Monday, April 1, 2013

Inquiring (Teacher) Minds Actually Do Want To Know!

Thank you Gwyneth Jones for providing me a topic for today's musings!

In addition to The Daring Librarian's tweet, I had a great visit on Thursday, March 28 by Marci Johnstone, the K-4 school librarian from Punahou School in Honlulu, Hawaii who came to Ontario to discover how elementary and middle schools are making the transition from traditional libraries to Learning Commons. In addition to this, last week I had an exhausting but productive three-hour meeting with Bozena White, a professor and researcher from Queens University.

The common thread between these three fascinating and dynamic people is that they are all truly interested in what goes on in my school library. Their questions invited some deep reflection and demonstrated their intellectual curiosity about events beyond their own four walls.

Marci asked some tough questions while she visited: what is the role of the teacher-librarian in creating a Learning Commons? What was/am I actually doing to make the change? I was tempted to just quote the Together for Learning document, something I'd feel comfortable relying on since I was part of the writing team, but I wanted to give her a personal answer. It was actually trickier than I thought. If I recall correctly, I explained that it's about "being a leader without leading" - if you are the King or Queen of the Library, others won't feel personally invested in transforming the learning environment and its practices; administrators, students, educators, and others need to feel that they were part of the creation, not just the implementation. I confessed that I didn't think that I was as close to a Learning Commons as I had hoped to be - my schedule, for instance, is more like a "prep fairy" traditional timetable - but I told Marci that my Masters of Education capping paper gave me hope, because I learned that it is not always essential to have all the ideal conditions for an exemplary school library program (or for a Learning Commons). Let me quote my paper:

As Oberg (2000) has argued, a
school library can have everything that the research says is needed to support student
learning and yet, in fact, can be a force for limiting student learning. On the flip side,
some school libraries may lack many of the resources required, based on the literature,
but they still make a positive impact on student learning. The impact of reduced
resources, both human and material, on the learning success of students must be
examined case-by-case. Teacher-librarians need to take charge of the factors they have
control over, work on the factors that they might have influence over, and temporarily
accept the factors that are beyond their control.

Writing that capping paper was quite the trial, and I felt like I was experiencing similar stages of despair, hopelessness, and then acceptance and excitement when I met with Bozena White to discuss my self-directed (self-inflicted?) research project. Meeting face to face was very beneficial. When Bozena and I were exchanging emails, I couldn't understand why she kept probing about the questions I was asking. It turns out that the actual questions I wanted to answer weren't being met with the research study I originally designed. I really appreciated how genuine and supportive Bo was as we fiddled with ways to salvage at least some of the original data and methods that we can use to make the investigation work. Talking with Bo made me realize that my course on Educational Research just scratched the surface of comprehending statistics and research design. This research study, begun in 2010, won't be finished this year as I had hoped, but the delay will make it better.

I began with Gwyneth, so let me end with Gwyneth. She mentioned Slenderman and the Know Your Meme website (a favourite of my teen daughter) and I couldn't resist answering her. She wanted to know about the lessons and tasks we used when exploring the topic. Sometimes the path is curvy and so was this inquiry. This is the first year I've used this method of long range planning (as I mentioned in a past blog post). It's been interesting so far. The above post mentioned my work with the intermediate division (and Gwyneth, my wiki, which you inspired, has lesson plans from the Success inquiry - I'll add the junior ones later just for you!). Here's a quick summary of the Term 1 Inquiry topics (and the ways we investigated them - often instigated not by me but by the students) as well as the current Term 2 inquiries.

Term 1

Primary Division: What can I control? How can I keep control?
  • for library, focus on they control what books they borrow, instruction on selection methods
  • for ICT, focus on controlling avatars in Bitstrips, control on software using for tasks
  • for media, focus on control over message delivery (What is media YouTube videos) & products (media tie-ins)
  • for dance/drama, focus on controlling body and voice
Junior Division: What is truth? How can I tell when something is true?
  • for library, developed critical thinking skills like triangulating data (used Simpsons mockumentary from "Lisa is a Vegetarian", Telestrations game, and urban legends)
  • for ICT, investigated website credibility, ethical use of images, songs & text
Intermediate Division: How can I achieve success (personal, academic, etc.) and help others attain success?
  • described in another blog post

Term 2

Early Primary Division: What makes things funny? Why are things funny to some people but not to others?

Primary Division: How might work and play be the same? How might work be more like play? How might play be more like work?

Junior Division: Why is it important to have good communication?

Intermediate Divison: How might Canadian teenagers in 2013 be similar/different to media/fiction portrayals or to teens in different times/places? What unique challenges might they face?

Thanks to everyone for their genuine interest in what goes on at my school. It's not one-sided - I really enjoyed visiting a TDSB Exploration Class on ESL integration (formerly known as "demonstration classrooms") and seeing the different ways other teachers engage their students. Let's keep asking those probing questions (and if I didn't go into enough detail on any of those above items, email me and let me know!)

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