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Reflecting to Discover

5 Jul

What we love about this type of student-driven learning is that often, students are making connections to their personal lives and creating meaning in a way that we would not be able to engineer. When we first created and began implementing the ILP, I’m not sure we foresaw how students would be moving beyond content to uncover bigger truths about life and themselves, but since then we’ve realized that creating an open atmosphere for learning allows students the space for these sort of discoveries.

For many students, it isn’t until they to think about the ideas revealed in their activities that they discovered a greater takeaway. By having multiple points of reflection, one student, Miles was able to synthesize multiple sources, develop respect for the sometimes arduous task of narrative writing, and eventually see how his learning during that particular unit taught him so much more than World War I or about Paul Baumer and his buddies in All Quiet on the Western Front. In his final reflection for the unit, Miles wrote that his work helped him to see the need for education reform.

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His final reflection, while not especially specific to his progress in answering his essential question or his progress with specific skills, does reveal his understanding of the creative process as well as the dispositions that helped him get to an obviously optimistic and satisfied place by the end of his inquiry. His takeaway of self-guided, “vertical growth” led him to a “So What?” proposal to change the way students are educated at his school, advocating for more of what he calls “free creation.” This call to action about education is not something we would have predicted from a unit about WWI and narrative writing; however, because the content combined with Miles’ unique view of the world, he was able to create something truly individual.

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

Reflections on AASL

16 Nov

This weekend, Cathy, Marci, and I were lucky enough to present our ILP at the American Association of School Librarian’s National Conference in Hartford, CT. Tony Wagner, the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, was the speaker at the Opening General Session on Thursday and delivered a powerful message centered around his seven survival skills. During his discussion on innovation, he talked about the importance of failure as a learning tool. Our schools have been built on a system of rewards and punishments in the form of grades, and failure, unfortunately, is too often an option that doesn’t lead anywhere. When a student fails an assignment, they move on to the next one, without the opportunity to learn from the previous experience. Continue reading

Giving Students Control

14 Mar

Over the past week, I have read numerous emails, blogs, and tweets about personalized learning, many with links to student samples or courses that teachers are redesigning so that students can have more control over their learning. Each time I navigated to these sites and saw what others were doing, I was reminded that my own students are achieving some pretty incredible goals in my current Honors Brit Lit course. For the last two and a half years, my students in my Brit Lit (and this year my English II courses) have designed their own curriculum. They choose their own texts, develop their own questions, design activities, manage their time–they control nearly everything in that classroom.

So, to help keep my students focused and organized, I developed an inquiry-based learning plan, inspired by Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process and Grant Wiggins’ UbD template. This site’s purpose is to share with you that plan and many of the resources and strategies that I–and my incredible friends and colleagues Cathy Stutzman, Heather Hersey, and Marci Zane–use to prepare students for rigorous, individualized, responsible learning. The plan is to have students, teachers, librarians, administrators,  and parents contribute to this site to share with you the struggles and achievements of this type of learning.

Continue reading

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