Last week, at the invitation of and in accompaniment with, our school’s Literacy Coach, Jessica Rastami, I participated in an awesome four day mini institute on Content Literacy and the Common Core, at Columbia’s Teacher College, Reading and Writing Project. Although I’ve yet to thoroughly synthesize all that we learned, I thought I’d take a moment here to reflect on some “aha” moments!
Utilizing “I Think I Knows” to engage researchers: The Institute’s first keynote, Tony Stead, suggested replacing K-W-L charts with a method for analyzing nonfiction which he’s coined: RAN. Acronym aside, I like his idea of using “I think I knows” similarly to questioning, as a tool for focusing and fueling research.
Nuggets of information are not meaningless. Our second day keynote, Donna Santman, after telling us a story about her daughter trading “Did you know?” nuggets of information with a friend, suggested the importance of these fun facts not just as an impetuous for learning more, but also for the discovery in and of themselves.
Questioning and synthesis go hand in hand throughout the learning process. Although I’ve always seen questioning as something that fostered deeper learning throughout the learning process, I failed to see synthesis similarly. I tended to think of synthesis as some kind of magical something that only happened after you’d digested enough information. Now I see synthesis as a way to digest the information. Making connections is not only the end result, but a also part of the process for deeper learning.
Synthesis can be strategized. Although I still believe that librarians are well equipped at fostering “learning to learn” skills, dispositions and responsibilities, I had no clue that there was a way to strategize synthesis, other than maybe mind mapping or traditional outlining as a means for organization. In fact, my education, even in note taking, other than using electronic tools and two column Cornell style notes, was unclear. I knew little about tools such as: boxes and bullets, Venn diagrams, cause and effect, timelines, question and answer as a mean to both note take and analyze and synthesize information, throughout the learning process. I was blown away by the concept of Thinking Maps, enthusiastically shared by a participant as her district’s chosen means for directing learning. They even use Thinking maps in all of their PD sessions including deconstructing the Common Core. Students are taught to draw the thinking map from memory that best fits his/her thinking need. Love this!
Librarians are invaluable for providing needed “text sets” across various media platforms. Our four day long study centered around the Civil Rights movement. Teachers College’s chosen means for learning includes primary source centers, read-alouds, mini lectures, all class discussions and debate. Teachers, (posing as students), deepened their learning using music, photos, letters of note, personal accounts, video, historical fiction and nonfiction picture, narrative and survey type books. Other than me, being maybe the only teacher-librarian in attendance, other participants were overwhelmed with the thought of gathering all of these resources. All were sharing my tweets sharing resource portals!
Transfer and an Inquiry model for Learning. In their research on best practices for incorporating Common Core literacy skills within content area learning, Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project seemed to lack librarian guidance. At the basic level, a website was shared with over a hundred people, as being a good resource, and all I can say is that it is far from a credible! Also, in reaction to the question “Where did you find this picture?” the response was, “I just googled civil rights.” (In note, this lack of understanding was only evidenced in one presenter’s presentations and so is not indicative of the team). On a larger level though, there was no discussion about independent investigation or a complete model for Inquiry. I would have liked more discussion on how students might transfer the process skills learned within this framework to independent research. Note to self: we need to work on this integration!
Librarians need to be part of the beginning, middle and end. Providing students and teachers with needed information, however, is not enough. Teaching them how to find and evaluate the information they need is necessary, but still not enough. Teaching students ways to express and share what they’ve learned is important, but still not enough. To stay vital now, we need to be the middle piece too: the piece that helps students digest the info, figure out its place in their bigger picture understanding, and make it their own.
Note to self and any other TL’s who are reading: Teacher-librarians must attend conferences which emphasize literacies across all content areas. We must join Twitter talks such as #sschat which are predominated by content area teachers. We must join curriculum committees in all learning areas. We must speak the literacy talk that’s emphasized in all things common core. We must be at the essence of student learning, because that is where we belong!