I Want to Ditch Study Hall

I am on a mission to ditch study hall.

I was lamenting about how monitoring 12 study halls per week is making me feel – well, not myself.  Last year, I brought it to the faculty and administration (and received support from them) for not having silent study halls in the library.  The reasons are numerous: primarily, I’m not about reinforcing the cultural stereotype of a library being a quiet place where information is placed in front of you and absorbed.  Also, since collaboration, communication, critical thinking and information literacy are all skills identified in our teaching & learning paradigm, practicing them is going to involve some noise.  There are practical reasons too.  Try enforcing silence in a room with shelves and nooks and places to hide.  Try keeping students from leaving early when there are 2 sets of doors in a room about 30 feet long.  I end up looking like a tennis player during Wimbledon, running to and fro to remind students of the only two rules I have: be in a chair, and whisper.

Amusingly, the result of the “whispering study hall” is that there is more silence than when there was a silent study hall.  However, I can’t say that there is more studying going on, merely that if you truly want to study, the bubble of quiet is likely to be a little more stable around you than it was last year.

Still, we get students who request headsets so they can listen to music while they study, which is frowned upon, despite a lot of research that indicates it’s a good thing for some students.  All conversation is not the lively collaboration we hope for as teachers, and the students are piled up like puppies on the long bench that spans one side of the room, or five-apiece on our sofas.  Here’s the thing – this sort of scene normally makes me smile when I’m in the library.  But during study hall, I feel compelled by unseen forces outside myself to drive it away.

I do buy in to the idea that students need quiet, reflective time.  Research supports this as well as it does the music-listening.   But am I to decide which students can listen to music and which cannot?  Am I to listen in on conversations to make sure they are work-related?  In this area of my job, I am led by my fears and not by my passions.  I’m afraid of descending into chaos – with over 40 people in study hall yesterday, there was some running and bumping and sometimes even standing on the aforementioned bench (I admit – even for me, it’s fun to stand on – it’s fun to sit in the window wells too).  But even as I admit this, I am hearing the critical voices of a thousand fictional and unseen teachers and administrators saying “How can you run your library like this?  Make them stop.”

I’m struggling to run the kind of library that I would want to be in myself.  I’m struggling to find the balance between allowing students freedom to do what they need and not achieving the reputation as the place to go wild when you want to avoid working.  Study halls all over the building are filled with students asking teachers pointed questions about their work.  In my space, they are there for so many different reasons it would be impossible and insanity-provoking to keep track of them all.  Do I want a thousand rules for study hall?  No, I do not.  I like my library rules the way I like my game rules – simple, and easy to learn and remember.

But, truth be told (ok, it’s probably rather obvious by now) I’d rather not have study hall at all.  I saw this tweet and thought: well, it’s not just me who thinks about this.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 5.05.05 AM

I like the “theme room” idea that Andrew mentions.  I suggested this last year – for our daily, end-of-the-day study hall, each teacher could host their own activity and that those activities could change throughout the year.  This was interpreted by some to mean “club time,” but that’s not what I mean – not a trimester or year-long commitment to the same activity – but more like “Hey, we’re folding origami in the Library today.”  Or doing yoga, or trying to build the tallest paper tower, or playing “Snake Oil,” or drawing from still life, or creating podcasts, or composing music, or anything that would open up the curious mind.  Students need a variety of different things at the end of the day.  Some of them just need to stare at their shoes.

What about the students who really need help?  Assign them to a study hall.  The ones that are just not doing their work might be motivated to hand it in so they can experience “tinker time.”  Those that struggle on a daily basis – yes, assign them too, but not every day.  That tinker time, other than being choice-filled, fun and motivating, is also necessary to the human brain.  We aren’t all about the work, are we?  We’re about creative play, dreaming, imagining and relationship-building.  The kind of relationship that says “Come here to feel safe,” and not:  “Shhhhh.  You’re bothering us.”

Posted in 21st Century Libraries, Creativity, Teaching & Learning | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Shelf Life

We kicked off our new Alternate Reality Reading Game last week with this video teaser.

The game will be played for 8 weeks, with several faculty serving as “operatives” and contacts for the students, while others *may* be less trustworthy!  You can always trust our Librarians, though, and they are willing to go “behind the curtain” if you need guidance along the way.   The game uses a locked-down Edmodo site (which parents are welcome to join – just ask your student for the “parent code” listed on the site) to communicate with student agents and provide feedback, and we are also using our Middle School Library Blog to distribute clues.

The game will end with an evening event at the school, which will be like a high-tech treasure hunt.

We have 26 gamers enrolled at the moment, and hopefully more will follow.

We’ll keep you posted!

Posted in Books, Game Design | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Just Like Frying an Egg

So this morning I woke up and decided to learn something that I didn’t know how to do: fry an egg.  I love eating fried eggs, so it was motivating for me to learn how to do so myself.  On a morning such as this.  When my husband is out shopping and not here to fry an egg for me.

Sigh.

What I Know or Think I Know about Fried Eggs:

list

or I could have done it like this:

web

Experiment 1:

Heat up butter in pan.
Crack eggs in pan carefully as as not to break yolk.
Keep eggshells out of pan.

Wait.

Still waiting.

Observations while waiting: Outer white looks cooked; inner white still looks glassy (yuck).  Yolk is still too uncooked.  Salmonella?

Waitingwaitingwaiting

Add salt and pepper.  Pretty.

Sunnyside

Increasingly paranoid thoughts: Should I turn over the egg?  Will it make it cook faster?  SALMONELLA?  What is “over light”?  How much time do I need to cook it for it to be “done?”

Attempt to turn over egg.  Almost break yolk.

NOTDONEYET!  Stop!

Wait some more.

Turn over egg.  Voila!  Turn over second egg.  Hmmm.  Not so much.

brokeneggs

Happy thoughts:  Hey!  It’s getting crispy around the edges!  I love that!

Add more salt and pepper.

Wait some more, anticipating additional crispy-ness.

Remove from pan and stick next to toast triangles.

Evaluation of Experiment 1: 

Not enough goopy yolk to fully enjoy sopping up with toast:

toast

Way too salty.  Generally yummy.  Loved the crispiness.  Looked and tasted like a fried egg.

Revise Research Plan:  (What I Need to Know)

How long do I cook to achieve the certain types of fried egg (sunny side up, over easy, over light, etc.?)
How do I avoid breaking the yolk?

Sources: (How do I find out?)

What are the best ways to learn the answers to my questions about fried eggs?

Read?  – Food Network?  Cookbooks?
View? – YouTube?

Source 1:  Madison, Deborah.  Local Flavors.  New York: Broadway Books, 2002.  232.  (I love this cookbook!)

  • I’m reading phrases like: “cook them as you like — straight up, over easy …” and “When the eggs are done.”
  • Hmm.  I don’t know what these mean.  How DO I like my eggs?  How do I KNOW when they’re done.”
  • I need more information.  I’m not ready for this source yet.

Google Search Strategy:

Topic + format
fried eggs how to or I could have also used fried eggs tutorial

Source 2: Stradley, Linda.  “Perfect Fried Eggs”  What’s Cooking America.  Accessed Dec. 20, 2012.  http://whatscookingamerica.net/Eggs/FriedEgg.htm

Advice from Fernand Point, a French chef (an expert!):

  • Break egg into a bowl first, then slide it into the heated pan.  Aha!  That could have made the eggshell and yolk-breaking worries easier.
  • Cover with a lid while cooking – especially a see-through one so I can watch the egg while it’s cooking.  Aha!  I didn’t think of that before – might help it cook!
  • Season after the cooking is done and it’s on a serving plate. Aha!  Is this why it was too salty?
  • Use low heat – it takes five minutes.

(Note how the fact that I tried first and made mistakes led to an aha! moment, which probably would not have happened if I had just read and followed the directions in a rote fashion.)

What Now? (Looking back at what I Need to Know)

This source didn’t answer how to cook other styles of egg, only “sunny side up.”  I’m also not happy with the photo of the cooked egg – where are my crispy edeges?  But – I bet there’d be enough yolk to mop up with the toast …

Source 3: “Video: How to Fry an Egg.”  All Recipes.  Accessed: Dec. 20, 2012. http://allrecipes.com/video/15/how-to-fry-eggs/

This source confirmed:

  • Crack egg in a bowl first.  (More than one source stating this makes the argument stronger).
  • Use low heat to cook the egg.

This source gave me new information and made me think new things (my ideas in parentheses):

  • You don’t always have to season after cooking (you can do it mid-way).
  • I learned that you put the lid on to make the eggs cook evenly.
  • Use a spatula to move in the whites to make it more compact (and probably easier to turn).
  • I learned that over easy means turning the yolk over (this is how I like it!).

What Now? (Looking back at what I Need to Know)

I liked this source because I could see someone frying an egg.
Questions I still have:
What’s the difference between “over easy” and “over light”?
What about my crispy edges?  How do I do that?

Revised Google Search Strategyfried eggs crispy edges

Source 4:  “How to Make a Fried Egg Crispy.”  eHow Food.  Accessed: Dec. 20, 2012.  http://www.ehow.com/how_2283481_make-fried-egg-crispy.html

The trick to crispy eggs is extra butter and extra heat.
Cook for less time with higher heat.
(Looks like I got the heat right, but not the time, or the time right, but not the heat!  Perhaps I need to experiment more!)

Uh oh!  I think something might be plagiarized!  Let’s look at the original:

The trick to making eggs crispy is the extra butter and the extra heat. Therefore, you will need to cook them for less time than you normally would. Do not leave the eggs unattended.”

Let me try again (how would I say this in my own words?):  Higher heat and extra butter make the edges crispier.

Got it!

Revised Google Search Strategy: fried eggs over light

Source 5: Solos, Heather.”How to Fry an Egg.”  Home-Ec 101.  Dec. 3, 2009.  Accessed: Dec. 20, 2012.  http://www.home-ec101.com/the-great-fried-egg-tutorial/

Notes: Over easy and over light are the same thing! Use some water to test the heat of the pan before adding the egg. Yes, the extra heat makes the edges crispy.  Confirmed!

Am I satisfied that I am ready to do my next experiment and that I have learned how to fry an egg?

Yes!

Do I still need to practice before it looks good?

Yes!

FoodNetworkEgg

Wait!  This isn’t a photo I took!  Accidental plagiarism again!

FoodNetworkEgg
Photo courtesy of Food Network

That’s better!

Reflection Questions:

  1. Did I find one source that answered all of my questions?
  2. What kinds of things did I need to do in order to learn to fry eggs?  Read something?  Watch something?  Try something out myself?  Which of these worked for me as a learner?
  3. What would have happened if I had only used the first one or two sources I found?
  4. What were some ways I avoided plagiarizing while taking notes or referring to sources?
Posted in Information Literacy, Lesson Plans, Research Process | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Becoming a Student Again

This year I decided to take Russian with the 6th graders.   I did this for a few reasons.  I wanted to experience what my students experience when they learn something new – all disorientation along with all of the excitement, and the gradual mastery of a topic.  I also wanted to learn Russian because of my family’s Slavic heritage.  I love languages, and I also wanted to observe our Russian teacher (Shannon Johnson), who I consider to be a creative, masterful teacher and human in general.   I joined the class on the second day and Shannon put up a slide on the board.  The students immediately started reciting something (in Russian), and I looked at the board for some indication of what they were doing – but it was all written in Russian and I couldn’t find anything to latch on to – nowhere on that screen was a clue as to what the students seemed to be doing so easily.  First mission accomplished – disorientation!

I eventually did catch up, but I’ve been learning a lot about what the students seem to get instantly (and I have to really work on), and what seems easy to me, but more difficult for the 6th graders.  For example, their oral learning seems leaps and bounds beyond mine.  I needed to write down phonetically everything I was asked to remember, but the kids could remember it writing down nothing in many cases.  Eventually, I moved to writing it in Russian, but I still have to write it down.   I was a full two weeks behind memorizing the alphabet than they were – they recited rings around me.

However, I seem to catch on to applying what we learned in new situations a little faster than my fellow students.  When we learned the alphabet, even though they had learned the sounds of each letter, they had trouble to applying to it reading words they had never seen before.  At my table group, I had to convince most of the students that they did have the ability to read the group of words we’d never seen, because they knew what sounds the letters made.  It took them longer to be willing to try it.

I have enjoyed the relationships I’ve formed with the people in my class as a fellow learner, and not as a teacher.  I have enjoyed seeing an amazing colleague in her element.  I fear that my busy work schedule will soon be taking me out of my class more and more.  I truly regret this – I feel like I have so much more to learn, and not just the language.  I am learning to be a learner, and I am learning how to reflect on my own learning.

Posted in Empathy, Teaching & Learning | Leave a comment

My Blogging Story

I’m hosting a Blogging Alliance at my school this year, and by way of introduction, I promised to make my “history” with blogging available to the community, “warts and all” – so here goes!  Read ONLY if you think it might help you to hear about someone who wasn’t “perfect blogger” at the outset, and had lots of reservations, but eventually found the “just right” level of blogging for me.   I continue to be imperfect, always learning, and still deriving both pleasure and value from my blogs and the connections they have formed:

I started blogging around 2004 when my friends started online journaling on a platform called “LiveJournal.”  This was my first exposure to social media and I liked the idea of being able to share things with friends, and keep up with them when we couldn’t see each other every day.  It was like a daily diary entry, and I started tentatively posting a few of my daily thoughts, although I wasn’t comfortable sharing too much with others online.  I don’t think you could even comment on the initial platform, so it really was a pretty one-sided conversation.  It felt strange.  I didn’t like being “out there,” even though all of the other people reading my blog were my friends. 

Every day I’d get a running list of the posts of all of my friends.  I had about 20 who were also blogging.  They were very prolific and sometimes wrote pages and pages.  I found myself spending up to an hour a day reading through all their posts.  I felt guilty if I didn’t read all of them, like I was not a good friend.  I’m also a little OCD that way – I felt like I had to read not only their current posts but all their previous posts.  So it took me a while.  As I got busier, I didn’t get through friend’s journals on a daily basis.  I stopped posting myself too – work got busy, and I couldn’t face logging on and seeing all of the posts that just kept piling up unread.  I started running into friends and saying “What’s been going on?” and they would answer “Have you read my blog?” which then would make me feel guiltier, like there was some kind of expectation that I would read every detail of their lives!  (By the way, that expectation came from me, not my friends – they were just trying to find out if they were about to repeat themselves!)   Finally, I deleted my account completely, because I was so overwhelmed and was sure that this was completely wrong for me.  My friends were puzzled, but supportive.

When Facebook came out a little while later, I became intrigued by the idea of brief bursts of information – “status updates” from my friends.  Suddenly, I didn’t have to read pages and pages to keep up with my friends, but I could just hear what they were doing and respond in equally short bursts of information.  Facebook, Twitter, and the like has been referred to as “microblogging.”  That, I could do.  That, I had time for.

Fast forward to 2007.  I was doing a lot of gardening, knitting and crafting in general, and my family and friends wanted to see pictures.  I started a Blogger account to just post the pictures and little captions under them.  Then, I started writing about little funny things that happened in the garden.  Uploading the photos had a bit of a learning curve to it, but once in the habit, I was doing this pretty regularly.

I had just started working at Friends.  I had a lot of ideas, but felt very inarticulate about expressing them.  I have always been a better “writer” than a “talk on my feet-er,” and I have always needed some down time to reflect and even write out my ideas before I speak.  But I wanted to be a better speaker.  I needed to be, in order to get my point across in meetings, and to do the job I’d been hired to do.   I had been reading professional blogs from other teacher librarians and felt like I had something to contribute to that community as well.   But I could see that I was not anywhere near as advanced in blogging as those “superstars of library science” (and by the way, learned the hard way that you should never compare your early efforts to those who have mastered the art, so to speak!).  I started to comment on these blogs, and got more comfortable writing about my ideas.  I eventually decided to start a professional blog of my own to write down some of the things I’d been trying to express at work.

Right about then, I read a blog called iLearnTechnology written by an amazing educator named Kelly Tenkely.  She posted that she was interested in starting a Blogging Alliance where we would commit to reading each others’ blogs and commenting on one per day.  I thought that sounded great, so I submitted myself to that group.  Soon there were more than 100 members, including some from Spanish-speaking countries, which delighted me.  I absolutely loved reading about what teachers were doing in classrooms all over the world.  I started with a lot of enthusiasm, but very soon, for many of us, getting to comment once per day became difficult.  I couldn’t put aside that time every day.  I starting reading 15 minutes per day, twice per week.  It was what I could manage.  

My own posts were not exactly coming fast and furious.  I spent so much time on them, almost as if I was submitting them for publication in a professional journal.  My first post was so detailed and dry I’m sure that no one read it – even my mother!   I kept posting, but wasn’t getting any comments, so I got discouraged.  There was one exception: Kelly, who had started the Alliance, commented on every single one of my posts.  She single-handedly kept me going for a while there when I was wondering if it was worth it or not.  I read about tips for bloggers and they all said the same thing: keep it short and spontaneous.  The thing that makes a blog post interesting is your take on an issue that everyone else can relate to.   I stopped trying to write in the traditional, academic way I’d been taught and tried to be more myself.  I started to find my voice.  Writing a blog is not like writing for an academic publication – it’s a lot less formal and you really only have to please yourself. 

The blog had interesting side-effects – I found myself more articulate at work, because I’d been trying things in class, and working them out in writing afterward, and gaining experiencing expressing my ideas.  Now, I was still only getting about 10 hits with each new blog post (again, comparing yourself to established bloggers is fatal here), but I cared less about that because it was clear to me by then that I was getting so much out of it, and enjoying it.  I would hear something on NPR and think – “That reminds me of X in class,” and then I’d blog about it.  I’d see something happen in the Library, snap a picture, upload it and blog about it.  It took less and less time, and didn’t feel like a chore at all.  The comment issue took care of itself – people did find me the more regularly I started posting, and once I got the hang of tagging.  And the pinnacle hit one day while at a school baseball game when I was introduced to a parent and she said “Hey!  You’re “Reeled-in Research!” -   I read your blog!”  Wow, gotta say, that felt really good.  But luckily, I didn’t need that as a motivator to keep going – because it has been so rewarding personally and professionally.  I don’t blog every day, or even every week (although every week is a goal of mine for this year), but when I think of things, I don’t hesitate to post away.

I hope this has provided some encouragement and reassurance that there is no “right” way to blog.  There are many reasons to blog, and finding the one for you is a journey, not a destination!

Posted in PLNs | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Protest Music – Online Interviews

This is a post to show the teachers working on the Protest Music project how we might get parents, students and other interested parties to give responses to the songs selected by the students.

The students would select the song, find a link on YouTube they want us to use, give us the lyrics, and write questions, which they can pass on to use in email or through Moodle.  Then I could put them up on a blog, and we could send out the URL for the sites in an email to parents.  So, no actual time spent on blogging – just using the blog to get to the part we want – students getting stories from people about what the song means to them!

Here’s an example:

Ohio – Neil Young (1971)

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Questions:  to answer these questions go to “Leave a comment” at the end of this post and write your answers in the comments box – thank you!!

  1. Do you remember the first time you heard this song?  If yes, please tell me what you thought or felt about it.
  2. Do you remember the events this song is talking about?  Tell me what you thought or how you felt about them, or that time in your life.
  3. Do you have any personal memories about what this song is protesting?
  4. Is there any other information you have which would help me to understand this song?
Posted in Class Sessions, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Information Literacy, Reflection | Leave a comment

Secrets Lurking in the Bibliography

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not the Bibliography Queen.

I do not derive pleasure from looking at a list of 34 sources, scrutinizing them for the finer points of alphabetization (numbers before letters, and don’t forget to skip “The” as a first word – “The Silver Chair” should go under S …), or policing punctuation (a period after the “d” as in ed. for editor, but not after the “t” in et al., which is done only when there are more than two authors, and incidentally, the first author is listed last name, first name, but the second author is listed first name (no comma) last name).   I don’t have all of these formatting conventions memorized in my head, nor are they as straightforward as they might seem (in fact, I imagine there might be a little heated discussion among some educators about the “more than two authors” thing).

And yet, I still request to see the bibliographies (now called “works cited” pages) from every teacher who does a research unit in our school.  And here are some reasons why you might want to require one in your next project.

Bibliographic Conventions

Bibliographic conventions are the rules that help keep citations standard across disciplines.  Very often, students are surprised when I tell them that they will continue using the same method of citation in upper school, and at least something similar beyond.  They seem to think works cited pages are a form of torture designed to frustrate students and waste their time.  After all, the Internet doesn’t cite their sources, why should they?  (Incidentally, I recently pulled this point of information on a class of 8th graders – Wikipedia will now flag your entry as being of questionable authority if you do not cite your sources.  Ha.)

Let’s go back to how and why we taught bibliographic conventions prior to the “information explosion” that was facilitated by the introduction of the Internet into general usage.  Some of those reasons still exist today: we want to encourage the responsible and ethical use of information and ideas; we want to help interested readers find our sources again; we want to teach a format which is accepted in the world of academia, and; we want to encourage students to back up their writing with authoritative information.

Some of the skills we used to teach have been made less vital through technology.  For example, there are tools to help us with these conventions.  NoodleTools, Citation Machine, and any number of electronic bibliographic formatters can do the job of putting citation information into the correct format.  When NoodleTools first came out, I remember thinking in a “librarian-up-on-the-bibliographic-soapbox” kind of way: “but they will still need to learn how to do a bibliography!”  And I thought, well, let me teach them how to do a bibliography, and then I’ll let them do the “cheater” version after I’m satisfied with their capacity to do it on their own.

I have since learned to see this attitude as “digital immigrant*” thinking, and I have to be vigilant for it.  It occurred to me during the course of the next few years that students are never going to have to do this on their own.  Technology that helps us to manage information is here to stay, even to the point where there is now a number of services (Zotero is one of them) that will cite your web page for you from the page itself.  People are beginning to tag their webpages with HTML that interfaces with these programs and fills in the form for you.  This kind of technology makes even NoodleTools start looking a little archaic.

And the truth is, there’s always been help for bibliographic formatting.  Ever since the  MLA, APA, Turabian and Chicago Style manuals created a standardization for citation, there have been “cheat sheets” and books describing how to cite every type of source – and as the kinds of sources we are using expands, those rules need to be revised again and again.

There are still things to learn, good things, that cannot be helped by using electronic citation assistance.  NoodleTools can, sometimes, suggest that a word be capitalized, or that certain words or phrases be truncated.  (For example, NoodleTools will tell you that it’s unnecessary to put “Thompson Gale Publishers” – it can simply be “Thompson Gale”).  But it cannot tell you that Mississippi is spelled “M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i” and not “M-s-i-s-s-s-p-p-p-I,” and it cannot tell you that Google is not a source, but rather, a tool used to find sources.  And it cannot tell you that the webpage your 7th grader just cited for her report was actually written by Mrs. Preston’s Third Grade Class.  (No offense to Mrs. Preston or her hard-working Third Graders).

But this is still not the primary reason for requiring – and examining – a works cited page.

Information Literacy

Students today need to do the same things that we had to when it comes to research, but they are doing it in an completely different environment.  We want them to evaluate and choose quality sources, to know where those sources are coming from, to search them successfully, and to read and understand them.  The works cited page, even without access to the project itself, helps me to see how well students are achieving these objectives, and what further practice and instruction they might need.

What types of sources are students using?

How do students define a “credible source?”  If you ask a group of students how the results are ranked in a Google search, some might say that they pay to be up front, but more will say that the best information is listed first.  This belief has a few frustrating consequences.  If the search engine can somehow read your mind and put the best information first, then if there’s nothing that helps you on that first page of results, then it follows logically that “There’s nothing about “light” on the Internet.”

How well are students following the requirements of the assignment?  If a newspaper article is required, did they use a blog posting and call it a newspaper article because the blog contained the word “article” in it?

NoodleTools will make you decide what type of source you are citing before you cite it.  For example, this citation:

Case, Joy.  “Golden GateBridge.”  Kids Search.  23 Sept. 2008.

<http://web.ebscohost.com&gt;.

This student did a good job – she used a reliable source from an EBSCO database, and she discovered the author.  By going to the database and recreating her search process, I can see that she began with a quick keyword search for “Golden   GateBridge” and received too many unrelated results.  Then she noticed the subject heading bar on the results page and discovered that this database calls her topic: “Golden GateBridge(San Francisco,Calif.).”  She then used this to find her article, which was the first at the top of the results page.  Many students her age would have given up when they looked at the first result page with the unrelated articles.  So I know that she can use some of the search conventions of a database, which is a skill very different from using a search engine.  The database is indexed – but the Internet is not (yet).

Now, I can also see that this student knew she was citing a reference source, rather than a webpage, because her format tells me she used the Subscription Database “wizard” feature, which helped her by shortening the URL to the homepage instead of copying and pasting the entire URL from the address bar.    There was one problem, though.  She lists her source as “Kids Search” (the name of the database search feature: i.e., Kids Search is to EBSCO Databases as Google is to Internet).  The name of the journal the article is from is “Our States: Geographic Treasures.”  This title was listed with the bibliographic information, and at the bottom of the page under the heading “Source.”  But the big “Kids Search” at the top of the page made her believe that was the source title, just as a webpage would list its title at the top of the page.  So, this student still needs some work on identifying what kinds of sources are found in a database.

Pretty good information from one simple line in a bibliography, huh?

Where do students believe their sources originate?

Imagine that you’ve grown up in a world where your school library has only one book.  That book is not indexed alphabetically and the page numbers aren’t sequential.  The book has 3 million authors and there is no guarantee that the information you found in it today will be the same when you look in it tomorrow.

The above illustrates how many of our students see the information landscape.  Most of their information “comes from” a computer screen.  A webpage, a database, an ebook, a newspaper article – it all appears in the same place, and therefore, seems to come from the same place.  If it’s on the screen, it must be a webpage.

When I ask students to brainstorm places they might find information, the first thing they often say is “The Internet” or (gasp!) “Google.”  They I say “which source on the Internet?” and eventually we may get to the name of a specific place.   Here’s an example of a bibliographic citation I have seen from a student:

http://www.stpetersburger.com/oview_img/matryoshkas-dolls.jpg.  Google.  Google.  November 24, 2008. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.stpetersburger.com/oview_img/matryoshkas-dolls.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.stpetersburger.com/html/matryoshkas.html&usg=___h6756Q0i4VmLhfCnkVYoMMdS_Y=&h=304&w=305&sz=50&hl=en&start=2&sig2=cIc3LAYxtxH8C9TL3_FU_g&tbnid=82w78vo94EPT4M:&tbnh=116&tbnw=116&ei=41ssSbG0EaSIeaLsuM8E&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dnesting%2Bdolls%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den

Here is what this citation tells me:  The title of the photo is its web address.  The webpage the photo came from is Google.  The sponsoring organization is Google.  You can find it at Google.

I recently presented at a teacher training where the teachers were learning to insert images into their course “Moodle” pages . We decided that for an example picture, we would find a picture on the internet of some “Baltimore Honies.”  One teacher said “Go to ‘Café Hon’ – they’ll probably have some pictures.  Another suggested a different website.  Where would a students have looked first?  Google Images.  This is an unexpected and powerful illustration of how an information literate person uses the Internet, compared with someone who is just learning – the literate person will use a search engine to find a source – the student of information literacy will use a search engine to find the “answer” itself.

So what?  Both groups of people get the job done, right?

Another recent example from my own research and public speaking class may help to shed some light on this problem.  The students had chosen speeches, poetry and readings to practice.  We were talking about what to include in an introduction to “The King’s Breakfast” by A.A. Milne, that would help prepare the listener for the reading.  One of the suggestions was “a summary of the poem.”  When I asked what source we might use to come up with that summary, I was proud to hear “the poem itself” (with a faint tinge of “duh!”) from one of my students.  I have seen students say “Go to Google and type in ‘summary of the kings breakfast.’”  When students begin to think that finding a summary on the Internet is preferable to, or more logical than, using their own abilities of summarization,that is a real information literacy dilemma.

How successful are students at searching electronic sources?

A works cited page is also a breadcrumb trail for looking at how students are searching for information.  For example, if there are five sources listed and they are all websites, I head to “Google” and type in a likely search phrase.  If those five websites are listed on the first page of results, I know we have a problem.  Most students will stop at the first source they believe meets the requirement of our information.  This is a pretty natural thing to do, if you think about it.  When you look up a word in the dictionary, you don’t usually check it with three other dictionaries to make sure it is correct.  But for the kind of searching we want them to do – to find appropriate materials, at their reading level and from trusted sources.  The difference between these two is what I call Hunter/Gatherer searching.  They both result in a steady diet of information, but each must be used for the appropriate task.  If I’m looking for facts or the answer to a straightforward question like: “What is the chemical symbol for Gold?,” I go to the quickest reference available (online or print).  I hunt down the answer – I’ve got it – good – I’m done.  But the Gathering search seeks to draw information from a variety of points of view, formats, and origins.  I need to absorb and interpret that information to answer a complex problem like: “Write a newspaper article from the point of view of someone witnessing the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904”  That’s a tough one to find on a search engine, and a tough assignment to plagiarize, I might add.  (I just tried Googling it now, and my favorite result is from “The Cthulhoid Chronicle” – any Lovecraft fans out there?).  Students need to see that searching takes work – reading and evaluating – and that the answers will not always be handed to them in a perfect package.

If the assignment requires a database source, and I see only webpages cited, I start to ask questions about how successful the student is at searching databases.  I want to see how the student is searching and if she is becoming frustrated by the database search features.  Very often, changing the type of search from “Subject” to “Keyword” will solve the problem.

If a student cites a search result page, and not the actual article, I wonder if he is clicking on the article and reading it.  I wonder if he thinks that the 3 line summary of the article is the article itself.  Students expect their information to come in small, digestible packages.  They routinely reject a source because there’s “too much reading.”  If it’s not quick and easy, then they move on to the next thing until they find it, or ultimately decide that the information does not exist.

How well are students reading and understanding their sources?

Let’s step into the “Research Wayback Machine” to when I was a 7th grader.  I had to do a project onKenya.  It was required that we use at least 5 sources.  If you used less than 5 sources, you were marked down.  If you used more than 5 sources, you were praised as a “self-starter,” and maybe even an “enlightened” student.  Your searching skills were obviously first-rate, because information was scarce.  If you used 5 you were ok, but maybe look a little harder next time, huh?   You don’t just want to do the minimum, now, you want to reach higher …

By praising students for the increasing number of sources they “found,” we unwittingly set the course for a collision with the increased popularity of the Internet.  Now, suddenly, students could find 3,456,596 “sources” on a topic.  Now, the same paper onKenyawhich the enterprising young student found 6 sources for, is now presenting a paper with 34+ sources.

Red flag.

I didn’t have this problem growing up, because we weren’t experiencing an information explosion at the time.  I was lucky if I could squeeze out 7 sources between the school library, the public library, and videotaping NOVA.  Now, students have access to multiple sources and formats of information.  And most of that information has no editorial control.

And so, we not only have a minimum requirement for sources, but a maximum as well.  As an instructional designer, you figure out the amount of sources a student will need to do the project well, add a few more sources, and then cap it.  So now students receive the instruction: “You need at least 4 sources, but no more than 7.”  When you have to decide which sources you will use for a project, you need to look beyond the title of the page.  If you have only 6 sources to use, you are not going to pick the one that has one line about your topic – you are going to look at the source and make sure that it fulfills your assignment. (Or you’re going to lie and say you only used 6 sources when in fact you used 10, but then you have a different problem on your hands).

Just Another Piece of the Puzzle

I use the information I glean from the works cited page to assess the student progress in research, and to see where I need to go next.  It might be a discussion about Wikipedia and the nature of wikis and collaborative sources in general.  It might be a lesson on the difference between an index, a search engine, and a database.  But I will tailor it based on what I can see they need to know.  And it keeps me in their world – how they are searching, what they are coming up with in the world …

All of this useful information from looking at a citation!  Think of what could be done if you had the final product on hand to add to your understanding!

Try not to see the “dreaded bibliography” as a relic of the days of picayune editing and card catalogs.   If you want to really try to help students maneuver today’s information landscape, consider requiring a works cited page.   And then when you examine it, look beyond the commas and the spelling and the quotation marks to what the student is really telling you about how they see the information world.

*See Marc Prensky

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