It’s so familiar, some might even call it cliché: the “What I Did This Summer” essay.
(Did I hear a yawn?)
Whether they spent it far away or close to home, students have insights to share from their time spent away from school.
Lately, though, I’ve wondered about inviting students to create questions from their summer experiences instead of the typical show-and-tell. And, of course, the school library media center is *the place* for questions.
By asking students to develop questions, we can start the process of inquiry early in the year. We also open connections between their out-of-school experiences and their time in the classroom. Finally, it’s an opportunity for us to learn more about students’ interests and perhaps even their struggles.
My family was lucky to have a busy summer complete with learning, leisure, and a bit of travel. There are any number of families we know who spent the summer moving due to foreclosures or welcoming family members in need of shelter. From my own experiences as well as sharing with friends, I can imagine a pool of questions including:
-Why are sea turtles endangered? How are we protecting them?
-Why is the public library closed earlier in the evenings than it was before? Who made this decision? Why?
-Why do people in the Amish community not drive cars or have their photographs taken?
-What summer camps can I attend next summer? How can I find help paying for them?
-How are video games made? How can I learn to make my own video games? (or apps, or videos, and so on)
-Why is the local bookstore (or other business) closing? What does it take to start a business or stay in business?
-What are some free or cheap activities in my community? (This may be especially helpful for people who have recently moved.)
-Why do some items float in a pool or lake while others don’t?
-How does lightning form? Why do we seem to have more storms in the summer months? Why is summer so hot?
-Why did Kate DiCamillo write Because of Winn Dixie? How did she write it? Does she have other books like that one? Does she have a dog?
The lives and interests of students shouldn’t be dropped or hidden at the school door. Their summer experiences shouldn’t be just an essay to read and or a check in the grade book. When students get back to the school library media center, they can extend those summer memories into questions and opportunities to pursue topics that are personally meaningful and interesting.
Of course, we can help by modeling questions out of our own experiences. What are some of the questions you brought back from summer experiences?
Department of Language and Literacy Education
University of Georgia
At the end of the school year, as my students are finishing their coursework and getting ready to do their student teaching, I ask them to compose vision statements for themselves as teachers.
I think this can be a useful exercise in thinking for many educators. It is easy to get caught up in the everyday activities of our schools and library media centers. The end of the year, when classes are winding down and we reflect on the year we’ve just ended, can be a good time to step back and think about our core values for the school library program. This may be especially important when we are facing losses in funding, staff, and other resources that are essential to a vital school library program.
When I have my students complete this assignment, the vision statement can take many forms. One of the options I give is a “Bill of Rights” of sorts, or a set of essential ideas that form the core of their educational practices.
Of course, we already have a Library Bill of Rights and an interpretation of it that articulates its application to school libraries. I encourage students to try to state their ideas simply, then add explanations if necessary.
I’m going to start my list of essential core values for the school library program. What would you add? Share your core values with us in the comments.
1.) Students have the right to access the instruction and expertise of a full-time credentialed library media specialist(s) as well as adequate support staff to ensure this accessibility and smooth functioning.
2.) Students have the right to resources that reflect their own cultures as well as the diverse world we live in.
3.) Students have the right to pursue topics of personal interest in the library media center using the resources available there (both physical and virtual).
4.) Students have the right to regular information literacy instruction embedded in their broader curricular studies, not separate from it.
5.) Students have the right to participate in creating their school library media program.
….What would you add?
Back in January, I wrote a post about Pageflakes and the screencast we had created for our media center. Now Joyce Valenza has inspired me with her latest blog post about ways we can use Pageflakes with our patrons! As Joyce points out, we can certainly use iGoogle with our patrons to help them design feeds through their GoogleReader accounts to keep up with the latest news on a particular topic from their favorite web resources: news outlets, blogs, and RSS feed searches from a few databases. We showed iGoogle to 9th graderst this past year, and they were very much impressed by the power of iGoogle, but now Joyce and Clarence Fisher have me thinking about how we can use Pageflakes as personal learning network information portal.
I am not sure how I missed this, but there is a “Teacher Edition” of Pageflakes for educators—it is not really too different from the “regular” flavor, but the widgets and template are more tailored for items and feeds of interest to educators. Pageflakes could be a powerful tool for teachers—imagine creating a screencast for your students around a particular unit of study in any subject area!
However, I am really thinking hard tonight about students taking the reins and creating their own learning portal and personal learning networks; there is a student version of Pageflakes available, too! As Will Richardson pointed out in this blog post,
“From a teaching standpoint, pages of this type can be pretty effective for bringing in potential content and then making decisions about what to do with that content. “
Take a look at these three examples:
- Joyce’s test Pageflakes for Global Studies
- Lisa Spiro’s “Digital Humanities Research Portal”.
- Will Richardson’s Darfur Screencast
All of these screencasts give us a tantalizing taste of how students could use Pageflakes as a personalized research portal. Note how both examples pull in feeds from podcasts, authoritative news outlets, and vodcasts. If students are blogging their research process, they can even pull in the RSS feed from their blog as part of their personal Pageflakes portal. Note also that you can incorporate widgets for favorite search engines as well! Students can also pull in their personal Google Library feed, You Tube videos, Teacher Tube videos, SlideShare presentations, del.icio.us RSS feeds….the possibilities are truly endless! Organizational tools, such as sticky notes and “to do” lists, are also available.
For the short term future, I want to experiment with Pageflakes as a personal learning network for students/information-research portal in three ways:
1. Teacher-Librarian/School Library Media Specialist lens: I will seek out a teacher to pilot the use of Pageflakes as a personal learning network/portal at my high school this fall. We will work together to design mini-lessons to show students how to harness the power of Pageflakes for a particular research assignment.
2. Classroom Teacher Lens: As I do the multigenre research project with my night school students this fall, I want to build a new requirement that they create their Pageflakes screencast to reflect their research. We could easily incorporate screenshotsof the screencast and a live link to the Pageflakes screencast in their final Word document or better yet, move away from Word and create the final product in Google docs or as a blog/Wiki. I could also create a blogroll to everyone’s Pageflakesresearch portal on my class blogs that I use with my students.
My third and more ambitious goal is to see if we could get one of our senior English teachers to collaborate with us and use a student created Pageflakes screencast (along with a research blog created by each student) as one of their artifacts for their Senior Project. This is our school’s first year piloting the “Senior Project” since this year marks the rise of our first senior class—how exciting would it be if kids could easily view each other’s research projects and Pageflakes screencasts?
I will keep you all posted on how these three initiatives come to fruition this fall as the beginning of our school year is just three weeks away! If anyone else out there is taking on similar collaborative planning projects, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org —I am always happy to share ideas and experiences “from the trenches” with another media specialist. Stay tuned!
A footnote: Tonight’s blog post and the ideas that have come out of it are the result of my personal learning network I have established using Web 2.0 tools….I will be blogging more about this topic in September! 🙂
Buffy Hamilton, Media Specialist
Creekview High School