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LibGuides and Student Choice

24 Feb

One of the important aspects of using inquiry, and especially in using the ILP, is the opportunity for student choice.  In Meg and Cathy’s classes, students  explore themes in literature and develop skills around standards, and all of this begins with the texts students choose.  In Heather’s latest post, she discusses the ways in which librarians can help students and co-teach in inquiry classrooms.  For Cathy’s and Meg’s classes, librarians assist students at the beginning of the ILP process by helping them select texts.  One of the ways we do this is through booktalks.  A booktalk is a short introduction of a book that we can provide to students as a way to get them interested in a particular text, era, or genre of literature.  In giving a booktalk, Heather and I, as well as other librarians, provide students with a glimpse into a text, by either reading a small section or sharing the conflict, theme, characters, or our favorite part.  For American Literature classes, Heather and I would organize and provide booktalks around eras:  Realism and Romanticism, Modernism & Postmodernism, Contemporary American Literature, among others.  While we would share titles belonging to these eras, we would also connect the texts to major concepts and themes from the time period.  Cathy and I would  “tag team” our booktalks, alternating between the two of us, often like a ping-pong game along a literary timeline. While we were satisfied with the introduction of the texts we provided to students, we always felt that we could never cover enough books to give students a wide exposure to all of the possible literature they could choose from.  

In an effort to make this part of the inquiry process more student centered, in addition to booktalks, we guided students through a browsing activity using a curation tool called a LibGuide.  This web-based program allowed us to collect various websites and databases, as well as print books available in our collection or electronic texts found online.  Our LibGuide for American Literature optimized a student’s ability to browse for texts.  Instead of simply listening to a booktalk with books the teacher and librarians have chosen to highlight, now students could explore the multitude of resources on this guide to not only learn about eras and authors more thoroughly, but also to explore as much as possible of the literature America had to offer.  This LibGuide has certainly grown over the past few years.  We’ve added websites that students have discovered in their learning, ebooks that the library has purchased, and our own documents that serve to guide students through the ILP.    

American Literature LibGuide

And when Cathy began talking about altering the structure of her class this time around, we saw the need to add even more material to this guide.  While we still offer the opportunity for students to browse by era, this guide leads students to explore major playwrights, novelists, and poets across eras.  It links to lists of American literary awards by year, as well as resources on American art and music, allowing students to see the connections between literature and other arts.  We’ve offered sites on American culture  and American history, and knowing that students don’t need to find just long texts and can explore supporting documents and materials, we’ve aggregated resources that contain primary documents from our nation’s history.

In some of the specific eras, we have linked to certain Google documents that highlight either the texts that our school library has, titles that Cathy’s classroom library contains, or books that students can find in the public domain on the web.  Cathy and I have used these documents for specific browsing activities where students list their top three choices and explain why they are interested in reading the text and how it may connect to the themes they want to explore or the essential question they want to answer.

By combining all of these different types of approaches and exposing students to as many resources on American literature, writers, culture, and history as possible, we truly desire to create an open opportunity for them to explore–to wander around the resources, making connections and creating pathways for their own learning.    We’ve even created a space for students to upload resources they find in their own browsing and searching online, giving them ownership of this class resource as well.  And as we monitor this LibGuide, we can examine the usage statistics in the site’s “back office” to evaluate which sites are frequently referenced or which ones may be underused.  Such data can give us insight into how students are using the guide and may help us determine what, if any, changes need to be made in the future.

And we haven’t just used LibGuides to help students connect with texts for literature classes.  Teachers in other disciplines have teamed with the librarians to create guides  in their disciplines, including Global Studies and Environmental Science, among others. By using resources like LibGuides and providing the time needed to deeply engage with the material in the beginning stages of inquiry or research, we are honoring the act of discovery and immersion as well as the importance of student choice, which all contribute to successful ILP and learning processes.

Please let us know if you recommend any resources for the American Literature LibGuide, or any of our other LibGuides, that we can share with our students.  We welcome any feedback you may have and certainly would love to hear how you honor student choice in your classroom or library.

Reflection on #AASL13: Importance of Student Voice

18 Nov

On Friday, November 15th, we presented the ILP to a group of educators at the AASL 16th National Conference & Exhibition in Hartford, CT.  As part of our presentation, we shared video reflections from students who have experienced the Inquiry Learning Plan, which is one of our favorite parts of the presentation to share with others.

It always brings us joy to watch our students reflect on their learning through the ILP.  The video we shared of students communicating their experiences in developing questions, confronting new information, and making decisions about what to study demonstrates just how mature they are in their thinking.  On Thursday evening, we listened to Tony Wagner speak about the importance of critical thinking and adaptability, two of seven essential survival skills for today’s learners and workers.  When re-watching this video of our students, we can’t help but see the connections between our students’ learning and the message Wagner so passionately articulates.  Our students are unpacking language in standards to identify skills they need to address.  They are choosing information sources responsibly and synthesizing these sources to address the divergent and convergent questions they are crafting.  They are deciding which activities best allow them to practice and master the standards, and they are reflecting upon these activities, which ultimately leads to a final summative representation of their learning.  Our students are charged with the responsibility, the curiosity, and the perseverance to undertake this learning process. This is the core of critical thinking.  This is the core of rigor.  And we—the teachers and librarians—provide feedback, ask them questions, connect them with texts and information, and suggest methods for piloting each stage of the ILP.  We help them learn not just the content of the curriculum, but how to navigate the landscape of learning and research, with all of its twists, turns, and bumps in the road.  This is the spirit of adaptability, and such experiences help students build confidence and skill as researchers. Continue reading

The Role of Essential Questions in the Inquiry Process

23 Apr

The best questions point to and highlight the big ideas.  They serve as doorways through which learners explore the key concepts, themes, theories, issues, and problems that reside within the content, perhaps as yet unseen: it is through the process of actively ‘interrogating’ the content through provocative questions that students deepen their understanding.
— Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design

Any question you ask will just lead to more questions.
— Mother, LOST

Good questions call for discovery, which is at the heart of inquiry.  In using the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP), we guide students through the process of developing their own essential and guiding questions for each unit. Essential questions are ones at the center of a topic; they are broad and seemingly timeless.  They also have no right answer, but instead invite all learners to engage in dialogue around the themes within the content.  As we discussed with the concept of “third space” in a previous post, strong essential questions allow for students to connect their life experiences, in addition to content from other curricula, to whatever they are inquiring at the time.  This is the very nature of transfer, and good questions prompt students to consider more than one way of viewing a topic.

The purpose of creating an essential question is for students to develop a focus.  At this point, they have already spent time understanding the broader scope of what they are studying (i.e. a time period in literature, an era in history, etc.). Now, they must narrow their inquiry.  As demonstrated in Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari’s Guided Inquiry Design, students may need to consider four criteria when developing an essential question:  “What is interesting to me?  What are my learning goals? How much information is available?  How much time do I have?”  (pgs. 96-97).  Such understanding connects students to their own information need.  Information need is an important concept in information literacy that suggests learners are thoughtful to what type of information is most significant to addressing their questions, rather than students simply collecting information based on a set of requirements imposed upon them.

Before we have students develop their questions, we discuss with them the difference between convergent and divergent questions.  Convergent questions are those that ask for specific information or have one or a few right answers.  These types of questions are considered low-level questions.  On the other hand, divergent questions do not have a right answer; instead, they are open-ended, provide an opportunity for investigation and argument, and may require synthesis and analysis.  With this understanding, students can aim for creating divergent questions as the basis of their inquiry.

Oftentimes, it takes several tries for students to develop quality essential questions.  For example, students in Cathy’s sophomore English class developed the following “essential questions” on first try:

  • What attributes make Beowulf a hero?
  • Can rumors cause more fear than true events?
  • Who are the monsters and why do we see them as such?

When asked to reflect on this first attempt using the definitions of convergent and divergent questions, students understand that they haven’t quite mastered the task.

As teachers, we can design activities to guide students through this process.  For example, Cathy and I developed an activity called “Musical Questions: Broadening and Narrowing Our EQs.”  Students placed their first “essential question” at the top of the sheet, and Cathy began playing instrumental music.  She instructed the students to move about the room; when the music stopped, students sat in the closest seat and read the essential question on their classmate’s worksheet.  Each student then wrote one question that was broader and one question that was narrower than the original essential question.  After a few rounds of “Musical Questions,” students returned to their seats and read through the questions that their classmates had left for them.  Many students began to see their original question in relation to the others classmates wrote.  When asked to reflect on which ones were most “essential”, meaning most divergent, students were able to identify at least one.  Now, questions read like:

  • What is heroism?
  • What is scary about the unknown?
  • How are social roles determined?

This activity was successful on a few levels.  First, students really understood the process of developing questions.  At the end of the activity, they had not only essential and other divergent questions, but they also had an important list of guiding questions to help their inquiry.  Secondly, students also practiced the information literacy skill of narrowing and broadening an inquiry, which connects with both the Common Core ELA Writing Standard 7 (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7) and the AASL Standard 1.1.3 (Develop and refine a range of questions to frame the search for new understanding).  With a provocative essential question, students will have a strong foundation upon which they can begin quality research and investigation.

What are some other ways we can engage students in developing essential questions?

ILP and Guided Inquiry

30 Mar

Two helpful resources in understanding the principles of Guided Inquiry (GI) are Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2007) and Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School  (2012) by Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari.  Through years of research and professional practice, this team of researchers and educators demonstrates how GI “is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic, or issue” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007).  Students construct new knowledge actively and strive for deep understanding.  Gone are the days of just gathering information for presentation, or copying and pasting information as ways of learning.   GI requires thorough interpretation, analysis, reflection, and synthesis to handle the complexities and nuances of various topics.  The process increases student engagement and invites students to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them.  As a result, students take on more independence and more responsibility since they are constructing their own paths for learning.

Continue reading

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