"Making Library Assignments Come Alive"|
Cynthia Mae Helms *
Why talk about library assignments?
2. Increasing amount of information.
3. Changing modes of information access - 94% of students 12-17 years old with
access to the Web use it for research, with 70% citing it as their main source of
information for school projects. ( Everhart, 2003)
4. New audience, new students, students who don't understand what we mean
when we say you sound like a broken record, students who may know more
about technology than their teachers or librarians.
5. Greater need to counteract plagiarism.
6. Librarians play important role in information literacy
7. Teacher-collaboration increases students' test scores - (Everhart, 2003;
Problems of Traditional Assignments
discussing resources beyond school, or research methods.
2. Product over process - too much emphasis on finished product;
little reward places on process, evidence that student understood the process,
sources select ed, determination of the most useful evidence.
Need to challenge students to determine best mode of presentation
for given audience.
3. Inadequate skills in information gathering and processing - students do not
understand basic browsing skills for print and electronic collections, or
potential use of indexes and abstracts, or need to identify key terms and
Processing requires modeling and practice.
They need to extract facts, opinions, arguments, and examples that eventually
build into evidence.
4. Little interest - a good assignment creates question in student's mind that
s/he wants to answer. "Student interest is key to successful project."
5. Associated not integrated - make it central to the course, use multiple
resources and critical choices in information selection, push the demands for
resources beyond those in the school.
6. Overly emotional - A topic is so emotional that students begin not with
investigation and reflection but with simplistic conclusions that they
attemped to "prove."
They make no attempt to evaluate resources found.
In such cases there is a need to give greater emphasis to several stages in
information gathering and frequent class discussions of resources and
evidence to help students be more open to different opinions.
Students should be placed in position to voice and defend a variety of
perspectives along the way.
7. Lengthy - must provide graded "checkpoints" designed to bring students along
in the process.
8. Little time for guidance - class taken to media center with minimal or no
preparation usually during exploratory phase of research process.
9. Split roles - teacher as assigner and media specialist as resource finder.
Worse: assignment is made without consulting library media specialist.
10. Up-front library orientation - library instruction with no follow-up lessons or
15-minute sessions every other day more profitable than 60minute heavy
11. Final product not seen by librarian - media specialist should know what
resources were used, should new items be added to the collection, were
resources used correctly, student not challenged to use wider variety of
12. Little or no audience for final product - students need feedback from peers,
community, experts, etc. (Callison, 2000)
Characteristics of a Good Library Assignment
2. Encourages creativity and active learning.
3. Matches and challenges learner's level of skills, needs, interests.
4. Recognizes that information is valid from any format.
5. Seek all avenues for locating relevant, precise, and authoritative information.
6. Shift from information location to information use.
Students should be able to - develop their own questions and construct their own
meaning - compare, describe, process, justify, solve, and
personalize information - make decisions based on facts, recency, and authority.
7. Applies or utilizes technology.
8. Pushes against plagiarism.
9. Collaborative and cross-curriculum. (Lowe, 2000; Callison, 2000)
Independent Investigation Method - Focus on goal-setting!
What does it look like?
How does it eat?
2. Goal-setting - Playful way of goal setting is to have a pair of dice
Dice 1: who, what, where, when, why, how
Dice 2: might, would, can, will, did, is
3. Research and information gathering skills
5. Goal evaluation
10th grade history class in New Hampshire researched historic buildings with the help of school and town librarians in their own area and turned their findings into a walking tour brochure for their town's 300th anniversary celebration.
First-graders in a New-Hampshire class studied an
African country: teacher writes questions on chart
paper and note facts on sentence strips. At the same
time, advance readers work with librarian to
research maps and weather. They combine their
knowledge to produce quilt, play, and original song.
(Nottage and Morse, 2001)
2. Engage students in process of seeking and using information - resources go beyond textbook, often used primary sources and interviewed community members, data gathered enabled them to construct meaning for the solution to their problem.
3. Hands-on learning, minds-on learning - students created surveys, devised strategies to collect information, and determined best means of communicating information to others.
4. Real audience - students targeted readers and listeners.
5. Students assisted by sharing questions, making decisions, determining method of transmitting information, and assessing.
6. Teacher functions as coach, facilitator, and monitor.
Instead of a written report on insects, kindergarten class did a two-minute video newscast on the danger of a particular insect.
Instead of worksheets and test on nutritious diet, the 8th graders surveyed their fellow students regarding foods they enjoyed, researched dietary needs of adolescents, and designed menus for the school lunch program.
Instead of studying water quality by doing lab and completing a
lab report, the 10th grade biology students who were concerned about pond
shrimp in the anchialine ponds on the island of Hawaii collected data at
the site, analyzed their data, and presented findings to the Dep. Of Land
and Natural Resources. (Harada and Kim, 2003)
- Capability to do important work, and need to be taken seriously by putting them
at the center of learning process.
2. The project is central to the curriculum.
- Engages students in central concepts and principles of a discipline.
3. Issues lead students to in-depth exploration of authentic and important topics.
4. Requires use of essential tools and skills, including technology
- for learning, self-management, and project management.
5. Specifies products that solve problems.
- explain dilemmas, or present information generated through investigation,
research, or reasoning.
6. Includes multiple products
- permit frequent feedback and consistent opportunities for students to learn
7. Uses performance-based assessments (rubrics)
- communicate high expectations, present rigorous challenges, and require
a range of skills and knowledge.
8. Encourages collaboration
- in some form, either through small groups, student-led presentations,
or whole-class evaluations of project results.
The Edible Schoolyard on the campus of the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California is the home of a curriculum-based program where students prepare and eat their own organically grown, healthy lunch.
Laptops on Expedition. Helen King Middle School in Portland, Maine has adopted the Expeditionary Outward Bound model of personalized, project-based learning. At least twice a year, students who stay with the same group of teachers for two years undertake 4-12-week interdisciplinary projects. They incorporate art, science, language arts, and computer technology. The state of Main provides all 7th and 8th graders with iBook laptop computers. The culminating event comes in different forms: performance of an original play, a geology kit, a CD-ROM, a book, a video, an aquarium, a CD-narrative of Whitman's "O Captain, My Captain," a book of immigrant stories, a guide to shore life at Casco Bay, original music composition and production, documentaries on learning with laptops, a claymation video explaining Newton's laws, and Web site on pollution.
Geo-Literacy: Forging New Ground at Tolenas School in California. Geo-literacy as defined by the teacher Eva La Mar is "use of visual learning and communication tools to build an in-depth learning (or literacy) of geography, geology, and local history." Their object of study was the Rush Ranch in Suisun, California in the San Francisco Bay area. The Suisun Marsh was once a Native American village than the working ranch of a settler Hiam Rush and now it is owned by the Solano County Farmlands and the Open Space Foundation. The class is gathering digital photos, video footage, audio and written interviews to create an informational multimedia web site. Essential question: Why is the preservation of Rush Ranch important? They were subdivided into 3 study groups and would facilitate cross-curriculum learning: the Native Americans who live in the marshlands, the blacksmith's shop that stands on the property, and the plants and animals that live in the marshlands. They used planning sheets: Questions to Ask, Panoramic Checklist, and Photographer's List. Cross-cultural aspects: geology, geography, a study of plants and animals, research and writing skills. Each student uses an AlphaSmart portable keyboard to type up findings. La Mar's school allows teachers to check out a classroom set of Alpha Smarts (32 in all). Students take turns connecting their keyboards to the room's five desktop computers and watch their writing appear onscreen in a Word document which form the backbone of the students' web writing.
Assessment is by rubrics (Group Workday Rubric and Writing Rubric) and mini-lesson plans.
involve me and I understand.
2. Focuses on using and learning content as means to develop information-
processing and problem-solving skills.
3. Focuses on determining progress of skills development in addition to
4. Encourages students to search and use resources beyond classroom and
5. Can use technology to connect students with local and world communities
which are rich resources of learning and learning materials.
6. Lesson plans are replaced with learning plans that account for slight deviations
while keeping important learning outcome in focus.
7. Meet questions with :"How do you suggest we investigate that question?"
Grades 4-5 Decomposition Unit. Week 1: work with students to gather soil from schoolyard and dissect the soillooking for and listing ingredients. Week 2 - sketch observations in nature using descriptive language. Week 3 - Observe decomposing materials in plastic bags and raise discussion questions. Week 4 - Field exploration to find examples of decomposition and signs of decomposes. Week 5 - Discuss how questions for exploration will be chosen, investigations managed, and students grouped. Make miniature compost pile or forest floor using 2-liter bottles. Set up investigations, make sketches in science journals, and add recording sheets for data collection. Week 6-9 - Faithful recording of observations. Week 10 - Discuss findings and raise questions. Examine role of earthworm as decomposer, look up books, and research naturalists' and scientists' research techniques. Week 11 - Make sense of the investigations, communicate findings, and reflect on investigation process. Apply what they have learned by studying what their city/town does with its waste; set up model waste system; and develop a school compost program to create rich compost for a garden.
Inertia through Inquiry: Fifth grader in Fogelsville Elementary School in Allentown, Pennsylvania learned inertia through stacking a pile of books on a chair, roll it fast, and stop it. They see the books fly.
Mystery Substances: Second and third graders in Ardmore Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington studied the substances in a county park. They raised questions such as: What does it feel? How does it smell? What does it look like? What is the texture?
Select 5 accomplishments of the person you have researched and produce a
Hall of Fame poster based on those accomplishments.
Dramatize exciting event in time period you researched: why is this event the
best one for dramatization?
Is your choice influenced by your interest, skills, audience, resources, time,
Can this presentation be best accomplished as a newscast? Dance? Play?
Compare your lifestyle and neighborhood to those people living in the time
period you researched.
Act as an attorney and argue to punish or acquit a given historical character.
Invite 3 famous scientists to dinner and predict what they are likely to discuss
over the meal.
Transform conversation from original historical context to modern context.
Propose an ethical code for political campaigning and finance. (Callison, 2000)
Other Creative Examples
Collaboration: the key to successful modern assignments
How can strong collaborative relationships be developed with
2. Be acquainted with the curriculum and the instructional materials.
3. Familiarize yourself with the school's strategic plan.
4. Acquaint yourself with the accrediting agency.
5. Think a step ahead - prepare statistics, develop a wish-list, anticipate
6. Talk, walk, and own your mission.
7. Support and conduct action research.
8. Educate the educators.
9. Network, network, network with principal, teachers, colleagues, public libraries,
educational systems and networks.
10. Remember: Collaboration is based on shared goals, shared vision, and a climate
of trust and respect. (Muronaga and Harada, 1999; Bush, 2003)
Presented by Cynthia Mae Helms - Head: Information Services
Andrews University - firstname.lastname@example.org at the
24th ASDAL Conference, School Library Section - Florida Hospital - Orlando - June 20, 2004