Research Clarity

Hillier, Matthew. Wallace and Gromit. Flickr.

Hillier, Matthew. Wallace and Gromit. Flickr.

This morning we administered PARCC’s ELA Unit 2 Test to 6th grade students. The Unit is entitled “Research Simulation”; the term is used to introduce the test to students and if similar to the practice test, possibly in some of the activities/questions which follow.

PARCC’S use of the term research is causing me once again to question, both how we define the term, and how we commonly use it. No matter one’s definition, it is common practice to use the term research to describe the search process: going somewhere (the internet etc) to find information which meets an information need. Similar to the way we use the expression “Google it”.

If students follow our lead, and define “research” based on the way we most often use the term, its use by PARCC will serve to confuse them. PARCC is not asking students to search for information, in fact, they are providing it for them.

Research is a reiterative learning and thinking process, which requires: asking questions, making connections, searching for and evaluating information, constructing new meaning, expressing learning and continued reflection. See Inquiry, the School Librarian and Common Core Standards . Search and the skills necessary to do so effectively is only part of the process. See also, The Difference Between Search and Inquiry

With the understanding that research is a process, PARCC is not inaccurate in their use of the term; students are being asked to utilize skills which are vital to the research process, however they are not the skills associated with search. In this unit, PARCC is actually emphasizing the Construct (Synthesis) and Express parts of the research process. Students are asked to synthesize and make meaning from the information they are given. When asked to Construct an essay, article etc, they are organizing their thoughts, choosing pertinent points, finding the best evidence to support their arguments, clarifying their reasoning etc., in order to Express their understanding through writing.

Here’s the good part- there’s a solution for fixing this confusion! Teacher librarians are experts when it comes to Inquiry. They instruct students in the use of an inquiry process; necessary for scaffolding research, mastering information literacy skills and transferring learning. If your school has a certified teacher-librarian, take advantage of what she can teach your students; don’t let her expertise go to waste!

Educating Educators: Inquiry, the School Librarian & Common Core Standards

Stuart, David. "Highest Frequency Words in the CCSS for ELA and Literacy". Teaching the Core.

Stuart, David. “Highest Frequency Words in the CCSS for ELA and Literacy”. Teaching the Core.

What is Inquiry? 

Inquiry is a processes of knowledge seeking for knowledge building. Inquiry is characterized by curiosity, observation, questioning, hypothesizing, investigation, evaluation, discovery, evidence seeking, making connections, collaboration, argument building, synthesis, meaning making, problem solving, expression and reflection. Inquiry is messy, and often involves periods of uncertainty and confusion. Inquiry requires persistence, flexibility, independence, risk taking and open mindedness. Inquiry often results with more questions than actual answers.

Inquiry & Research 

These terms are often used interchangeably. Research tends to have a more formal connotation and  is often characterized  by the investigation, writing, documentation and publishing parts of the process. Inquiry is characterized by questioning, based on the understanding that questioning leads to deeper connections, meaning making and/or innovation. Inquiry is often used to identify a more hands on kind of learning experience, while the term research is often used to identify qualitative outcomes, such as “the research proves.” Maybe because research is a more commonly used terminology and definitely because inquiry is essential for original research, librarians often use the term “inquiry based research”. It’s important to note that fact finding alone is neither inquiry nor research.

Inquiry & Information Literacy
Information literacy/fluency skills, disposition and responsibilities are integral to Inquiry. In general, Information literacy is the ability to utilize the skills, tools and dispositions necessary to effectively identify, find, evaluate, analyze, synthesize, express and share information in an ethical and effective manner. The American Association for School Librarians (AASL) Standards for 21st Century Learners outlines the information based competencies necessary for inquiry and independent learning.
Purposes for Inquiry include, but are not limited to:  solving a problem, forming an evidence based argument,  making an informed purchasing decision,  pursuing an area of interest, deepening personal understandings,  and/or creating change and innovation.Expressions of Inquiry include, but are not limited to: a sales pitch, debate participation, an informed purchasing decision, an investment,  a paper, a blog post, a book, a video, a plan, a speech and/or an interview.

Student Learning & Inquiry 

Inquiry is a student driven learning experience in which teachers act as guides. Inquiry learning experiences not only allow students to construct knowledge related to the particular area of Inquiry, but more importantly to develop the skills and dispositions necessary to construct knowledge independently for future inquires. Through the Inquiry Process, students learn how to learn.

School Librarians & Inquiry

School librarians (teacher librarians, library media specialists) teach the skills and dispositions necessary for effective Inquiry.  Standard 1.1.1 of  AASL’s Standards for 21st Century Learners, reads:  Learners use skills resources and tools to: “Follow an Inquiry-based process in seeking knowledge in curricular subjects, and make the real-world connection for using this process in own life”School librarians live and breathe Inquiry!

The Inquiry Process
Librarian developed Inquiry Learning Processes/models scaffold and clarify the thinking skills and dispositions necessary for Inquiry learning.
Recognized Inquiry Processes are similar with a difference in terminology and emphasis.
  • Stripling’s Inquiry Model: (emphasizes questioning): Connect, Wonder, Investigate, Construct, Express, Reflect
  • Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (emphasizes feelings and thoughts in addition to actions): Initiation, Selection, Exploration, Formulation, Collection, Presentation, Assessment
  • Eisenberg’s Big 6: Task Definition, Information Seeking Strategies, Location and Access, Use of Information, Synthesis, Evaluation

Although these models may appear step like, they are not meant to be linear. For example,  the more someone learns about something the more questions they tend to have.

Inquiry and Common Core State Standards

Although Common Core State Standard developers chose to not use the term Inquiry, the skills and dispositions necessary for Inquiry are those that the Common Core emphasizes.

For example, the following  statements appear within Common Core State Standards introductory materials:
  • “Students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas.”
  • Students need to “conduct original research in order to answer questions and solve problems”
  • Students need to “analyze and create high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new”
  • “The students need to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum”
  • “Research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the standards rather than treated in a separate section”

Inquiry learning fosters the critical thinking, perseverance, evidence seeking  and deep learning understandings associated with the Common Core.An  analysis of  the Crosswalk, between Common Core Standards and AASL’s Standards for 21st Century Learners, details and highlights how the skills and dispositions associated with Inquiry learning are vital for meeting Common Core Standards.

In Note…

My impetus for writing this post, which became an Inquiry in and of itself, was our school district’s purchase of a “Research Report Writing Unit”.  My concerns about the unit allowed me to dig deeper in order to clarify Inquiry for a general education audience.

Writing Unit Concerns:

  • By referring to this unit as a Writing Unit, students do not have the opportunity to create the understanding that an Inquiry process is an effective means for knowledge seeking no matter the purpose or expression of for Inquiry.  Writing is just one of many ways learners express their constructed knowledge.  See Research: A Thinking Process Expressed in Writing
  • We’ve been working towards utilizing an Inquiry model, in our school and district, in order that students have a greater opportunity for skill transfer. Although there is something to be said for sharing with students that no matter the terminology, the understandings are the same or similar, the terminology and skills chosen for this unit may work to confuse students.  In addition, because this unit is, at this point, the only complete inquiry based research learning experience our students will experience while attending our school,  it would be most beneficial if students have the opportunity to utilize a researched and proven Inquiry process.

Because this unit was purchased,  it needs to be utilized.  In retrospect, during planning, I should have suggested framing the unit with Stripling’s Inquiry Model and pulling scope and sequence sections  out from the purchased unit as they fit into this well established Inquiry process. This would have been beneficial not only because we’d be starting with a proven model, but also because we would have more effectively been able to identify missing skills and understandings.

  • Small, Ruth V. and Marilyn Arnone, Barbara K Stripling, Pam Berger.Teaching for Inquiry. Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 2012.
  • Harada, Violet and Joan M. Yoshina. Inquiry Learning Through Librarian-Teacher Partnerships. Linworth Publishing, 2004. 
  • Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation.” Thirteen Ed Online. Thirteen, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2014. <>
  • Kuhlthau, Carol Collier.  “Inquiry Inspires Original Research.” School Library Monthly. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <>.
  • “Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.” American Library Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <>
  • Common Core State Standards. Common Core State Standards Initiative, n.d. Web. <>
  • Kuhlthau, Carol Collier. “Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century” School Libraries Worldwide, Jan 2010, Vol 16, No 1,17-28.
  • “Research: A Thinking Process Expressed in Writing.” DesigningTL. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <>

CCSS: A Limited Definition of Literacy


Kurtxio, Web, Flickr Creative Commons

Kurtxio, Web, Flickr Creative Commons










The fact that the Common Core State Standards reference to literacy is limited, and so, problematic, has been bothering me for a while now. However, with a brief search of various organizational, cultural and crowd sourced understandings related to to the meaning of Literacy, I now realize that it’s going to take a lot more time for me to make sense of this issue than I have at the moment! So…I’ve decided , (at this very moment!), that this blog post will serve as the very basic start for an ongoing Inquiry.


  • Most adults in the US and in general dictionary definitions, define literacy  as the ability to read and write; that is, a literate person can read and write.
  • The definition/understanding of literacy has changed with time.
  • The definition/understanding of literacy differs amongst cultures.
  • Transliteracy is a term that refers to multiple literacies.
  • A librarian’s area of expertise is Information Literacy
  • Information Literacy is often synonymous with Media Literacy which is often synonymous with 21st Century Literacies
  • Other Literacies commonly referenced: digital, financial, visual, cultural, media
  • My current definitions of literacy: an understanding; the ability to learn and communicate utilizing a shared means for communication.


Probable Hypothesis:   The Common Core State Standards are limited due to a limited understanding of the meaning of literacy.


  • Did the creators of the Common Core State Standards offer a formal definition of literacy as it relates to the standards they wrote?
  • Is the CCSS definition limited due to testable skills? (I know, this could be an I think I know!)


  • How much of literacy is knowledge/understanding as opposed to the skills necessary or ability to create knowledge?
  • How do other cultures define literacy?
  • Who is/what are the organizations that matter when it comes to the issue of literacy?
  • What are the biases that might exist with this issue?


  • What is the history of  literacy’s relationship with education in the United States?
  • Does literacy within content areas define student learning objectives in nations that we associate with advanced education systems? (Finland etc)=

Investigation Plan/Thoughts:

  • Be aware of my personal biases, (that a broader definition is necessary!), during my  investigation; do not discount explanations that I don’t agree with!
  • Start by collecting resources in diigo

Express Plan:

Other than a future blog post, I am unsure how far to take the results of this Inquiry. Possibilities include offering written findings to NJASL, AASL, Knowledge Quest, SLJ, Library Media Connection.

Note: If I find that someone else has already compiled complete and up to date findings with regard to my Inquiry, I may not take this any more further than sharing the conclusions that they’ve already come to!

That’s it for now!



Empowering Thinkers

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Around the Bend, Flickr, CC.

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Around the Bend, Flickr, CC.







Been a bit disconnected as of late, summer vacation and all, so I just saw the video about the New Google Drive. The first thing I thought about when seeing it was students learning how to use Drive for uploading files in order to make book trailers at the end of the school year. As time was an issue, one teacher asked that I just tell her students exactly what to do, rather than allowing them to figure out what to do next on their own and explaining the logic behind it all, as I usually do. In all honesty, her request was appropriate because her students would not have had time to finish otherwise, however I realize that this issue is still a problem we need to address. If we want to teach students to think on their own, to see problems and create solutions, we must stop telling them exactly how to get from point A to point B ; we must allow them the opportunity to figure out how to do it on their own! How many times do you say or hear a teacher say, “If they would just follow the directions!” Think about it though, how do you like following other peoples directions? By consistently asking students to just follow the directions, we are taking away their power to think. Actually we’re taking away their power…period.

What does this look like in the real world classroom? This may mean starting a unit with an objective, purpose or essential question. Inquiry and design projects are a great way for students to discover the process on their own…to make the process theirs.

  • Does this mean that students have to figure out how to get from A to Z totally on their own? Absolutely not, but we can ask them to consider how they might get there at the start of a project We might allow then to figure out C to D, etc.
  • Does this mean that there is no place for modeling? Absolutely not! Modeling is highly effective, especially when it’s applicable to model a real world scenario. “This is what I did, because …..” And even more importantly, “I did this first, but it didn’t work so I tried this!”
  • Does this mean that there’s no place for scaffolding? Absolutely not!  Scaffolding is necessary especially for differentiation purposes. Without scaffolding, students may become overly frustrated. However, with too much scaffolding we are not giving them the opportunity to figure it out on their own. In my humble opinion start with as little scaffolding as possible and add it in as necessary.
  • Does this mean that we shouldn’t be using process models, such as inquiry research models, design thinking models, or the scientific method ? Absolutely not, in fact they are imperative, especially for learning how to learn, and transferring the process to other scenarios. What we do have to be careful of not doing is making these processes overly linear. They are drawn in a circle for a reason.
  • Does this mean that everything has to be a big learning project? Absolutely not, of course there is  a need to isolate skills, especially those that students have not achieved proficiently. However, if we give students a lens, a possible purpose, or better yet have them consider why they may need to learn a particular skill, the learning is that much more powerful.

Importantly, reflection is key for students learning how to learn. Ask them: “How do you feel about your progress? What worked and what didn’t? Why did you decide to change what you were doing? What would you do differently next time? Why? What can I do better as a teacher to support you in your learning process?

Could you imagine having to reteach using a technology tool, such as the Google Drive example above, every time the tool makes a change? That’s what we’re doing by not allowing students the understandings necessary to figure out the changes on their own. What I’d rather happen is this:

  • Student A: “Mrs. Schiano, did you see that Google Drive made some changes?
  • Me: “I did, but I haven’t had the chance to play”
  • Student A: “I figured it out. They actually made it better”
  • Student B: “I saw that also. I was having trouble so I typed  tutorial: Google Drive into a Google Search and changed the search tool to last month. I found a a great video that helped me figure it out”
  • Me: “Great. Why don’t you share the video with your class mates in My Big Campus in case they are having trouble also”
  • Student B: “On it!”

Back to reading Me Before You, written by JoJo Moyes. Loving this book!



The current conversation about the need to promote diversity in literature, spearheaded by the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr Campaign and reinforced by Friday afternoon’s Twitter conversation, was the perfect impetuous to introduce Diversity/Multicultural Literature Circles to Ellen Falcinelli’s LA students. I had purchased a selection of multicultural books from Junior Library Guilds back list titles a couple of months ago to support Peg Mitchell’s request for implementing Literature Circle learning experiences in her LA classes. I chose multicultural titles to create a thematic unit that could also serve to foster our students’ openness to and appreciation of cultural differences.

Ellen and I are extremely excited about the potential for this unit of learning. We plan to create a research or simulated research component by allowing students to analyze and synthesize informational resources related to their fiction  reading. We also hope to create opportunities to meet the authors of their books to discuss their thoughts.

Does Big Bird Know What TL’s Do?

Image: 'Hey Big Bird' Found on

Image: ‘Hey Big Bird’
Found on

In case you’ve yet to hear about the current issue involving angered School Librarians and Sesame Place, a PA based amusement park, the standardized letter which follows should do a good job of explaining the impetuous for their anger:

“Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on one of our, a
promotional offers.  The Teacher Preview Pass offer was valid for current,
active K-12 Certified Teachers in the eligible states. Unfortunately,
Librarian Certification does not meet the qualifications of the offer.  If
applicant also possesses a current active K-12 certificate in a different
subject area, and would like to submit a copy of this certificate for
further consideration, please send attachment in response to this email no
later than 4/23/14. Although we understand the importance of all
educational professionals, if defined parameters are unable to be met, we
are unable to extend the offer.”

In reaction, school librarians have gone full force via e-mail, tweets and Facebook comments (which Sesame Place deleted!) to basically dis Sesame Place, but more importantly get the message across that School Librarians do in fact teach.

It’s needless to point out that whomever scribed this e-mail is clueless about customer service and has no clue about knowing when to bend the rules in order to earn consumer loyalty. However his not knowing what school librarians do is, in my humble opinion, not his fault.

Ask yourself: Do your administrators know what you do? Could they clarify your roles and responsibilities? Do they know how what you do effects student learning? Do your parents know? What about Board of Education members?  Your teachers? Your students?

We need to change this paradigm now! Make sure that your roles and responsibilities are clearly written. Show your stakeholders how you’ve met your roles and responsibilities and how in meeting those roles and responsibilities you’ve created student learning.

You make a difference; it’s time to make sure that everyone knows how!












Making Connections


Earlier in the day yesterday, while reflecting with Kyle Arlington, our district’s Assistant Superintendent, about this year’s Literacy Night, he mentioned that the event supports our district’s desire to “Connect”. In this case, the connection he’s referring to is predominantly parent to school. This was the event’s original intent from its inception three years ago, and I agree that this connection is invaluable.

During my drive home last night, I received a call from Leslie Blatt informing and congratulating me on winning this year’s NJASL Villi Ghandi Leadership Scholarship. In speaking with Leslie and expressing my love of our profession, I naturally shared my passion for connecting and gratitude for the educators in my PLN. I am continually empowered by this “connection”, and would not be who I am today without this opportunity to learn together.

In writing this post, I’m reminded of the student-world connection that is vital for meaningful learning.  In order that students develop critical thinking skills necessary for skill transfer, we as educators must   provide opportunities that allow students to extend their learning to real world scenarios.  In order to develop positive learning dispositions, students need to consider the “whys”, in addition to the “whats” and  “hows” addressed by state content and common core standards.

Divergent Movie Spoiler Alert!

Our book club kids had a great time on Friday night at the Divergent Premier! Because the closest theater is at least 45 minutes away from our school, we decided to go as a group, rent a party bus and make it a big time celebration! We had a great time! On the way home, the kids did what we all do after seeing the movie version of a favorite book, talk about the differences!

Missing Stuff:

  • Visiting Day
  • The butter knife in Edward’s eye!
  • The line: Four: “You could have killed me” Tris: “I would have let you”
  • Tris calling Four Tobias
  • Uriah, Marlene, Zeke, Lynn
  • Rita’s sister’s fall

Extra stuff:

  • Tris never threw a knife at Janine’s hand
  • Four seeing the serum operation
  • Molly saying, “Cool Tris”

Just differences!:

  •  Mom dies later in movie



Inquiry and Design


Stanford Design School's Design Thinking Process

Stanford Design School’s Design Thinking Process



Kathy Singerline and I have worked closely together in designing her 6th grade Critical Thinking cycle class. The learning goals have remained fairly static, however the way of achieving those goals has gone through a number of transformations, or in other words, a Problem Based Learning Challenge in and of itself!

Our goals for her students include the following skills, dispositions and responsibilities.

Questioning: SWBAT create, identify and practice questioning for learning skills. Students will develop an understanding of curiosity as a means for learning, growth and change. Students will realize their role in asking questions to promote collaborative learning and creation.

Information Fluency:  SWBAT find, evaluate and apply information based on needs and interests. Students will utilize a process for learning using information. Students will develop an understanding of how and why information is shared, the need for evaluating information based on author’s purpose, authority and currency and how information can be used for learning, creating and sharing. Students will realize that they have a role in sharing information ethically in a cyber connected world.

Design: SWBAT apply what they learned about questioning and information fluency within the Design Process. They will participate in design based learning experiences including game design. They will develop an understanding of the need for empathy, wonder, risk taking as it relates to design. They will realize the role design plays in in creating change.

This cycle, Kathy and I have been discussing how students can participate in a cycle long project that fosters most or all of these skills and understandings. We’d like to have their projects be problem based, student determined and real world, so that the learning would be authentic and at best, make a difference.


All of this seems like a perfect #geniouscon opportunity! It seems fairly obvious that the questioning and Information Literacy skills and understandings can best be learned within an an actual Inquiry based project. The design piece could also be incorporated within this framework. However, I’m not sure exactly how. What I can’t quite figure out is where the Inquiry Process and the Design Thinking Process intersect.

If you have any thoughts please share. In the meantime I will keep thinking and learning more about the design process!