with 15 sources for a 1700 word paper. When they hand in a stack of sheets, we have a conversation about actually saving time by finding three to five quality sources that will meet almost all of their information needs.20150213_083130

Reading student analysis of websites help me notice what students value most and what I need to address when teaching website evaluation. The most common weakness is found when I see this answer or one of its variants.20150213_105139

Just because information is needed does not mean it is accurate or authoritative or credible. Sometimes, students are surprisingly honest in their answers as they reconcile their need for a particular piece of information and their distrust of a particular site.20150213_105105

There’s a lot on the web, and the sites that often show up first on results pages are not always the ones that are best for research purposes. We teach better search strategies, and in grade 9, we also force web evaluation. It’s a strategy that meets our needs by requiring students to stop and reflect. It’s one part of our digital citizenship curriculum in middle and upper school. Now I’m curious to hear from you. What lessons have worked well in teaching students about using websites for academic purposes? How do you keep students from limiting themselves to the commercial sites that populate the first page of search results?

Citation Theory – A recap

Thanks for all for your help last week as I prepared a block class on citation theory for our three AP Language classes. It was surprisingly the most fun that I have had with a class all year because it wasn’t just a crunch of time to answer panicked questions about individual sources. I think that I learned as much from the students as they learned from me. We opened with 5 minutes of writing reflection on the following questions.

1. With what documentation styles are you familiar?

2. What are the important parts of any citation?

3. Why are there different standardized citation styles?

4. What challenges have you faced with documentation?

We split our libraries at grade seven, so I’ve been working with some of these Juniors for the past 4 1/2 years. Each year there is a research project that contains some sort of citation component. Loosely speaking, here are the four biggest research assignments they should have completed:

7th grade History – Native American history and culture presentation – Modified MLA

8th grade History/English – Boston, Early America, and the Industrial Revolution presentation and paper – MLA

9th grade History – Western Civilizations research paper with thesis – Chicago

10th grade History – World History research paper with thesis – Chicago

And now we come to 11th grade…

Students’ answers to these open-ended questions made me realize that the one-shot sessions that we’ve done in previous years have taught them how to follow directions well. This is a good first step but it isn’t enough in a college preparatory school. I love Debbie Abilock’s description of our role in “adding friction” to the process. In discussion, students focused almost exclusively on the anti-plagiarism component of citations. Both the teacher and I stressed that this was the reason we needed to discuss the least, especially in an AP class. He used the analogy of a science experiment, where the purpose of the lab report is to allow others to recreate your experiment to see if they reach the same conclusions. I come from a slightly different angle, most enjoying seeing how students use the ideas of others. Where are they summarizing, where are they synthesizing, and most interestingly, where are they using source data to draw different conclusions? You could see the students’ engagement increase we treated them like rising scholars whose ideas are worth considering, rather than children on the verge of stealing someone else’s work. For the first time, I felt like students “bought into” the idea of citations. Since the AP curriculum only mandates that you teach students skill with a citation style but doesn’t specify which one, we all had a frank discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of MLA and Chicago. Students thought carefully about which was more appropriate for their paper, a synthesis on citizenship using the ideas of Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, and an additional primary source and secondary piece of criticism. Making this decision individually certainly added friction to the research process. The teacher and I spoke honestly about our frustrations with all style guides in the digital age. Students accessed Plato’s “Crito” on a pdf hosted by MIT’s Internet Classics Archives site, where they had to consider the translator and had no stable page numbers. “The Declaration of Independence” is located on the National Archives site. It neither follows the standards for a government document nor for a website. We all hypothesized ways that style guides might continue to evolve as more documents are either born digital or accessed digitally. I think it’s important that students aren’t just completing citations by rote, but thinking about the reasoning behind them, and this kind of critical discussion opens the possibility for that.

As I go into underclassmen research season this winter, I’m going to think carefully about how I present citations. For starters, we will talk openly about online citations generators and the differences between web-based ones like easybib and eturabian compared with automatic generators in our online subscription databases. This is a classic example of a time when technology should  assist thought, not supplant it. It is not important for students to memorize style rules, nor should they blindly follow the instructions of an online citation generator. I don’t mind if they use one to help them get the right format, but they need to read it over afterwards to see if it makes sense. (Real example: If you see this and only this, you should backtrack! “L.” Etter from a Birmingham Jail. Web. October 27, 2014.) The ultimate goal is that students won’t be stressed out by citations but will know where to go for assistance. This leaves the bulk of their brain power for reading, search, analysis and writing.

When I’m preparing for a class, I tend to take notes as I read and consider how to present a subject. If you want to know the gist of everything I read and see notes for further learning on citations and style guides, open the following document on Google Drive. There’s some surprising trivia in there!

I hope you’re given the opportunity to “just talk” about citations at some point in the future. These three classes impacted the way that I’ll be teaching citations in the future and gave the kids a chance to think about them as more than a completion task for an individual assignment. As a bonus for the library, about a third of the students came to see me individually to talk about their specific needs for their papers. One-on-one time with students is generally the most effective time with them, and this is a higher-than-average rate of return for the invitation. Please share below if you have had a lesson on citations that worked particularly well. If you’d like to continue the conversation, I’d love to hear from you!

Library & Capstone, like PB&J

The Capstone Project, loosely defined as an independent project, typically completed during junior or senior year, allowing a student to complete an in depth study or exploration of something that is meaningful to them that either isn’t included in the school’s curriculum or that allows exploration at a much deeper level. They research it, reflect on it, and then present their findings to their school community. In short, they are going to become your on campus expert on something. A much better, much longer definition is here. Each school puts their own spin on it: will it be required, opt-in, or by invitation only? Will it culminate in a research paper, a TED-style talk, or something else? Will students be assigned  or will they seek out adult mentors?  Will there be internal mentors, external, or both?  The potential scenarios are enough to make your head spin.

My school is in its second year of a pilot capstone program. We call it the “Signature Program“, as in a culminating educational experience as unique to our students as their own signature. We have approximately 36 students (mostly seniors) participating and they apply, find their own on-campus mentor, and most of them also have off campus mentors. Sometimes we help place them, other times they already know of someone; we are constantly seeking out alumnae who might mentor. We have a program coordinator who also teaches biology here and two co-managers who monitor student blogs; I am one of the two. We also have three other faculty members who serve on our planning committee who offer invaluable insight. Our students blog to reflect on and share their journey. I created a libguide to help them get started. Last year, the library was lucky enough to host the Signature exhibition where each student set up either a poster session or a digital representation of their work and the school community came through to listen and ask questions. This year, we are planning the exhibition around reunion weekend and including sessions by notable alumnae as well, to be distributed throughout campus.

In the next few weeks, I will be working with the students to help them research and develop annotated bibliographies for their topics. I am brainstorming ways to create an internal “Mentor Marketplace” where kids can shop for mentors (alumnae and faculty alike) based on interests/skills that they might not be aware of. A math teacher who’s an avid fly fisher-woman? A science teacher who’s a certified pilot? Awesome!  We can’t be bound by curricular tie-in’s in independent schools; we are working with some very dynamic individuals. I’m always looking for ways to do more for the Signature program. Last week, I attended the excellent (free!) AASL Webinar entitled, “Senior/Capstone Project: The Role of the School Librarian” (archived here for members: AASL eCOLLAB) . Many of you asked me to take good notes as you were unable to attend so here goes! I will share with you what I learned and hope that you will respond with your own thoughts and experiences.

I was surprised to learn in the Webinar that there was an actual library/capstone task force out there investigating things, looking for exemplary programs and activities, who published a formal report, the AASL Senior/Capstone Project Task Force Report. Take a look. Webinar presenters were some of the exemplary program coordinators who were recognized by the task force.

First up: Kay Wejrowski, Swan Valley High School (2013 AASL National Program of the Year). Kay described the themes that her school uses: “Leadership takes many formsand “One person can make a difference. All must answer a few universal questions, “How can I contribute to the world in which I live?” and “What responsibilities do individuals have to our global society?”. Her students do something that is meaningful to them, they “discover their own purpose”. Wejrowski says that the library helps them with each step of the process. They help sort and narrow topics,  help them locate and sometimes purchase a specific “anchor text” for their research. They help the students locate resources outside of the school, identifying potential speakers or local organizations they might partner with. The librarians might edit the student’s research paper, help them locate visual aids for their presentations, or they might host after school work sessions to guarantee that students have adequate time and support to complete their projects. Each student chooses a mentor for their work;  the librarian might be one if asked. My favorite piece of Wejrowski’s talk had to do with librarians capitalizing on their personal relationships with their students to help them find their passion. She said, “the goal is for them to grow academically and as young adults. We [as librarians] talk with them, we get to know who they are and where they are coming from.” In short, knowing our students can help us guide them towards meaningful capstone experiences. I love this.

Brenda Boyer was the next presenter. Side note: this one was my favorite. Brenda is the librarian at Kutztown Area High School in Kutztown, PA. Her presentation was entitled “Raising Rigor Through the Capstone Program” and was recognized by AASL as an award-winning collaborative effort between the school’s library and language arts department. Boyer partnered with two language arts colleagues, fully supported by their administration who secured substitutes for them while they essentially holed up for a week of 8 hour planning sessions. Their goal was to ensure that their students were college ready–that there was uniform information fluency, assessment, and preparation. They really needed that week of planning as their challenges included isolating specific information fluency skills, determining how/when to target these skills, agreeing upon formative and summative assessments, developing rubrics, developing a reflection piece, determining how to “package” content, and developing a process guide. Here’s what they came up with:

An Inquiry Process Guide (Google Doc) where all student work was recorded. They queried faculty to get a feel for “in previous years, students really needed help with ____”, they also spoke with recent graduates about their preparedness for college, and Boyer used her own previous Senior Advanced Research class experience to establish information skill needs. The school is a 1:1 school utilizing Mac Book Pros, so they knew that they wanted to choose platforms that would allow for 24/7 access. They opted to house their project in Moodle. This included all content, instruction, reflection prompts, a glossary of 200 research terms, links to Libguides and actual Libguide content boxes utilizing the API utility. They created a “Virtual Library” using a Libguide loaded with database widgets that they refer to as “Search Apps”. Their goal was to make information accessible in 2 clicks or less. They replicated much of the Moodle instruction within the Libguide as well to make it accessible wherever the student was. The Google drive was then used to house all of the students’ work, the formative evidence, information fluency skills, reflections, rubrics, etc.

The final presentation was given by Michelle Fossum, Research Teacher and Educational Leader, and Lindsay Downs, Research Teacher, of City Charter High School in Pittsburgh, PA. Theirs is unique in that their school has four dedicated “library science certified teachers” who are assigned to a cohort (grade). Each teacher loops with his/her cohort as they advance through the school so their kids get consistent research instruction from the beginning to the end of their high school career. The Capstone is a graduation requirement for each student. Theirs is a year-round school and is divided into trimesters. Each 9th and 10th grader spends a trimester with their research teacher learning the basics. They select their capstone topic as a junior and spend the year doing background research, compiling a 16+ source annotated bibliography, and complete the written component of the project. Senior year is dedicated to completing the action part of the project and presenting their findings to the community. A challenge that they faced was adjusting expectations of rigor as needed for students of differing abilities. They define rigor as being “fully engaged in a personally challenging activity that requires applying knowledge, analyzing information, evaluating situations, and/or creating projects derived from that new understanding.” While interesting, this was the least helpful presentation for me. I am a solo librarian working with students who apply for our program and while subject matter might require some adjustment of expectations of rigor (say, coaching a children’s basketball team vs. writing a novel vs. working with with graduate students at RPI on biomedical research aimed at opening the blood-brain barrier); I simply can not wrap my mind around having four dedicated research teachers to support a program.


The most helpful/doable pieces that I took from the Webinar are helping students explore topics, select, and perhaps order good ‘anchor texts’, working 1:1 with students to create annotated bibliographies, and utilizing technology to weave information literacy into the project. I am currently working on creating a Schoology page in lieu of Moodle, a Libguide loaded with widgets organized by subject, and I really like the Google doc idea. I could potentially teach a research basics course for sophomores or juniors considering Signature. I’m thinking that I could use a Google doc to meet synchronously with students for virtual reference support. It would be great to answer questions and to record our process for future reference.

If your school is considering a Capstone project, check into the  Capstone Consortium (resources, Summer Summit info, etc.). Our program coordinator attended the Summer Summit last year and did some invaluable networking, not to mention the awesome ideas he brought back for enhancing our program.

Does your school already have a Capstone Program? If so, how does the library support it?



Ending the Year With a Bang

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every library school in the country should require its students to take at least one marketing course. We are all trying to convince our communities of our utility. It’s even more challenging to convince colleagues to work with you when you’re new to a community. I posted earlier this year about my primary strategy in my freshman year, the Information Audit, but I think I found an even greater success at the very…last…moment. Let me share.

With about 3 weeks to go before our final faculty meeting, I learned that I would be given an hour and a half to present on library resources. We were all exhausted. I half-way joked that I didn’t want to be this guy going “Databases? Databases? Anyone?” right there at the end. I knew that this had to go well if I was to start year 2 with positive momentum…the heat was on.

After over-thinking the thing for about 2.5 weeks, I dove in and came up with this:
slideshare id=36481247&doc=dietel2-140630165602-phpapp02

*Note, Uncle Sam is from Troy, NY. I acquired the retired Emma themed Sam this year for the library, my mascot in the first slide. 🙂

If the to-do list beside me is any indication, the presentation was a success. A highlight, I believe, was the research quiz I gave the faculty. I printed out sheets with the questions on them. I prefaced it with something to the effect of, “These are just a few the things that we expect our students to know, but how many of these questions can YOU answer?”. I gave them 10-15 minutes to complete the quiz and then went through the questions and answers. It generated some amazing conversation.

I went to a few key teacher’s Schoology sites (key in that they are doing really cool things with their students, but they didn’t use me at all this year) and grabbed some assignments to create Libguides for. I demoed them as well as my favorite databases that I’d purchased for the school this year, and explained how we can guide students to the best resources via the Libguides. I created a screen cast to demo flipping a library lesson and offered to do this at any time, for teachers to add to their Schoology page for say, advanced search features of a key database or a Web 2.0 tool, etc. I mentioned some success stories and those teachers jumped in unprompted to explain to the group how the assignment changed, how learning was enhanced, by working with me.

I wanted to leave time for departments to meet individually at the end of the meeting to fill out an index card of ideas for working in or with the library, but I ran out of time.

What I ended with was a line of faculty asking questions, placing Libguide requests, and setting appointments to meet before they left campus for the summer to discuss collaboration next year. I also received an invitation from the Dean of Academics to continue the conversation by presenting periodically at faculty meetings next year and to continue to showcase collaborative success stories. Not only will it draw attention to library services, it also highlights innovative teaching throughout the school, something every teacher needs. I love a good win/win situation and I love the library being tied into a morale boosting movement on campus (more on that in a future post).

Starting over has not been easy. I have learned so much about myself this year. A hard truth that I am reluctant to admit is that I am impatient. I want to be there yesterday, wherever there is. In this case, building rapport with new colleagues, streamlining processes, purchasing and then marketing resources, establishing lines of communication…it’s taken a while, but the timing of it seems to be paying off.

Are you already presenting at faculty meetings? If so, what has worked well for you? What are your ideas?