Reciprocal Technology Mentorship

As noted in the “Reciprocal Mentorship” blog post for Chapter 2: Job-embedded Professional Development learning with and from colleagues is a way to honor the principles of andragogy (adult learning theory) and for educators to provide and receive personalized, differentiated professional development (see Differentiated Professional Development). Learning with and from empowered students in also a way to strengthen our knowledge and skills and diffuse exciting future ready uses of resources, tools, devices, and skills throughout the school building and into families’ homes as well.

Learning with and from Colleagues
Sometimes school librarians are called upon to help colleagues understand the critical importance of digital learning and the benefit of collaborating for students’ digital learning success. To that end, pointing out that the Google News Initiative is taking off and showing educators how they and their students can benefit is a way to launch a digital learning conversation and build background and shared values for coplanning and coteaching.

These are two outstanding resources that may help classroom teachers understand the critical importance of digital learning and give school librarians an entrée into collaboration.

Crash Course has partnered with MediaWise and the Stanford History Education Group to make this series on Navigating Digital Information. “Let’s learn the facts about facts!”

Here’s the “Introduction to Crash Course Navigating Digital Information #1 with Author John Green.”

Also, on the MediaWise website, you will find a link to “Media News” with categories such as “fact-checking” that provide articles to stimulate classroom discussion and collaborative planning and coteaching. There are also links to events and training that educators may want to attend together to ensure the information they learn will make a greater impact on their instruction. MediaWise’s YouTube Channel is likewise a treasure trove.

Miranda Fitzgerald who strategically selected tools and tasks for (elementary) students provides these recommendations for selecting digital tools, which can apply to educators at all instructional levels:

  1. Do not settle for educational technologies designed for drill and rote memorization.
  2. Choose tools that promote discussion and collaboration during reading and writing.
  3. Pair digital tools with rich reading and writing tasks guided by meaningful questions.
  4. Select tools that challenge students to interpret and communicate information using multiple modes.
  5. Seek tools that level the playing field for students with a range of reading and writing skills (2018, 35).

Share these wise tips with colleagues or post them on your office wall.

Learning with and from Students
Speaking of wisdom, it is also wise for school librarians to make an intentional practice of learning with and from students. In any area where students know more than the adults in their lives, young people experience empowerment – increased strength and confidence. Since working with empowered students is our goal, educators must be eager to learn from students (as well as with them).

Student geek squads and school library aides can be mentors for other students, school librarians, and other educators who must be continually upgrading their technology knowledge and skills. Cross-age student technology mentors can be especially effective in K-6 or K-8 schools. Younger students enjoy learning from older and more savvy students in schools that span the grades. We may not reflexively think of these partnerships as “instructional,” but indeed they are, and school librarians can formalize some of these partnerships for the benefit of all.

In this month’s Digital Learning podcast, Jefferson Elementary school library media specialist Louis Lauer in the Fargo Public Schools shared an example of collaborative project with fifth-grade teachers. The project focused on developing materials that educators could use to teach students about the district’s Responsible Use Policy. Not only did fifth-grade students collaboratively develop these materials, they also shared them with 2nd-grade students. Win-win-win in terms of classroom-library collaboration, inviting students to serve digital citizenship leaders, and cross-age learning with younger students.

Internet of Stings, Digital Savvy, and Citizenship
Jennifer Howard published a provocative article in The Times Literary Supplement in 2016: The Internet of Stings. It includes brief book reviews of titles that address the potholes on the Internet superhighway. This cautionary article has haunted me since I first read it and has furthered my belief that school librarians can be problem-solvers alongside classroom teachers and families in order to prepare students for learning, working, and living in the technological age.

Ms. Howard asks this, “How much privacy are we willing to give up to reap the benefits of a networked world? To live digitally is a more complex and ambivalent process than any of these books captures, and there are risks that the authors do not acknowledge – for instance, how to archive and access the public data and cultural knowledge being created in quantities never seen before. At this moment in our digital evolution, though, what worries me most is whether we can find the collective will and the technological capacity to reclaim the internet from those who use it to exploit, control and abuse, whether they are criminals, governments, or white supremacists. It would be a disaster to let this decade spiral into a tech-enriched replay of the 1930s. Fear technology if you must, but fear the people who control it more.”

Clearly, it will take all students, educators, and families working together in order to help each other develop digital savvy and citizenship. Reciprocal mentorship among all stakeholders is required.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Why is it important to learn with and from students and colleagues and share information with families in the area of technology tools use and integration?
  2. How are you currently teaching/coteaching digital savvy and citizenship?

Work Cited

Fitzgerald, Miranda. 2018. “Multimodal Knowledge Building: Meaningfully Using Digital Tools to Foster Disciplinary Learning.” Literacy Today 36 (1): 34-35.

Howard, Jennifer. 2016. “The Internet of Stings.” The Times Literary Supplement. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/internet-of-stings/

Differentiated Digital Professional Development

There is no doubt in my mind that when classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians coteach they offer each other reciprocal mentorship; they learn with and from one another. In the context of digital learning, this results in differentiated digital professional development for all educators and improved outcomes for students.

Rose Else-Mitchell, who is currently the Chief Learning Officer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, conducted a study in 2017 in which she found that 2/3rds of classroom teachers are using technology in instruction but feel they need more support and training (cited in Wolf 2018, 182). When educators are coplanning and coteaching as equal partners, their combined digital teaching and learning expertise enhances experiences and ensures that instructional innovations, including students’ use and mastery of technology resources and tools, are diffused throughout the learning environment.

Research Related to Adult Learning
Andragogy comprises principles of adult learning. As mentioned in the “Professional Development is Key” blog post last September, these principles should be adhered to in formal professional development as well as in informal coteaching/reciprocal mentoring. Adults learners:

  1. are self-directed and take responsibility for their own learning;
  2. have prior experiences that can be a positive or negative influence on learning;
  3. are motivated by an internal need to know;
  4. and have a problem-solving orientation to learning (Knowles 1990).

School librarians are wise to approach collaboration from the perspective of helping a colleague solve her/his instructional challenge. With regard to school librarians’ role as technology mentors, this can come from a place of sharing what we know, learning from what the other educator(s) knows, or taking a risk together to attempt something new in order to engage, motivate, or challenge students.

In my experience as a school librarian educator, I found many graduate students who were learning new technology tools felt supported by taking a risk with a university classmate or building-level colleague. Educators found that identifying resources and tools, troubleshooting tools with students in mind, and providing students with choices and a menu of resource and tool options can be more successful with two or more designer-facilitators of learning.

Exemplary Practice from the Field
Laura Long is the school library media specialist at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia, North Carolina. In her January 10, 2019 Knowledge Quest blog post “The School Library, Makey, Makey, and Learning,” Laura shared an exemplary example.

Laura’s colleague Jamee P. Webb teaches English III (11th grade). This is how Laura describes Jamee, “She is a frequent collaborator with me in the school library, and she is a lifelong learner. It is fun to watch her discover new strategies, apps, and products that she can use with her students.” (This description says as much about Laura who wrote it as it does about Jamee.)

When Jamee earned a grant for “Makey, Makey STEM kits,” Laura, Jamee, and instructional technology facilitator Katherine Leatherman explored the Makey kits with Jamee’s classes. The two-day project culminated with student-created poetry using the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights as background information. (Please read Laura’s entire post.)

Also, on March 6, 2019, school librarian Harry Oslund from William J. Brennan High School in Northside ISD (Texas) and the school’s academic technology instructional support specialist Ryan Fontanella are offering a webinar titled “Using Makerspaces to Build Teacher/Librarian Collaboration” via AASL’s eCollab. I am excited to hear their presentation and learn how they are collaborating to maximize the impact of their school’s makerspace on students’ classroom-based learning. You can sign up here: http://www.ala.org/aasl/ecollab/makerspaces

Embracing Tasks Before Apps Mindset
When I read Laura’s post, I was reminded of an article that was written by Monica Burns (ClassTechTips.com) that appeared last September in the Association for Curriculum and Development’s Education Update. Dr. Burns offered four tips for keeping the focus on tasks rather than on the technology tools themselves. These tips support classroom-library coplanning and coteaching in the context of digital learning.

  1. Review curriculum goals.
  2. Reflect on creation opportunities.
  3. Take stock of student interest.
  4. Find your partner in technology (Burns 2018, 4-5).

Unfortunately, Dr. Burns didn’t mention school librarians as natural partners for classroom teachers when it comes to curating and integrating apps and other technology tools and devices into classroom instruction.

As Laura Long’s experience shows, when classroom teachers, school librarians, and technology instructional coaches pool their expertise and resources exciting, successful, and digitally rich learning experiences happen for students.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you currently practice technology-focused differentiated professional development with and for your colleagues?
  2. What ideas do you have for improving technology-focused differentiated professional development with and for your colleagues?

Works Cited

Burns, Monica. 2018. “Embracing a Tasks Before Apps Mindset.” ASCD: Education Update: 1, 4-5.

Knowles, Malcolm. 1990. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. 4th ed. Houston: Gulf.

Long, Laura. 2019. “The School Library, Makey, Makey, and Learning.” Knowledge Quest Blog. https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/the-school-library-makey-makey-and-learning

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

Digital Learning Instructional Partnerships

Podcast Episode 6: Digital Learning Interview with Amy Soma and Louis Lauer

Initiating, developing, and sustaining instructional partnerships for digital learning is a win-win-win proposition for future ready learning. School librarians can be leaders in developing shared digital learning values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations.

Collaborating educators have knowledge of students’ home and school access to digital resources and technology tools. This may be particularly important for school librarians who are well-aware of students’ school-based access but may lack knowledge of students’ home and community access. However, access alone is not enough to ensure that students are able to maximize the promised benefits digital information, devices, and tools.

In a 2016 survey, Victoria Rideout and Vikki Katz found that “the quality of families’ Internet connections, and the kinds and capabilities of devices they can access, have considerable consequences for parents and children” (7). Through collaboration, educators must deepen their knowledge and understanding of students’ opportunities to learn digitally. They must create a school- and community-based context in which digital learning can achieve its promise.

Shared Values
While access to technology resources is a prerequisite for digital learning, shared values are just as important. Educators who have similar teaching experiences working with students in their neighborhood schools are perfectly positioned to think, plan, and teach together to meet students’ needs. During collaborative planning, astute school librarians will be mindful of how their colleagues’ values and their own align and when those values are misaligned. During the coplanning process, collaborators may nudge each other to expand students’ choice and voice when it comes to digital tools.

When educators read and share research and practitioner articles focused on technology tools integration, they can collectively strategize the most effective approaches to engaging students in digital learning. Wrestling with questions such as the ones that follow posed by Dr. Maryanne Wolf can lead instructional partners or whole school teaching teams to think and rethink how to successfully frame digital learning.

“Will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read? In particular, what will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction?” (Wolf 2018, 107).

“What are the specific developmental relationships among continuous partial attention, working memory, and the formation and the deployment of deep-reading processes in children?” (Wolf 2018, 117).

Shared Vocabulary
When educators have shared vocabulary for instruction in any content area or for use in any process, such as inquiry learning, students benefit. The glossary in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership is an important aspect of the book. While all readers may not agree 100% with my definitions, they offer a starting place for discussion and clarification.

The International Literacy Association (ILA) offers an online literacy glossary. “New literacies” is one important term related to digital learning that educators may discuss and tweak.

New literacies. A term used to signal a shift from literacy to literacies, especially in relation to how people view texts as being situated in different contexts that in turn support different kinds of reading and writing. New, not in the sense of a replacement metaphor, but new in the sense that social, economic, cultural, intellectual, and institutional changes are continually at work. This term is preferred over 21st-century literacies. (See also 21st-century literacy(ies)) [Rev., 10/2018]

Collaborating for digital learning does require an understanding of how students view, read, learn with, and write digital texts.  For me, ILA’s definition is especially useful because it notes the term “new” relates to  contexts for literacy learning rather than a replacement for traditional literacies.

Shared Contexts
Students and adults today have become habituated to ever faster access to information and multitasking. We also communicate more frequently in briefer units of thought; Twitter and email are examples. “90% of youth say they are multitasking when they are reading online; only 1% multitask when reading in print” (Wolf 2018, 114).

Faster access to information does not necessarily result in faster knowledge acquisition. Modeling slower and deeper engagement with texts helps students see the benefits of taking time. In addition, relevant learning experiences can help students remain engaged, develop intrinsic motivation, and persist when learning is challenging. With two or more coteachers monitoring student learning, educators can more easily identify students who have lost their momentum or lost their way and need guidance to get back on track.

Instructional Practices
What school librarians have traditionally termed information literacy are what Dr. Wolf calls “pragmatic tools” for online reading. School librarians are adept and experienced at teaching students how to select and use search engines and databases. We help students be deliberate when choosing search terms and evaluating search results. We model and give them repeated opportunities to practice determining perspective and bias and to dig deep in order to recognize misinformation, propaganda, and lies. Taking these strategies to media sources, further expands students’ ability to be astute users of data, ideas, and information.

Separating truth from fiction takes time for both youth and adults. Applying information and media literacy strategies and approaching texts with alternately open and skeptical minds will require practice. The International Society for Technology in Education has published a number of resources to support school librarians in teaching information/media literacy, most recently Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News (LaGarde and Hudgins 2018).

The Challenge
School librarians must focus on access first and address the gaps. The future ready librarian also “invests strategically in digital resources,” “cultivates community partnerships,” and “leads beyond the library” (Future Ready Librarians).  School librarians can take a leadership role in writing grants to obtain funding for technologies that address equity of access. Building digital age capacity through forming partnerships with public librarians and other community-based organizations is important in order to provide digital networks that are essential to students’ success. School librarians must join with others in advocating for students’ access to tools and devices in their homes and communities as well as in their schools.

Through leadership, we can help our schools develop shared values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations for student learning with digital information and tools in order to address this challenge: “technology increasingly provides easy access to answers, but if we focus only on the answers and not on the thinking, questioning, and solving, we deny students powerful learning experiences. Perhaps even more significant, we fail to develop the new literacies that will empower them to solve complex problems and be lifelong learners” (Martin 2018, 22).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How would you describe the technology environment, including equity of access, in your school, district, or community?
  2. In what kinds of conversations have you engaged with colleagues related to shared values, practices, and challenges with technology tools use and integration?

Works Cited

Future Ready Librarians Framework: Empowering Leadership for School Librarians through Innovative Professional Practice. https://tinyurl.com/frlflyer

LaGarde, Jennifer, and Darren Hudgins. 2018. Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

Martin, Katie. 2018. “Learning in a Changing World: What It Means to be a Literacy Learning—and Teacher—in the 21st Century.” Literacy Today 36 (3): 21-23.

Rideout, Victoria, and Vikki S. Katz. 2016. “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families.” Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. ERIC ED574416.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

Standards, Inquiry, and Deeper Learning

State and national standards in the content areas are in a continuous cycle of revision. When school librarians have the opportunity to contribute to a standards revision process in their state or national associations, they have a golden opportunity to help the committee focus student learning outcomes on deeper learning.

As evidenced in Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning, I am a firm believer in inquiry as a pathway to deeper learning. Through coplanning and coteaching, school librarians can demonstrate to colleagues that addressing standards through inquiry learning can lead to success for students. As noted in last week’s post, becoming an expert at identifying essential questions to frame inquiry and supporting students in deepening their own questions is a leadership opportunity for all educators, and for school librarians, in particular.

AASL Standards: Deeper Learning Competencies
One of the deeper learning competencies cited in Figure 5.2: Selected AASL Deeper Learning Competencies (78) appears in the standards under the “Inquire” shared foundation, “Create” domain is “Learners engage with new knowledge by following a process that includes 2. Devising and implementing a plan to fill knowledge gaps” (AASL 2018, 34). This competency implies that students have a clear understanding of the purpose of their inquiry and their inquiry question(s) as well as how their prior knowledge gaps can be filled by an inquiry plan. Such a competency requires analysis and critical thinking and leads to deeper learning.

For example, Arizona adopted a revised set of history and social studies standards in October, 2018.

This is a quote from the middle school standards: “The Arizona History and Social Science Standards, through the emphasis on content knowledge, disciplinary skills, and process and the integration of inquiry elements will prepare Arizona students to engage actively in civic life and meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century.” In the “civics” section for grades 6-8, under “Process, rules, and laws direct how individuals are governed and how society addresses problems,” students are expected to:

  • 8.C4.4 Identify, research, analyze, discuss, and defend a position on a national, state, or local public policy issue including an action plan to address or inform others about the issue” (22).

This standard aligns perfectly with the AASL competency.

Connection Experts
School librarians must be experts at aligning various sets of standards as they coplan, coimplement, and coassess instruction alongside their colleagues. It is traditional for school librarians to rely on classroom teachers’ knowledge of their disciplines’ standards. However, when new standards are rolling out, school librarians can increase their value to their colleagues by independently or jointly investigating standars to tease out the connections that can guide inquiry learning. In addition to the word “inquiry,” they can keyword search documents for terms such as plan, research, analyze, evidence, inference, and the like.

Making these connections increases school librarians’ perceived value. The adoption and implementation of new standards is an ideal time to demonstrate how we can help other people address and solve their “problems.”

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Which content area is about to roll out new standards in your district/state and what do you know about those standards?
  2. How can you connect current or new standards to inquiry to provide students with deeper learning opportunities?

Work Cited

Arizona Department of Education. 2018. K-12 Standards Section: Standards: Social Studies: Arizona History and Social Studies Standards. http://www.azed.gov/standards-practices/k-12standards/standards-social-studies/

Deeper Learning Opportunities

The quote that frames the “Deeper Learning” chapter can serve as educators’ guidepost for inquiry, traditional literacies, and digital literacy as well. Right Question Institute leaders Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan proclaim: “Having students create their own questions is a short-cut to deeper learning” (2015, 71). I agree… and I also agree with these authors that students need guides to help them dig deep to find their most personally meaningful questions that will motivate them to pursue answers, even when the going gets rough.

More than One Answer
For far too long, many K-12 students have experienced school as the place where educators ask the questions and students supply the answers (answers that educators already know). While this paradigm has been changing, factors that can set up barriers, such as an over-emphasis on standardized tests or students’ grade point averages, have been impeded change in many school environments.

Linda F. Nathan who wrote a book called The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School and contributed to the “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” video, wrote this deceptively simple statement in a recent Educational Leadership article: “Problems can have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer” (Nathan 2018-2019, 62).

For many students (and educators) that fact can be a welcome (or disconcerting) surprise. Student-led inquiry, fine arts projects, science experiments for which the outcome is truly unknown, various projects involving real-world data collection—these are some types of opportunities educators can design and guide in which students can experience more than one solution to self-generated questions—where they can experience deeper learning.

“Traditional” Deeper Learning Project
The “senior research project” has long been a staple of the high school curriculum. The goal of this project is to integrate skills (such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), academic concepts from multiple disciplines, and data from the students’ courses into one summative project. In most cases, these projects are individual. Students may be “assigned” the project is a particular course, and it is then facilitated by that classroom teacher or another adult mentor.

School librarians are positioned to support students and classroom teachers as students pursue senior research projects. This may be accomplished on an individual basis, or classroom teachers may determine that small groups or entire classes of students need interventions. School librarians can collaborate with the teacher to provide interventions such as effective uses of databases, technology tools and resources, credible Web searching, bibliographic instruction, and more.

Genius Hour
In K-12 schools, Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions in order to capitalize on intrinsic motivation and encourage creativity.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. Although I am a firm believer in designing and organizing standards-based inquiry learning such that students ARE pursuing their passions, anecdotal data suggest that “genius hour” can be a win for students and their learning. The GeniusHour.com website provides professional development, resources, videos, suggested professional reading, and more.

Genius Hour is an idea adapted from Google. At one time, Google provided its engineers with “a genius hour” consisting of 20% of their work time during which they could pursue a pet project. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink also promotes the idea that passion projects are a way to tap into our motivation to learn and create. I appreciate Pink for this blog post, in which he describes an Innovation Day (2011) in a suburban Chicago classroom. All educators could design learning such that students experience such enthusiasm for learning every school day!

Academic Flex Time
Mark Dzula is the Director of Teaching and Learning Resources at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California. He is also a frequent contributor to the Knowledge Quest blog. In two recent posts, Mark described the learning experiences of students pursuing independent topics, questions, and knowledge during academic flex time.

AASL Standards and Multiple Literacies during Academic Flex Time (9/26/18)

Research, Information Literacy, and Independent Study (12/17/18)

Creating the Conditions
Educators create the conditions for deeper learning when they fully integrate learning and doing. “We diminish teaching and learning when we make students study history or biology or math or literature without consistently and simultaneously having them do the work of and as practitioners in the field” (Tomlinson 2018, 92). As emphasized in last week’s post, personally meaningful questions and time are two essential ingredients in empowered deeper learning. Hands-on, minds-on doing is another.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What kinds of deeper learning do students in your school experience?
  2. What kinds of deeper learning do educators in your school experience?

Works Cited

Nathan, Linda F. 2018-2019. “Hitting the Right Note.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 62-67.

Rothstein, Dan, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan. 2015. “Making Questions Flow.” Educational Leadership 73 (1): 70-75.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. 2018-2019. “Sparking Students’ ‘Uncommon Genius:’ All Educators Can Learn Valuable Lessons from the Way the Arts Are Taught.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 91-93.

Common Beliefs about Literacy Learning

Way back in 1999 when I was a doctoral student in the Department of Language, Reading, and Culture at the University of Arizona, I devoured a book about helping secondary students read for understanding. (This was a well-timed read because two years later I transferred from an elementary school librarian position to serve as the second librarian at a comprehensive high school.)

The quote that follows from that book has informed my beliefs about literacy practices.

“What is reading?

  1. Reading is not just a basic skill.
  2. Reading is problem solving.
  3. Fluent reading is not the same as decoding.
  4. Reading is situationally bounded.
  5. Proficient readers share some key characteristics” (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, and Hurwitz 1999, 17-19).

These beliefs have also informed my teaching and focus on teaching/coteaching reading comprehension strategies at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school. When school librarians and classroom teachers codevelop common beliefs about literacy they will draw from many sources, including the beliefs that inform non-library associations’ understandings of literacy learning.

International Literacy Association
English language arts associations are where school librarians can begin their search for common beliefs. I am a long-time member of the International Literacy Association (ILA). Formerly the International Reading Association, ILA offers research-based position statements, white papers, research advisories, literacy leadership briefs, and reports reflecting the association’s perspective on current topics and trends.

As a member, I receive the bimonthly Literacy Today magazine. The “What’s Hot in Literacy Report” is an annual must-read! I recently read and found the “Exploring the 2017 NAEP Reading Results: Systemic Reforms Beat Simplistic Solutions” report very helpful in further developing my understanding of NAEP.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to publish on the ILA blog: “Closing the Gaps: School Librarians and the What’s Hot Report.” I appreciated this opportunity to reach out to the ILA online community. I would love to see more articles like this and more collaborative activities with ILA, particularly around their latest initiative: Children’s #RightstoRead

In my career, I have copresented at two ILA conferences. One was a day-long preconference workshop that included Nick Glass from TeachingBooks.net and children’s book authors talking about their work; my piece was to bring in the school librarian’s role in promoting literature and coteaching reading comprehension strategies. The other was a panel of school librarians and classroom teachers sharing their collaborative teaching.

National Council of Teachers of English
When I taught secondary students and YA literature at the university, I maintained my membership in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE also has a page of position statements on their website.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to work with NCTE colleagues to draft the “Resolution on Supporting School and Community Libraries.” Wouldn’t it get great to work with NCTE again to ask them to renew their pledge to support school libraries and the work of school librarians?

ILA and NCTE are partners on the Read Write Think website. Through my association with ILA, I published two collaborative classroom-library unit plans on the site. I appreciate these two organizations for their collaborative efforts.

Traditional Literacies in Other Content Areas
What do we know about non-English language arts associations’ core beliefs about literacy? Our librarian and classroom teacher colleagues are associated with educational initiatives and organizations that understand that traditional literacies are the foundation for their efforts. School librarians are wise to investigate the beliefs of Future Ready Schools and Librarians, International Society for Technology in Education, National Council for the Social Studies, National Science Teachers Association, and more.

An Effective Collaborative Strategy
In the best of all possible worlds, school librarians would all be rich enough and have the necessary time to join and be actively involved in the work of our school librarian associations and other literacy- and education-focused organizations. Whether or not we can participate in the activities of other organizations, we can learn from our colleagues who are members and who are up to date with the standards, positions papers, and initiatives of those organizations.

“Professional conversations about the vision of the excellent reader become the starting point for building the school-wide professional learning community, dedicated to achieving this vision for all students. From there, grade levels collaborate to build the staircase curriculum leading to the vision, with each grade level committing to specific student outcomes related to the vision” (International Literacy Association 2018, 8).

When we are working with colleagues to develop common beliefs about literacy, we must search for alignment with the values of all of these organizations. When we invest in collaborative conversations, listen to one another, and reach common understandings, we strengthen our school culture while improving our teaching. When all educators and administrators have common beliefs about literacy, school librarians can serve as effective coteachers who can best support students, educators, and administrators, and enlist the support of families in literacy learning as well.

Using common beliefs about literacy learning as a framework for classroom-library coplanning and coteaching works!

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you stay up to date with common beliefs about literacy learning and teaching in all realms of education?
  2. How can you be a leader in codeveloping common beliefs about literacy in your school or district?

Work Cited

Schoenbach, Ruth, Cynthia Greenleaf, Christine Cziko, and Lori Hurwitz. 1999. Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Diverse, Creative Expressions of Learning

In addition to advocating for learning experiences that involve stimulating students’ creativity, engaging them in experimentation, and activating their creativity (see last week’s blog post), coplanning and coteaching inquiry learning are also ways to increase students’ opportunities for diverse final products. If our message to students is that all roads lead to the same outcome, many will not see the relevance of their learning experiences to their lives. They will not experience learning as a complex activity that results in diverse creative expressions of learning. Too many will disengage or simply be lost or derailed along the way.

Supporting Classroom Teachers and Specialists
During coplanning, classroom teachers and specialists may express reservations about students taking curriculum into individual or unexpected pathways. Secondary educators, in particular, who may be responsible for learning outcomes for 75 middle school or as many as 150 high school students may shudder to think that they alone will be responsible for guiding and assessing students’ learning.

School librarians who coplan, coimplement, AND coassess student learning outcomes can ease classroom teachers’ and specialists’ concerns about giving students “free rein” to explore in many different directions and in producing many different final products. Collaboration can also ensure that educators create flexible assessment tools that accurately reflect students’ achievement in terms of learning objectives as well as their creativity.

Supporting Students
Two (or more) educators working as a team can better monitor and guide individual student’s learning as well as small group work. Inquiry circles as described in the guided inquiry require check-ins from educators (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2015, 32–36). It is through check-ins that educators push students’ thinking, offer resource support, identify stumbling blocks, and opportunities for reteaching specific subskills to the students who need them to move forward.

One of my all-time favorite teaching memories involved working with a second-grade teacher (in the late 1990s) who structured her classroom around inquiry. Students identified areas of interest, pitched their ideas to the class, and formed small groups to pursue meaningful questions. As their school librarian, I often worked with more or more groups as they sought information through the library’s resources.

One of the questions for the “frog and other amphibians” group was about dissecting frogs to learn more about their body parts and functions. I helped the group contact a biology professor at the University of Arizona. The students posed their questions to him and organized a field trip to his lab where he led them in dissecting and learning about frogs. I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying them on their adventure. Years later, two students from that group remembered that learning experience as one of the most powerful in their elementary education.

The Underlying Message
Learning is complex and expressions of knowledge can (and should?) be unique. When classmates share their learning processes and final products, students (and educators) should be amazed at the divergent thinking and variety of expressions of learning. When students are given the opportunity to pursue learning that is personally meaningful, use resources they have discovered on their own, selected and employed tools that helped them meet their individual (or their group’s) goals for sharing, they are enacting the skills and dispositions of lifelong learners.

Inquiry Learning = Preparation for Life!

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What strategies have you used for supporting students’ diverse creative expressions of their learning?
  2. Describe the assessment tools you have used to guide students’ learning while giving them opportunities to express their learning in diverse and creative ways?

Work Cited

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2015. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

 

 

Curiosity, Experimentation, Creativity

“Explore” is one of the shared foundations in AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018). When learners explore, they engage with the learning community by “expressing curiosity about a topic of personal interest or curricular relevance” (38).Curiosity
In their book. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman (2015) emphasize the importance of curiosity as a springboard to creativity and innovation. Educators who create learning environments and opportunities that stimulate students’ curiosity help them on a path to lifelong learning.

For far too many students, schooling has stunted their innate curiosity. Over time, they have come to think of school as the place where the educators ask the questions, and students’ job is to respond to those questions with answers the educators already know. When students are given opportunities to revive their sense of wonder, they can take charge of their learning in ways that will support them throughout their academic, professional, civic, and personal lives.

Experimentation
Experimentation was once reserved for science and art courses, with chemistry labs and art classes the most often offered opportunities. The STEM/STEAM/STREAM focus in recent years has added technology, robotics, and engineering to the mix. Many school librarians have turned to makerspaces as strategies for engaging students and classroom teachers in experimentation. The opportunity to risk, fall short, and learn from missteps is a foundational tenet of makerspaces.

Although a makerspace may be housed in the library, hands-on, minds-on learning can be strengthened when the “maker” philosophy is diffused throughout the school. When classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians collaborate, students have the opportunity to experiment and explore in all content areas and develop a growth/inquiry/innovator mindset. School librarians who coplan and coteach with their colleagues help spread the benefits of makerspaces in the learning community.

Creativity
Creativity was once associated with the fine and industrial arts more than any other areas of the curriculum. Students signed up for art, music, shop, and home economics classes with an understanding that the curriculum in those courses would allow them free rein to explore, experiment, and “fail forward.” In these courses, students and educators expected students to access and enact creativity in their thinking and in the final products they created.

Creativity is one of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4Cs. When students are encouraged to imagine and “think outside the box,” they may pursue and express their questions, knowledge, and learning in unexpected ways. For some youth, personalized learning can be a pathway to unleashing students’ creativity. For others, small group exploration may be the path to connecting their own creativity with that of their peers.

Coleading School Librarians
An effective school library program involves students and educators in exploring the curriculum, resources, information, and ideas in creative ways. School librarians can spotlight the ways students use library resources and tools to create. They can work with colleagues and administrators to ensure that curiosity, experimentation, and creativity are cornerstones of students’ learning experiences.

Taking the attitude and enacting the behaviors of “explorers,” students can stretch themselves beyond their own expectations. Through codesigning and coteaching with classroom teachers and specialists, school librarian can also stretch themselves and advocate for engaging learning experiences for students.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are your school’s considerations in determining the location of a makerspace in your school building?
  2. What are the benefits to students when school librarians share responsibility for facilitating making?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.

Grazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman. 2015. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Coleading Alongside Principals

Earlier this month there was a discussion on the AASL Forum about the perceptions of education decision-makers regarding school librarians’ skill sets and contributions to student learning and classroom teachers’ teaching. (In addition, Rebecca Moore also published an article in VOYA magazine called “Beyond Mysterious Stain Removal: Top Skills for School Librarians.”)

Several people have commented on the Forum that school librarians must listen to principals, in particular, and help them solve the challenges they face. By helping principals and other district-level administrators solve problems and serving as coleaders alongside their administrators, school librarians can help others successfully implement change.

I invite you to revisit Misti Werle’s virtual podcast interview for Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development to note how she is leading coteaching practices among Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Schools as a way of addressing school administrators’ priorities.

In 2014, my former Texas Woman’s University colleague Teresa Starrett, who teaches school administration courses, and I crowdsourced a video titled “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.” We put out a nationwide request to school librarians who had experience collaborating with their principals and with classroom teachers. These testimonials, from across the country, document what these school administrators know are the reasons all schools should have a professional school librarian on the faculty who leads a collaborative school library program.

The following are transcript excerpts from the videos we received. They were used to create the composite video.  From my perspective, these testimonials clearly indicate what all administrators should value and what all school librarians should contribute to their learning communities. I have highlighted some of the keywords in their testimonials. (Note: The administrators’ positions and titles listed were accurate at the time the video was published in 2014).

Paula Godfrey, Elementary School Principal (Retired), Tucson, Arizona
“Principals should stand for what’s important in schools, and having teacher librarians in elementary schools is essential. When you have a teacher librarian in an elementary school, they teach teachers how to be better at their craft, how to help children evaluate sites so that the research they do is meaningful and allows student voices to come out because they truly understand the research that they’re doing. When you work with the teacher librarian, you’re able to grow professionally in a way that’s very non-threatening, very supportive, but accomplishes that raise of rigor in the classroom, and their confidence in being able to complete a research project with their students. There is the opportunity on a day-to-day basis for the teacher librarian to use the skills that she has to improve teaching in classroom teachers. That professional development doesn’t happen on Wednesday afternoons from 1:45 to 2:45. Professional development happens as teacher librarians and classroom teachers collaborate together on projects for their students.

Teacher librarians are the heart of the school. And without a teacher librarian there is no central focus on literature. There is no support for families, for students, for teachers, for staff, on literature, on professional development, on research. Teacher librarians are the heart of the school.”

Dr. Neil Stamm, Assistant Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The school librarian has become more of a resource for students, rather than the keeper of books. Librarians now work with students and teachers as an information agent.”

Felicia Barnett, Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The true indication of the value of our school librarian is found in the excitement that our students experience when visiting our library. It’s an obvious result of the librarian’s passion: making literacy a priority for all content areas in our building and all students and families.”

Regina Stafford, Assistant Administrator, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“School libraries and school librarians contribute in rich and diverse ways to the intellectual life of a school. They help develop students to function in a complex and increasingly digital environment. The school librarian really is a co-teacher who undertakes an active role by engaging in shared instruction to produce literate and informed learners who can thrive in a digital knowledge-based world.”

Linda Nathan, Founding Headmaster, Boston Arts Academy, Boston, Massachusetts
“I’m a huge advocate for bringing librarians into the forefront and bringing libraries into the forefront of thinking about urban school reform.”

Dr. Lourenco Garcia, Principal, Revere High School, Revere, Massachusetts
“The learning commons is a place where the librarian, the person that’s running it, can really program, plan activities in a more engaging and interactive way, where teachers and students feel good because technically they are not entrenched in an area that’s cold like the traditional library, but in a place that is very engaging, very interactive, where the work can be done in a more relaxing environment.”

Dr. Nadene Stein, Northeast Elementary School, Waltham, Massachusetts
“We are blessed to have a vibrant library and a great librarian who can connect with the teachers and the students and really make learning come alive for kids. And I’m not really sure what we would do without that resource. I can’t imagine not having a library teacher. I’ve worked in other systems where that’s one of the first things that gets cut, and I would be holding on to the library teacher kicking and screaming if they told me that we had to lose that out of the budget. The resource is invaluable, and it is something that just enhances the curriculum of every grade level in this building.”

Priscila Dilley, Director of Elementary Leadership, Principal Supervisor, Fort Worth, Texas
“We like to really push for a coteaching approach, where the librarian and the teacher are there side by side and they know the skills that students need to review or, you know, spiral back in, whatever it might be. We like for the librarians to be heavily involved with that so that they can support the student achievement in their libraries as well.”

Rebecca Beidelman, (Former) Principal, Kutztown Area High School, Kutztown, Pennsylvania
“They (school librarians) are teachers. They are information specialists. And they sit down and they help with writing curriculum. And helping to design assessment. Because a lot of assessment is also project based and process based – you’re evaluating the process as opposed to just the process outcome. And that process, of course, in terms of Common Core, has to include all of the research components that are required. The technology components that are required. The higher-level thinking and the depth of knowledge that’s required. I cannot imagine not having an information literacy specialist in my building to bounce things off of.”

Shenequa Coles, Principal, Columbia High School, Columbia, South Carolina
“Our librarian is a member of our leadership team, she assists with the decision-making that the team has to do, and that includes department chairs and administrators. The bottom line is, our librarian assists with projects for students with teachers, research, she provides professional development through our Technology Tuesday sessions and other sessions that we have professional development sessions throughout the school year. This school could not function without our school librarian, and she helps to provide a rich culture that is filled with inviting and new learning opportunities.”

For me, all of these testimonials suggest that school librarians’ roles as curriculum developers (#1 on Rebecca Moore’s list) and leaders in job-embedded professional development can be pathways for school librarians to help principals and district-level administrators solve the challenges they face in our schools.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How does your principal engage in distributed leadership?
  2. What roles do leaders play in your school?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi, and Teresa Starrett, eds. 2014. “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.”  YouTube. https://youtu.be/bihGT7LoBP0

All quotes used with permission

More Engaging Curricula

Why and how does working with another person or a team help educators think more deeply about learning and teaching? How does it help them step out of the box? The adage “two (or more) heads are better than one” is simply… true. When educators bounce ideas off one another, they stimulate each other’s thinking. They clarify curriculum standards and goals. They explore ideas for making connections to students’ interests. They discover multiple ways to link those ideas to student learning objectives.

Collaboration with the goal of designing more engaging learning experiences for students works.

More Engaging Curricula
Some MSLL blog readers may believe that the best way to educate students for their future is simply to turn them lose to explore whatever interests them, whenever it interests them. I am not one of those readers. I believe that learning objectives have a central role to play in guiding a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano 2003). In his book What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action, Robert Marzano shares thirty-five years of research related to improving student achievement. While I do make a distinction between “learning” and “achievement,” student achievement in terms of courses completed successfully, high school graduation rates, and scores on standardized tests are still factors that can support or limit a student’s life choices.

Marzano organized this research into three buckets: the school level, the teacher level, and the student level. At the school level, a guaranteed and viable curriculum, challenging goals and feedback, parent and community involvement, a safe and orderly environment, and collegiality and professionalism all had have positive impacts on student outcomes. At the teacher level, instructional strategies, classroom management, and classroom curriculum design improved student achievement. At the student level, the home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, and motivation all affected students’ learning.

Many of the school-, teacher-, and student-level factors, including collegiality, instructional strategies, curriculum design, and student motivation are addressed in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.

School-Level Factors
In a “school that learns” (Senge et al. 2012), everyone is invested in everyone else’s success. When school learning communities are collegial, they have the foundation to work as a team to enact their professional responsibilities. They can lead—together. It is through their understanding of the strength that comes from collaboration that allows the actions of the collective to far outstrip those of individuals.

Teacher-Level Factors
Curriculum is a guide. Educators can use that guide in traditional or innovative ways. When working collaboratively, school librarians and classroom teachers can inspire one another to design learning experiences that are both “new and better” than those taught in the past. (See 10/8 blog post Classroom-Library Coplanning.) While it should be the goal of every educator to ready students for self-directed learning, many students need the effective instructional strategies and interventions that educators provide through modeling, monitoring, timely and specific feedback, and assessing student progress.

(In my thirteen-year experience as a coteaching school librarian at all three instructional levels, classroom management was very rarely an issue in the library. With more space, exciting resources, including technology, and well-designed learning opportunities, students were engaged and enthusiastic about learning through the library program.)

Student-Level Factors
Students benefit from coteaching because they have the support of two (or more educators). Coteaching reduces the chances that any student or group of students will lack the personalized attention of an educator. Student-led inquiry puts students in the driver’s seat as they negotiate the space between their interests and the curriculum. Educators support students in finding that sweet spot that connects in-school learning with students out-of-school lives and real-world issues. Motivated students develop literacies, practice skills, grow their dispositions, and deepen their knowledge through the inquiry process.

Connection
In his book What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, Ted Dintersmith (2018) proposes using the PEAK concept when transforming schools. PEAK stands for purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge.

Purpose: Students must have opportunities to wrestle with problems that are important to students and the community. Problems and student learning must have a real-world impact. It must also be publicly displayed so that students (and their audiences) learn young people can indeed make a difference in the world.

Essentials: The essentials are skill sets and mindsets, such as creative problem solving, communication, collaboration, critical analysis, citizenship, and aspects of character (dispositions).

Agency: Agency involves students in setting their goals, managing their efforts, assessing their progress, and persevering to completion. This process supports students as they “learn how to learn.”

Knowledge: Finally, they must have deep and retained knowledge they can access, teach others, apply, and showcase in the quality of what they create, build, make, and design (Dintersmith 2018, 38-39).

For me, PEAK and effectively applied inquiry and problem-based learning are one and the same. Purpose, essential skills and mindsets, agency, and knowledge are the goals and objectives of inquiry learning. School librarians can be coleaders who, through coplanning and coteaching, guide more engaging and relevant curricula to best support and prepare students for their current academic success as well as for their future lives.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How did you learn to serve as a curriculum developer?
  2. How free do you feel and act as a curriculum developer in your school?

Works Cited

Dintersmith, Ted. 2018. What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Marzano, Robert. 2003. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Senge, Peter, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner. 2012. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. New York: Crown Business.