Thursday, March 5, 2020

Even Oprah! Who's story is it? The challenge of a diverse collection

Oprah's recent Book Club pick, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, has raised a firestorm of controversy. The book, published in early 2020, was hailed by the publisher as this generation's Grapes of Wrath and according to Kirkus review "intensely suspenseful and deeply humane, this novel makes migrants seeking to cross the southern U.S. border indelibly individual" The push back came from Latinx authors, activists and journalists who took issue with stereotypes and tropes about Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States.

Exacerbating the outrage at Oprah's choice is the fact that the author Jeanine Cummins was born in Rota Spain and is of Irish descent. In other words, she is telling someone else's story through her dominant culture perspective. Therefore the novel does not have an authentic voice as a person's lived experience. The New York Times article, "Critics of Oprah Book Club Title Put New Novel on Trial"  goes into great detail about the criticism of the book and Oprah's frustration with having to defend her choice. Subsequent to the program organized to allow people to air their concerns and responses Oprah promised to have more Latinx authors represented among her Book Club choices. I'm not convinced that while she called this discussion a seminal moment Oprah and others see how deeply this issue goes in the publishing world.

Our work this year in the Library has focused on the Include Shared Foundation of the AASL National Standards for School Libraries. As we were working on a "crosswalk" of skills and inquiry projects, the blank spaces on our Google Sheets in the "Include" column were glaring. We decided that this would be our focus for the year. We thought we were being intentional about diverse representation in our library collections and instruction. Was that true? How would we even begin? Because just like Jeanine Cummins, I learned that while I can speak about the reasons that someone of another race or culture cannot authentically write about someone else's lived experiences, I too cannot speak as one of those under-represented voices. Once before, I was asked to work with teachers to help them select books for their classrooms and curriculum that did not perpetuate Native American stereotypes. At that time I returned to the best practices in libraries and considered the evaluation criteria we use, looking for the #ownvoices that were so hard to find.

With all of this in mind I decided to do an informal audit of books in the collection to determine if we truly had a diverse collection. The audit is still in process. We are also looking at our collection development policies and book challenge policy to ensure that when these books are in the collection, they remain there in spite of others best efforts to remove them. Back to my earlier point though, the problem is that books with diverse main characters written by diverse authors are still not being published in the numbers that would be representative of the populations we serve. We cannot buy or recommend books that are not there. When the publisher of American Dirt was challenged to develop a division for Latinx writers and books, the response was not to divide the stories but to bring them all forward. Clearly this is still not happening in the numbers that it should.

I certainly do not have all the answers and stumble along knowing that multiple copies of books by Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds, while responsive, does not make for a "diverse" or representative collection. I still have much work to do to put my own collection in order.  I was a bit surprised though to learn that a person with so much power to elevate the discussion, fell into the same trap of believing that anyone in the dominant culture can tell anyone else's story. That, in my opinion, is simply not true.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Self Assessment is not Self-Judgment

As one can tell from the intermittent blog posts this year, I have been challenged to get my thoughts in writing and digitally share them with others. Part of the struggle may be the feeling that every post needs to be my Magnus Opus as opposed to informed thoughts on issues surrounding inquiry-based learning as part of school culture. The self-judgment I bring to the process perpetuates the emotional block to writing that happens when I don't feel as though a post measures up. Recently, in another context, I was listening to a podcast about self-judgment and self-assessment. With the word judgment a defining piece of the first hyphenate, this may seem like it's simply a matter of considering the definition of each word to understand the differences.

In my experience, however, the line is not always that clearly drawn. Self-judgment is negative self-talk and perpetuates a feeling of failure for the person who is reflecting on their work or even just that day. Instead of asking ourselves upon reflection what went right, we typically begin a reflection time with what went wrong as we ask "what would I do differently," implying that our writing or our work for that day wasn't quite good enough. Self-assessment, on the other hand, is honest and curious.  It starts with what went right and leads to many more questions. True self-assessment and reflection can help you think ahead about your next day's goals. It encourages you to think differently about the next steps while committing to doing what you say you will do. We ask students to self-reflect as part of any inquiry process. Shouldn't we also be encouraging them to self-assess and develop habits of honesty, curiosity, and accountability to self?

I was reading another post in which the author stated that many writers of blogs and other shared digital writing feel that their efforts go unread. Well, I realized a while ago that most of my writing on this blog is for me to get ideas and thoughts about our culture of inquiry out of my head and onto ¨paper¨ as it were. I'm not counting on huge numbers of readers. One of the key statements was that posts need to be published routinely so even if you have only one other reader, they will know when to look for the next installment. When months or weeks go by and nothing appears, the small audience you may have cultivated will drift away. There is also value in the discipline of publishing regularly. Therefore, as part of my self-assessment as a writer of this blog, my plan is to keep things simple, be honest and curious during reflection and commit to the discipline and habits of mind that will have me writing and publishing in a timely way: until the next self-assessment.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Diving Right In!

Every day for two weeks after Winter Break, 6th-grade students worked with teachers/facilitators to dig into topics of interest and develop inquiry questions that guided research and project development  in the first Inquiry Deep Dives! The broad topics included Birds and Beasts of Rhode Island. Providence Architecture, Building Bridges (at the Wheeler Farm), Food, Social Justice and Interactive Storytelling. Afternoons were spent in workshops offered by teachers from the Middle and Lower School Divisions introducing the students to technology apps, interviewing techniques, non-fiction writing, orientation to design thinking and more to build their skill sets as they chose issues and creative ideas to develop and share.
Anecdotally and based on responses through the reflections students completed this week, there was a high level of engagement, a feeling of agency especially for those who were able to work with their first choice topic and many who would have liked more time to get the project piece of the process in motion. My experience with Interactive Storytelling was loads of fun! The students who choose this topic are true storytellers! Each challenge was met with determination, creativity, and thoughtfulness.
Through the process, students were asked to choose an inanimate object somewhere in the Middle School Library Commons and give it human characteristics. Students constructed a story around the inanimate object, constantly revising as they were reminded to help us connect to their character. How do you make us care about a hydro flask or a dust bunny? The students work with character and setting and creating a world for their object helped set the stage for the next week.
The topic theme was Interactive Storytelling so students were challenged to create a story in which the audience needed to make choices to determine the outcome for the main characters. This challenge required research as some of the stories were situated in the Middle Ages or in Greek and Roman mythologies. The students were introduced to several different ways to create a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story through Google Forms, Google Slides, Bookcreator or Twine. Each individual or team engaged with the process, challenging themselves to make the stories more complex and illustrative.
Each day of the inquiry dives students were asked to reflect on their work and to set goals for the next day in terms of revising, researching or learning through the workshops which app would work best for their story. We focused on the idea that everyone has a story tell and these students certainly did! I am looking forward to round two of these inquiry dives; we all have more stories to tell!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fake News and the "War of the Worlds" Broadcast, October 30th, 1938

I'm always trying to find new and interesting ways to introduce the idea of News Literacy to 6th graders in their Information Skills classes. Some may feel this is too young to start this conversation. Hopefully, as these 6th graders become more inclined to seek news sources for answers to their questions, and to inform themselves when making civic and political choices, the lessons learned about being aware of "confirmation bias," and  the difference between fact and persuasion will connect for them. As we know, many adults view and read news sources that confirm their perspective or bias and might benefit from some of our work in News Literacy!

This year, in an attempt to make our first foray into "Fake News," fun and engaging, I stumbled upon a lesson plan that was designed for High School students about the broadcast of the "War of the Worlds." On October 30th, 1938, the Mercury Theater on the Air presented a dramatized version of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds. The rest, as they say, is history. Approximately, one million people believed the broadcast. Once the hysteria dissipated and listeners realized that this was a theatrical production on the radio, the questions started about the intention of the network and actors who quite convincingly produced the piece. They claimed to have used accepted "radio techniques" to make the show seem like a news announcement and instead sparked the mass response.

Modifying this lesson for Middle School students, included discussing the historical context of both Nazi Germany looming large in Europe and the uncertainty of the Great Depression making this dramatic piece all the more believable. While I did touch upon the history with the first group of 6th graders with whom I tried this lesson, I wanted them to focus on both the presentation itself and the techniques used to make the "War of the Worlds" so believable. The radio techniques used in the dramatization were:
#1-Prestige of Speakers-When an idea has a better chance of acceptance if endorsed by a well-known person with status.
#2-Radio as an accepted source of important announcements-of local, national and international news events.
#3-Specific incidents-enhanced by descriptions of occurrences that a listener could readily imagine.
#4-Everybody baffled-The events reported proceeded from the relatively credible to the highly incredible

Are these techniques, used 81 years ago to create an authentic-sounding on-air production of a Martian invasion, so different from the techniques used today to create and share questionable news? As we examine these techniques applied to this particular radio incident, students will be encouraged to create their own set of standards through which they can view 21st-century news. The difference between the infamous "War of the World" broadcast and questionable news stories today is that one was meant to entertain using trusted methods, the other is meant to mislead. The challenge is to help our students become better consumers of information delivered through mass media outlets masquerading as news. Why are we so ready to believe news that is questionable? What can we learn from the radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" to become better news consumers? Would we too be persuaded to believe something that is fundamentally untrue? Let's learn from the lessons of the past.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America: The Lowell Experience

One of the rewards of having an inquiry mindset is that you never stop learning or wanting to know more. Knowledge is limitless and enthusiasm for a topic or issue can start with the smallest kernel of interest and grow into something much greater and purposeful. I have a tendency, as I've indicated in previous posts, to start to pull one research thread and end up unraveling much more, piquing my interest along the way and taking me into a deeper dive and in unexpected directions.

When Becca Hunsicker, the 7th-grade history teacher, and I started talking about developing some elements of experiential learning and inquiry for the United States History curriculum, we were focused on the Folklore Fair. This work is ideally suited for inquiry. Students are asked to share a meaningful artifact or heirloom, interview a family member who has a connection to the piece and "dig in" to contextualize the artifact in a period of history. A high level of engagement is built right in. The inquiry focuses on their own family story. The students often find out more than they've ever known about their history and how it shaped their identity.

After visiting the Tenement Museum in New York, I was wondering how we could make the digital storytelling piece of the Folklore Fair part of our own museum and link it to immigration experiences in Providence. We were also trying to get the students in 7th grade out into Providence, learning that history happens every day and everywhere, right at our doorstep. We wanted them to experience the rich resources of the John Brown House, The Rhode Island Historical Society and RISD Museum and prepare them for the larger landscape of the Cityside experience in 8th grade. Then we hoped to move them along the Blackstone River to the Lowell Mills and the Museum of Work and Culture as part of their regional identity.

As we wrestled with a direction in which to take this curricular enhancement and to bring back some of the "place-based" work Becca had done in previous years our focus shifted to the Early National Period and the role Providence, Rhode Island, and New England played in establishing a national identity; keeping in mind the 7th Grade them of "Be the Change."

Wanting to include inquiry-based and experiential learning as well as the immigrant experience, I stumbled upon this rich NEH summer program about Social Movements and Reform in 1830's New England. Thinking I was fairly well versed in the textile mills of New England having grown up in Northeastern Connecticut, this seemed like an opportunity to reinvigorate my interest in how immigrants became the workforce in textile mills and how this work became part of their identity. My own grandparents had come from Canada to be part of the textile industry in the early 20th century. The outsized mill buildings were situated on rivers where the force of the water was transferred as energy to drive the "state of the art technology," producing at its height tens of thousands of yards of cotton cloth.

What I hadn't expected to discover was the cross-disciplinary nature of this learning experience. The social reform movements of the period found a voice among the "mill girls;" young women in their late teens and early twenties, living independently for the first time and becoming a catalyst for change. In a broad sense, the United States, while still in the early stages of forging a national identity, had reached a moment in which reflection and reform could be part of the general discourse. Survival as an individual and as a country were not as urgent as they had been in the previous generations. Due to industrial growth and the nation's economic security in the world, people from all walks of life began to consider the social inequities that persisted in a nation founded ostensibly on equality and freedom.

This experiential learning opportunity provided engaging experiences through literature, art, and science in a way that encouraged me to "dig in" with questions. How did the development of new technologies directly affect the cultures and communities that grew up around new industries? How did the newly formed government encourage innovation and what impact did innovation have on the economy, society, and culture?  How does material culture help tell the stories of history? How did experiential learning influence this inquiry process? As Becca and I continue to develop place-based, experiential and inquiry-based learning opportunities for 7th Grade History students (with major kudos to Becca for the massive scheduling and planning challenge of these museum experiences!) the Summer Scholars work resonates as a rigorous example of how we learn through questioning and hands-on experiences while telling our stories as part of our identity. History is made every day, by everyone. Just ask the "mill girls" who contributed to "Lowell Offering." How did these young women become the voice of a reform movement as they learned to "Be the Change?"

Friday, September 6, 2019

Self-Care, Summer 2019

The August 2019 issue of School Library Journal is filled with editorials and articles about the pressures of contemporary librarianship and the need for self-care. The article "Don't Sacrifice Self-Care" by Idamae Craddock, was very specific to the work of school librarians. I was glad to say I stepped away from writing blogs, thinking about inquiry-based teaching and learning and with the exception of two weeks of curriculum-related work with the 7th grade History teacher, a tech camp, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Workshop, "Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America: The Lowell Experience,"  I took the summer off. I needed time to reflect and answer some questions about the impact of my enthusiasm for IBL and PBL within the school context.
Was I becoming just so much white noise? Were teachers listening politely (or skipping the Division Meetings when I was presenting)? Maybe the time has come for me not to try and push my way to lead and instead respond to those who want to collaborate and work with me. I'm always glad to help teachers align their teaching goals with inquiry. Coupled with this uncertainty upon reflection was the feeling that we once again had to justify some of the library programs for budgets, use of space and other concerns. We are so often required to answer the question, "what goes on in here?" An information and media literacy program that supports inquiry, innovation, and project-based learning and unfettered access to resources that serve N-12 students, parents, and faculty is the answer.
I needed the time with my thoughts and to take care of myself. Long hours of knitting, reading and time with family really helped me disengage for a bit. Traveling to Dublin and spending time in Maine certainly helped. As the article recommends, I set some boundaries, hydrated, left some tasks to be handled at the beginning of school to others, and delegated some work.
Am I ready to start writing regular blog posts with the same passion for IBL that I have felt in years past? Yes. Let's see where the tide takes me. I'm here, and an excellent resource for people who want to think differently about how they teach and how their students learn best. I believe in high levels of engagement asking good questions identifying valuable information sources and creating something new of value to share with the community. This will always be the way I will work with teachers who want to collaborate and embrace an inquiry model and with students who want to ask the questions. Maybe that's enough for now.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The annual report conundrum: data gathering, time for reflection or both?

At the beginning of this school year, as the faculty was engaged in working groups to examine the mission of the school, the schedule needed to support inquiry and project-based learning and assessment tools that align closely with personalized learning pathways, the library department considered this focused work an opportunity to help establish a culture of inquiry. In the spring of the preceding school year during our department retreat, we had looked closely at library learning goals and "skills" and worked to align the teacher collaborative and librarian directed work with the newly published AASL National School Library Standards. This framework is organized through a hierarchy of common beliefs, shared foundations and the learning domains impacted through guided inquiry practices. Leading us to the essential question: "How does our work make a difference in improving teaching and learning and integrate with the school's mission?"

Annual reports are used to tell the story of the school library. In the past we have relied on output measures such as circulation numbers, the number of classes taught, teachers with whom we have collaborated and Libguide or website visitors to inform an audience of decision-makers about the program. What we have come to realize through reflection and feedback is that these measures do not necessarily correlate with our goals of helping students ask good questions, select quality sources, synthesize information and ethically create and communicate new knowledge. We have changed our reporting structure over time to integrate some of the metrics with representational teaching and learning projects that have been collaborative efforts across the divisions.  We have also worked toward a goal of supporting a culture of inquiry, providing professional development, either one to one or in division meetings. What you will see and read in this annual report is a hybrid of these two models. We are using a template that has included artifacts and project descriptions showcasing some collaborative opportunities and shifts toward inquiry and personalization. We will also integrate data where it seems informational in this process.

This annual reflection has given us time to see that we need a shift in our thinking and the data we collect. Just as we are working with teachers to develop inquiry-based classrooms, we need to develop new structures to connect what we value in the inquiry process to the impact the program has on learning. The old metrics don't measure our new goals. In an article by Joyce Valenza, Professor in the MLIS program at Rutgers University, researcher and frequent contributor to ALA journals and blogs, the answer is using the local data all around us, teacher and student feedback concerning their inquiry experience to set goals and "measure" impact. In her experience, she developed focus groups of graduating seniors and asked them what they learned. She shared the questions in her article and used these to identify issues and deficiencies for goal setting and future instruction.

In a modified version, middle school students were asked a range of questions that included how well prepared they felt for the next set of research/inquiry-based learning challenges. While not scientific by any means, patterns emerged in the answers that will guide future instruction through data collection that connects to the library and school's learning priorities. This year's report will include some of these results along with web analytics and other data.  We will continue our professional growth by building our knowledge of the Common Beliefs and foundations of the AASL National School Library Standards in a book club model, reading selected articles from a bibliography specifically designed to dig-in.  Admittedly, the Animoto video and the single page of colorful graphs and charts in their brevity are likely more appealing to administrators and others at the end of another academic year.  However, the year-long analysis of and reflection on how the library program impacts student learning and teacher practice will provide evidence to plan for program growth and inform our own practice to enhance student-centered learning.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Women's History Month: A Nod to Miss Dey

Today is very cold. We are late into the winter doldrums of snowy days. It's been a confusing season weatherwise. With spring beckoning and Daylight Saving time moving us forward an hour on Saturday, it should be warmer,
don't you think? Along with the unexpected winter weather, I've found myself needing to find a "thought partner" to push my practice and re-ignite my enthusiasm for working with faculty colleagues to change the way they see and teach inquiry.  I've found interesting bloggers like the Inquiry Ninja and Cult of Pedagogy. I have read articles about research to inquiry practice "every day in every way," and civic action informed by project-based learning. I am fortunate to have brilliant thought partner-colleagues among the librarians, middle school faculty and inspired administrators.

Yet for the purposes of this mindfulness and re-energizing push, Miss Mary Helena Dey is my thought partner of choice. John Dewey's educational progressivism informed Miss Dey's philosophies of teaching and learning.  While Miss Dey's innovative ideas of how students learn best were developed around individual engagement, the piece that brought her from Chicago to Providence was that Miss Wheeler had a school for girls. From all I've read, she was intrigued by the idea of creating a curriculum in the "light of the newer educational theory and practice with girls as the center of the interest."

Miss Dey led with calm determination spurred on by Miss Wheeler, a devotee of John Dewey, "with his little book School and Society in her library," and the impending Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the school. Each woman was determined to start the next quarter-century situating the curriculum within the newer educational theory and practice. With the faculty in full support, Miss Dey desired to "change the emphasis from many hours a week of teaching to hours for the girls to learn for themselves and bring their findings to class discussions" She intrinsically understood the value of the constructivist classroom, she also understood that girls should have access to a school that promoted this "new school" theory of teaching and learning. Wheeler was not to be a "world apart" for each girl, "but one where she shared in the outside world and where learning was regarded not as a matter of compartments labeled but all as a part of an enriched living experience."

Miss Dey's essay in the Half a Century of Girls, a tribute collection of memories, reveals a woman who, even years later, did not doubt the course of change she designed when she first came to Wheeler to be the Head of School. She knew to use the word "progressive" cautiously while moving the curriculum toward a personalized and rigorous learning opportunity. I admire her conviction, her ability to persuade people to join her in this revolutionary experiment in New England and her easy acceptance of an educational philosophy that was at times controversial. I always find Miss Dey to be a challenging and steady thought partner. She had such clarity in her vision for the school and for a broadened curriculum that enriched the experiences and life-long learning of the girls; even, I would imagine, on cold snowy New England days.  Thank you, Miss Dey.

Friday, March 1, 2019

National Day of Unplugging March 1-2.

Yesterday, February 28th, was cold and snowy. Many schools in Connecticut where I live had a two-hour delay. And while we at Wheeler did not, I always appreciate the late start time for others, making my commute that much smoother and less congested. The roads were very clear with the exception of some city streets so my drive was uneventful for our first all snow event of the winter. The Library Learning Commons was a bit chilly but soon the heat kicked on and the warmth started to permeate the room. Part of my morning opening routine is turning on the monitors, all connected wirelessly through casting devices and on a school-wide network. As one and then the next clicked on, the message, "connection failed, no networks available" colorfully leaped on to the screens. Thinking, at first that this might just be the wireless hub in the Learning Commons I checked in with a few folks and learned that the entire wireless network was down. The Tech Department was in full troubleshooting and repair mode. Our students with 1:1 devices, work routinely in Gsuite and utilize other apps for specialized learning.

How, then was I going to move from an online lesson to a real-life workspace in anticipation of 6th graders arriving for Information Skills? They were expecting to work on an online challenge about civic action. Admittedly, my first thought was, "this is surprisingly calm," even with classes on their way and no real plan. Not feeling the constant pull of checking emails gave me time to focus on re-working the lesson. My second thought was, "what am I going to do?" Much of our own collection has moved to a digital platform so unless I could find hard copies of books and magazines to support this dive into civic action and service learning we were likely going to have free reading time. This is always a fine option and with the Quahog Cup Challenges a little over a month away, I'm sure the students would have made the most of the time. One of the sections though will be heading to the farm quarter soon so we needed to keep moving forward with the scaffolding for civic action research. Digging back through my own files I stumbled on some lessons and articles I had printed out about social action, civil action, and service learning. While we as educators often use the terms interchangeably they are not the same. They do however require the same three steps once an issue or topic is chosen, be informed, speak up and take action!

Even with our digital collections, we still receive some print magazines. Yesterday, I was very grateful for our small but exciting collection. In the magazine, New Moon for Girls, there was an article called "Clean Water Fighters," highlighting the work of girls ages 10-12 who are actively seeking to change this environmental health issue that is urgent. Not only does the article showcase their passion and fearlessness, but it also provides specific action steps, "we talk to reporters, we go door to door, we support people and organizations working for the people of Flint." The girls' advice; to do simple things routinely to bring about change. This issue of the magazine included additional stories of civic action by school-aged girls ranging from neighborhood and community to global concerns.

After making a few copies of each article, setting out pieces of chart paper on tables along with new markers (other than new crayons is there anything better?) and a set of simple directions, I was ready for the 6th graders! Much to my surprise, many came in and were excited to see the paper and markers! They were equally happy to realize we wouldn't be using Chromebooks for this class. The three simple directions were 1-along with your table mates choose one of the articles and read together, mark it up, write in the margins, write two questions you have about the topic/issue and about the challenges faced by the students. Brainstorm possible issues of interest that require action, 2-identify and organize the issues by communities of concern; your school or neighborhood, the nation, or the world, 3-identify two topics with which you might engage and learn more and possibly be inspired to act.

Each piece of chart paper collected the visual thinking of the table groups. Some were color-coded, others collected and organized their thoughts in various geometric shapes. others made long lists of ideas and actions. All were engaged with each other and their work. Those who finished the first three steps were asked to brainstorm some actions 6th graders could take.  Table groups shared their ideas and every student had a chance to see that people in middle school make a difference and take action every day. As the class ended, there was an excited buzz about civic action!

Later in the day, the network came back up (thank you Tech Department). It was a little bittersweet. Clearly, whatever upset the network didn't take into account that today from sundown until tomorrow at sundown is actually the National Day of Unplugging! I think I may just try that.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Inspired by Dewey, Uniquely Dey

Last year during a Board of Trustees retreat, our Head of School, Allison Gaines Pell, connected Wheeler's vibrant past to its dynamic future through research about the founders of The Wheeler School and their educational philosophies. Using memorable ideas and quotes as a framework, Allison guided the Board of Trustees, Division Directors, and a number of faculty to engage with the challenging and exciting task of developing a forward-thinking path for Wheeler. What was intriguing to learn is that by following a path toward student-centered learning experiences of inquiry and innovation we were fostering the belief of Miss Wheeler and second Head of School Mary Helena Dey "that all real teaching must concern itself with individuals" (Carmichael).

How had these early women leaders of Wheeler developed a learning experience for young women that celebrated their individuality while preparing them for college and life in the wider world? Among the essays, newspaper articles, as well as tributes in our School Archives, the answer was found in the work of Miss Dey "who effectively brought about reforms in which she was interested. She did not just talk about them"(Carmichael). A very astute Miss Wheeler, inspired by Dewey's work as something "quite revolutionary," recruited Miss Dey to her new progressive school in Providence with an opportunity to plan a school life "in the light of newer educational theory and practice, with girls as the center of interest." Miss Dey left her graduate studies and deanship at University High School in Chicago and with Miss Wheeler's endorsement and a "free hand with the educational planning of the school" followed her own unique ideas incorporating the best of the "new movement" of John Dewey with her own emerging philosophies of education. As a result, Wheeler School came "to stand for something soundly new in the East"(Dey 17). According to Miss Dey" in reorganizing the school, we set before us the goal of making it not a world apart, but a real world with the world and in contact with the world "(19).

Working closely with the faculty, Miss Dey orchestrated changes that are still part of the DNA of Wheeler and make a clear connection to the metacognitive and constructivist qualities embedded in the current strategic innovation initiatives of the school. Miss Dey faced some of the challenges of broadening the curriculum, modification of the schedule to create “ a very uncramped sort of school day and a course of study which made room for keeping alive special interests which vivified all of a student’s intellectual life” and “infusing all work with new interest.” Miss Dey, who died September 7, 1949, was an intellectual and brilliant educator who manifested progressive ideas in an individualized curriculum that prepared young women for college and the world. Mary Helena Dey believed that “life in a school has to a marked degree the element of continuity, the past is gathered about us and we are constantly and readily looking into the future” and that “the spirit within which we seek knowledge and share our findings gives life to our learning” (Dey 23).

Blosser, Myra H. "Alcott was right about his friend Mary C Wheeler: for she did prove an unusual teacher at the school here." Providence Sunday Journal (Providence), April 9, 1939, 2-3.

Carmichael, Leonard. Memorandum, "Mary Helena Dey; a brief appreciation," n.d. Mary Helena Dey #2 1920-1940. Wheeler School Archives. Wheeler School, Providence.

Dey, Mary Helena. "The Second Quarter of the Century." 1939. In Half a Century of Girls 1889-1939, 17-23. Providence, RI: The Mary C Wheeler School, 1939.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Getting what you wish for...

In September, fully recharged and anxious to talk about Inquiry-Based Learning and collaboration, I met with the 6th-grade team. Over the past several years 6th graders have taken part in an Information Skills class that incorporates media literacy, news literacy, online source evaluation and dabbling with Guided Inquiry through picture book biographies. These accessible biographies were used as the research catalyst for students as they engaged with the process of formulating questions, determining information needs and sources, digging deeper and synthesizing ideas to share new learning.
The team decided that the last quarter on campus for each homeroom would integrate the InfoSkills practices with a PBL/IBL project that would lead to protest or activism. In December I was excited to meet with the 6th Grade Team again to talk about what this might look like. We met in the Library Learning Commons during one of the Focus on Inquiry times and produced this document.
We believe that failing forward is an option in IBL and PBL especially when it comes to student inquiry practice helping students to set new goals and learning challenges for themselves. Educators recognize that learning happens even when things don't work out as planned. Through reflection on their learning throughout the process and recognizing where they struggled and where they met with success students learn a great deal about themselves. I also know that if my colleagues do not see this collaboration as value added they will be reluctant to commit the time for the inquiry/project again. I have seen great and highly engaging projects downsized or disappear for a number of reasons. For many, it has been the time commitment and if the project is seen as integral to the curriculum and the students' learning.  This is totally understandable for the point of view of the classroom teacher.
 If IBL is to be explored the traditional teaching conventions framed by rigid schedules, teacher control of the process, and assessment can de-rail a teacher's enthusiasm for this challenge. IBL and PBL cannot comfortably be shoe-horned into traditional structures.  So how do we make this work?  First and foremost educators' understanding of collaboration, as opposed to collegiality, is important. In a collaborative effort, the lead teacher will view their co-teachers full partners including in the assessment stage.  A digital portfolio of learning artifacts may help decentralize the responsibilities for assessing the students' work.  When considering IBL or PBL the learning happens continuously and over time and is not readily summed up in a single letter or number grade. All of the learning artifacts including notes, information sources, conferences, goal setting documents, and planning calendars will make the final product/project much richer and will be part of the final assessment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Finding Traction with Professional Development II: Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-Based Learning and its near cousins of Project-Based and Problem-Based Learning have been well researched and implemented in schools around the world for the better part of a decade.

My most memorable experience with the concept of Inquiry-Based Learning as something separate from the "research process" started about eight years ago when I began coursework for a Master's in Education. I recall a teacher at the Annie Fisher STEM Magnet school saying "everything starts with a question." The mission of the Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School in Hartford is to empower students to be "effective innovators and communicators who can creatively solve problems and compete as responsible global citizens." All disciplines in the school are expected to help students develop the habits of learning that would support the school's mission and to work on cross-discipline teams to plan and implement IBL and PBL. Recently, the Hartford Public Schools have developed a Boundless program that integrates the Public Libary services with school programs to take full advantage of the YouMedia lab, internet access and more. The first HPL Branch in a school opened at the Sarah J Rawson Elementary school this fall. Hartford Public Schools developed these STEM, magnet, and community school models to address the racially, educationally and economically diverse populations they serve.

Why Now?
The why question at Wheeler may well be, why now? Though not the "driving force" behind this deep dive into Inquiry, ubiquitous 1:1 technology certainly opened the door to this model over five years ago in terms of integrating the use of technology into the student learning process and placing information once deliverable only by the teacher, into their hands. Even more, reaching back to the vision of our founder Mary C Wheeler, we've established a course for the future "to learn our powers and be answerable for their use." This mission, if I am interpreting this correctly, means that student-centered learning needs to be at the core of all the teaching and learning in the classroom as we help students recognize their power and take responsibility for it as citizens of the school, community, and the world. How will we effectively serve the mission? Students will need all of the habits of learning mentioned earlier and a sense of wonder and engagement.  The school is dedicated to helping each student find their power and become a citizen of their community and the world, then The level of student engagement is an integral factor in this model of learning. According to the research, it is an imperative criterion for success. .” It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about “ (Lahey).

The most immediate and concrete answer to "why now" is CitySide.
For those who don't know, this is a PBL(IBL) learning initiative for 8th-grade history which will begin in the fall of 2019. The driving question behind such an initiative is how do we develop creative and intellectually curious citizens of the world and personalize this learning through connections with the broader community? This initiative is broad in scope and will call on all of the skills mentioned earlier that we value as educators as well as many that will be challenging for students such as planning, self-management, self-reflection, collecting evidence of learning, perseverance, synthesizing information and data and sharing with audiences beyond the classroom or school. 

What is one driving question you have about Inquiry-Based Learning? Write it on this Padlet 
Made with Padlet

What does the research show?

I guess my point is, the benefits of inquiry-based learning have been well researched, implemented and part of the educational landscape for a decade or more in the United States and in many other countries. It has been around so long that IBL has been parsed in several ways to include levels of inquiry, the question formulation technique, online inquiry, personal digital inquiry models and more. The research is replete with how IBL teaches habits of learning that most educators agree we value including, critical thinking, creativity, asking good open-ended questions (QFT), problem-solving, working with others, self-reliance, self-management, and perseverance. The research also shows that content knowledge is not enough to foster these habits of learning.

Ethical, engaged, and creative citizens of our school, community, and world

These are dispositions of learning that are not easily acquired without the chance to practice them before the students encounter an intellectually challenging program like Cityside.  These habits of thinking and learning through authentic student questions, open-ended conclusions, critical thinking, comprehension, and synthesis must be routinely incorporated into meaningful inquiry and problem-solving opportunities. Moving beyond the "why now" question we come to the "how are we going to do this?" part of the journey.

What does IBL look like?  There are books and articles published over the last decade written about Inquiry-Based Learning and what it looks like. Trevor Mackenzie has written two easily accessible books with concrete ideas to move students toward an Inquiry Mindset and guide teachers through the sometimes confusing work of developing an inquiry practice that is not an add-on at the end of a unit of study but is the curriculum, the unit of study with all of its contingent assessment practices. The Buck Institute, leading proponents of project-based learning acknowledges that too much emphasis on the product or simply finishing out a semester with an add-on is not PBL and not valuable to student learning.PDI ModelFacilitating Inquiry-Based Learning (Alberta,2004)

Before we can effectively re-imagine our work with Inquiry, we should reflect on what we are doing presently that supports this model.  What are we doing in classrooms now to create space for curiosity and creativity? Some of these practices include:
Ask Questions QFT Open and Closed

Allowing 5-10 minutes every day to practice asking questions (very challenging for students)
As a group activity, have students generate questions together or build off of each other's questions
Understand the difference between open and closed questions
Find and evaluate information needs, sources
Compare prior knowledge to what they want to know and then what they learned
Use elbow partners to share what they learned
Discuss where to find sources, how to make sure they are helpful and accurate, give credit
Construct a new understanding, examine what they know, need to know, learn (KWL)
Opportunities to draw conclusions about questions and hypotheses
Sharing Learning with an audience
Provide students with an opportunity to seek feedback from an audience
Allow students to select a specific audience for an assignment
Communicating their learning
Express new ideas to share learning with others
Explore multiple ways to present information
Ask students to think about what they are proud of in their work
Have students write about one thing they would do differently next time
Ask new questions

Discuss the practices in the Inquiry process listed above. Which elements of the inquiry model do you routinely incorporate and feel most confident about in your current teaching practice? Write it on a post-it and put add it to the chart paper grid. What would you like to add to your practice?

How do we move from mini-bursts of inquiry to Inquiry-Based Learning and the full arc of Inquiry?

Through a scaffolded approach to inquiry, Trevor Mackenzie demonstrates how to gradually increase student agency over learning while providing learners with the necessary skills to be successful in their inquiry.
For next time: take a moment to think about an inquiry practice that does not come at the end of a unit of study but is the unit of study. How might that look, how should it be scaffolded in the process? Should it be Structured, Guided or Free Inquiry? Who would you want to work with in terms of a Learning Team and interdisciplinary teachers on your team and other resources? Use Flipgrid to respond and record your responses.

Works Cited
Lahey, Jessica. "To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions." New York Times, 4 May 2016, Accessed 29 Jan. 2019.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Finding Traction with Professional Development I: Building a Culture of Inquiry

My goal is to build a Professional Learning Community of "school professionals who continuously seek to find answers through inquiry and act on their learning to improve student learning" (Ruebel). Just as with our students, the level of engagement with a relevant issue is directly proportional to the individual's connection to the issue and their desire to dig deeper, learn more, and whenever possible dive into a challenging practice or create new and innovative learning opportunities.

As we work to give students agency in their own learning, faculty need to have agency in their professional development as well, making it self-directed, exploratory, collaborative and non-judgmental. In other words, when incorporating IBL and PBL into the classroom, risk, reward and sometimes failure are all options. These same concepts that make IBL and PBL exciting are also among the obstacles for developing a Culture of Inquiry or a Deep Learning School. (School

I worked on a change management plan over the summer that sent me down this path of professional development through Learning Communities. I have continued to dig in and read as part of a PLN (Personal Learning Network), not a PLC. To create a culture of inquiry, we must satisfactorily answer the "why should we shift our teaching to IBL/PBL?" question. How do we ensure teachers recognize what inquiry looks like, how it differs from the old project model and its real benefits for learning compared to practices that have worked for some learners in the past?  We are challenged to make professional development relevant and engaging. The research and writing about IBL and PBL over the past decade has been prolific. From theory to practice these pedagogies have been examined from all sides. Entire educational industries have grown up around the concept of student-directed, teacher facilitated learning and include some groups with whom we have engaged like the Buck Institue Education and NuVu.

For an upcoming Middle School Divison meeting, I have been asked to create a learning opportunity about IBL that will be meaningful for the faculty, most of whom are in very different places on the spectrum of recognizing, embracing and integrating IBL and PBL in their teaching practice. With all of this information about IBLcluttering my brain and a strong personal commitment to being instrumental in developing a culture of inquiry, I've once again reached my own very real challenge of producing something meaningful and communicating it effectively while still being most comfortable in the information gathering stage. Now to put theory and ideas into practice

I do feel that I know the audience fairly well. And if I've learned anything over these past few months of working with teachers as they add choice, question formulation, reflection and authenticity to their "projects," it is that some are ready to dive in and replace existing "curriculum" with a rich deep dive into a topic, others would prefer small "hacks" (School ReTool) that  are moving in the direction of IBL/PBL and still others are in the "this is what's driving me crazy about all of the IBL talk."

With all of that said, how do I make this forty-five minute examination of IBL effective for professional learners who are at very different places in this process? This is really the same challenge teachers face with a classroom full of students. Some are at the end of the diving board ready to dive in, completely comfortable with asking their own questions, defining their information needs, making meaning out of all they learn and communicating effectively through different mediated forms while others are still in the locker room, needing to be guided through the multiple steps and rigorous challenges to get to the diving platform.  We also know that we would not send students out to the tip of the diving board without having coached them to the skill sets they will need to be successful. How should this professional development look? Read the next blog post with a framework for teacher agency and inquiry.

Ruebel, K. K. (2012, January). Professional Learning Communities [Blog post]. Retrieved from Association of Middle Level Education website:

School Retool