Breaking the Rules

Instructions for this blog are to post three entries during the week. I guess in addition to being risk adverse I am also a rule breaker. While preparing for this week, I was totally unable to put my thoughts into three entries. So, if this has been too much, my apologies. My interest in this topic is robust.

The next week of the adventure was spent in the library, five days, one period a day spread across the four areas of study. Each classroom teacher gave up one day of instruction with the English teacher giving two. The students spent that period in the library using print and electronic sources to gather information, take notes, and record citation information. The library space is flexible with moveable tables, quiet study carrels for individual work and open access to myself for one-on-one discussion. This provided independent time to search for, select, and use information with guidance from myself and the classroom teacher.

At the end of this week, we provided opportunities during study hall and free periods for students to seek help from the librarian for source help, the English teacher for writing and citing help, and the topic content teachers for content help. In addition, as the time progressed, students worked on rough drafts with parenthetical citations and practiced peer editing during English classes. The total project covered six weeks.

The final step of Reflection took place through at short online survey shortly after the due date. We asked the students to reflect on these five questions:

  • How did your expectations of the process and tasks match your actual experience?
  • Which type of sources were not useful to you during your research?
  • Which experiences with the librarian were most beneficial to your experience with this project?
  • Please give your thoughts on eBook sources(s).
  • What questions should the English teacher and the librarian have addressed earlier in the process?

The responses are as varied as the students yet there did not seem to be any extremes. Many students felt that the experience was much less difficult than they had expected, many commented positively on the guidance they received from both instructors including the ability to come to us during their free time for one-on-one help, and the variety of sources they found most useful covered the entire spectrum. The final question produced some very insightful comments which we will take into this year’s project.

As we instructors debriefed while mulling over these comments, we noted that we observed great improvement in the quality of the work done throughout the process and as a result great improvement in the quality of the final product. One conclusion we immediately found was that waiting until January to start instruction in the process is too late in the year so we have made changes to begin this year with a smaller inquiry project in the World Geography course. Students began this in August with instruction on ISP and different types of resources and their uses.

We also use the T.R.A.I.L.S (Tool for Real-Time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) tool from Kent State University Libraries to assess the success of our teaching and projects. Improvements within the freshman class over the school year were an average of 8.2% over the five categories with the largest gains in the areas of Develop Topic and Evaluate Sources and Information. These are the largest gains we have seen since we began using this tool. We believe that the improvements we made to this project and the adding of smaller projects to practice the process during the school year resulted in these gains.

As a result of this collaborative project and the success we all feel is evident, I brought this information to the Middle School and Lower School  librarians. After showing them what we had done, how it came to fruition, and the positive results, together we came to the realization that using Guided Inquiry at every grade level was the perfect next step in the evolution of our curriculum. I ordered copies of all the professional books and compiled a collection of professional articles for each librarian and we spent the summer reading and thinking. Our department goal  is to re envision existing research projects at all grade levels with the goal of moving them to Guided Inquiry and change one or more during this school year. A big job which we feel will reap real rewards for our students, teachers, and libraries.

Jean Pfluger