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.
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.