Month: November 2018

Leaning into the Chaos with Social Literacy

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Dream Collaborations

I have a team of true collaborators among the English IV teachers at my school. They invited me to be part of their brainstorming for an upcoming unit a few weeks ago, looking for a way to “re-make” the annotated bibliography and research proposal into something that engages students, not only in research, but in true student-guided inquiry.  Social justice was the topic on the table for this unit’s exploration, but the teachers were tired of the same old topics and surface-level digests of mediocre source information they received from student’s in the past.  

I started my teacher inquiry interviews with the same three questions I ask all of my instructional partners:

  •  What are your goals for students?  What do you want them to be able to do, independently, in a new and unfamiliar situation?
    • We want our students to demonstrate they can understand and empathize with someone not like them; we want them to evaluate information they find in different types of source (web, academic, personal, etc) and synthesize the information to create something new that demonstrates how their own thinking has changed.
  • What evidence do you need to see from students to know if they met these goal?
    • A list of their sources with critical annotations demonstrating their evaluation and analysis of information
    • A reflection of their own journey including insights and critical moments where they came to understand something new about the world and themselves.
    • A product or demonstration that shows how they can empathize with another viewpoint or perspective
  • What types of learning experiences can you imagine that would support students in reaching these goals?
    • Collaborative
    • open-ended
    • analytical, focusing on evaluating and analyzing information

With the team’s answers from these three big, little questions I was able to pull together resources I’d been gathering from Media Literacy Week and Brittanica Digial Learning’s Blog series “Fight the Fake” written by librarian Tiffany Whitehead.  These resources included videos to engage students in the topics, resources, lessons, and activities to teach students to be critical consumers of information and to be armed with the skills needed to combat the effects of fake news and misinformation in the media.   Armed with new resources, I created a rough learning plan designed around Guided Inquiry Design (GID) (Kulthau and Maniotes)

Guided Inquiry Design 

The team indicated they wanted students to gather a wide, diverse collection of information from both popular and scholarly resources. So we began with gallery walk of videos that introduced students to the topics surrounding misinformation to prepare them to evaluate sources later on in their inquiry.  To support their critical and analytical thinking skills, we taught students how to use Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Question stems to scaffold their thinking about complex topics. 

Media Literacy Gallery Walk

Misinfo Nation

Our exploration began with a video that posed many relevant questions surrounding the impact misinformation is having on democracy.  

“In a world where it feels like our opinions are so different from one another, leaning into that chaos might actually be what leads us to a better understanding of the landscape we live in.”

In this video by Mozilla, we engaged students in the questions:

  • What is media literacy?
  • How does media shape what and how I think?
  • What opportunities does media provide us to understand one another better?
  • What barriers does media present that perpetuate divisiveness and intolerance?

As they traveled around stations students, watched a brief video from this media literacy playlist and created DOK leveled questions in response to the ideas.

Students used the questions they generated from the video gallery walk in an inner-outer circle discussion20181108_104938

Our Takeaways

Students were uncomfortable in this type of discussion where their questions, not their reasoning, were the most important contribution they had to offer.  They had become well-adapted at arguing their points to one another to “win” discussions.  In their discomfort, we saw opportunity.  Throughout the upcoming inquiry, students will be forming groups based on broad topics relating to social justice.  Their success will depend upon their ability to “lean in” to the social chaos and to one another as they form questions and seek diverse perspectives.  

Continuing the Exploration

Next in the social literacy inquiry– developing empathy and forming a Circle of Viewpoints with Time’s Guns in America.

Witnessing Community: Dias de los Muertos in the Library

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Some things we do as librarians take weeks, months, even a full year to prepare.  We set goals, execute action steps, undergo action research, and relentlessly search for collaborative opportunities with teachers and leaders.  These efforts result in varying degrees of success when measured by the impact they have directly on students.

Some things we do as librarians are unplanned for, spontaneous, and happen because we are in the right place at the right time–these are the things that often have the most impact on students.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a meeting with a department head and our principal to discuss ways we might highlight the innovation happening in our classes to celebrate the work of teachers and students.  This is my second year as librarian at my school after being a curriculum coordinator for three years in the district, and I’m aware that I am seen as a change-maker, an innovative teacher and leader.  I’m grateful that my leadership recognizes my strengths and invites me to such conversations.

At the end of this meeting as I stood up to leave, the department head asked to speak with my principal about a campus-wide event the Spanish Club wanted to sponsor for Day of the Dead.  I delayed and listened in the doorway.  As the sponsor described the cultural significance of Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the ritual ofrenda (altar for memorial in honor of loved ones who passed away), I could start to picture it all happening as she described…in the library.

I apologized for eavesdropping and offered the library as a safe, nurturing environment for the ofrenda to be created.  We discussed inviting faculty members and students to leave notes and mementos in remembrance.  And that was the start of one of the most magical weeks I’ve had as a school librarian.


Spanish Club and art students collaborated to create the amazing decorations.  They colored sugar skulls, created skeletons, and turned the entrance to the library into a  bright and cheerful altar.  Electronic media students created original digital art that we displayed on the flat panel TV next to the ofrenda.


The Spanish teachers brought their students down for story time and to share stories of their loved ones.  Teachers stopped by to leave photographs and share stories, and for as many of them as I could I listened and witnessed their offering, crying with them as their hearts ached and laughing alongside them as they told their favorite stories.   On this day dedicated to celebrating the lives of the dead there was more life in the library than I’d ever witnessed.



A week after the celebration I was invited (once again by my principal—do you see a trend here?) to speak with her student executive council and provide updates about the library.  I took this as an opportunity to interview students about the environment of the library.  Using the new Texas School Library Standards, I wanted to gather feedback about the renovations and overall programming that has made an impact on their experience with the library.  When asked about programs that stood out in their minds as having promoted school community and culture, they all wanted to talk about Dias de los Muertos and the ofrenda.

My 30 second delay made more of an impact on students than some of the programs that took me 30 days to plan and put together.  The lesson here…listen and lean in when opportunities present themselves to you to build upon the rich cultural heritage and community of your school.  Being a witness has the greatest impact.