Monthly Archives: February 2011

Class Reflection-Book Clubs and Socratic Seminar

The focus of this class was talking about the expectations for our book club assignment and hearing what libraries do for book clubs and lots of discussion about Socratic seminars. The guest speaker from the Ann Arbor District Library talked about two rather different worlds of book clubs, the book kits and sponsored book clubs of the AADL and a private librarian only book club that works more with themes and what’s going on in YA and teen literature. It cemented for me what makes a book club really work is having something that gets people talking and that the job of the facilitator is knowing how to keep things moving.

All of the discussion about Socratic seminars was fascinating because a lot of it focused on how Metzger’s article didn’t seem realistic and how many factors would need to be in play for what she talked about to happen. It was a nice reminder of how many different environments everyone in that class came from and how we all found the idea of a Socratic seminar interesting but were wary of it in practice. Only one or two people mentioned experiencing one and that was in selective classes where there was a lot of trust between teacher and class. I think that’s also important for book groups, because in a good discussion everyone needs to feel safe to say what they’re thinking. Since if everyone is agreeing about everything, there won’t actually be a real discussion but instead just an echo chamber. So its key for whoever is organizing things to set up a place where all the members are willing to say what they really think. I think this requires really knowing who’s going to be there and the kind of things that make them feel comfortable. So the books about recipes and setting the right atmosphere can help as that might be the right thing for one gathering but not for another. In terms of finding the best balance of questions, I think that too depends on having an idea of where your audience will be approaching the material and getting appropriate material. It seems like that could be one of the greatest challenges, because in a small group, there will be a huge range of reading preferences and levels of education and prior knowledge. Though depending on where the seminar or book club is happening, its possible to have far more control. I’m curious to see how my book club with Kayla goes since we chose something that requires some prior knowledge though we chose one that needed less than others.

We ended by doing a mini Socratic seminar about the article Three Jeremiads and I was struck by how everyone seemed away of being watched. It kind of felt like a perfect illustration of how when you observe something it changes. I wonder what would have happened if that discussion had happened without anyone watching. Would things have got more heated? Would the same ideas have come out? That’s rather speculative, but it still was going through my head as I watched it.

Overall I found this a great class and look forward to a time when I might be participating and organizing book clubs.


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Books Clubs and Socratic Seminars

All of the reading this week is about how to run book clubs and Socratic seminars. I’m curious to see what these articles say because one of the things that’s helped my parents get socially active in the community they retired to was book and movie clubs. Currently they’re members of a large one where not everyone reads the book but it sets off fascinating discussions and feels like a Sunday brunch with talk of books. My mother is a member of a small woman’s book club that reads a real variety of books and two librarians are active in it. Then my parents are also part of a small movie club, which is low key and they talk over dinner and enjoy each other’s company. one idea that I found wonderful is doing a thematic book club so that everyone’s reading connected works but not the same ones since it creates new approaches and at the end of the club, each person will have a list of what they want to read next.

I started out by reading the Hoffert article from Library Journal about book clubs and the various methods that public libraries use to pull the local community in and keep them active. This article is full of thoughts about book kits and videoconferencing and helping readers move beyond the book. It makes me rather excited and curious to go out and get involved with book clubs.

One the other hand the Metzger article about using something called a Socratic seminar to help students feel more comfortable reading bothers me. The reason it does is because I studied Classics as an undergraduate and from the description of two circles inner and outer which would go back and forth between discussion. This sounds like a useful way to help students take control of their reading and learning but not Socratic. Socrates focused on the use of questions that he would use to push the discussion in specific ways so maybe this is like that but from the description it seems more like a book group. From Metzger’s description, it seems like it can be a powerful tool to teach students how to know their own opinions, think about reading and think about how they interact with each other. It seems like some lessons from this would be useful in Hoffert article which focuses on the good parts of book clubs and doesn’t mention how tricky group dynamics can be.

Then I read an article by Tredway about Socratic Seminars which is from three years before the Metzger article so hopefully it will answer some of my questions. According to Tredway the seminar is based around the reading of a common text and a pointed question asked by a teacher. There’s a mention of voting which seems strange to me, because I could see Socrates feeling confused that people are voting in a seminar. Though the voting is used to start discussion and get students defending their opinions which makes more sense. My reading of Socrates was always that it wasn’t about being right or wrong, but if you felt one way about something, be able to say clearly why. One aspect I find interesting of these Socratic seminars is the idea of there being a group who observes the discussion and then comments on it. That type of feedback is a tricky thing to give but quite important since it can be hard to see group dynamics when you’re inside of a group. These types of seminars seem tricky to begin because they require a lot of trust from the teacher to the students that they will focus on the text and from the students with each other to be polite and also truthful.

The last article I read is The Three Jeremiads by Robert Darnton that I last read in my Digital Libraries class. Apparently a Jereemiad is a long literary lament on society and in this case, his is focused on the state of university libraries. Darnton begins with a Jeremiad about the price of journals and how they become harder for research libraries to buy especially in smaller topics. His plan to try and finance theses that pursue little known topics seems like a fine way to help students wish to write more by showing there will be a place that they can be read. His second Jeremiad is from when he led the Harvard University library and focuses on the exact costs of buying periodicals for that library and how their budget works. He points out how scientific journals especially put university libraries in a bind because they make great profits because scientists insist on access and need to be published to show that they’re relevant. There is a move towards open access journals but its not easy because the history and weight of the publishing world makes it difficult for them to be viable. His last Jeremiad is on the matter of Google and how they control so much information and require libraries to contribute. The idea of a national digital public library seems so much closer now thanks to Google Books but currently Google and publishers hold more power in terms of copyright. I find this article fascinating but also coming from a specific place from someone who has access to a lot of resources anyway so perhaps not the best at seeing an even larger picture.


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Class Reflection on Transfer and Blogging

I found this week’s class kept moving from various things so its harder for me to easily look back on it. Part of this was due to the fact that we kept breaking into smaller groups to discuss things like the McGonigal survey and then the blogging, which was helpful. It just left me without a coherent sense of the overall feeling of class. I think part of this is also where I was coming from because I’m dealing with some issues with graduation that are coloring all my classes and I’m doing my best to not let them bleed too much into things.

Looking over the survey results and thinking about how they would be useful was a good exercise in how having a good evaluation really does make a difference. Since some of the questions were there as examples of bad questions which made this exercise complicated. It made me wonder how often a speaker is able to bring their own evaluation thoughts to a conference setting or if they have to rely on other people to do it for them. When we discussed how her talk might be used, I found it fascinating how this made three people in my setting go, she had good ideas but she wasn’t inclusive. It felt like the context of her talk colored what we might be able to take from it, which I think fits well into the lesson about transfer. Transfer relies on being able to see how you can take one skill to another arena and the way its taught will set this up. So if McGonigal wanted to make me feel like I was part of the select group of gamers she was talking about, all she needed to do was mention, World of Warcraft is the most researched game but there are so many others. This example can start there but be pulled across other places, I think that would have made it feel more like we could transfer what she spoke about. Though as we also mentioned, TED talks seem to be a particular context and if we wanted to transfer her thoughts taking something that she said elsewhere might have worked better.

We then were in groups to talk about the blogs we read, which I enjoyed because I was finally able to meet my entire cohort. The first thing that struck me was how few of us read the same blogs, I think two or three people read the same blogs but most of us were reading different ones. So the trends that I saw in the blogs I read weren’t in the other blogs. This really seems to back up my own personal experience of blogs in other areas, there are clusters of blogs that talk about the same things and there might be bigger things going on. It just isn’t always easy to spot the trends, though it depends on the cluster you look at. I’m not being terribly clear here because I think while there are some major things going through a lot of Librarian land and Publishing land, people are different enough that not every blogger will reflect on things the same way.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the book club/Socratic seminar assignment because it seems like something that will be a lot of fun. I know that my partner and I already have some ideas and they include taking advantage of works in the public domain.

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Transferring Knowledge-How do you do it?

The first reading for this week is from How People Learn and is chapter three: Learning and Transfer. I’m curious about the order we’re reading the chapters in because it seems as if transfer should be thought about before assessment. Transfer seems like a complicated idea, because its not always obvious what parts of lessons can be moved from one discipline to another and I think it can be unexpected too.

I like where the book begins by stating that unless there’s mastery of the initial learning, it can’t be transferred, because its a common sense idea but one I never thought about. The next step with the fact that you need to truly understand something before you can transfer the knowledge fits in with how people learn. I know in my experience that I tend to make connections to things I feel sure about. So I’m more willing to connect to my knowledge of literature or performance, because I have so many years of approaching them from numerous angles, which allows me to bring them into play with new subjects.

The numbers that the book cites for how long it takes to truly master something jump out at me, because at 50,000 hours and more, they’re much larger than was mentioned in the gaming video last week of 10,000 hours. The difference in time makes me wonder how these numbers have been calculated, because it seems a tricky thing. Recording how long you do something is difficult unless there’s a set format for it. I can say that I worked this many hours at my various jobs, because they have clear shifts, but in terms of studying, its much more fluid. I might not be sitting at my computer typing something but I could be discussing what I learned in class with someone and that adds to my understanding. I know this is a tangent but the amount of time you have to learn keeps arising so I want to know more. Time is such a precious commodity in schools and libraries, because there are so many things that have to be done so time for instruction must be used wisely.

I wasn’t aware that contrasting could help so much with learning but I can see how it makes sense. If you only know something in the abstract or in a very particular set of circumstances then it will be much harder to use that knowledge elsewhere or understand it on a deeper level. Though I find it compelling that it can also go the other way, sometimes its hard to actually know what you know if the types of learning are so different from each other. This is something I’ve come across in terms of presentations in my formal education. I’m incredibly comfortable with acting and storytelling so running a storytime doesn’t require a lot of changing of my knowledge, but a powerpoint presentation with a defined structure can be hard for me. That’s because learning how to transfer my skills to fit into a specific presentation model isn’t obvious for me. This is something I’m improving on, but my preferred presentation model is closer to my safer space of telling a story then interacting with a screen behind me and the audience in front of me.

I appreciate that the book lays out that how we learn in school is different from how we act in other places and that can hamper transfer as its not always obvious how to move things from one part of life to another. Though this can be complicated, authentic learning can be important and key to what someone takes away from school, but as the book points out abstract learning also has lessons. As with so many things in terms of teaching, there are no easy answers.

The second reading for this week is an article by Wiggins and McTighe called Teaching for Understanding from 2005. This article starts off strongly by showing how most students don’t see their education as something they can take and use in the real world and how important it is for them to learn how to do that. The three instructional techniques mentioned near the beginning; direct instruction, facilitation and coaching seem like powerful tools that have many different names. The author then uses transfer, meaning and acquisition to help think about how these styles of teaching can be brought into the classroom. Again its the combination of types of teaching that will help students understand the material and be able to take it outside the context of school.

As always with these articles, I’m struck by just how much research and thought has been put into how people learn and what helps students and how difficult it is to make this work across curricula. One of the trickiest parts of the world of education is just how big and diverse it is and in the world of libraries, some of the same problems appear. What might work and be enjoyed in one library might fall flat in another and so it can be tricky to create successful nationwide programs.


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Assessment Challenges-Class Thoughts

Once again SI proves why it is such a good program as something that’s discussed in one class is needed in another. During class on Monday night we talked about the challenges of doing good assessments for all sorts of things from a one shot workshop to when you’re teaching a class for a longer period of time. I found that the activities we did were really powerful at showing how tricky assessment is.

We watched Jane McGonighal’s TED talk about the power of gaming and then filled in a survey about it before breaking into small groups where we classified the questions from the survey. Each group found different ways of breaking up the questions and we all found some that weren’t useful like what color was her hair and her shoes, but we also acknowledged that these details are noticed. A major section was about the physical space of the workshop, which can play a key role in how the information is absorbed. In a workshop setting that may only happen once or twice, its key to make sure that the environment isn’t terribly distracting but to figure out that data needs to be collected from other assessments. Formative assessment presents other problems because when something is only happening for one or two times it can be hard to see what change has happened and taking the time to question throughout the process can be tricky. I think assessment is truly one of the hardest parts of education because its the part that students are more willing to remember if its seen as fair or unfair. Yet it is also the one thing that can improve the quality of teaching the most by creating chances for changes that will help everyone involved.

The way this intersects with another course is that for an Outcome Based Evaluation Course, my group is going to be putting together a survey for people being trained in a process to discuss their experiences. So thinking about the types of questions to ask and the formats of how to get valuable assessment data quickly is important. My notes from Monday’s class will definitely come into play as we put together an assessment survey for this project. I think that’s what I enjoy the most about SI, things are always connecting and not in the ways I expect.

I found the McGonigal talk fascinating too, because I see myself as a gamer and its nice to hear someone acknowledge how much gamers can do. Thanks to that talk I’m now following her on Twitter.


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Learning Environments and Assessment

This week’s reading is chapter 6 of How People Learn called The Design of Learning Environments, which begins with a brief history of how education has changed in the United States from rote copying to critical thinking. I’ve always found this topic fascinating and it was my favorite part of the Education class I took my first year as an undergraduate, because the ideas of what needs to be taught and how can really change so much. Also I’ve always been struck by how American education is moved so much by trends and new information, it seems faster than other parts of the world.

Learner-centered environments seem like they would be the most effective for early in education, because they make the educational place safe for students that might be wary of it. It could be a way for students without much experience of a student environment to feel as if their knowledge is important and help them have ownership of what’s going on in the classroom.

Knowledge-centered environments on the other hand focus more on making sure the students truly understand the information on multiple levels and can manipulate it on their own. The examples presented in the book focus on math and science because the distance because understanding in these disciplines is trickier than just knowing. This part of the book made me think a lot about how the AP exam in science is transforming so that the focus is on students being scientists as opposed to just memorizing information. I really like the phrase “Learning the landscape” to describe this type of teaching because it shows how important it is to have the students be oriented and be able to explore the discipline on their own terms.

Assessment-centered environments have two types of assessment-formative which is what I think of as feedback and happens throughout the process of learning and then summative assessment that occurs at the end to see what the student has learned. The current public education system seems built on summative assessment versus formative because it is usually the easier thing to assess, do you know this versus how well do you know this? It seems like there needs to be a place in between which balances both types of assessment and mixes them in with all the other types of learning environments so that students can know what they’ve learned. Formative assessment is something that I feel rather personally connected to because I know that one of the ways I learn best is by constantly talking about or writing about what I’m doing. This helps me see where I went wrong with one thing and how I can best fix it. I feel like a good way to work formative assessment into a program is to at the beginning ask students how they learn and what helps them and then this can be worked into things. The only thing is that this requires more time than most teachers have to dedicate to assessment, which is a shame.

Community-centered environments make so much sense, because they acknowledge what’s always been true, school is a huge community and each classroom has its own feeling. For four summers, I was part of a summer camp that worked as an intentional community with group meetings four nights a week and a everyone working together to make things work. Each summer was incredibly different depending on the attitudes that the campers brought in and how they interacted with the set norms and constantly changing norms of the community. This experience taught me how difficult it is to create a safe and happy community for everyone, but that it is so important and I carry those lessons with me. In a classroom, the idea of creating a community must tie back into the learner-centered environment because the norms of communities can vary so much and a teacher needs to be aware of what is expected of their students outside the classroom.

I like the use of the word Alignment to talk about how all of these environments and assessments need to be brought together in a classroom and a school. This seems like it would be the toughest part of being an administrator, getting inside each classroom and making sure that every teacher is working along the same lines and every student is having their best experience.

The second reading for this week is by D. Royce Sadler and called Formative Assessment and the Design of Instructional Systems from 1989.

I like how Sadler lays out the idea that the power of formative assessment is that is can help students get the same idea of quality as the teacher, this is an effective way of putting across that students need to understand why they’re learning and how. Sadler divides this into three distinct parts the student has a concept of a the goal or standard needed, compare the actual performance with the standard and then closing the gap between the two so the student can reach the goal. This is a good way to describe the process of learning, you figure out what you need to know, try and learn it and then figure out where you’re wrong and correct it.

I’m struck by the idea of how teachers carry around standards in their head which can work for or against students along with this idea of unconscious ranking, because it points out how teachers think as they grade. The balance to this is providing examples along with descriptions for students so that there’s an objective standard for a student to work towards. The rest of the article talks about the challenges of bringing these ideas into the classroom since evaluation and assessment can vary depending on the subject and the teacher. It seems as if the take away from this article is that teachers need to be aware of what they’re really trying to teach and how to clearly get that across to their students.

Both these readings really point out how difficult assessment is, because so much of it relies on what is being taught and what the end goal for the learner is. A teacher needs to be aware of so many factors as they construct assignments and how they assess them and how they relay the the criteria for success to their students.


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Information Literacy Class Thoughts

I was really disappointed to not be able to make to this class because I found it so fascinating to look at all the different articles my cohort had found and what people think about when that phrase comes into play.

Throughout the week, I realized just how Information Literacy and transliteracy or even metaliteracy is something that depends so much on the person who’s defining it. A friend of mine who’s not at SI but that I know in online pointed me to the article about the Tree Octopus, which I think is a perfect example of how easy it can be to manipulate the idea of who’s literate. The professors in the study gave an assignment that didn’t ask much of the students and told them where to look so that was what they did and they found what they were expected to find. Perhaps if instead the issue had been looked at in terms of how do we get our students to question what we ask of them it might change.

The Uprising is Egypt shows what can happen when people know how to organize and keep saying, this is who we are by using every tool available to them. I feel like somewhere between these two examples is where Information Literacy lives, because critical thinking is something that’s not easily learned.

Yet critical thinking is what I see as what Information Literacy really means, its about knowing how to assess new technologies and be aware of what’s out there and know how to make educated choices for what is happening. Sometimes that can be as simple as saying, wikipedia is a place to start but I shouldn’t use it for all my research or how do I reframe this question to get deeper? I think this is a hard thing to teach to anyone, because its easier to do the lighter research and not go deeper but then the result isn’t as satisfying.

I think as as a librarian, part of why I’m there is to help people figure out not only where to look for the information they need but to think about how they’re looking and where they’re looking. To me that’s really what Information Literacy seems to be about and I’m curious to read reflections from those in class since this was one I wish I had been healthy enough to attend.


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