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: http://www.lib.umd.edu/binaries/content/assets/public/usereducation/evaluating-web-sites-checklist-form.pdf

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!
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzHAd969884zQ040OUJ5ejdRazg/view?usp=sharing

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.

Takeaway:

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?

 

Writer’s Block

I’d like to start by thanking my friend and colleague, CD McLean, for stepping in on my behalf last month. I did indeed have some family circumstances that kept me from blogging, but I’m back now and ready to write.

Or am I? Therein lies the problem. I knew my deadline was approaching and I pondered it aloud in the kitchen one night as my husband and I prepared dinner. “Middle school,” I said. “I have no idea what to say!”
“Maybe you should write about writer’s block,” he joked.
I dismissed this initially and decided that was too obvious and gimmicky, but . . . here I am.

Writer’s block is a condition that plagues all of us from time to time: this is especially true for students, except they are even more handicapped by their youthful inexperience and their general feeling of invincibility. How many times have you witnessed a kid furiously scribbling out the last sentences of an essay ten minutes before it’s due because “I work better under pressure!” A little pressure can inspire a good performance, true, but chances are the muse dances more gracefully if her tune is not quite so breathless.

As some of you know, I have a summer job. As well as a library degree, I have degrees in art history and I was a lecturer at various colleges before I became an independent school librarian. Thus, I spend my summers writing reports for a company that authenticates works of art for galleries, insurance companies, auction houses and collectors. So basically this means I write research papers for money, except mine are legit and not those horrible “use this as an example!” ones for $24.95 on Cheaters-R-Us.com. I have a deadline to meet (and the pressure of deciding if someone’s family heirloom is a valuable original or worthless fake). I don’t get a grade but I do receive a reward, so to speak. My process is exactly what you’d expect: do some research, create a bibliography, sketch out an outline based on the evidence, give examples to support my argument, fill in with some prose, wrap it up, proofread, and submit.

So how do I overcome the problem of writer’s block, and what advice would I give to a seventh grader writing a three-pager about volcanoes?

Do the grindstone kind of work while waiting for inspiration. Can’t think of an opening sentence? Put together your bib instead. Can’t decide on a conclusion? Go back and reread some key passages in your research. Can’t figure out what your third example should be? Rewrite your intro. If most of the major pieces are in place well before the deadline, then the writer is afforded the luxury of just waiting for a beautiful first line, or graceful segue, or perfect conclusion. On the other hand, if the writer is too busy finding three volcanoes that all erupted in the last 50 years the day before the paper is due, there’s no room for real inspiration and the result is a mediocre essay at best.

It leaves room for serendipity, too. There have been times when I just couldn’t draw a conclusion or felt like my evidence was inadequate, and simply having the time to accidentally discover something useful while skimming a random book or even watching a TV show is priceless. What if there were a PBS program on Mt. St. Helen’s with new facts that completely blew apart the writer’s conclusion? Three days is plenty of time to rewrite page two and make a spectacular final essay, but jamming in an ill-placed sentence the hour before it’s due is veering into C territory, or worse if the writer ends up contradicting herself.

There’s no magic recipe for convincing middle schoolers to get it done early, but if we shepherd them along carefully, eventually they’re bound to see that a well-paced process allows for discovery, thoughtful examination, rewriting, and happy accidents. To make it real I try to share something of my own process when I give research lessons, and they always focus on the remunerative part of it, to which I say, “Sure, I get paid for it . . . IS YOUR GRADE WORTH LESS THAN MONEY?” No kid in his right mind says yes, so they shake their heads and get to work.

Libguide Love

libguideicon

If you are already using Libguides (per Springshare, pronouned lib (as in bib)-guides), then you know how helpful they are in streamlining the research process and integrating information literacy instruction. I find them particularly helpful in shepherding students towards the most appropriate databases, web resources, weaving in source evaluation checklists/instruction, embedding videos, promoting print and ebook collections…I could go on and on. I’m not ashamed, I’ll just say it:

I heart Libguides.

For those of you considering purchase, check out the features. They are reasonably priced and worth every dollar you spend, in my opinion, for the platform they provide for library instruction and integration into existing curriculum. Many university libraries are using them as well, so if you’re a college prep school, exposing your upper school students to them becomes an even more valuable experience.

One of my favorite attributes is the community directory, searchable by keyword, institution type, or my favorite, best of . Inspiration overload!!! In true librarian fashion, you can ask permission, then borrow parts or entire guides that make sense for your school, attributing where the information came from.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a Libguide expert. In my first 12 month position, I plan to become much more savvy this summer and I also plan to build up a good repository from which to draw next year (hopefully creating them poolside with WiFi…hey, it’s work, right?!). So, not an expert, but having started the program from scratch at two schools now, I would share the following advice:

Spend more time on the front end designing a consistent look/feel/flow of your guides so that your students are trained in how to read them. Customize your color scheme/logo to fit with your school’s site. I design my tabs to go left to right through the research process, from assignment home page to book tab, databases, web resource/evaluation, and then citation (or perhaps an avoiding plagiarism tab for good measure?). These things are not just useful for research, though! When my last school announced that they were instituting an iPad program in the middle school, I shared Berkeley Prep’s awesome iPad Initiative guide, tweaking it to fit our school/program. My colleagues were appropriately wowed (thanks CD!). Other schools, like The Overlake School have used a Libguide as their  homepage. I like this too!

I will say that when I start with Libguides, I spend days setting up a good admin guide that goes unpublished. In it, I create as many boxes as possible that I think I might link to later: a Destiny catalog search box, Gale Virtual Reference Library ebook search widget, research tips, citation information and online style guides, that sort of thing. Once this is in place, you can take an assignment and just whip up a guide, linking to those boxes without having to recreate the wheel. Need to make a change? Just do it within the admin guide and the change will be reflected in every guide you’ve linked to that particular box. I have stopped creating database widgets, honestly, because it is typically a basic search and I am trying to train my girls to choose the advanced search option every time to build in Boolean, look for full text, document type, pub date, and just basically create the most sophisticated search that they can do right off the bat.

So now I ask you seasoned Libguide creators: Can you share any lessons learned OR give us the link to some of your guides that you’re particularly proud of?

Newbies: have any questions that others might answer in the comments below?

The Libguides 2.0 platform is being launched now. Here are my notes from the Hot Topics session in Dallas. Have you had any experience with the new version? What do you like/not like?

Come on guys, light this comment area up! I know it’s a crazy busy time of year, but show me some LIBGUIDE LOVE!

 

Independent School Librarians and Common Core: What Are We Doing?

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standard Banner (from government source)

Common Core State Standard Banner (from government source)

Happy Holidays!  I don’t imagine anyone will look at this today,  but perhaps sometime this week…I decided to take a look at Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for today’s post and see how it was being used in the independent school library.

Independent Schools and CCSS

There are several librarians like Marianna McKim, Head Librarian at Kimball Union Academy, who said, “We are not officially using common core, but I am incorporating some of the ideas into our curriculum planning.”  And that seems to be a common theme in the independent school milieu in general: look at what’s going on, evaluate it, and then take what is good and use just what you need.  There is an abhorrence in the independence school world for being forced into a particular lock-step program. Hence the name independent!

Flowcharts and Brochures and CCSS

Joan Tukey, librarian at Notre Dame Academy, recently updated school brochures to reflect where Common Core skills were being used. You can see her work at the following link: Joan Tukey’s work on Common Core in her school

Webinars and CCSS

Margaret P. Simmons, Library Media Specialist at the June Shelton School, offered the advice to independent school librarians who are seeking to know more about Common Core that they listen to the Common Core and Text Types: What Should Students Be Reading? Webinar edWeb.net.

“I just listened to this webinar. It is so powerful! ” Simmons said in an email.

Libguides and CCSS

Joan Lange, librarian at Pope John Paul II High School, has done quite a bit of work on Common Core State Standards.  She has created some very good libguides, complete with powerpoints and links to other materials of note and is now working on another related project.  Her first libguide is general dealing with the standards in an overview way. You can find the libguide here: LibGuide:  Common Core State Standards (General Resources).  This libguide also includes a powerpoint by Lange’s  Science Dept. Chair illustrating how Common Core relates to Next Generation Science Standards. Her second libguide is history related and deals with teaching primary sources: LibGuide: Teaching with Primary Sources (History).  This libguide includes a powerpoint that she created illustrating the research process with primary sources as the starting point.  It is brilliant! I highly recommend that you take a look at it.

Lange’s next project is creating a Common Core bookcase of literary nonfiction works, across all disciplines.  This bookcase will be in her Professional Development and Audiovisual area.  She is hoping that prominent display will encourage conversations with teachers on how some of these short excerpts can be incorporated in their curriculum and connect with CCSS.

Technology,  Apps and CCSS

At the Berkeley Preparatory School we have started looking at CCSS in our Lower Division, where they are currently going grade by grade and looking at the Common Core skills and then comparing them to our Berkeley Identified Skills (BIS).  In the library in particular, we are looking at the American Association of School Librarians Learning Standards and Common Core Crosswalk and then adding our BIS skills in a third column.  Kathleen Edwards, our lower division librarian, is leading the charge on this effort.  We have taken the crosswalk and eliminated all the other skills except for the library related ones, making it a little easier to use.  We’ve broken the files down by grade level (k-12).  I will be posting those files in the AISL wiki.  If you are an AISL member, please go to AISL WIKI.  If you aren’t a member and are an independent school librarian, membership is only $25/year.  Or if you are a librarian who would just like the files,  comment below and if I receive enough requests, I will post all the documents here! (You could also link to us, as we would love to continue the conversation with you! 😎

Last year, Christina Arcuri, our collection development and upper/middle librarian, went to a YALSA conference where she learned about an app called Subtext. We talked about it and how cool it was, as it could allow a whole class to annotate a book together and share those annotations with each other.  And, it does much more than that:

  • You can create documents and convert them to an ePub format and then review them all together as a class for peer editing and review.
  • You can leave your own notes in the class text for students.
  • You have access to books and articles in Google play (free and pay), over 3 million and they do volume discounting.

However, at the time she saw it, our school was not doing iPads and I promptly forgot it.  But now, we have implemented iPads, albeit in a slow manner. Since one of the core items about CCSS is its inclusion of technology, this app seems like the perfect tool for how librarians can help faculty include instructional technology into the classroom.

This holiday break, Christina and I will be testing it out with a group of English faculty to see if we can use it even though we do not have a classroom set of iPads for upper division.  We are hoping that the browser version they are beta testing is robust enough. There is not a mobile app at this time. We might be able to borrow the middle division iPad classroom set in a pinch!  Or request a set of iPads for upper next year. If you are considering CCSS, I recommend that you check out Subtext, especially as they are exploring a browser version. Go to web.subtext.com if you want to try it.

Conclusion

This is just a taste of what is going on in the independent school library with CCSSs. Please follow the blog and comment if you want to be a part of the conversation.  Let us know what you are doing and what you have found to be successful.  If you have found a great app, please share it.

If you want to get started, here are some articles I found useful.  Paige’s article had some great links. And I hope everyone has a wonderful and relaxing holiday break!

  1. Cravey, Nancy. “Finding Inspiration in the Common Core.” Knowledge Quest. 42.1 2013 18-22 Advanced Placement Source. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/90230622/finding-inspiration-common-core
  2. Jaeger, Paige. “We Don’t Live in  a Multiple-Choice World: Inquiry and the Common Core.” Library Media Connection. Jan/Feb 2012 10-12. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ960050 [Note: Paige has some really good resources!]
  3. Fontichiaro, Kristin. “When Research Is Part of the Test.” School Library Monthly. 30.3 2013  53.
  4. Morris, Rebecca. “Find Where You Fit in the Common Core, or the Time I Forgot about Librarians and Reading.” Teacher Librarian. 39.5 2012 Advanced Placement Source. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/77053481/find-where-you-fit-common-core-time-forgot-about-librarians-reading