School Libraries and Learner Agency

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Jefferson County School District Tech Share Fair on the topic of school libraries and learner agency. This is a topic near and dear to me, after working in school libraries for many years, I understand that libraries are the heart of learner agency in a school.  Here are the highlights from my presentation, and the slides are embedded below. I’d like to thank Buffy Hamilton, “Fancy Jantzi,” and the Alaska Library Association who shared so many wonderful pictures of learner agency in action in libraries under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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I want to share with you today two documents you may not be familiar with, but hopefully, you will start to see that these documents can serve as a road map to the Learner Agency you are seeking for your students.

The first of these is the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

In 2007, the American Association for School Librarians came out with a new mission statement and standards. These standards were not meant to stand alone or to be carried out just by the teacher-librarian in a school, but need to be owned by everyone in a school setting, through collaboration with the teacher-librarian.

The mission statement embodies the very definition of Learner Agency. The library PROGRAM, (which reaches into every corner of the school), exists to EMPOWER students to be

  • Critical Thinkers
  • ENTHUSIASTIC readers
  • SKILLFUL researchers and
  • ETHICAL users of information

The standards document contains just 4 active standards, that can be summed up with these 4 verbs:

21st Century Learners can:

  • Think
  • Create
  • Share
  • Grow

To accomplish each of these, they must access or use

  • Skills
  • Dispositions in Action
  • Responsibilities
  • Self-Assessment Strategies

Although we did not label it as such at the time, I believe now that this document was foundational in defining a learning environment where Learner Agency can flourish.

In the Spring of 2008 – a group of teacher-librarians, technology teachers, classroom teachers from every level, administrators, and CDE personnel were convened in Colorado to dig deeply into the new standards.  The group unanimously agreed to adopt the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner.

The next steps would be to organize into subcommittees to create an action plan to carry out the new standards.

A vision committee was the first to form.  Here is what they came to realize:

Too frequently in schools, the focus is on content rather than skills. Assignments don’t require students to think at higher levels. Students are not given choice in how they learn, or how they show their learning. Library schedules are fixed and student time for independent exploration and self-directed learning is limited.

It occurred to the group that to give students an opportunity to practice and master these new standards, to truly empower our students, something within this learning environment needed to change.

It had become clear that something was missing in all of the content standards, educational plans, and accountability processes in education to assure students could really develop into 21st century learners.

The vision subcommittee pondered over what they could communicate or create to help Colorado educators realize that something needed to change so students truly would be able to develop these 21st century skills.

The group identified this simple fact: LEARNERS HAVE RIGHTS!

So much of a student’s school experience is contained within boundaries of time and place. Students stop their learning at the end of a unit or class period.  They don’t think of themselves as learners outside the classroom walls.  Yet, they are learning all of the time.

We needed a way to communicate not stop—but GO!

Here is where the group started.

A vision statement was drafted:

We ALL exist to inquire, create new knowledge, share knowledge and participate productively, and to pursue personal and organizational growth.

The new standards speak of responsibilities –but what about RIGHTS?

The Vision Sub-Committee members were: Jody Gehrig, Gene Hainer, Jody Howard, Becky Johnson, Stevan Kalmon, and Wendy Lee.

Jody Gehrig lead this effort. Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer in February, 2010, but her passion for empowering students to learn lives on in this work.

From Jody Gehrig:

These are learners who have a right to learn. if we as teachers want to be effective with our learners, WE must take the responsibility to construct inquiry learning experiences for them that allow them to blossom as learners. These experiences go much farther than just illustrating the right they value most. We as teachers and learning community leaders must guide their work so they can develop into 21st century learners.

At this point, their work was passed on to a new group, The Learner’s Bill of Rights subcommittee, also chaired by Jody.

After an intense brainstorming session, followed by a great deal of wordsmithing and refinement, the Learner’s Bill of Rights was born.  Let’s take a closer look – and see if you can see Learner Agency come alive in these simple statements.

The Learner has the Right to… Question and be Curious.

Students come to the library every single day with questions. What book should I read? How can I find information on this or that? Why do some nations not have daylight savings time? Why is the sky blue? And so on, and on, and on!

In classrooms, I think this is quite different. Content has to be covered. Standards met. Schedules adhered to.

During the last 3 years, I had the opportunity to observe in hundreds of classrooms in my district, specifically looking for examples of 21st century learning in action.

Sadly, I can probably count on one hand the number of times a student asked a question, other than just to clarify what needed to be done for an assignment.

Yet teachers find ways – such as through question walls using post-it notes – for students to ask their questions, which later could be addressed in class, or students might be given time in the library to seek answers.

We must find ways to keep student questioning and curiosity alive inside the walls of our school – where support systems exist to help students in their pursuit of answers.

The learner has the right to…  Have personal ideas.

A friend once suggested that this might better be stated as “EXPRESS” personal ideas.  This is a great idea, too – but as I recall, the reason our committee settled on HAVE personal ideas is that we believed that  somewhere along the way in formal educational settings, students forget that their ideas matter – and it is really OK to have personal ideas and opinions!  Once they get in touch with those personal ideas –then, yes! Let’s help them express them!

The learner has the right to… Choose how To learn and share understanding

Choice.  Where, oh where, does this fit in a standards-based, scope-and-sequence world?  Creative teachers find a way.

And—Thank goodness for school libraries!

Libraries have always been about giving students choice in what they read and how they learn. Multiple genres, points of view, fiction and non-fiction, print or digital. Today’s libraries add multiple ways to show understanding, to showcase the student voice, create in makerspaces, and share with a global audience.

The learner has the right to…  Plan and participate in learning at an appropriate level.

This IS learner agency.

Students set learning goals, following their own learning passions.  They go about meeting those goals – and have the appropriate level resources available to help them meet those goals.

School libraries are essential to this learner right.

The learner has the right to….Grapple with challenging ideas or concepts.

In school libraries, students can find the resources and help they need to go beyond class requirements – or simply explore a topic they are passionate about.  In libraries, students explore topics in-depth, and strive to make sense of ideas and concepts.

The learner has the right to…Access information and resources needed.

This is a primary mission for school libraries.

If students decide on the topic, ask the questions, decide on the materials to access and the procedures to follow, they are curating and meeting a personal information need, analyzing and drawing conclusions . The more students have control over their inquiries, and it is linked to their own personal questions, the higher the students’ agency.

The learner has the right to…Participate in and contribute to a learning network.

In libraries, this might be face-to-face networks, such as book clubs, or the teacher-librarian might make arrangements to share with a group of students on the other side of the world, through technology such as Skype, such as the case with this young man who is sharing his poem with a group of students in Africa.

The learner has the right to…Think critically, solve problems and make decisions.

If we want our students to think critically, we have to design learning that allows room for students to think critically.  Not lecture. Not listening to videos. Students need to do hands-on problem solving.  And, they have to care about the outcome. If you want them to dig deep and think hard, then add a good dose of real-world relevance to your learning scenario.

The learner has the right to…Make mistakes and learn from them.

Have you ever wondered exactly what it is about gaming that attracts us?

A student made this comment, “In the classroom, I feel like I’m being forced to learn. When I’m gaming, I feel like I’m using ‘it’.  I don’t feel myself being forced. “

Gaming is not just a safe environment for students to make mistakes and learn from them –its fun! Many of our libraries are recognizing the importance of this, and setting up gaming spaces for learners. Here, students are empowered to learn – on their terms.

If Learner agency = empowering students

And Agency specifically is the power to make choices – this is what happens in school libraries every day!

Teacher-librarians create the conditions and the environment where students are empowered to solve their own problems and find answers to their questions.  Students collaborate, network, share, and grow – not just to meet the requirements of a class, but also following their own needs for understanding.

I remember

  • Carolyn coming into the library trying to find everything she could about the state of Virginia. She was going to move there with her family at the end of the school year.
  • I remember Janelle, whose mother with diagnosed with breast cancer. She had so many questions and concerns. She didn’t understand what was happening to her mother, why the treatment made her so sick.  She struggled with finding information online, and when she did, it was too hard to understand. In the school library, she was able to find books written at a level she could understand, and get the support she needed in this difficult time.
  • I remember Robert, who learned about Japanese internment camps during World War II in class, and was surprised to learn from his father that he had a relative who was sent to one. The textbook information was limited, and so he sought help in the library to find the information he needed, to learn in a deeper way since he discovered this personal connection.
  • And then there was Jason, who was fiercely proud of his air force father – and just wanted to learn everything that there was to learn about the air force, jets, and flying. He sought to understand why his Dad was deployed in Iraq, and sort through the multiple mixed messages in the newspapers and online about why this was right, and why it was wrong.

There are a million other stories just like these of how the school library has helped children with their personal information needs.

Nick Rate, principal at Kumeroa-Hopelands School in New Zealand described learner agency with these words: Enabling, empowering, self-monitoring, goals, feedback, meta-cognition, active, responsive, self-directed and meaningful.

  • In school libraries, students are enabled.
  • In school libraries, students are empowered.
  • In school libraries, students practice self-monitoring
  • In school libraries, students set personal learning goals.
  • In school libraries, students receive feedback.
  • In school libraries, students practice meta-cognition.
  • In school libraries, students are active!
  • In school libraries, students are responsive.
  • In school libraries, students practice self-direction.
  • In school libraries, student find meaning.

Libraries are essential to Learner Agency.

Creative Learning by Design

legos

Coming up with ways to help teachers to “think outside the box” can be challenging, especially in this time of teacher evaluations tied to standardized test scores, implementation of common core standards, and new standards-based report cards. Where, oh where, does creativity and innovation fit in our standards-based system?  But just as designing learning for students that allows room for them to practice creativity in a safe environment requires a creative approach, professional developers need to do the same in designing learning for teachers, especially when the overarching goal is for teachers to “create innovators.”

In my backwards-designed professional development workshop, one of my goals for teachers was to be able to imagine what a creative learning environment might look like – what elements were required for their students to be able to develop the traits of an innovator.  I turned to a strategy I learned about a few years ago through the Model Schools Conference, put on by the International Center for Leadership in Education.  This strategy is LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® – one that two of our schools have  implemented very successfully with students, with many boxes of Lego blocks!

IMG_1753The idea is simple.  Use the Lego blocks to build a model, and then explain what you put in the model and why. This is adaptable to any content area or learning topic.  I have seen first graders build models of family traditions, using iPads to record each others’ narratives, and 3rd graders build models of time machines from a story they read, then practice oral presentation skills sharing their models with the class.  Other ideas: Students could  build models of the scientific process “in action” or  history students might build a model showing the effects of the Cold War. There is a great deal of both creativity and critical thinking that goes into this task, and it is amazing what those colorful little Lego blocks can do to inspire that creativity, while helping students reach deeper insights. This activity can work with learners of all ages.

So, I gave my teachers the task of building a model of the ideal learning environment where creativity and innovation can flourish.  They had fun, imagined, and thought deep outside the box about these things.  They played, they tapped into their passion for learning, and they are now clearly focused on the task at hand – their purpose in this grant project – to really build these environments for their students,

Here is one example – enjoy!

Creative Learning Environment Model

From Blended Learning to Creating Innovators

innovationThis week, we launched our Creating Innovators Grant Project and I am really excited about the possibilities.  The project involves peer  coaching, where some of our most creative and innovative teachers have agreed to mentor 2 teachers in their schools who otherwise would probably not have volunteered for this kind of in-depth professional development. The mentor teachers applied to participate, and were selected not only based on their own creative teaching talents, but from an expressed desire to learn and grow themselves through the experience.

Our hope is to move not just the “mentees” forward as designers of learning, but their mentors as well. These teachers have been very successful with integrating technology in a blended learning model, but as a district, we have not entirely identified where we want to go with this new way of teaching. Is it merely to assure all students do well on standardized tests and get into good colleges with good grades? Or is our purpose for blending learning something greater?

Blended learning has the potential to go beyond merely meeting the goals of standardization. I hope that through our approach in this grant project, our mentor teachers will also come to understand that blended learning is only the first step in transforming  the classroom learning experience for their students.  Blended learning can lead to personalizing learning for students – towards the end goal of creating innovators.  Technology is just one powerful tool of blended learning, but technology alone is not going to get us there.

girl on roadTeachers must become designers of learning. Technology allows them to alter more than just the time, place and pace of learning.  Technology can help teachers design learning that alters the path of learning. Technology can help them design learning that is tailored to students’ passions.  With standards as the baseline, there are an infinite number of paths that can lead students to mastery and understanding.  Transformation in learning will occur when we use technology to create different paths for students – paths that help students find and follow their passion.  Transformation can occur when creating innovators is our goal.Creating Innovators book cover

The title of this grant project says it all: Creating Innovators.  It has a double meaning, as we hope to create innovators of both our teachers, and our students.  To create innovators, we need to foster play, passion, and purpose, as our teachers will learn through a book study of Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators.  We will use these strategies first with our teachers.

How are you using technology to provide different pathways for student learning?  Click here to share your ideas or successful practices.

In my next post, I will share how our  professional development for the mentors and mentees  is modeling  play, passion & purpose.

What Students Want and What They Need: Four Strategies for a Successful Year

I have hosted student panels for the last 3 years during teacher professional development workshops where we asked students about how they would change school to make it a more motivating place where they want to be and to learn. The list all 3 years was nearly identical.  Not surprising, as I have also asked parent groups and teacher groups about their most powerful learning experiences and the list contained the same elements.  What is surprising is that what students want is often the same as the strategies that will help bring them the most growth.

So – to help you get your year off to a great start – here are 4 things you can do to make this school year engaging for your students and successful in terms of student growth.

  1. Develop a personal relationship with every one of your students.  Not only was this the number one item on student wish lists, but in John Hattie’s research,  this will lead to more student growth than teaching study skills, reading recovery, or homework.
  2. Provide students with plenty of effective feedback.  Again, not only is this what students want –Hattie’s research indicates formative assessment and feedback are two of the most effective things you can do to promote student growth.
  3. Challenge your students.  Ranked in Hattie’s research as the 34th most effective strategy for growth, students on our panels also expressed a need to be challenged, to do relevant work, and to be able to set goals to get there.
  4.   Let them create.  Students want to learn by doing, to have an opportunity to make things, and share them with an authentic audience.  And –you guessed it.  Hattie’s research revealed that, creativity programs ranked 17 in their effect on learning.

I wish you all an exciting, inspiring, and successful school year!

 

 

Create a Culture of Questioning and Inquiry

1Question Time sign

I have often suggested to teachers that when students have access to technology, whether it is provided by the school in a 1:1, BYOD, or simply the smart phone in their pocket, there should never be a question that goes unanswered –or un-followed. These are teachable moments for how to effectively search for information (information literacy & digital literacy) and allowing the time for students to explore connected ideas brings more depth to the learning, and allows students to make sense of things as they combine new information what they already know and understand, as well as to identify misunderstandings.  Questioning leads to synthesis. It also makes the learning personal for students.

What I discovered in the 300+ observations I have done for our 21st Century Learning grant work was that the problem isn’t necessarily about allowing time for students to answer questions. The problem is that they rarely ask questions beyond simply clarifying what needs to be done for the assignment.  Something happens to the majority of students after the primary years – and the questioning process seems to give way to compliance. “Tell me what I need to do to get an A.” (…or just to get a passing grade, as the case may be)

As the new school year begins, think about how you might begin to shift from a culture of compliance, to a culture of questioning in your classroom.  Here are a few ideas that you might introduce at the beginning of the year.

Ask: “What do you wonder?”2Linoit student

This seems like a simple thing to do – and it is!  One idea is to use current events as a springboard for questioning. Rather than ask students to write a summary of a current event (or in addition to) – ask them to write down the questions that popped in their head as they were reading.  A great tool to collect these questions, besides using chart paper & post-it note is Lino-It. Follow up the questioning activity with time for students to investigate and seek answers!

 

 3Question ExtensionsQuestion wall

I found these in several classrooms I visited recently. Sometimes this might take to form of a KWL chart.  Most teachers are familiar with KWL: What do you Know, What do you Want to Know, and What did you Learn.  My suggestion is you add an “I” to the chart –for “What will You Continue to Investigate?”  While these are not always expressed as questions, it still gets back to the concept of getting kids in touch with their curiosity.

Question journal

Get students in the habit of collecting questions in a journal – paper or electronic. Evernote would be a great tool for this with the ability to add multiple tags. Students record questions as they occur, and share them during a designated class time, allowing the teacher to model how to go about seeking answers. This would be a great way to start helping students with information literacy skills.

 

Question Formulation Technique4QFT chart

I was excited to attend a workshop last year sponsored by Colorado Metro State’s Teaching With Primary Sources program and delivered by The Right Question Institute where we learned how to use The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) strategy to teach students how to question. The process is simple and available online – however I encourage you to get their book Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions for more in-depth ideas how to use the strategy. An elementary TAG teacher I work with recently used the QFT with her 5th grade students following a Human Body Unit.  They filled up 2 chart paper sheets full of questions that they still had – even when the unit had ended! What a great opportunity for extending the learning in the direction of the student’s own area of interest!

 

Inquiry days

Building on the idea of Genius Hour or 20% Time –perhaps some students would relish in the opportunity for “inquiry days.”  The student would assume the role of Content Curator and, after deciding on a question they are passionate about answering, begin pursuing answers.  This needs to be free from formal grading, but formative assessment of the 21st century skills are a must!

 

Here are 3 of my favorite books to help get you started with creating a culture of inquiry & questioning in your classroom:

Learning to Question, To Wonder, To Learn by Jamie McKenzie

Q Tasks, by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan

Make Just One Change: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions, by Dan Rothstein & Luz Santana

Teacher Creativity Leads to Student Creativity

For more on this topic, listen to my interview with EdChat Radio.

I’ve been working with some really good teachers in my district on instructional design as part of our 21st Century Learning grant project.Meaning making and transfer Our emphasis has been on using backwards design, and, following the wisdom of Grant Wiggins, one of our goals has been to design learning for meaning-making and transfer.

The part that our teachers have struggled with the most is transfer.  Transfer is the ability to use the understandings, knowledge and skills the students have learned in a given unit (connected to what they already know and can do)  to solve a new problem or create something  authentic and meaningful. The task might be entirely different from anything the students “practiced” in the course of their learning.  The messier the problem is, the better.

One way to design a transfer task is to imagine what someone in “the real world” might do with that knowledge and skill – what kind of work would they be doing?  Then, build a plausible scenario where students can be in those roles, and/or make it real by having their final product, thinking, and ideas shared with an authentic audience.

I think one reason this is so difficult is that teachers are struggling themselves with the age old question students ask, “Why do I need to know this?” They are having a hard time identifying themselves how the content transfers to the “real world.” For others, the concept of transfer is simply not understood.

Driving in rain and trafficOne way to think about transfer is through a common learning experience the majority of us have had: driving a car. If we were only taught about every little part that is in a vehicle and each driving law was only learned and memorized in isolation, would we actually be able to drive a car?  Of course not – we need lots of time practicing and applying (transferring) the knowledge and skills learned  to be able to pull it together – and be able to drive in in any kind of  condition. And then – feedback is essential to improvement. In the driving scenario, that feedback might come from other students in the car, the instructor, or even other drivers on the road.  Often, it comes from our own gut feeling (which might in fact be generated through non-verbal feedback and reactions around us).  The same is true of sports, cooking, gardening – all require knowledge & skills that only improve with the opportunity to transfer that knowledge and skill to the actual “real world” task. We get feedback, and we try again.

There was an interesting exchange on #edchat last week regarding whether or not the Common Core Standards allow room for creativity and innovation.  My opinion? If you teach the standards in isolation, without ever giving students the opportunity to “pull it all together” through transfer and feedback, then probably not. But if you design learning for transfer of the content and standards to real-world authentic tasks as a primary goal for student learning and plan backwards from there, then yes – because the teacher designs the learning to include opportunities for students to practice creativity and innovation through the transfer task. C

Standards don’t prohibit teachers from using their own creativity to design learning that requires meaning making and transfer, but ironically, often teachers limit themselves (or feel limited by structures and/or authority)  in pursuit of meeting the standards.

Teachable Moments for Digital Citizenship

Update: Since this was posted on Edudemic 11/23/13, I’ve had a few requests for a PDF of the poster.  Here it is! Teachable Moments for Digital Citizenship Infographic

In preparing for professional development on the topic of Digital Citizenship for teachers in our 1:1 iPad pilot next school year, I have been searching for a resource to share on the importance of modeling these skills. While there are some great resources available for teaching  Digital Citizenship as a separate curriculum to students (Common Sense Media, KidSmart, and Digizen to name a few) I know that teaching in isolation is not usually as effective as taking advantage of teachable moments – when students are actually online and pursuing a learning task to reinforce appropriate behavior, safety, and application of skills.

I didn’t find what I was looking for – so I decided to create an infographic. I  used Pictochart – great tool! 

Here is a direct link to the infographic on the site.

Digital Citizenship infographic