Learning Theory Project

I am wrapping up the fall semester and have a final project due in my non-emerging tech course. For this assignment, we were tasked with using a creative outlet to present our final views on learning theory: what our views are, how we want to achieve them, and how we want to ensure our students succeed.

When I first started teaching, I had grandiose views of how things would work. It was great to imagine these ideal classroom situations; they quickly disappeared the first time a student got jumped outside of my classroom, or maybe it was the time a student ran through the halls after lighting his backpack on fire, or maybe it was one of the drive-by shootings that took place just steps away from the front doors. My ideological ways certainly shifted but much of them remained in-tact. I learned that I needed to adjust my understanding of my students to ever have the true gist of how to teach them, guide them, and learn from them.

That is what I did. I opened my eyes and I opened my ears. I looked for cues students put out into the universe; I listened to things students said in passing as they walked by my classroom; I read their papers and focused on their text:self connections; I heard them. Admittedly, I grew up in a stable environment and have lived (and still do) a largely privileged life, so figuring out what to do with all of the information I was taking involved quite the learning curve, but I figured out how to address students social-emotional needs in such a way that made academic progress possible.

My first year of teaching was rough: I was 25 and had no experience working with youth. I also had no exposure to the school I was in. I was given a reading textbook and basically told ‘good luck’ — from there, I created an entire reading guide for both ninth and tenth grade ELA and was part of a two-person team to design DC-CAS pretests and preparation that led to the highest scores our tenth graders had seen in years (sadly, still underperforming AYP).

It’s hard to think that was over 10 years ago. When I first took human development classes, I was in so far over my head that it all felt like words flying at me. Nobody addressed the issues going on with my students. Today, I am in a much different position: I’m a parent; I’ve had the exposure of teaching for the last 12 years at both the secondary and post-secondary levels; I’ve welcomed foster children into my home and have had a new outlook on trauma and social-emotional struggles. I feel like after these experiences, I’ve been better able to digest and connect to the information I’ve read in class this term.

A few weeks back, I wrote about crying when you get home— this is something that happened to me regularly in the school settings I’m used to teaching in. As I look to pivot to a district with a bit more stability and support, I want to keep in mind the theorists that influence my teaching style the most and the educational theories I mostly relate to:

  1. Humanism:
    Humanism is a theory I believe I employ most in my classroom. I love the idea of students learning from one another and often encourage discourse in both the small and large-group settings. “It assumes that students will be highly motivated to learn when the learning material is personally meaningful, when they understand the reasons for their own behavior, and when they struggle” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P483). This approach offers students the opportunity to support their own learning through understanding themselves as learners and people first. Such a big part of my beliefs as a person and an educator centers on students understanding their needs so they can best advocate for themselves and achieve their goals in education and beyond.
  2. Behaviorism:
    I’ve always found behaviorism to be fascinating. I remember sitting in my high school psychology class and learning about BF Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. After years of working in education and around others, I try to keep in mind how behaviors have an effect on nearly all other facets of our lives and I work to relate that to the needs of my students. I feel strongly in using positive reinforcement as opposed to negative and feel this something vital to the development of young people be it in the classroom or otherwise: “… the fact that many of the voluntary responses of humans are strengthened when they are reinforced and weakened when they are either ignored or punished” 
    (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P239). The tenet of this aligns solely with my philosophy of education.
  3. Cognitivism:
    The cognitivism approach to learning is one that also aligns with my beliefs: “Using information can mean experimenting, questioning, reflecting, discovering, inventing and discussing. This process of creating knowledge to solve a problem and eliminate a disequilibrium is referred to as constructivism” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P40). The reason that I can appreciate this methodology centers on my constant attempts at meeting students where they are, helping them to access prior knowledge and make connections to both that and what they are learning, and then elevating their thinking through an idea or concept based on lecture and class-based activities and assignments. I feel that moving through the discomfort of not knowing and coupling that with the behaviorism approach listed above (positive reinforcement) allows students to grow and best understand their learning styles and learning strengths (and weaknesses). 
  4. Constructivism:
    The last of my interested views is the constructivist approach. This approach is lesser-used by educators who teach in the typical lecture-drill capacity and thus, I feel it suits my teaching style and philosophy of education perfectly. When teaching, I focus my efforts on appropriate scaffolding and modeling because I feel these elements to be effective methods in the classroom. While I still use direct instruction/lectures, I focus my efforts around collaboration, checks for understanding, and mastery demonstration through projects and discussion. I have worked in a project-based school and thus have had school staff support the ideologies that put projects above exams and have seen first-hand the benefit to students from such an approach: “A constructivist classroom, on the other hand, is characterized by inquiry, collaboration among students, use of the teacher as a resource, explanations of points of view and solutions to problems, and attempts to reach consensus about answers and solutions” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P479). Further, in my library media coursework, I have learned so much about integrating technology and how to work with school staff and content-area teachers to do so in such a way that benefits students’ curiosity and creativity.

Because of my work in an alternative school that employed school-wide project-based learning initiatives, I have a soft-spot for such promotion of thought, teaching methodologies, and assessments that push students beyond multiple choice with a side of essay question. As an ELA teacher, my inclination was to always assign written essays or projects as a means of assessment; as a future librarian, I won’t have many opportunities to assign specific deliverables but I will be in a position to work with students as they strive for success in their content-area courses. I will also be able to work with school staff to develop means and methodologies to support students in the classroom and beyond.

Taking everything learned about theorists and their research, lesson planning, assessment, and classroom management into consideration as I spent time in the library classroom is one of the many facets of adaptation I look forward to as I bridge the gap between being a stay at home mom and working back in a school environment.

The OPAC, continued and 10 more things…

This sounds like a sequel to a horror film combined with a grocery list (I kid, I kid). I actually enjoy doing procedural things — I know I’ve touched on this and if you’ve not deduced on your own, I’m here to confirm that I’m a total Type-A personality. Organizing is my jam and structure guides so many facets of my life. (Kids have helped to loosen things up, like the one time the Discovery Museum in Acton had a station where kids could paint their own faces… we all survived that day, so I like to think that as proof of my wild side!)

I really struggled to write this paper though because I feel like I entered it with 20% knowledge and experience, mostly because I’m not in a school right now and so I had to use my imagination and YouTube to find videos that showed front-end and back-end usage of a number of OPACs and then take what I watched and research the sites for cost, features, implementation, training, and other factors used in making a decision. I explored the community college’s front-end as well as that of my uni and the local public library; I tried to keep my perspectives around this experience when creating a proposal to the imaginary principal.

In my experience as an educator, school administration cares mostly about the bottom line: What does this cost the school in terms of finances and time. I tried to err on the conservative side of things to ensure school staff would be more inclined to listen and bite with the mentality that it is easier to add things on as you go instead of shooting for the moon and getting denied. I also figured that with that, I would be responsible for the bulk of the training (which I assume is typically the case as a school librarian).

In truth, this is something I’d really enjoy doing as part of my job because of the chance to showcase something that will benefit the school/community while allowing me the chance to put my writing and researching skills to work. Still, watching YouTube video after video to garner knowledge on the various online catalogs and reading the many sites got a bit overwhelming, so I gave myself breaks in the form of Law&Order: SVU, dog walks, online shopping for velvet skirts at JCrew, picking out outfits for our upcoming annual Finger Lakes trip, and reading Temptation Island spoilers on Reddit (I wish I was kidding).

Overall, I enjoyed the writing of a memorandum — I’ve not been consulting this semester (just schoolwork and 4, which has been amazing), so I’ve not had any opportunity to write a memo in a minute. Still, I felt like my deliverable was lacking but couldn’t quite figure out where so that I could make the necessary improvements. I am hoping that when classmates give feedback, something will click and I can figure out what I’m missing.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to reading what my classmates put together. I also took some time to re-evaluate my Top Ten Technology Tips for Teachers. Incidentally, the 4th tip listed was about checking out computers, something that you can use the Destiny platform to track (this is the OPAC I recommended in my proposal). The primary focus of my ten tips, however, centered on communication and I still stand by this. Through this course, I have learned about and have experimented with some really great forms of technology and I think focusing around those shiny and new-to-you technologies can help students stay engaged in classroom projects even if the teachers are not looking to learn those technologies. I think if I were to add another element to my top ten list, it would focus on the community as a whole.

I also want to be sure to emphasize the importance of community engagement in my communication tips. I feel it’s imperative to have the buy-in of the community at large and definitely those within the confines of the school (and families). I want to be sure to create a realistic social media campaign to help engage parents, students, staff, and stakeholders. I’d like to use my grant writing experiences to work closely with admin to obtain technology and other educational resources for the library through surveys and polls with the school community — I have so many ideas for work ideas that can extend beyond the library classroom in middle and high school capacities (college application sessions — co-curricular planning with the counseling team; vaping awareness — co-curricular planning with the health team, school nurse, and possibly the town’s Department of Public Health; language discussion groups; writing groups; reading circles…). There are so many opportunities to collaborate and build up the library program within a school.

When I complete this program and move into the role of librarian, I would like to hold events or at least create podcasts/video on topics important to the community: How to give back or donate to the schools; How to apply to college; How to complete financial aid forms; etc. I think that concerns about the community can be easily added to questions/polls put out by the superintendent’s office or the school principal even. This would be a really big initiative of mine and I think the value of community engagement would be all the more strengthened if the school participates in a program like METCO and offers those parents outside of the immediate neighborhoods to participate and engage in school happenings.

These are the elements I’ll keep in mine as I complete this program and work towards leading a library one day.

 

OPAC Interview

I’ve written several posts about my recent DC trip with 4 — honestly, we had a great time. One of the things we did on our trip was have lunch with a dear friend. She used to be the math teacher on my team when I taught in Fairfax County, VA; she’s also a fellow Pittsburgh native (Go Steelers!); AND, she is now a school librarian.

I’ve spent a good bit of time processing the library program at my uni with her — and asking so many questions about her role at her school library. Technically, she was hired as a MS librarian but because she works in a secondary school, she works with both lower and upper secondary grades. Incidentally, the state of Virginia has a law in place that mandates schools have X number of librarians per XXX student population. Isn’t that wonderful!? During 4’s and my visit to DC-VA, I texted my husband and asked if we could move back to northern VA — there are library positions in Fairfax County and we’d be close to most of my best friends. (Also, there are so many SAHMs in NoVa and literally any day my son and I go out in my town, we are the only people at the playground or the library or even the closest local zoo some days!) This will be a work in progress, clearly, considering we have a pretty well-established family life and joint network of friends in the greater Boston area, plus I love our house and our town — being able to walk to the beach doesn’t hurt either. Alas, we will see what transpires in the years to come.

Anyway, back to topic… I spoke with my friend about her school’s online public access catalog (OPAC) and then I spent some time research an additional OPAC to compare/contrast the two and make a recommendation to my pretend employer. Aaah — a chance to write a memo! Like most things that excite literally nobody, I am excited at the chance to do some formal writing. I’m not sure about administrators in schools, but I feel like my appreciation of formality helps navigate some of the murkier waters of school admin. Also, I’m a huge fan of procedure and protocol — it soothes my anxiety and gives me a solid sense of stability.

My friend’s school currently uses Destiny; it’s been a process to transition but she reports that while there’s a great learning curve, there’s also a lot more control over how to set things as up than there was in their previous OPAC: Sirsi Symphony. After touching base with her, I figured I’d reach out a librarian I’ve worked with in the past at a local community college.

The feedback I got about the OPAC at the community college was interesting. They use Evergreen, which is an open-source catalog. In truth, I am fascinated by open-source and have used open-source materials for students in the past. Further, I learned that Evergreen is able to be molded to fit the needs of the college’s consortium. Prior to the community college switching to Evergreen (per the urging of the consortium), they used the OPAC, Millenium, which was not as user-friendly.

It is clear that I now have at least four separate OPACs to look into. I also was interested in one called myLibrary (which is created by iii, the creator of Millenium). My next steps are to further research these five examples of OPAC and put together a considerate, well-planned MEMO to send to my future principal (hopefully he/she likes procedure and formality!).

 

More on Dewey

I have been slugging my way through the Allison Kaplan’s Catalog It! (2016) for the last week and a half. This is in no way an ‘easy read’ — further, I finding myself feeling equal parts frustrated and defeated at times because I am not used to feeling overwhelmed by information nor am I accustomed to frustration that comes from constantly referring back to previous chapters to understand the numbers, symbols, and acronyms.

Aaaagh!

One thing I do know is that I am happy technology has advanced as such that so many school libraries are moving toward automation. In between my frustrating moments, I’m thinking to myself, “My goodness, I wish there was an app so I could practice using this…” Who even am I these days?!

One thing remains constant in my mind — if I’m having difficulty piecing this all together, how can I expect students I work with to use it in an intuitive fashion? Now, I get that when I was growing up, society didn’t really indulge anyone on how intuitive something was or wasn’t; however, technology has moved our society in the direction of iOS and Google and thus it makes the most sense to try and figure out what is the most intuitive way to organize materials for students.

Incidentally, I look forward to discussing my library friend’s OPAC and her school’s overall organization of the library — she works in a secondary school, and thus works with students in both middle and high school. I am really looking forward to picking her brain about genre-fictation in the coming weeks because more than Dewey explains, this seems to make more sense to me. I’m also curious to learn if there are more ‘cutting edge’ technologies employed by school libraries.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to slog through the last remaining exercises in the text and see to it that I frame my thoughts about how my knowledge of Dewey can help shape the experiences of my future students.

Note: I did Google DDS apps and found LibraryTools

The Card Catalog

This week’s (and next’s) topic is about cataloging — the mere topic takes me back to when I was a girl and used to enjoy sifting through the card catalog at the local public library. Looking back on my childhood habits, there were no surprises when I wanted to major in English and honestly, I don’t know how it took me this long in life to come around to library media — I’ve always been a lover of books and organization so honestly, this makes total sense.

Anyway…

I’ve been really stressed about the readings this week. Typically, I start my reading on Sunday and finish on Monday or Tuesday but because I was traveling with 4 over the weekend, I only had the chance to read an article via phone once he’d gone to bed (the tone really put me off and I told myself I’d finish the rest of my work at home). Here we are: It’s Wednesday — and I’m just now diving into the text.

As I started reading Allison Kaplan’s Catalog It! (2016), I instantly connected the idea of cataloging books to how I organize my closet. (I would share a picture but shamelessly, I’ve asked my husband to move his clothes to the spare room so that I can completely overtake the walk-in…) I organize all of my clothing by style1 (type of item), style2 (length of item), and color of item; colors dictate the order of style and my shoes are organized in their original shoe boxes by style and color. By all means, my love of organizing (which also spreads to our pantry, refrigerator, linen closets, etc) seems to align perfectly with how I can understand the concept of organization for the library classroom.

In an effort to pivot, I tried to reconcile in my mind the organization of books via index cards into the searchable databases found online. I use the online library catalog from my local public library with great frequency (and also the one at university). What really stood out to me in this week’s reading was differentiating between keyword searches and Lexile-level searches (P49-50).

Much like Google, a keyword search can yield an abundance of results which can be both good and bad — learning to sift and understand the patience around this are keys to learning for our students. So often, we are all used to instant gratification and thus when we don’t find exactly what we are looking for in an instant, we give up and move onto something else. Working with students to maximize keyword searches seems like a great way to plan an entire library lesson (HELLO, databases!) and thus show how to access the online catalog with keywords AND the database subscriptions to ensure that students are able to maximize their time and energies in the library classroom. (As an aside: Being a college professor for the last nine years, I’m constantly in shock [and awe] with how many students do NOT know how to access online databases especially considering how many local high schools have subscriptions. Louder for the people in the back: Wikipedia is not a reliable source! I digress…)

In addition to keyword and subject-based searches, the book mentions the ability to search based on Lexile level. I plan to ask my librarian friend about this for her school’s network because I think anything that levels reading as such is great. I am going to not get too excited though until I talk to my friend to see if this is even at all a realistic thought (I also posted for classmates’ thoughts/experiences on this). I also look forward to asking about curriculum objectives being linked to the school library catalog (P75) because this was something that really struck me.

In my mind, I’m picturing this very accessible and engaging catalog that allows all members of the school community a place to search and find resources, so I’m trying to keep my calm in setting realistic expectations (at least until I talk to my friend about her school’s/district’s OPAC. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading through Catalog It! and see what else jumps out at me.

 

PD for Teachers

This week’s content for my Emerging Tech class is about professional development. I’m really excited to get started on this because all semester, I’ve been chomping at the bit to do something cross-curricular. I figured this is the assignment to really jump on that ship.

Now, to start, I want to mention that I’ve sat through MANY a professional development seminar and most of them lacked literally everything we tell teachers to do when creating a dynamic lesson. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t fall into that trap and that I’d be able to harness my intensity so not to scare off any colleagues before they had the pleasure of actually conversing with me. I also didn’t want to annoy people to the point that drove them leave the PD and grab drinks at the bar down the street…

My main focus and idea centers on doing a PD session with teachers for integrating the library classroom into their content areas through using a presentation tool and offering each of the main content areas a specific suggestion as to an additional application/site to use. It may not be fully integrated co-curricular but it touches on it in a way that I am comfortable and would feel competent enough to run.

Largely, for me, all of this is basically playing pretend because as you’ve likely gathered, I’ve worked with significantly under-funded schools. My strengths are around literacy and learning development which I think can make me a great resource to school staff. For this reason, I wanted to be deliberate around such a task. (I feel like making this known will depend on the school and reading the situation; I certainly wouldn’t want teachers feeling like I was trying to overtake their classrooms but also want them to know that I’m a valuable resource for them, so I’ll have to play the scene that is handed to me in my future school here…)

When I start to plan anything, I think about my end goals and then have about 46 simultaneous ideas surging through my mind (which is great when you’re trying to focus and/or tell a story). Over the years, I’ve learned to go with it — sometimes I process in rapid speed and other times, not so much. For this assignment, I took an entire day to just let my brain sit with my thoughts as I sorted out my vision.

Then, I read the assigned texts. One, in particular, resonated with me: The Many Faces of School Library Leadership by Sharon Coatney (2010). This article focused on school library media specialists serving the school community as ‘experts’ and ‘leaders’ — from this course, I’ve definitely gathered that we are the experts in the school and should really be viewed as an asset but I never made the connection between school leadership and the library.

In the last several years, my consulting has taken me all over the world, delivering American education, training, and curriculum each step of the way. I recognized that I was hired for my leadership skills but for some reason, the thought hadn’t yet transferred to my (theoretical) role in the school library. This adds a lot of pressure to the library media position but also, for me, helps to build confidence in that someone will hire me recognizing that I’m capable and competent enough to lead school staff in educational technology and other facets housed in the library media center.

I used this idea to develop my PD plan for teachers by offering a full agenda and breakout sessions that all culminate to a shared presentation at the end of the of the session. To me, this is something that I could pilot in either a before-the school year begins capacity or at an early professional development meeting whereby I introduce the library media center and then demonstrate some of my tech competencies to fellow staff and administrators.

This assignment was interesting to put together because I think it served to prepare me for how overwhelming and intense my immediate responses to things that excite me. In order to be an effective leader of the library media center, I’ll need to reign things in so that colleagues find me approachable (and relatively sane). I think that utilizing technology helps me maintain organization and structure for things like this and I like that I can use technology to serve dual purposes like teaching teachers and then giving them examples of how to teach students. I am really looking forward to putting these mock tasks into action in a library classroom.

Programs I used for this assignment are listed below:

Screencast-O-Matic — I used this to create a ‘mock’ lesson/demonstration of Prezi

Sutori & MathTalk — These were used for the Maths breakout

Prezi & Peergrade — These were used for the ELA breakout

LiveBinders & iCell — These were used for the Science breakout

Padlet & iCivics — These were used for the Social Studies breakout

Plus, Musilla Music School, HeadSpace, iDraw, Quizlet, and VidCode, which are used for specials/electives and their correlating breakouts.

 

 

Unit Plans

Oh, boy. This week we were assigned a unit plan. Of course, curriculum planning is MY JAM. Before becoming a mostly stay at home mom (and of course, a full-time SAHM), I wrote curriculum full-time. I designed standards mapping and full-on curriculum for the American education that was taken and implemented in China — I also got to travel all through China where I met with stakeholders in programs, ran training sessions for teachers/administrators, and of course, ate lots of delicious food. (Oh, how I miss the dandan noodles in Wuhan — even Myers&Chang’s aren’t as delicious…)

I was overly excited about this assignment because developing lessons and course materials is something I’ve always enjoyed. Taking a step back from devoting so much of my time and travel to be at home more was the best decision for my family but it was a major adjustment. I still do some curriculum development in a consulting capacity but not nearly as much as I once did. A lot has changed in the last few years (including the addition of our little man) but being back in school has me excited.

Going back to school is a change for everyone in my house. As I worked on this unit plan and was thinking of ways to create ‘student work’ I figured I’d involve the two older kiddos. Each of them made a short FlipGrid on a book they’ve read. I didn’t realize how exciting it would be for them to ‘help’ me with my assignments but my goodness, they wrote out their little descriptions and were so excited to practice; then we watched them six times each afterwards.

As I worked to find an additional nine tech sources for my unit plan, I came across Sutori — this is a really neat presentation tool and I enjoyed playing around with it a bit. I created a couple of presentations on it, one for a lecture and another for ‘student work’. Other technologies I decided to include were Prezi for a piece on student book selection and Animoto for another lecture segment on genre. I also created a Padlet to showcase all of the ‘student work’ — THIS piece was so fun!

Of all the technology I used, the Padlet was my favorite. I was able to showcase the Google Docs, Sutori, and FlipGrids to it and I love the idea of using this on a SMARTBoard for an interactive learning experience. To be honest, this assignment really has me excited to start my journey as a school librarian. It feels like a really fun position to have and is like a content-area teacher but with all of the fun pieces — what could be better?!

Even if I decide to return to the classroom as a content-area teacher, I feel like I’ll have so many more resources to share with students that will help to make learning exciting. This week, 13 had a paper for SOC where she had to design a screen saver for Thomas Jefferson’s phone along with a few phone contacts, Tweets, and text messages. It was similar to an assignment I did with students years ago as we read Romeo & Juliet. I love school tasks that have a sense of humor and really appreciate teachers trying to relate to students. For me, this is something I need to work on more — as discussed in basically every post, technology is not the center focus in my personal life so the adjustment for me is very real. That being said, I’ve been learning that there is some really neat technology out there and I’m excited to try and offer a fresh approach to learning with the students I end up working alongside.