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.

EdCamp Philly: Session 1-Valenza, Jakes, and the Future of Student Research

My first session was a given…as a librarian, I had to see Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) and David Jakes (@djakes) for “The Future of Student Research.”  However, there were so many great sessions available; it really was difficult to choose each time.

Because of the unconference nature, our session was not a one-way presentation of tools and techniques (although tools and techniques were a-flying).  We discussed how research has changed.  Gone are (or should be) the days of asking for 1 book, 1 periodical, and 1 website.  Information types are difficult to pin down…books are electronic, websites have periodicals, and databases have every type of source.  We need to show students how to use various source types and stop privileging print over other media especially when that printed document is available elsewhere.

Is this as easy as giving the requirements above?  Absolutely not.  We must now help students (and teachers…and ourselves) learn how to evaluate not only information content but also information types.  Is a tweet a valid source of information?  Of course, it can be.  Is a documentary a primary source?  Maybe…some parts might be.

Definitive, precise source types are a thing of the past.  However, that does not mean we do not need to evaluate. Some teachers have swung the other way when it comes to resources.  They allow a research free-for-all, letting student slap and paste all over the place without a thought to the creator or content of the information.  Students take the small bite that google gives them and ignore the source itself.

To assist students and teachers, Joyce employs “over the shoulder” assessment, evaluates annotated bibliographies, and suggests smaller research projects to provide practice.  She also requires “exit” tickets to get to the next research step.  Joyce’s practices remind me of Khulthau’s Zones of Intervention and require a great amount of co-teaching and collaboration.

The other thread in the discussion that resonated with me centered around students being given choices in the way they organize and present their information.  Facilitators and participants chatted about numerous tools, but also the importance of teaching students the flexibility to roll with the changes.  If a tool disappears, students should be able to adjust…and so should we, which makes it important not to teach just the technology.  As @mbteach tweeted, “focus on the method, not the tool when teaching research.”

Please consider sharing; I would love to hear about (1) your session one experiences, (2) your methods for assessing and providing checkpoints for research, and (3) your favorite tools to show students.

Conferences and Comfort Zones

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) just had its biennial conference in Charlotte, North Carolina last weekend and the NJ version (NJASL) had their annual one this weekend.  Both events were great experiences, but there was something odd.

I heard a few people dismiss Danah Boyd’s excellent presentation about the online world of young people and how important it is for librarians to be a part of it.  (Unfortunately, the actual presentation is hidden behind AASL-lines, but you can check out Joyce Valenza’s discussion of it on her NeverEndingSearch blog).

I was curious about the negative reactions; folks seemed to think it was irrelevant, and one woman said it made her concerned about what the remainder of the conference would be.  Now, I did not speak to a broad spectrum of people, but the comments started me wondering if we librarians do not embrace techies unless they are one of us.  After all, Joyce Valenza’s terrific presentation at NJASL (the first keynote sing-along I’ve ever seen) was full of technology, and I heard high praise (and a lot of concern about being behind) after her presentation.  However, she is one of us so it might have been the messenger.

Maybe it was more the message.  Valenza showed a plethora of practical ideas that included more than social media and would equip our students with the right “apps” for success while Boyd focused more on theories about young people and social media.  I’m not sure if it was the message or the messenger; however, librarians need both.

I truly believe that our sustainability lies in joining with instructional technology people, embracing theorists and ethnographers like Danah Boyd, and moving out of the typical comfort zones of librarianship.  AASL and NJASL reinforced this more than ever!

Making a Lesson Better…Together

In my prior blog post, Help Wanted:  From My Students, I asked my students for help with a social bookmarking lesson.  A brief description of the lesson and my shout-out to these awesome sophomores is found in the prior post.  This post, however, is dedicated to answering some of the concerns they voiced in their comments.  I hope that I can learn from them, and hopefully, other folks can learn from them as well.


Hi, folks!  You gave me some great advice and were so nice, too!  Thank you for your honesty, and please know that I am also available for tutorial every day except Tuesday when I advise a club.  Below I will comment on some of the suggestions and ask more questions as a result.  The questions are for everyone because I have a feeling that these folks may not be the only ones who felt this way.

Reader Blog4Cassandra said: “…the only part that I would change is to give us some more wiggle room with diigo. We did run out of time in the end, but if there was another link or website that we could go to in order to find out other ways on how we could use diigo to our advantage, that would be great.”

I’m not sure what you mean by “wiggle room.”  Is it more time to play around on Diigo?  Do you think there is something that we could cut out to make more play time?  I didn’t find any other resources that explained the power of Diigo better than those that are on the project link page.  Please let me know if you find any.  Thanks!

Reader dandre10 said: “I think it would have worked a little easier and gone smoother if you went step by step on how to get into Diigo and then install the toolbar because then not everyone would be confused. Maybe if you put it on the projector so that everyone would be on the same page, then everyone would understand what was going on.”

Right on!  I tried to backtrack and do so, but it was too late.  I will definitely do this next time!  Thank you!

Reader laurat15 said: “Some of the tutorial videos got a little boring but I understand that we needed to understand the basics of it.”

Hmmm…I wonder if I cut one of the videos out.  What do you think?  Or what if you watched the initial one at home on your own, and then we could jump into tagging right away?

Reader anshu said: I thought that the lesson was helpful, but I did not understand how to use diigo very well.

So…let’s see if I get this right.  The concepts of social bookmarking and tagging were helpful, but diigo did not go over well for you?  What do you think would help?  Did the diigo part of the lesson provide you with enough information to get started?  If not, what was missing?  What else should I include to help you understand diigo better?

Reader soccered99 said: I think you could improve on making the class less confusing. . .for the technically challenged anyway. I was just confused and its nothing that you did its just my understanding for technology which is probably level 1. Also if you could go over the steps that you did a few times because unless you do I probably won’t grasp it.

I definitely need us to put our heads together on this one.  Do you think pairing up folks who are more comfortable with technology with those who are not would be helpful?  How can I prevent students from feeling frustrated either because they feel behind or because they desire to move ahead?  This is a challenge for all teachers and all learners since we each have different strengths.  Any ideas?  I don’t want to rely on tutorial.  I’m looking for things we could implement in class.  What say ye?

I think I got all of the areas of concern.  It was so great to hear from all of you about what worked and what didn’t.  Plus, we are talking about learning, which definitely fits into the realm of your blogs.  TTFN!

Help Wanted: From My Students

“Wah!  I don’t know what to write.”

Yes, this is what I was saying to my husband the day after my first post (and sadly thinking after my second and third).  He told me I sounded like a student.  Why am I telling you this embarrassing story?  Because we teachers are often bad students.

We forget what it was like to learn, particularly out of our subject area, and when challenged to do so, we do the very things that we complain about our students doing.  I see it at in-services and have been guilty of it myself.  However, we were learners once and can be again.  Part of the problem is that we focus on ourselves and teaching instead of the students and learning.

Teachers are seen as subject experts, and as a result, sometimes we’re afraid to be wrong and learn with and from our students.   Doug Johnson said something similar in a recent post titled, Where are the others?:

“It is hard, as a professional in the world of schools, to admit you don’t know something or don’t understand it. I don’t think our profession makes this easy either.”

So, I’m jumping off the diving board into a very scary pool hoping I don’t hit my head (although if I do, at least I can forget what I’m about to try).  I worked with a group of students today.  We worked on social bookmarking, tagging, and Diigo.  I am asking them to help me improve.

First, let me share a brief overview of the lesson.  The resources we used are on this project link.

  1. Discuss what paper bookmarks and show “Social Bookmarks In Plain English” video
  2. Discuss tagging with what they already use (Facebook, Flickr, blogs) – why do we tag?
  3. Show “Tags: Content Tagging and Its Importance” video.
  4. Show sample picture of from “Cloud Appreciation Society” 🙂 and ask students for words they would use to tag it.
  5. Compare our choices to the same picture in Flickr so students can see the personal and varied nature of tagging, and how they could use it both for themselves and to communicate with others.
  6. Show Edublogs explanation of categories versus tags. (we may or may not show the video about the importance of tagging – the guy is pretty amusing, though.)
  7. If you are struggling to think of a tag, try to wordle a blog post (thanks to Bill Wolff for the idea!). Practice wordle and add tags to a blog post.
  8. Introduce Diigo w/ Tour video- show how it goes beyond bookmarking
  9. Create a Diigo group and discuss the possibility of having standard group tags.
  10. Play with Diigo…yeah!

Ok, folks, please excuse me while I ask my student to help me learn.


Ok, students…it’s your turn now.  Be honest but kind.  I promise…you’ll never see me cry (I’ll hide it).  Give  ideas and suggestions that are constructive and specific.  Tell me what worked and what didn’t.  What would you add?  What would you remove?  How can we make this lesson better?  Thanks, peeps!

Identity Crisis: Librarian

I have to admit that sometimes I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.  I understand that this may sound ridiculous, but since I became a librarian, I never have missed having my own classroom more than I do now.  Why you might ask?  Education has changed.  Teachers are being encouraged to experiment more and become more student-centered.  Simply put, I want more time with students, I want to be able to sequence instruction, and I just basically want more more engagement in student learning.

Reading Joyce Valenza’s blog post, 14 Ways K-12 Librarians Can Teach Social Media, I get so excited.  I have just started working with these amazing tools and have already seen how powerful they can be.  The work I did at my school over the summer with our one-to-one laptop program, project-based learning, and social networking has altered my way of thinking.  During this work, Rob Mancabelli, our technology director, planted the seed that the mission of the library could be to help students create a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  However, in my current environment, I just don’t know how.
Because we have block scheduling and many electives, there are very few classes that all students take.  I have tried to create some type of curriculum or sequence of instruction.  I have to say that I am tired of being seen as the lady who comes in and shows students some resources that they may already have seen.  I heard again today that students feel like we show them the same things over and over.  I don’t want to present instruction anymore.  This is not why I became a librarian.

When I was an English teacher, I was able to break down difficult skills and use formative assessments to gradually scaffold a sequence of activities.  I have been trying to do that as a librarian, but it is proving so difficult.  Now that I am trying to build in social media and PLNs, I crave a way to make sure that all of my students are prepared to continue learning.

As Joyce said in her blog post:

“This is the best time in history to be a teacher-librarian. Major shifts in our information and communication landscapes present new opportunities for librarians to teach and lead in areas that were always considered part of their role, helping learners of all ages effectively use, manage, evaluate, organize and communicate information, and to love reading in its glorious new variety.”

I couldn’t agree more; in fact, what is happening now is one of the main reasons why I became a librarian.  I love being in the role of guide for both teachers and students.  This is a challenging position that requires a special kind of leadership.

However, after six years, I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed.  I find myself wondering how Joyce fits all of this in with her students.  I feel like an outsider looking into the classroom, someone there to provide students with the book or primary source when they need it, but not someone doing what Joyce describes in her blog.

I am reaching out to those of you who are the types of teacher-librarians that Joyce describes.  I know that librarians need to be curricular leaders (I’ll write more about that at another time), but with everything changing, I’m just not sure what being a librarian should be.  I feel in the core of my librarian-soul that I can do this and I am so excited, but I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.  I just need to admit I need help, so I am…

Am I just being impatient?  How do we put it all together?  What does this “new library” look like?  Do you have a curriculum?  How do you know that students are getting the skills they need?  What skills do you focus on?  How do you make sure that all students get the same skills without too much repetition so we are not seen as irrelevant?  What types of assessments do you do?   I know I’ve just asked a ton of questions with no easy answers.  Any advice you can provide would be terrific!