Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rising to the Challenge

This week I was fortunate to join the LMC Directors from Arlington Heights School District 25 at the National Conference for the American Association of School Libraries in Hartford, Connecticut. They are a dynamite group of instructional leaders! They are so passionate about instilling a love of reading and learning in each child and supporting classroom teachers. They understand that students' motivation to learn and take on challenges stems from the children's own questions and curiosities, and that we as educators have the responsibility to strengthen (and be careful not to stifle) those dispositions. Following are some highlights that I learned...

Keynote speaker, Tony Wagner, referenced the research in his book, Creating Innovators. He emphasized the importance of school librarians and educators in teaching and motivating children to become self-directed, innovative, collaborative learners. Children need opportunities to design their own investigations that include asking deep questions, thinking critically, and speaking and writing with voice and reasoning. These skills are vitally important in the workforce and for citizenship. Wagner noted that schools with a culture of innovation and collaboration have a sense of play, passion and purpose. He shared that real learning is built around real, complex problems in an environment where children feel safe taking risks and learning from their failures. Classrooms should not be places where children "sit-and-get."

Many of the workshops emphasized student-directed research aligned with Common Core ELA Standards, beginning in kindergarten. All kinds of helpful strategies were shared so that students can be successful and self-directed in the following aspects of research:
  • Questioning
  • Locating and evaluating print, multimedia, online and human resources
  • Reading informational text
  • Note-taking
  • Writing and revising so that text is clear and coherent, shows evidence, and includes correct grammar and mechanics
  • Making positive connections in a global community
  • 21st Century Skills of collaboration, communication, problem-solving, creativity and innovation
  • Habits of Mind such as persistence, thinking flexibly, striving for accuracy and taking responsible risks

The presenters reminded us that it is okay to focus on a particular aspect of the research process during instruction. In addition to these short, focused lessons, completing a full research process with students once or twice a year using a flex schedule is ideal.

It was emphasized that student research should not be "fact-fetching", but an opportunity for students to analyze and synthesize information. Students should be empowered with choice and responsibility.

Presenter Paige Jaeger shared an awesome template for developing Common Core aligned student-led research that includes a teacher self-assessment.

Kristina Holzweiss shared 25 websites that include access to a variety of informational texts and lesson plan ideas that align with Common Core Standards.

It was a treat to see and hear firsthand childrens' authors Jon Scieszka, Adam Gidwitz, Tony Abbott, Jonathan Auxier, William Alexander & Neal Schusterman talk about boys reading, focusing on fantasy. They expressed the benefit for boys to be able to connect with a main character and experience vicariously problems and journeys that connect with their deepest fears and desires, and ultimately helps them cope with life's challenges. It was also inspiring to learn how these authors incorporated or referenced great classics in order to connect students with the greater body of quality literature.

After attending the AASL conference, I certainly have a deeper appreciation for all our LMC directors do for students and teachers. I am filled with gratitude for all the exciting learning, collaborating, and innovating our children can experience at school. I am also filled with optimism and hope for a bright future that will result from these amazing school experiences.

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