From Theory to Practice

(Cross-posted on the Library Think Tank)

“Sounds good in theory,” a common phrase that implies (but rarely articulates) the second half of the thought – “but not in practice.” Putting something into practice can be eye-opening. Ideas that sounded great initially may prove difficult to apply to the situation for which they were created, and sometimes you simply can’t see an issue until you use it.

Last year, the Upper School library team embarked on adapting ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education for use in our 9-12 school. We liked how the new framework addressed information literacy as a complete content area by asking students to consider authority as a means of power and view information as a valuable commodity. We also appreciated its focus on habits of mind. As a result, we spent considerable time last year crafting a version of the framework that fit our situation. It took a lot of time, energy, and reflection, but we felt that we had a list of skills and habits of mind that worked for our classes and students.

There were some parts, however, that only worked in theory. Once I began applying them to the topics we covered in our classes last year, I realized that the repetition of ideas across the six major concepts that seemed authentic actually made using the framework difficult and confusing. For example, evaluation and credibility of sources appears throughout the framework because it appears throughout the research process, but in practice, it became confusing and overwhelming to have this concept spread throughout, especially since we’re hoping that other departments and even students will begin to use them. If we want this document to be utilized by others, we have to make the concepts and the language accessible to our colleagues and to students. (To see our current version, click here.)

The difference between theory and practice doesn’t surprise me, but it might surprise some of our students. The trial and error that is expected and embraced in realms like video games does not often translate for students to the classroom. Video games are set-up for this with multiple lives and online walk-throughs. How are we infusing the elements of trial, error, and practice into the research process for our students?

The “Drive” to Research: Part 1

I recently watched a video of Daniel Pink discussing his book, Drive, with a group at my school to discuss its implications for education, which, of course, led me to think about its implications for student research.  As Pink explains, studies indicate that extrinsic rewards only work if the task is above “rudimentary cognitive skills” — “for simple, straightforward tasks…tasks that are algorithmic, a set of rules where you have to just follow along and get a right answer.”  We all know that true research or inquiry is the polar opposite of this type of task.  No matter how many processes we create to explain the process of inquiry (Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process , Eisenberg and Berkowitz’s Big6, Stripling’s Model of Inquiry and many more) even those frameworks acknowledge that it is not a linear process; it’s messy and murky and a perfect example of the type of task that Pink describes as “require[ing} conceptual, creative thinking.”  Yet, even with the incredible opportunity that an inquiry project provides; I still hear students say that they’ve done this before “tons of times.”  They describe it as a hurdle…something they have to get through for the class.  These descriptions definitely don’t scream intrinsic motivation, but I believe we can change that.  

Firstly, there might be some issue with the tasks we assign and how we label them.  When I was still teaching English, I realized that I was using the term research for both smaller reporting projects and an extended inquiry project when they are quite different tasks and involve far different skills.  As Carol Gordon explains,

The research assignment acts as a reporting exercise when student involvement is limited to information gathering, which is usually demonstrated by reading, taking notes, and writing a summary. Reporting has masqueraded as researching for so long that the terms are used interchangeably.

For example, when students were doing brief reports on historical aspects of a novel to help their understanding before reading it, I called that research.  When I was expecting them to do in-depth inquiry that required skills such as the development of their own topic and questions, the synthesizing of multiple sources, and the creation of an original argument, I still called it research.  Though this might seem like a small distinction, it shouldn’t surprise me that students began working on the in-depth research project in the same way as the report – building lists of facts from a source and moving on.  They didn’t realize that the in-depth research project required skills extending far beyond those of reporting until we did some explicit lessons and scaffolding assignments geared toward breaking out of “reporting mode.”  However, this is just one thing we can learn from Drive; next time, we’ll look closely at the factors Pink describes as leading “to the better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction” and how those can relate to research. 

Gordon, Carol. “Students As Authentic Researchers: A New Prescription for the High School Research Assignment.” American Association of School Librarians. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Pink, Daniel. “RSA Animate – Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.” RSA Animate. N.p., 8 Apr. 2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Cross-posted on the Library Think Tank

Reflection, ISP, and The Bangles

Time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities.

Oh, Bangles, how right you were!* We all need time to reflect and see what’s become of us and to find our possibilities.  This is no different for learning in the library.  Students need time to reflect as they move through the information search process (ISP).  During the first faculty meeting of the year, our Assistant Head of School/Upper School Director used an apt analogy for trying to learn without reflection.  He described seeing a school of fish at an aquarium over the summer; they were swimming feverishly in a circle while opening and closing their mouths, and though he showed a better video, this will give you an idea:

Sardine Tank at the Monterey Aquarium

When he likened it to students learning without reflection, I pictured them as the fish –  feverishly trying to do well, pass the class, move on the the next level all while opening and closing their minds, trying to receive, fit in, and process what teachers, readings, and research provide.  It reminded me so clearly of what I’ve seen first-hand in the library and while working  in the classroom; students just opening and closing their mouths waiting for the right source, idea, or assistance to flow in often without deliberate thought or care.

In an effort to prevent this scenario, I conferenced with American Studies students during a critical stage of their ISPs – right after they had (supposedly) formulated a focus.  I asked each one to send me an annotated bibliography with four sources ahead of time.  I also had their original topic proposals with teacher comments (both English and History since it is a team taught class).  The variety of issues that arose during each conference was astounding from a student who was confused about notetaking to a student who barely had an initial topic much less a focus to a student who had tons of sources but no real direction.  Now, this is not to say that the students are not conscientious; they are!  It just shows how messy research is and that ISP is circular despite its linear depiction.

I learned so much during these conferences, which I’ll write about soon, but most of all is the need for the type of research interventions that Kuhlthau’s ISP work encourages and the need for those to be flexible enough to be of value to students regardless of where they are in the process.  Conferences are my favorite so far, but they aren’t always possible in a time-crunched world.  What other ways do you have to intervene during the ISP and at what points do you feel it is most important?


* Don’t worry, I know it was actually Paul Simon who wrote those words of truth, but I am a child of the 80s after all!

Flipping Library Orientation

Love it or hate it…the idea of the flipped classroom has people (I can’t resist) flipping out.  For me, the beauty of flipping is the opportunity to reevaluate what is important; in other words, how do you want to spend your face-to-face time with students?  With this frame in mind, my library director and I began rethinking freshman library orientation.  In my new school (I recently moved from Pennington, NJ to Seattle, WA), orientation is 45 minutes.  That’s not a lot of time, so we decided to limit the time spent on library functions and rules.  I’m not dismissing the importance of setting out community expectations, but my colleague and I wondered how big an impact this made and if there weren’t more important issues to discuss.  Thinking about the flipped classroom opened up the door to a new way of thinking about our orientation.

The other impact on our orientation was an article shared by our middle school librarian called “What Students Don’t Know” from Inside Higher Ed.  The article discusses findings from a study of college students including the idea that students simply don’t understand the role of the librarian:

students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students.

Our discussion of this article and the flipped classroom brought us to think about what we really want our orientation to be.  In the time we had, we made a few changes in an attempt to use our time with the students as wisely as possible.  Though it wasn’t perfect by any means and we tried to fit in too much, here’s a run-down of what students did at home and in-person:

We’re already imaging what we can do differently next year especially since we might have more time!  Please consider sharing orientation strategies in your school.

PLN Powers Activate!

Created with!

Created with!

Form of an authentic PLN experience!  Shape of a PLN mentor!

Just as students need authentic experiences, models, and mentors, teachers need the same experiences in order to forge into Personal Learning Networks (PLN).  Showing a video about its power or sharing an example of how a PLN worked for you isn’t enough for some teacher-learners.

When I began exploring social media as a way of learning from and sharing with others, I was not alone.  English teacher Cathy Stutzman (@stutz01) and I jumped in together, proofreading blog posts and even tweets!  We figured out twitter lingo and really coached each other through it.  I also relied heavily on my hubby, Brien Gorham (@virgilsdiner), who had already been blogging about pop culture, for advice and proofreading.  These two kept me going in addition to other folks I met through Twitter, most notably, Buffy Hamilton (@buffyjhamilton).  Even when I have fallen off the digital earth a few times, these folks grabbed my hand and helped me leap back on.

However, it was the experience of others that made me see PLNs as a new language that needs mentoring and immersion as necessary gateways for some teachers.  For example, Marci Zane (@marcizane), signed up for Twitter but did not use it.  She admitted that she didn’t see it as a value to her at first because I would send her things I found there.  It was seeing me use it during the 2009 AASL conference that changed her mind.  She explained to me that she saw all of the things she was missing and found herself wanting to be included in the conversation.

Another example is our 1:1 pilot group.  [See Cathy Stutzman’s guest post on The Innovative Educator’s blog for more info about this session!]  This past Wednesday, Hunterdon Central Regional High School had its 4th 1-1 pilot meeting.  This is the 2nd group of teachers, who are now joining us from last year, exploring strategies for making learning more student-centered.  One of the ideas we have been focusing on is the building of a PLN.  We shared wallwishers, videos, and personal experiences, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I felt like we made a breakthrough.

Will Richardson (@willrich45) visited as folks shared out their lesson plan ideas.  A few of us tweeted about the experience using #hctweet and created a google doc to share our ideas and hopefully get some feedback.  Finally, folks were able to see the potential of these tools for themselves and their students.  Many people joined twitter, those that already had accounts got into the tweeting, and we even had a new blogger emerge (Keith Dennison).  Setting up an authentic experience to use twitter and Google docs did far more than our prior attempts.  Lessons learned and powers activated!

Added note:  OK…maybe powers weren’t completely activated.  The meeting above took place on August 4th, and we met again today, one week later.  I began what I thought would be a quick 10-15 minute recap of how #hctweet and the Google doc took off, as well as the blog posts and connections that resulted from our work last week.  What came next surprised me: we began a full-fledged twitter discussion with people asking how to do things that they weren’t able to do over the week.  Folks also asked for clarification and practiced with each other so they could see how Twitter really worked.  We have several veteran tweeters in the room so we were able to answer questions, tutor, and mentor folks in growing their PLNs and then used Twitter in our Skype session with Sarah Brown Wessling (@SarahWessling).

This was the third time we worked with Twitter during these sessions, and the experience shows that one-time presentations are not enough nor is a single follow-up.  We need to not only create authentic experiences but also allow for continual practice with experienced users as we navigate this new territory as teacher-learners.  Alright…powers re-activated…tweet on!

So how have you activated your PLN powers?  What has been done to encourage sharing and networking in your school?

Leadership Day 2010: Tech Leaders, Don Ginty and Rob Mancabelli

When I began working with Hunterdon Central Regional High School’s 1:1 pilot program during the summer of 2009, I already knew Rob Mancabelli and Don Ginty pretty well.  We worked in the same building after all.   However, I had not realized the amazing leadership qualities that they possessed.  Although Rob has now moved on to Trinity School in NYC<sob>, I had to write about this daring duo of educational technology together.  In the past few years, they have led a learning revolution in our school, and here are some of the reasons why I believe they were successful:

  • Our teacher tablet program began with volunteers and stayed that way until we had almost 100% participation.  Why did it work so well?  Because participation was an invitation and never a mandate.  They made the tablet/projector technology so seamless and let word spread about its effectiveness as a learning tool through small demonstrations but mostly word of mouth until people asked for it.
  • During our 1:1 sessions, they focused on two significant things:  changing the way we teach and, more importantly, giving us the freedom from fear to make these changes.  They realized that the 1:1 program wasn’t about the netbooks and that  it couldn’t start with lesson reform.  It had to start with psychology.  It took quite a long time, a visit from our superintendent (see Will Richardson’s post, Willing to be Distrurbed), and a lot of support, but they did indeed allow our small group to break through the walls that so many of us construct around ourselves.
  • Our 1:1 pilot included an introduction to PLNs and encouraged our participation.  In fact, I still remember when Rob compared a librarian’s job to helping students build their own PLNs.  Our pilot work could have just focused on project based learning and technology; however, Don and Rob knew that if we were going to encourage our students to jump into the digital world and begin to participate that we had to do the same.  Therefore, we spent almost an entire day with Damian Bariexca on ways to connect and grow a PLN and were encouraged throughout the summer keep at it.
  • They value the voices of others above theirs alone.  They consistently sought out parent, student, and teacher opinions.  They invited students to work alongside them; in fact, next year we will have a student tech team and a help desk that will be run by staff and students.

The only thing that I wish they did more was discuss their educational backgrounds with the entire staff, particularly Rob.  Since Don had been a teacher in the district, many folks already saw him as an educator but those who hadn’t know him as a teacher were skeptical of him and Rob.  When I first heard Rob talk about his time as a history teacher, I was shocked.  How could a technology director come from such a background?  I wish the entire school had gotten to seem them as I did during the pilot program, and this is a challenge for all administrators, not just the ones in the technology field.

How many times have you heard that a certain administrator has forgotten what it is like to be a teacher?  Trust between administrators and teachers is vital to a school’s climate, and Rob and Don were very successful in doing that with our 1:1 pilot group.  How can that transfer to an entire staff?  How can administrators be seen as passionate learners and educators moving into the fray with teachers?   Or is the divide too much?

EdCamp Philly: Session 4 – Things not likely at a regular conference…for $200, please.

Session 4 brought about two situations that would not be likely during a regular conference or in-service:

  1. I was torn between the Wiki Wiki What? session by Christine Miles (@ritzius2) and Ann Leaness (@aleaness) and The World of Google Apps with a few of my lunch-mates, Karen Blumberg (@specialkrb), Rita Chuhran (@rchuhran), and Frank Williams (@fronk2000).  Since the “unconference” format encouraged people to “vote with their feet” and leave if a session wasn’t working for them, I felt confident to ask Christine (even though I had never met her) what her session would be covering.  I explained that I had experience setting up wikis, and she said that her session might not fit what I was looking for, but we could hook up on Twitter if I had any questions.  Instead of being insulted, Christine was concerned about what would fit me as “the learner.”  Can you imagine giving students a choice like that with the ability to leave if a lesson or learning style did not fit them?  How about professional development?  (More on that in my next post.)
  2. The next situation arose from a technical difficulty, the inability to get a computer connected to the screen.  For presenters at a traditional conference, this may have signaled the end, but our intrepid guides forged ahead with the power of a participatory audience behind them.   Brian Carter (@briwcarter) started a Google wave, Yoon Soo Lim (@Doremigirl) and Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) shared their uses of Google Apps and other helpful tools, and David Jakes (@djakes) mentioned the very cool gpanion.  So many others chimed in and share their learning and/or asked questions, and even though, the computer connection was made, its absence did not hinder our learning.

Please consider sharing your session 4 experiences.

EdCamp Philly: Session 3 – Dan Callahan does not suck!

dan callahanDespite what this picture implies, Dan Callahan does not suck.  In fact, if the picture extended just a bit to his left, the chalk would tell you so.  He did, however, give people an opportunity to discuss what sucked or rocked using a very interesting discussion technique (which he attributes in his blog post to UX Crank) that can easily be transferred into the classroom.

He threw out topics like cell phones in the classroom, full inclusion, and your school’s professional development, and then asked participants to pick a designated part of the room depending upon whether the idea sucked, rocked, or made them feel indifferent (I’ll call it SRI for short).  What a great way to have a discussion and get everyone involved.  The only thing I regret was not being able to tweet during the session…I didn’t want to carry my computer around.

Students and teachers are often reluctant to say where they stand (I know I can be timid in that way…I’m trying to get over it, but that’s for another blog post).  SRI forces participants to make their feelings known, to think about these issues, and to listen to divergent ideas.  Dan did a great job facilitating and was a terrific model for the classroom teacher as guide instead of a sage.  He encouraged perspectives to be shared, asked probing questions, and made provocative statements all with a warm, elven smile.

As we were moving about the room, I kept thinking of ways that I could use SRI in the library…search strategies, databases, etc .  Unfortunately, SRI would be very difficult to use in a typical conference because of the sheer number of participants.  I’m beginning to see the “unconference” as a very different but necessary type of professional development, one that forces participation, something many students and often teachers try to avoid.

Dan wrote about his own experience with his session on his blog, geek.teacher; check it out if you want to know which topic made teachers request that the video feed be cut off, and please consider sharing your session 3 experiences.

Photo copyright bettyjaneneary.  Provided under Attribution-Share-Alike license.  Obtained from Flickr Creative Commons.

EdCamp Philly: Lunch

I went to EdCamp alone; I had just heard about it on Twitter.   So when lunch time rolled around, I popped out onto the street and resigned myself to jumping into the first place I saw.  I happened to be walking next to Brian Carter (@briwcarter) and Dr. David D. Timony (@DrTimony).  I didn’t mean to glom onto someone’s lunch, but when Brian asked if we were going to the New Deck Tavern, I just found myself going along.  We ran into a few other folks going to the same place (@scampnyc @rchuhran @fronk2000 @laurahollis525), so Dave just decided to get us a big table.  It was really terrific to decompress and discuss with these passionate educators.  There was even a debate that continued from a prior session, as well as lots of idea sharing.  Plus, now I knew friendly people in the two sessions that followed.

What else was terrific was a full hour and a half for lunch.  Awesome idea…really allows for networking and reflection.  My head was already full just from two sessions, but this lunch provided relaxation and processing time.  Usually at conferences, lunch requires missing sessions.  Not at EdCamp…and boy, was I glad that it didn’t because I would have missed Things that Suck with Dan Callahan.  Tune in tomorrow…

EdCamp Philly: Session 2 – A Whole New Classroom…!

No, I’m not going to start singing songs from Aladdin, but the Integrated Studies Program (ISP) did actually make me want to sing.  It is an intriguing program that puts 100 students in a classroom with 5 content area teachers while leaving the schedules and artificial course increments behind.  As Mike Ritzius (@mritzius) explained, instead of saying “you adapt to my classroom,” the classroom adapts to the student.  They use Moodle for content management and Project Foundry (connected to standards) for more in-depth learning and project coordination.

This program breaks down walls and content-area silos.  For example, math teacher, Nicolae Borota (@nborota), does not teach classes in algebra, etc.  Instead, he describes his teaching of math as a “united subject,” a “whole thing.”  It is no longer compartmentalized but instead all levels work together.  They helped students who needed more structure by allowing them to create their own schedule until they were comfortable working without it.

My favorite story was about a girl who was frustrated because in the classroom she finished her work in about 15 minutes and then just waited for everyone to catch up.  In the ISP, she had to work the entire time…poor child!

I’ve gotta be honest; this session made me salivate…intellectually, that is.  My district, Hunterdon Central Regional High School, is currently putting together a committee to investigate alternative scheduling options for high schools.  In addition to session 2 stories, please consider sharing any and all alternative scheduling options.  The more ideas, the merrier!