Exploring Methods: Trial and Error

In the comments of my first post this week, I explained that the open and immerse primarily take place in the English IV classrooms as students address social issues through companion texts and other medias related to their curriculum. In November, seniors are ready to explore social issues, which takes place the in the library. Teaching middle school, we easily spent two to three days for students to explore topics, jotting down ideas of interest, usually using stations. In a high school, especially when there are twenty or more sections of one course, scheduling can influence the number of days assigned to different phases and assignments. Understanding that the explore phase significantly impacts student interest and commitment to the long-term project, the English IV teachers scheduled one or two days in the library where students could jot down ideas of interest for their Senior Research Project (SRP) with a focus on a social issue. Over the last four years, we have tried three different methods for exploration, which I share below.

YEAR ONE: PATHFINDER GUIDES
I selected a few social issues that were common interests of many students based on an interest survey completed in the classrooms and created pathfinder guides on our SRP LibGuide. Each pathfinder provided an overview of the topic, possible perspectives, articles from multiple databases, print and digital books from the library collection. Students were provided with a Stop and Jot form for their note-taking.

PROS:

  • Students realized there are more “sides” to an issue than yes and no, or left and right. They were able to see the opinions and perspectives of social issues on a spectrum.
  • Students gained quick exposure to a range of resources.

CONS:

  • Assembling the pathfinders was very time consuming. I felt like I did more work than the students. A seasoned colleague once told me, “School is not a place for young people to come watch old people work!”
  • Students were exposed to depth of the topics but not breadth. The pathfinders provided too much in-depth information rather than an opportunity for exploration and discovery.
  • Students were limited to exploring the topics provided. While they were the most popular, they weren’t for everyone.

YEAR TWO: DOCUMENTARIES
Considering the appeal of YouTube videos to teens and recently popular documentaries on Netflix, we provided links to PBS documentaries that related to a range of social issues on a LibGuide. Students were provided with a Stop and Jot form to notate their interests and reactions to the videos.

PROS:

  • Students were highly interested in the documentaries, even the brief clips.
  • Students benefited from the passionate perspective of the filmmaker.

CONS:

  • Students needed more time that what was provided during class. Some continued to watch the documentaries at home, but not all.
  • Students were still limited to the social issues addressed on the list.
  • Some documentaries did not present multiple perspectives of the issues.

YEARS THREE & FOUR: TOPIC WEBS
Eight topics were selected based on the issues grouped in some of our databases. Students chose five of the eight topics to visit in 4-minute rotations. During each rotation students discussed examples of issues and events related to the topics, and documented their conversation in a web-like format. Remaining time was spent for students to revisit the topic webs they found most interesting so they could notice new contributions and jot down their ideas.

PROS:

  • Aligned perfectly with information in the databases but still allowed students to explore their interests.
  • Webs were visual and were displayed for students in other classes to view for topic inspiration.
  • Students learned from other students by asking questions and holding conversation.

CONS:

  • Absent students missed the experience. Some students chose to come during their lunch the following day to participate with a different teacher’s class but rarely.

Christie Gudowski
Reagan High School, San Antonio, TX