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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Classroom-Library Coplanning

Through coplanning, school librarians and classroom teachers engage in reciprocal mentorship. They learn with and from one another during the planning process. As they negotiate learning objectives, they identify alignment and connections between classroom curriculum, state and national standards, and literacies, including information literacy skills. They approach their collaborative work as equal partners who share responsibility for gathering resources and materials, developing and analyzing formative and summative assessments, modeling strategies, and guiding students through the learning process.

Coplanning Forms
I have found that coplanning forms can be quite useful in guiding school librarians and classroom teachers through the collaborative planning process. These forms help educators apply the Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe 2005) as they plan with the end in mind. From objectives to assessments and all of the components in between, forms help educators cover all the bases.

Elementary Collaborative Planning Forms

Secondary Collaborative Planning Forms

Coteachers will identify various subskills such as notemaking that students will need to learn, review, and practice. They may create graphic organizers to scaffold student learning. These scaffolds guide students and help educators identify areas of mastery and areas where students need more instruction, guidance, and practice. These formative assessments as well as summative assessments that measure student achievement at the end of the learning event are important to prepare in advance or prepare with students so that students’ path to success is supported and clear from the beginning.

Responsibilities in Coteaching
Educators’ roles during direct instruction will likely need to be discussed in advance of lesson implementation, especially if one or the other educator is new to coteaching. When school librarians coteach, they may be engaged in direct instruction alongside classroom teachers. One or the other may take the lead in teaching specific subskills.

Direct instruction involves educators in sharing information and modeling strategies and tasks to help students learn and meet learning targets. When two educators coteach during direct instruction, they can authentically demonstrate various pathways for thinking using think-alouds. They can model collaboration, communication, discussion, debate, and other skills. For example, if educators are coteaching/teaching questioning strategies, notemaking skills, website/information evaluation, ethical use of information/citation, and more, they may take different roles such as question poser and responder or note identifier and recorder.

Both educators will monitor student practice and conduct inquiry/reading/writing conferences with individual students or small groups. Lowering the student-to-educator ratio offers coteachers the opportunity to interact with more students and offers students more individualized interventions.

Co-Assessment Responsibilities
Direct instruction is followed by formative assessments that help school librarians collect and analyze data on students’ progress as well as on the effectiveness of their teaching. Two or more educators look for gaps in comprehension and reteach individuals, small groups, or whole classrooms of students, if necessary. They also use summative assessments to measure students’ overall achievement in terms of the learning objectives and the overall success of the unit of instruction.

As equal partners in planning and implementing instruction, school librarians must be equal partners in assessment.

Engaging Relevant Learning Opportunities
In my experience, coteachers inspire and energize each other’s instructional planning and teaching. They bounce ideas off one another. They may push each other to take calculated risks to stretch their teaching and students’ learning. During instruction, they may take a playful attitude and demonstrate that wondering, puzzling, and problem solving is fun. They model communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity in an authentic context.

School librarians have an important role to play in guiding the planning and teaching process toward involving relevant questions, challenging problems, exciting resources and tools, and increased opportunities student-led learning.

Coplanning with classroom teachers gives school librarians the opportunity to influence curriculum as well as instructional practices. This is leadership work. Misti Werle, school librarian supervisor in Bismarck, North Dakota, and I created a “Levels of Library Services and Instructional Partnerships” matrix. School librarians and classroom teachers in her district are using it to co-assess and chart their understanding of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. Their goal is to increase classroom-library coteaching in their district.

You can access the matrix as a Web Extra or find it on page 28 in the book.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your role in recording ideas and decisions made during coplanning?
  2. Why should school librarians share their coplanning activities with their administrators?

Reference

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding by Design, 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

From Where Does Your Authority Come?

The authority of an author is one of the first pieces of background knowledge we ask students to consider as they weigh the value, reliability, perspective, or bias in information. The importance of researching the author’s or authors’ credentials, knowledge, experience, and prior contributions to the conversation on any given topic is equally important for educators who are considering reading a professional book.

To add to what you can learn about me from this blog, my previous writing, or a Google search, I would like to share three of the defining experiences of my professional life. These experiences have charted my practice, scholarship, and service. It may come as a surprise to School Librarian Leadership blog readers who were children or who weren’t yet born in the mid-1990s, but resource-based learning, flexible library schedules, and classroom-library collaboration for instruction have been part of our school librarianship and education history for decades.Resource-based Learning
As a preservice classroom teacher in the 1980s, I was schooled in literature-based teaching. This involved developing units of instruction in all content areas based on literature text sets. These topical or thematic text sets included fiction and informational texts in all genres at a variety of reading proficiency levels. Those text sets even included media (!), which in those days focused on films (and yes, filmstrips), cassette tapes and other recordings, artifact kits, computer-based programs, and more. The goal of developing text sets was to give students choice in exploring resources to develop their literacy and increase their content knowledge.

At that time, we conducted “research.” Most often classroom teachers gave students a set of questions or tasks to complete using the text set for resources. (We did not have a school librarian in our California school.) Most often, students produced traditional reports and presented their learning orally with some type of visual aide. In my classroom, students often had choices in how they presented their learning. Some chose to write traditional reports; others wrote poems or stories, performed skits, or created highly illustrated work. (We had only one Apple IIe computer in our classroom. Its primary instructional use was our student-published class newsletter, The Hang-Ten News.)

Library Power
It wasn’t until my early years as a school librarian that I was introduced to inquiry learning. In my third year of practice, I transferred school districts and secured a position in a high-needs elementary school in a district that had received a Library Power grant. The National Library Power Project was funded with a grant from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. Over the course of ten years, the fund provided $45 million 700 schools in 19 school districts across the United States.

I led the team at Corbett Elementary in writing our school’s successful Library Power application. This grant likely changed the course of my career in school librarianship. All Library Power school library programs in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) were required to operate with flexible scheduling based on classroom-library collaboration for instruction. The grants included funds for purchasing new print and electronic resources and renovating the physical spaces of our libraries. Perhaps, most importantly, Library Power districts provided professional development (PD) for classroom teachers, school librarians, and principals.

Classroom-Library Coteaching
School librarians involved with TUSD’s project participated in “Cooperative Program Planning,” a week-long training provided by Ken Haycock. This training was focused on classroom-library collaboration for instruction. In TUSD, we launched a follow-up PD series for which Library Power school librarians were required to bring a classroom teacher colleague to learn and practice coplanning strategies, and prepared to coteach in the classroom or library.

I was hooked. To be honest, I had felt inadequate as a classroom teacher working solo in my classroom. As an isolated educator, I never felt I could simultaneously address the needs of English language learners as well as the students reading and writing far above their grade level. As a school librarian coteacher, I experienced the benefits of two heads for planning, four heads and four hands for coimplementing instruction and coassessing student learning outcomes.

I achieved more satisfaction as a coteacher because I experienced the power of two educators offering students more personalized learning than one educator working alone could provide. Students were able to succeed with individual and small group inquiry projects. And my collaborators and I shared a sense of achievement in meeting students’ needs and developing our instructional expertise alongside one another.

Classroom-Library Collaboration Testimonials
It wasn’t until I transferred to another Library Power elementary school and began regularly teaching a graduate-level course in school librarianship at the University of Arizona that I realized I could be recording classsroom-library ollaboration testimonials from classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators. I began recording in 2001, and other school librarians have since contributed to this page.  The most recent video was crowdsourced and includes testimonials from principals and district-level leaders from across the U.S. regarding their experiences working with professional school librarians: “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” (2014).

My goal in capturing these testimonials was to inspire preservice school librarians to help them understand the benefits of classroom-library collaboration from the perspectives of classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators. Rather than “taking time away” from classroom teachers (losing or taking planning time or classroom instructional time), I wanted to show future school librarians that other educators would welcome their instructional partnership invitations. These testimonials show that educators and administrators value what school librarians bring to the collaboration table and know how our teaching increases student learning.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are your defining professional experiences and how have the influenced the way you teach?
  2. Whose work has guided your instructional practices, and how do you currently apply their thinking and strategies in your teaching?

Reference

Haycock, Ken. 2007. “Collaboration: Critical Success Factors for Student Learning.” School Libraries Worldwide 13 (1): 25–35.

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 5

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I am using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 5: Deeper Learning

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change” (Berger 2014, 8).

Deeper learning is future ready learning. It requires that students interact with academic content in ways that engage them in critical thinking and problem solving. They must tap into curiosity and apply the 4Cs—creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration (P21)—to discover and create new knowledge. Inquiry learning is a process that fosters deeper learning.

Questioning is at the heart of inquiry and can set students on a lifelong path of learning. When students develop authentic questions, they become invested in discovering and filling the gaps in their knowledge. Educators can guide them to explore various perspectives and collaborate with others to reach answers to their questions and solutions to problems. With a focus on effective questioning strategies, educators support students in striving for innovative thinking and creating.

Many education-focused thought leaders and organizations place a greater and greater emphasis on rigor. In many schools and districts, an overemphasis on standardized testing has resulted in fewer opportunities for students to do more with the required curriculum. When educators coplan and coteach inquiry units, they activate students’ curiosity. They engage them in delving deeply into personally meaningful, authentic questions and developing new knowledge that can be applied and shared in the real world. In short, they have codesigned and coimplemented a more rigorous learning environment for students.

What you will find in this chapter:
1. Strategies for Deeper Learning in a Culture of Collaboration and Innovation School
2. A Cross-Discipline and Discipline-Specific Questioning Matrix
3. Selected AASL Deeper Learning Competencies (AASL 2018)
4. Questioning Strategies for Deeper Learning
5. Socratic Questioning

Questioning is at the center of successful inquiry. “Learners who are empowered to deepen their own learning will acquire new knowledge by thinking critically and solving problems” (AASL 2018, 28). School librarians who commit to improving their ability to stimulate students’ questioning have an essential role to play in coteaching with colleagues to provide students with opportunities for deeper learning. Educators who are skilled at launching inquiry and supporting students as they develop personally meaningful questions serve as deeper learning instructional leaders in their schools.

Works Cited

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

Berger, Warren. 2014. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21). “Framework for 21st Century Learning.” http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-frcamework

Image Credit: Word cloud created at Wordle.net

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 4

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I am using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 4: Traditional Literacy Learning

“The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life” (AASL 2007, 2).

Becoming literate is a lifelong process. Throughout our lives, information seekers access and use medical, political, scientific, technical, and other information for which we have little, incomplete, or no background knowledge. “Regardless of the content and whether ideas and information are communicated in print or multimodal texts, students begin and progress on their literacy journeys by learning and developing their ability to effectively read and write” (Moreillon 2017a, 87). The traditional literacies—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—are at the heart of the multiple literacies students will develop for success in their personal and professional lives.

Students must be able to make sense of text in order to be information literate. They need to apply reading strategies such as drawing inferences, questioning, and synthesizing in order to comprehend and use information. It is critical that they develop strategies for unpacking difficult texts. They must also be able to effectively communicate their knowledge. Learning and applying reading comprehension strategies and the writing process during inquiry is an authentic context for strengthening traditional literacies. Listening and speaking during discussions, collaborative work, and learning presentations builds understanding, empathy, and self-confidence.

Through classroom-library collaboration for instruction, educators build common beliefs and shared vocabulary and processes for teaching literacy in their schools. When students have opportunities to further develop traditional literacy skills in many learning contexts and all content areas, they are more likely to develop as engaged learners who achieve success.

What you will find in this chapter:
1. A Rationale for Why Reading Promoter Is an Important Yet Insufficient Role for School Librarians
2. The School Librarians’ Literacy Leadership Puzzle
3. Reading Comprehension Strategies Aligned with the Guided Inquiry Design Phases
4. Fix-Up Options Self-Monitoring Sheet
5. Reading Comprehension Strategy Lessons and Inquiry Learning Connections

“From reading promotion to aligning reading and writing with inquiry learning, school librarians’ ever-expanding roles as literacy leaders have grown alongside the explosion of information and the development of the technology tools used to access it” (Moreillon 2017a, 88). As instructional partners, professional developers, and literacy leaders, school librarians have a responsibility and an opportunity to help strengthen students’ traditional literacies and to co-create a culture that supports literacy development for everyone in their schools.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2007. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. Chicago: American Association of School Librarians.

Moreillon, Judi. 2017. “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 86-108. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image Created at Wordle.net

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 3

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I am using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning

“Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity. Curiosity is the technique that gets to innovation” (Grazer and Fishman 2015, 62).

Inquiry learning can spark students’ curiosity and ignite their passions. Inquiry puts learners in the driver’s seat and leads them to invest in and care about the literacies, skills, and dispositions they develop during the process. As students pursue the answers to personally meaningful questions and engage in real-world projects, they learn how to learn and build their confidence.  Hands-on, minds-on inquiry learning experiences help prepare young people to problem solve when confronted with the inevitable learning that will characterize their futures.

Educators are responsible for creating the conditions in which inquiry learning can flourish. Inquiry doesn’t just happen; it must be expertly designed. Building connections between required curriculum and students’ interests is essential. When two or more educators plan for inquiry, they increase the resources and knowledge at the collaboration table. They push each other’s creativity and codevelop more engaging learning experiences for students.

When school librarians and classroom teachers coplan, coteach, and comonitor students’ inquiry learning process, they create opportunities for students to increase their content knowledge. They help students develop future ready skills and strategies that are transferrable to other learning contexts—both in and outside of school.

This chapter provides a rationale for applying a research-based model for inquiry learning. Guided Inquiry Design (GID) is grounded in the findings of Kuhlthau’s information-seeking process research. GID provides a structure in which a team of educators share responsibility for launching, guiding, monitoring, and assessing learning outcomes. During curriculum-connected inquiry, students take responsibility for and reflect on their own learning process and products.

What you will find in this chapter:

1. A Recipe for Inquiry Learning Graphic;
2. Learning Phases in Various Inquiry Models;
3. Guided Inquiry Design Process (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012);
4. Inquiry Learning Subskills (*Tested on Standardized Tests);
5. Inquiry as a Strategy for Professional Learning.

School librarians can be leaders in codeveloping, coimplementing, and sustaining a culture of inquiry in their schools. When school sites or entire districts adopt and practice a single inquiry model, students can rely on multiple opportunities to experience deeper learning. When educators use an inquiry model to explore their own questions about teaching and learning, their understanding of the process and their confidence in their shared findings strengthen a culture of learning and improve teaching in their schools.

Works Cited

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

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credit: Word cloud created at Wordle.net

Digital Literacy = Leadership Opportunity

While it is essential for school librarian leaders to stay abreast of new developments in our own field, it is also important to read the journals and magazines our administrators and classroom teacher colleagues read as well. I belong to the International Literacy Association (ILA), in large part, so I can receive their magazine Literacy Today. (In December, 2017, I wrote about the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Educational Leadership issue titled “Lifting School Leadership.”

The November/December issue of Literacy Today was titled “Critical Literacy in a Digital World.” The articles in this issue were written by English language arts (ELA) and other classroom teachers, reading specialists, literacy professors and doctoral students, and could have as easily been written by school librarians. In order to access this issue, you must be an ILA member.

From my perspective, school librarian leaders could benefit from reading every article in the issue. Here are three of the articles: “More than Bits and Bytes: Digital Literacies On, Behind, and Beyond the Screen” (Aguilera 2017, 12-13), “Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Using a Process Writing Model to Enhance Integrity in the Classroom” (Moorman and Pennell 2017, 14-15), and the cover story: “Assessing News Literacy in the 21st Century: A Year After the Election that Blurred Lines” (Jacobson 2017, 18-22). These are my comments on these three.

Earl Aguilera is a doctoral candidate and former high school ELA teacher and K-12 reading specialist. He poses these questions: “How often do we consider how search engines match us to certain results and hide us from others? How are websites, apps, and games built to accomplish different purposes? And how can these understandings empower us to remix digital tools for our own purposes?” (Aguilera 2017, 13). These are precisely the types of questions school librarians who teach digital literacy, including the ethical use of information, bring to the classroom-library collaboration table. We are taught to be aware of and teach these aspects of digital literacy while many classroom teachers are not.

In his article, Aguilera provided a resource with which I was previously unfamiliar. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to “defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation. The website includes links to timely articles that can inform educators and students alike. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom could partner with this organization to increase librarians’ clout.

Whether or not your school uses tools such as Turnitin.com, the challenges of teaching students (and colleagues) various aspects of plagiarism is an on-going activity for school librarians. In their article, Professor Gary Moorman and doctoral student Ashley Pennell from Appalachian State University write this: “We strongly believe the root of today’s plagiarism problem is the lack of consistent and effective writing instruction and the failure of schools to create an environment that encourages students to write to learn” (2017, 15).

School librarians can step up their literacy leadership by honing their expertise in writing instruction and coteaching with classroom teachers in order to give students opportunities to learn strategies to help them avoid plagiarism, including making notes in their own words. In the conclusion of this article, the authors write when students have the opportunity to talk about and learn about plagiarism “both students and teachers come to acknowledge that writing is a powerful learning process, that original work is valued, and that plagiarism in unnecessary” (2017, 15). I agree.

The cover article by education writer and editor Linda Jacobson may be of particular interest to school librarians. Jacobson writes “In some schools, librarians take the lead on teaching news literacy, while in other schools, the lessons are integrated into social studies or English classes” (Jacobson 2017, 20). While we can be excited about this mention of the vital work of school librarians, this is not an either-or situation. To be effective, school librarians are coteaching these strategies and therefore “library lessons” are integrated into the content areas.

In the article, Jacobson highlights a tool with which I was unfamiliar. Checkology® is a virtual classroom designed to help students tell the difference between fact and fiction. The site features 12 core lessons and is free during the 2017-2018 school year so now is the time to check it out!

Perhaps most exciting of all since school librarians are rarely mentioned in Literacy Today, Jacobson spotlights the work of Charlottesville K-8 school librarian Sarah FitzHenry who serves at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. FitzHenry developed a news literacy course in collaboration with computer science coordinator Kim Wilkens. They use misleading images extensively in their course. Thank you to Linda Jacobson for including the work of a school librarian in her article.

Jacobson also cites the work of Dr. Renee Hobbs, professor of communications studies at the University of Rhode Island. “The changes occurring in the media sector, with new apps, games, platforms, and genres rapidly emerging, have contributed to the instability of meaning of the concept of media literacy and added to the measurement challenges” (Jacobson 2017, 20.) Dr. Hobbs notes that performance-based assessments for media literacy are the most effective because they can “capture dimensions of media literacy competencies using tasks that are highly similar to everyday practices of analyzing and creating media in the real world” (22).

School librarians have limitless opportunities to serve as instructional leaders in their schools.  We would all agree that students need to learn to navigate the “messy information environment” and practice using and creating media effectively. Readers of this blog might also agree that school librarians have a timely and critical leadership opportunity when it comes to digital/media/news/information literacy!

Note: The results of ILA’s annual international “What’s Hot in Literacy 2018” appears in the January/February issue of Literacy Today. It’s no surprise that “digital literacy” is the #1 hot topic.

References

Aguilera, Earl. 2017. “More than Bits and Bytes: Digital Literacies On, Behind, and Beyond the Screen.” Literacy Today 35 (3):12-13.

Jacobson, Linda. 2017. “Assessing News Literacy in the 21st Century: A Year After the Election that Blurred Lines.” Literacy Today 35 (3):18-22.

Moorman, Gary, and Ashley Pennell. 2017. “Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Using a Process Writing Model to Enhance Integrity in the Classroom. Literacy Today 35 (3):14-15.

Image Credit: Magazine Jacket Courtesy of ILA

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 2

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I am using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other” (Sinek, Mead, and Docker 2017, 104).

Professional learning embedded in the everyday practice of educators is an effective way to transform teaching and learning. In this model, school librarians can serve as professional learning leaders. They enact this role in a number of ways: through providing formal staff development; by serving as a member or team leader in one or more professional learning communities (PLCs); and through classroom-library collaboration, which involves trusting colleagues in coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing learning outcomes.

While all of these contributions to professional learning are important, collaboration for instruction gives school librarians the optimum opportunity to learn with and from their colleagues. Coteaching is personalized learning for educators. It is aligned with adult learning theory that puts educators in the driver’s seat—controlling the content and context of their learning while they solve self-identified instructional problems.

Planning for instruction is teacherly work. It requires connecting curricula with students’ interests and motivation and making learning experiences relevant. It involves determining goals, objectives, and assessments. It includes identifying compelling resources and effective instructional strategies. Through the hands-on implementation of coplanned lessons or units, educators monitor student learning and the success or areas for improvement in their instruction.

What you will find in this chapter:

1. A Rationale for Coteaching as Effective Job-Embedded Professional Development;
2. A Description of Classroom-Library Coteaching Approaches;
3. A Levels of Library Services and Instructional Partnerships Matrix;
4. An Explanation and Application of the Diffusion of Innovations Model:
5. A Coplanning and Coteaching Self-assessment Instrument.

Coteaching offers educators the opportunity to hone their craft while teaching “actual students in real time, with the taught curriculum, available resources and tools, and within the supports and constraints of their particular learning environments” (Moreillon 2012b, 142). School librarians add value when they co-collect evidence (student learning outcomes data) to demonstrate the effectiveness of their teaching in terms of what is important to colleagues and administrators. Data points the way toward continuous instructional improvement. Coteaching also creates the opportunity for school librarians to co-lead in a culture of adult as well as student learning in their schools.

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2012. “Job-embedded Professional Development: An Orchard of Opportunity.” In Growing Schools: School Librarians as Professional Developers, edited by Debbie Abilock, Kristin Fontichiaro, and Violet Harada, 141-156. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Sinek, Simon, David Mead, and Peter Docker. 2017. Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. New York: Penguin.

Image Credit: Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

Teach Like Finland, Part 1

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the first in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Since 2001, many educators in the U. S., including yours truly, and around the world have wondered why Finnish students continually rank as top scorers on the international PISA exam. I recently read Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. This is some of what I learned.

Before I even opened the book, I reflected on the use of the word “joyful” in the subtitle. In my work as a school librarian which included thirteen years at all three instructional levels between 1992 – 2009, I cotaught with classroom teachers in their classrooms as well as in the library, computer labs, and out in the field. I had the pleasure of working in many “joyful” classrooms, libraries, and even one very joyful school!

I agree with Teach Like Finland author Timothy Walker that joy is one of the too-oft missing ingredients in schooling today. Walker organizes his book into the four elements of happiness — belonging, autonomy, master, and mind-set — identified by Rag Raghunathan author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? To these Walker adds “well-being.”

There were many other aspects of the Finnish education culture that “spoke to me.” Children start formal schooling at age seven. Elementary schools, in particularly, strive for a holistic, child-focused curriculum that addresses all subjects evenly. All subjects including art and music as well as what U. S. schools consider “core” subjects get equal time. Finnish schools apply the research that has shown art contributes to innovative thinking and music knowledge can help learners grasp mathematical patterns. The holistic model gives children opportunities to cultivate multiple aspects of their personalities and talents.

The average time that Finnish educators spend in actual instruction is also shorter than U. S. teachers per week (18 hours versus 26.5 hours). Finnish students and teachers have 15-minute breaks after every 45-minutes of instructional time. Collaborating with colleagues is one way that educators use that “free” time every day. (See below.)

Walker identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. All of these are well worth considering.

Seek Flow
As a writer and educator, I know and strive for that feeling of flow when my mind and body are totally focused and I do my best work. Walker writes: “Being teachers who seek flow, not superiority, is something that’s not just good for us; it’s also good for our students. Our students are watching us, and if they see that we’re seeking to do our best work, free of comparing ourselves to others, I’m confident that this kind of example will foster a noncompetitive culture in our classrooms… This positive change we want to see—as is so often the case in teaching—starts with us” (Walker 173).

Have a Thicker Skin
Having a “thicker skin” that allows us to give, receive, and respond to constructive criticism is another important strategy. Principal leader and author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Couros just last week posted “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss’” to his blog. The thicker skin strategy totally aligns with Couros’s idea about providing adults with feedback.

Couros writes: “As long as people know that you are both on the same page (that you want them to be successful), they will accept the feedback. For some, it is harder than others, but when they know it is because you want them to be better, it is a much easier pill to swallow.”

Walker goes on to write about how he uses journaling to work through anxieties and challenges in teaching. He also writes about how noting “gratitudes” can boost happiness and giving thanks can strengthen relationships.

Collaborate Over Coffee
Of course, the aspect of daily life in Finnish schools that jumped off the page at me was educator collaboration. Walker interviewed several Finnish teachers and asked: “What brings you joy as a teacher, and what brings your students joy?”

One of the most popular answers was collaboration! He noted that nearly 50% of the lessons he taught during his time in Finland were cotaught.

“Teachers in my school were not just collaborating in the traditional sense, by planning and teaching lessons together—they were truly laboring together, sharing the burdens of teaching with each other. They were helping each other track down the resources they’d need for an upcoming lesson. They were discussing better ways to support needy students. They were analyzing curriculum together. They were talking about how to improve recess for the kids. They were grading tests together. They were offering tech support to each other. To my surprise, this work often happened in between sips of coffee, during those fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day” (Walker 178-179).

His comment made me think about what I mean when I write about collaborating in the “traditional sense.” I believe coteaching involves all of the aspects that Walker describes, but maybe others, who have not experienced classroom-library coteaching between equal partners, do not perceive the same depth of partnership that I have experienced.

In the course of coplanning and coteaching, classroom teachers and school librarians are analyzing curriculum together. They are sharing resources and providing technology support to one another. They are strategizing how to differentiate to meet the needs of all students. And in the most effective partnerships, they are assessing students’ work together and using assessment to adjust their instruction.

Walker writes: “More than anything, I think collaboration is all about mind-set. If you truly believe that you are a better teacher when you are working in concert with others, then I think you will naturally find small, simple ways of collaborating… Their work together seemed like a by-product of their teaching mind-set” (181).

Bravo! And yes! To a mind-set that believes collaboration is the key to better teaching.

I will reflect on the other three strategies next week: welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss.’” The Principal of Change blog. 18 May 2017, http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7360 Accessed 20 May 2017.

Raghunathan, Rag. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? New York: Penguin, 2016.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.