Category Archives: Teaching

#libeyrianship: Pop Culture and #critlib in Information Literacy Programs

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian, and Siân Evans, Instructional Librarian, at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Beyoncé’s new album ‘Lemonade’ dropped April 23, 2016 as both a traditional album and a “visual album.” The visual album weaves poetry, music, cinematography, fashion, and literary and film references into an hour-long film that follows a woman going through stages of grief. The album was highly anticipated by two librarians at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Jennifer Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian, and Siân Evans, Instructional Librarian. After watching Bey’s Formation music video and her performance at Super Bowl 50, Jenny and Siân realized the topics Beyoncé is exploring in her music provides a perfect opportunity to engage students through a popular point of reference.

In seeking to make research more exciting to undergraduate art students, while also promoting critical thinking skills, Siân developed an instruction session which included a visual analysis of Beyoncé’s Formation, a discussion of Black Lives Matter, and an active learning component in which the students responded to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance by researching the Black Panther Party in the library catalog, research databases, and special collections. Jenny, also invested in developing critical thinking skills via popular culture, primarily through digital resources, designed a topical LibGuide which provides perspectives, opinions, and ideas referenced or directly address in Lemonade.

In this post, borrowing The New York Times Bits Saturday newsletter’s conversational style, Jenny and Siân discuss #critlib, engaged instruction, and the success of the topical LibGuide “Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Information Resources.”


Jenny: Hi Siân! What are you up to?

Siân: Morning, Jenny! I’m just prepping for a meeting with a faculty member who is teaching a course on Art and Totalitarianism. You?

Jenny: Sounds interesting! I got an email today that has me thinking about my unit of the library, Digital Initiatives, taking on archiving websites.

Siân: Nice! I was having coffee with my dog, Pickle, this morning and I noticed that an article in City Paper came out about the Lemonade LibGuide you made. How many times has that LibGuide been viewed now?

Jenny: Aw, Pickle! Let me check… 39,775 views as of today!

Siân: Dang, girl! How does it feel to be internet librarian famous??

Jenny: <blushing> Honestly, I’m still taking it all in. It feels great to feel supported by so many people who work in libraries, archives, and museums. I love the fact that I can talk about Beyoncé and librarianship in the same conversation. I’m also really enjoying all the other projects that are popping up that are related, like the #LemonadeSyllabus.

Siân: The guide was shared on Twitter by Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, School Library Journal, and Kimberly Drew (aka @museummammy), founder of Black Contemporary Art and Associate Online Community Producer at The Met, among many, many others. It even has its own hashtag: #libeyrianship. That’s pretty epic! So, why did you choose to publish it as a LibGuide? What do you think about them as a means of instruction?

Jenny: The shares have been overwhelming in the best possible way. One of the things I love about Twitter is that you can speak to a certain community, but what you say can also echo out to people you thought wouldn’t find what you do relevant to them. I’m grateful for every share and like!

Honestly, I chose to publish the research guide as a LibGuide because the platform lets you organize information quickly and easily. I didn’t want a list of links. I wanted gifs, book covers, etc. LibGuides can be used for lots of purposes. Decker has been using guides mostly for programs. I find LibGuides to be most successful when they center in on a particular subject or research topic.

After sitting in on your library instruction class based on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and Formation video, the idea for a research guide on Lemonade just made sense. In fact, that class went so well and was so different from what I’ve seen here previously, could you tell us a bit more about the idea behind it?

Siân: Sure! I think that was one of the first conversations you and I had about librarianship, because we were both so fascinated by Beyoncé as a means to critical instruction. I had just started working at MICA and I was so thrilled to learn that there are faculty here who are open to creative, critical library instruction.

So, less than a month into my job, I convinced a particularly thoughtful and engaged professor to let me test out my “Beyoncé-based instruction session.” Her class consisted of first year students, mostly fine arts or graphic design majors, who had limited research experience and, in some cases, doubts about the relevance of library research to their work. Our goals were to get them to think about why research is relevant to their practice, to introduce them to different types of library resources, and to think critically about how they read and access information generally. We started with a visual response to the video Formation, mimicking the format of the crits they experience in their studio practice.

Jenny: I have to stop you right there. I loved the visual response part of the session. As MICA alum, I know how important it is to learn effective critique skills, both giving and receiving feedback. I think it’s so interesting that you connected critique to information literacy in this way. It reminds me of Larissa Garcia and Jessica Labatte’s writing on metaliteracy, where multiple literacies such as visual, news, digital, etc. intersect.[1] The session resonated strongly with me, so I can imagine it did a lot for our students.

Siân: Aw, thanks Jenny! I honestly did that kind of on the fly! I’d been thinking about how to engage students who don’t see research as relevant to their practice. So, I used the video and our visual analysis of it as a jumping off point to discuss plagiarism, with the example of Beyoncé’s usage of footage from the Bounce documentary, That B.E.A.T. We looked at some of our Special Collections on related subject matter and, finally, in an active learning session, we had students researching the Black Panthers on Google, in our databases, and online catalogue. In the assessment survey, one student commented that this was the first she’d heard of the Black Panthers! I really feel that starting with a familiar, popular reference helped draw the students into the research process.

I know you have similar thoughts about the ‘Lemonade’ research guide. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the role of popular culture in librarianship?

Jenny: The ‘Lemonade’ guide is the first time I’ve publicly connected a piece of popular culture with librarianship. I started thinking about film and television and librarianship as I watched The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Sounds weird, I know. There’s a scene in that TV series where a large group of protestors are gathered outside the courthouse. Vendors are also there selling merchandise about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. My first thought was, “did the producers see this sort of thing in the original news footage?” As an advisory board member on the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising archive project where we collect images, sound, and text from the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, I’m constantly thinking about how people, including librarians and educators, will use the archive now and in the future. Did you see the job posting for the Librarian for Literary and Popular Culture Collections at Brown University Library?

Siân: Yes! I think it’s amazing that more libraries are aware that we need to be #relevant! I think that another one of your LibGuides, Understanding Civic Unrest in Baltimore 1968-2015, is also evidence of this drive to make research relevant to the community in which you work. I feel like the elephant in the fictional room of our conversation is critical librarianship. How do you think #critlib plays into your work as a Digital Initiatives Librarian?

Jenny: Great question. First, I think less about how to stay relevant and more about how searching, analyzing, and disseminating information plays into many situations, including art. As Kenny Garcia wrote, “critical librarianship seeks to be transformative, empowering, and a direct challenge to power and privilege.”[2] #critlib asks us to be self-reflective and conscious of ourselves and our institutions so that we don’t contribute to systems of oppression. This is what I thought librarianship was about, I just didn’t have a way of articulating this before I learned about #critlib.

While at the peaceful protests and gatherings during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, for some reason I felt like I should be there as a Baltimore resident, a person against police brutality, but also as a librarian. I don’t see a separation between librarianship and social justice. Now that I know more about #critlib, I understand why. Do you ever feel that way?

Siân: Definitely. As librarians, we promote equal access to knowledge and educational resources, so our work shouldn’t be limited to the library, the classroom, or even the campus. I see my work with Art+Feminism, for example, as “information activism” that is an extension of my work as a librarian.

Jenny: I’m so glad you brought up Art+Feminism! I’ve been a fan from afar. Before you arrived at MICA, I read a great ACRLog post about instructional design by Lindsay O’Neill. It was the first time I thought about critical instruction and design and I know we’ve talked about similar ideas. Could you talk a bit about any plans you might have for instructional design and how critical instruction differs from a more traditional take on library instruction?

Siân: That’s a great question and one I feel only .5% qualified to answer! 🙂 In my work with Art+Feminism and in my previous job at Artstor, I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of designers and UX researchers, as well as librarians. I loved Lindsay’s post! And it brought up a lot of food for thought about the cognitive overload in my current instruction practice. As an art historian and librarian I have perhaps an unproductive love of text. But, I see teaching as an agile, iterative process. I think a lot of critical instruction is based on this principle as well — teaching isn’t top-down, it’s a process of communication between the instructor and the students. So, it has to be ever-evolving.

For anyone who wants an introduction to this, Eamon Tewell just published a literature review on a decade’s worth of critical information literacy and I really recommend Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning.

Jenny: Wow, ten years worth of critical information literacy! I’m really looking forward to watching (and contributing in some ways to) the evolution of our information literacy program here at Decker Library. And I’m happy that I have someone to talk about Beyoncé with at work. 🙂

Siân: Ditto! It’s amazing to have inspiring colleagues who are doing important work, it’s like a daily reminder of why I became a librarian. And our #dailybey Slack channel is a definite highlight!

beyoncetwitterchat

Decker Library will be hosting a Twitter chat about the LibGuide and instruction on Wednesday, June 8 at 2pm EST. Follow along using #libeyrianship and @deckerlibrary.

[1] Larissa Garcia and Jessica Labatte, “Threshold Concepts as Metaphors for the Creative Process: Adapting the Framework for Information Literacy to Studio Art Classes,” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 34, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 235-248.

[2] Garcia, K. Keeping Up With… Critical Librarianship. Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/critlib

Asking questions to create opportunities for conversation and learning

I was chatting with one of my colleagues the other day about challenges he’s been experiencing recently in some of his one-shot information literacy classes. He regularly makes time in class for students to work on their own research and to consult with them individually. Yet he described difficulty engaging students in one-on-one conversation about their progress. He described how he typically circulates the room, asking students “How’s it going?” hoping they might share their progress or pose a problem which would provide him a point of entry into conversation or an opportunity to advise the student. Instead, he said, students typically reply “I’m doing fine” or “I’m good.” Hopefully, such responses mean students really are progressing in their research, successfully applying the concepts from the session to their own work. Yet their polite reply to my colleague’s opening line shuts him out of even the possibility of conversation.

I knew exactly what my colleague meant. I’ve felt frustrated by the same scenario, too. I have often asked the same question and often gotten the same reply, essentially “no thanks.” My colleague wondered how he might create space for conversation without uncomfortably forcing the issue. While some students might indeed really be doing fine and not need assistance with research, plenty do. And even if their research is progressing well, that doesn’t mean a conversation about their work couldn’t be useful. I shared with my colleague some of the ways I’ve tried to open conversation with students during this kind of working time. Essentially, I’ve stopped asking “How are you doing?” and instead ask “What are you working on?,” “What topic or question are you researching?,” or “What have you been trying so far?” This slight variation has helped me open the door to conversation with even reticent students.

I’ve seen a variety of both cognitive and affective advantages via this small, but significant, shift. This type of question gives students fewer outs. It doesn’t require students to make a judgment of their progress (or lack thereof), either. Instead, it’s a low-stakes, low-judgment question that just asks them to account for what they’re doing so far. And once they’ve articulated what they’re doing, I can ask follow-up questions that help them probe their own steps and thinking and even identify problems or opportunities on their own. The conversation serves as a kind of formative assessment, too, helping me check in with students about their level of understanding and application of the concepts, practices, and tools we’ve been focusing on in class. I can then meet them where they are, clarifying or redirecting where needed or helping them advance further when appropriate.

This exchange with my colleague prompted me to reflect on my questioning practices in other ways and settings. I recognized this same shift across my pedagogy, in fact. Where I used to tell, I see that I now ask. Instead of first telling students how to construct a search or pick a source, for example, I instead start by asking how they would approach a search or select a source: “What steps would you take?,” “What choices would you make?,” and most importantly “Why?” When I meet with students in individual research consultations, I don’t just ask “What are you working on?,” but also “What are you hoping to accomplish in our meeting today?” These questions again help me meet students where they are and then scaffold instruction to help them develop progressively. Significantly, they also help give students a chance to construct their own learning, puzzle over their intentions and rationales, and make meaning for themselves. These questions help us (students and myself alike) recognize students’ agency in their research.

Much like I’m trying to help students develop an attitude of inquiry for their own research and learning, these questions help me cultivate my own attitude of inquiry for teaching. I don’t want to ask only the kind of questions that require students to parrot rote, meaningless responses at me. I want to foster meaningful and impactful learning moments where students construct their understanding and develop frameworks for their future use. These questions help me learn from and listen to my students.

listeningGood question” by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Publishing Practice: Developing a Professional Identity

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Chelsea Heinbach, MLIS student at the University of Denver; Cyndi Landis, MLIS student at Emporia State University, and Alison Hicks, faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

How can we bridge the divide between learning about library instruction and engaging more concretely with a teaching librarian’s values and responsibilities? This was the question that drove the design of a writing assignment in our recent library instruction course at the University of Denver, and that we have been grappling with since the semester ended. Designed to mimic a core part of many academic teaching librarian positions, as well as to involve students more closely with teaching librarian communities, the assignment asked students to write a 3000 word essay that was peer-reviewed by librarians in the field, and published as an Open Access book.

Drawing from the idea of publishing as pedagogy, as well as sociocultural learning theories that emphasize participation rather than imitation, students were excited to mold the assignment on the first day of class. At the same time, the prospect of writing for a broad audience at this stage of a career was very different from previous LIS program experiences. This blogpost serves to explore the experiences of two MLIS students who participated in this project, Chelsea Heinbach (University of Denver) and Cyndi Landis (Emporia State University), as well as attempting to reflect on the role and nature of instruction librarian education today.

Merging practice and theory

The MLIS degree is largely practical in nature. As academic librarians in training we talk about publishing as well as open access, conferences, and peer review, but there is often little room built in for identifying our own place in these processes. While there are opportunities to publish as a student, there are rarely chances in class to simulate the peer review process and to treat our work as serious academic contributions. The future regarding our own publishing remains abstract for the entirety of our master’s degree and there are few chances to explore our professional writing goals and ideas. This assignment offered us valuable mentorship in academic writing, extensive and thoughtful suggestions for improvement, as well as an opportunity to explore our professional identity in a supportive environment.

Value

As a graduate student, there is pressure to have something on your resume to make you stand out among the pool of job applicants. We each scramble to find that extra separator to distinguish ourselves from others or at least to fill in the blanks of which accomplishments we think we should have by now. This assignment was something we could be proud of and use to prove ourselves.

Excitement and intimidation swept over us as we began to research and select our instruction topics. What did we want to know as a future teaching librarian? What could we research to make this open access book contribution count? This assignment was the opportunity we’d been waiting for throughout our graduate school experience – a professional introduction into scholarship that was guided and supported rather than just an assignment to be completed and tucked away in our personal portfolio.

Unlike most research papers throughout our LIS programs, this assignment would be shared with professionals beyond the student-teacher relationship. Not only would library professionals assist in the peer-review process, but the open access book would later be promoted within the LIS field as an example of this unique approach. This exercise was designed to emulate what research could be like in the “real-world”. Even the peer reviewers wished they had a similar opportunity when they were in school.

While we recognized this as a valuable opportunity that we were excited to engage with, we also grew nervous about the implications. With the permanence of this piece weighing heavy on each step of the writing and research process, we began to unravel the pieces of its potentially lasting effects. What topic would best fit our future career goals? Would it be something we could use to start building our curriculum vitae? Throughout the assignment, we felt the reality of this valuable opportunity sinking in, causing us to reflect hesitantly on the formation of our professional identity and our overall contributions to the field.

Editing

As we received feedback from our instructor and reviewer, the constructive comments revealed areas for improvement. Our wandering thoughts now had direction and our emphatic assertions were paired within the context of practicing librarians; we had a glimpse into our book’s audience and we could refine our papers with confidence.Throughout our academic careers, we had rarely received the opportunity to improve our scholarly writing within the assignment, or even within the course. The peer-review process gave us genuine, productive feedback to revise our paper before submitting the final piece for publication.

The feedback was two-fold, receiving detailed comments from Alison and our peer-reviewer. Comments ranged from pointing out areas to improve writing clarity, to making connections to concepts that we hadn’t seen before, and suggesting other sources to use for a broader perspective. As we are not yet practicing librarians, we found that some of the issues we wanted to discuss are already common knowledge in the profession. The reviewers’ comments provided the insight of instruction practitioners, helping us identify what truly needed further discussion and what research conclusions would prove helpful to our professional audience.

The level of detail in the feedback given in this assignment highlighted the lack of response have routinely received throughout our academic careers. With a few exceptions, we have rarely received suggestions for improvement on our work and instead have simply received a grade. After pouring hours into research and writing, a final grade isn’t as satisfying as encouragement and thoughtful recommendations for further development. Up until this point, some of our most demanding academic work stemmed from our expectations of ourselves and our future goals.

Identity

This assignment, therefore, provided a welcome break from the standard dynamic, as it gave us an opportunity to explore and assert our views in a way that felt more impactful than a simple class paper. It was encouraging to be taken seriously by a professional in the field and to have the opportunity to contribute to such a unique project.

However, after the excitement of the opportunity wore off, we realized we felt nervous about moving from passively reading the literature to owning our own viewpoints. This class is a mere ten weeks long and, as students, many of us are balancing multiple jobs, volunteer positions, job applications, committee obligations, and other classes. In addition, the academic library world can feel like an overwhelmingly polarized place where work is judged and dismissed openly and critically. While these conversations lead us to important awakenings regarding issues in the profession, we found it difficult to feel comfortable as students making assertions when we were still developing our own positions. Perhaps this was simply due to overzealous imposter syndrome, but it is why some of us ultimately focused on topics that were not overwhelmingly controversial, and decided against making an obvious political statement with our work.

In the end, this pressure to cultivate raw ideas and develop work that would be seen led to a more genuine interaction with the content than we have had in most other classes. Ultimately, it helped us develop our professional research goals in a more concrete and granular way, giving us a better understanding of publishing demands. At the same time, the intersection between student research and professional practice exposed some eye-opening issues that arise for LIS students. We are taught general theories of librarianship and given research assignments with little guidance of whether our conclusions and assertions are appropriate in the context of the challenges professionals face. To combat this block between the classroom and our professional careers, one of the most beneficial experiences we can have during library school is a mentor in our chosen area of librarianship.

We really appreciated the feedback and we encourage librarians to seek out opportunities to mentor LIS students, to share their professional experiences, and to help to bridge the divide between theory and practice. This project enlisted an enthusiastic group of librarian reviewers, who we recognize as invisible laborers behind its success. We are grateful to them for their  collaborative participation and commitment to bettering LIS student work through this publishing practice. Lastly, this memorable assignment would not have been possible without Alison’s insightful vision, reviewer matchmaking, and endless encouragement. When students and professionals engage in dialogue, it fuels our profession with a stronger foundation of new ideas and perspectives.

Advice and suggestions for future improvements

For anyone who is interested in building upon this assignment, we would offer the following advice:

  • Scaffold: The assignment built in plenty of drafting time so the peer review really helped to edit and shape the final essays. At the same time, many students found that choosing a relevant topic was tough. We suggest plenty of class discussion about potential directions, as well as interviewing a professional before starting in order to get guidance.
  • Workshop: Our class did not build in any in-class workshopping, but that could have made the delivery of the first draft less stressful. The process of reviewing other people’s work is always helpful for writers to experience, too.
  • Connect: This assignment was strengthened through the matching of reviewers with paper topics about which they were knowledgeable. Although the entire process was double blind,we found that this expertise, as well as the sincerity that the reviewers brought to the assignment, added considerably to the development of the second draft.

Read the book online: http://gotaminute.pressbooks.com/
Read the archived PDF: http://digitalcommons.du.edu/lis_stuother/3/

Working on Wikipedia Redux

Last weekend I had a great time participating in the Wikipedia Art+Feminism editathon, an annual event to increase the representation and coverage of women in the arts on Wikipedia. You may remember Art+Feminism co-organizer Siân Evans’s guest post last December — Why GLAM Wiki — which well-explains the editathon’s aims and accomplishments.

I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia — for my (and my family’s) own use as well as in teaching undergrads and graduate students. I also think working on Wikipedia is a perfect fit for academic librarians, with our research skills and our ability to access paywalled academic literature (though the latter I hope will someday become unnecessary as open access continues to gain ground). But I confess that I’m not as active in editing and adding content to Wikipedia as I’d like to be.

Indeed, last weekend I found myself thinking about the last editathon I attended two years ago, which I wrote about on my very infrequently updated professional blog. That semester I participated in the editathon in part because I was co-teaching a graduate class on interactive technology and pedagogy with Michael Mandiberg, another Art+Feminism co-organizer. We included a couple of Wikipedia assignments for our students in our grad course, and I wanted to put myself in my students’ shoes by doing a bit of editing and adding content, too.

This semester I’m teaching the course again (though solo this time), and again students are working on a Wikipedia assignment. We’re also spending more time in the course reading and talking about Wikipedia as a community as well as a collaboratively-created resource. Again I find myself thinking, as I did two years ago, about undergraduate work on Wikipedia, especially in the context of single- (or 2-3) session instruction as opposed to an entire semester of work on a Wikipedia assignment. I know my grad students — many of whom are teaching right now or will be soon — are also thinking about this. How can we incorporate Wikipedia content creation into instruction in smaller ways than spending a whole semester on an article or series of articles?

This year the editathon I attended was at Interference Archive, a volunteer-run archive in Brooklyn, NY that focuses on social movements. Editathon co-organizers Nora Almeida and Jen Hoyer went through the archives before last weekend to pull particularly relevant files for us to work on if we were looking for inspiration. My background is not in the arts, so I especially appreciated these efforts and was glad to be able to jump into finding info about an artist whose work I found in one of the files. And it strikes me that this might be a good way for students to jump into Wikipedia editing, too — beginning with archival or historical materials and synthesizing them with sources we can find online.

I’m happy to see that the edits I made last weekend — creating a stub for the Australian artist Arlene TextaQueen, are still live as I type this. And even more pleasantly surprising? The edits I made 2 years ago are still live, too.

Information literacy strategies and student agency: Connecting the dots with “dissection” activities

I’ve mentioned before (like here, here, and here, for example) that I’ve been trying to get students to think metacognitively about the strategy of their work. Such a lens helps students turn a concrete experience into a framework of best practices for their future application. In the case of the common information literacy session devoted to searching, for example, this means moving away from thinking about a series of keystrokes and clicks to instead thinking about the why: why we select particular search words, why we enter them in a database in such a way, why we get back a particular set of results, why we select individual sources, and so on. By talking about strategy, we reflect on the purpose and the effect of the choices we make. By turning our steps into best practices, we see how to apply them the next time around. Time and again, I’m excited to see how engaged students are in these conversations. Talking about strategies helps them recognize and enhance their agency in the research process.

I’ve been trying to embed this strategy lens wherever I can. I’ve had occasion in the past few weeks to work with some faculty and students on strategies for synthesizing information particularly. For example, I recently worked with a faculty member and students in a senior capstone psychology course. By the time students get to this course, they’ve likely had a number of information literacy sessions with me. An intensive experience in the sophomore/junior research methods course is a core part of their information literacy development in the major, but we’ve likely intersected in other anchor and elective courses, too. And that’s only the librarian-led information literacy experiences. There are plenty of other faculty-led information literacy learning experiences along the way. The capstone, then, is a course where we can make some assumptions about students’ past courses and knowledge. When the faculty member and I sat down to talk about our goals for this course, we honed in on what we see as students’ biggest continuing struggle: synthesizing sources. By this point, they can identify and narrow research questions, find peer-reviewed empirical journal articles, and read and understand the methodology and findings of those articles. They still struggle, though, with effectively putting those sources to work in their own writing. More specifically, we wanted students to consider how an empirical journal article’s introduction and literature review are constructed, as they think ahead to their own research and writing for the course’s major research project. To that end, we developed a few activities to help students work on developing their synthesis skills. Over the course of two consecutive sessions, we implemented the following plan.

Session 1

Part A – Working backward: Dissecting an article’s introduction and literature review

  • We selected an article that students had read for a previous class session so that they already had some familiarity with it. Students worked with their pre-existing research groups to read the article’s introduction and literature review. We developed the following questions to guide students’ close reading. We numbered the article’s paragraphs and asked students to specifically locate illustrative passages. After working through the questions in their small groups, we then discussed each question as an entire class.
    • Where and how do the authors discuss the real world significance of the topic and their research (i.e., why we should care)?
    • Where and how do the authors refer to and use theoretical frameworks?
    • Where and how do the authors give a bird’s eye view (i.e., overview) of research related to their topic?
    • Where and how do the authors discuss other studies’ findings?
    • Where and how do the authors discuss other studies’ designs/methods?
    • Where and how do the authors identify holes or gaps in the existing research?
    • Where and how do the authors introduce their own research question/study? How do they relate their question/study to the identified gaps in the existing research?

Part B – Working from the ground up: From a single article to patterns across articles

  • We talked about approaches to reading and notetaking to help students identify how to focus their attention on what’s important in an article and recognize patterns across sources. We modeled creating and using a chart to track individual sources and set up opportunities for pattern recognition and synthesis. We illustrated this reading/notetaking strategy with the following chart details:
    • In the chart, each column is a category/prompt about an aspect of an article (e.g., question, hypothesis, methods, measures used, findings, research gaps/recommendations, etc.) and each row is an article (e.g., Jones 2012, Rodriguez and Smith 2014).
    • Each cell of the chart gets populated with the students’ summary about that aspect of the article. This helps students to identify what’s important in each article and to succinctly paraphrase key elements.
    • Once completed, students can scan each category (i.e., column) in the chart to find themes, similarities, and differences across sources.
    • Students can organize the notes (i.e., cells) into groups by those themes, similarities, and differences, working toward an outline. Their summary and paraphrasing can begin to transform into sentences in each group or paragraph. Their ideas about the patterns they’ve identified can help them introduce and close the paragraphs and transition between sources in each paragraph.

Homework for Session 2

  • Students in each research group identified an important article for their own research project, already underway. Each group member was to read the article and individually respond to the dissection guiding questions for that article’s introduction and literature review.
  • Students were to begin developing their own charts for notetaking and complete at least one row of the chart for the group’s common reading.

Session 2

  • Students worked with their research groups to discuss their responses to the dissection guiding questions, as well as their first steps on their notetaking charts. The faculty member and I consulted with each group.

Students’ responses to these activities were overwhelmingly positive. They were actively engaged in the small and large group discussions. Multiple students commented to me how much they wished they had learned these approaches sooner.

2000px-Gra_w_kropki_bazy.svgGra w kropki bazy – Dots (game)” is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

While the above example was implemented with a group of seniors, there is certainly room to work on synthesis with younger students. A few weeks after the psychology capstone, I tried a similar activity with students in a first year seminar. At my institution, first year seminars are small, discussion-oriented courses that focus on students’ critical thinking and writing. This time, the faculty member, the course’s writing assistant (a more experienced student who is trained and embedded in the class as as a writing tutor/mentor), and I worked together to focus on helping students identify and evaluate how evidence is used in high quality popular literature (think essays published in The New Yorker or The Atlantic). By dissecting how authors use information differently in their essays to develop their ideas and engage readers, we wanted to help students become more critical consumers of information and also help them think about their use of information in their own writing. In a single course session, we implemented the following plan:

Dissecting an essay

  • We selected an essay recently published in The New Yorker related to the theme of the course. We asked students to read the essay in class and then, in a group of three, to locate and discuss key elements of the essay and their purposes, per the following guiding questions. We asked students to specifically locate illustrative passages. After working through the questions in their small groups, we discussed each question as an entire class.
    • Where can you locate the author’s thesis?
    • Where does the author use evidence to support her thesis?
      • Where does the integrate an anecdote? Why? To what effect?
      • Where does the author use quotations? Why? To what effect?
      • Where does the author cite academic research / data? Why? To what effect?
    • How does the author establish expertise and authority?
    • Where does the author pose questions? Why? To what effect? How does the author use evidence to answer the questions?
    • How does the author conclude the essay? How has the author used evidence in the essay to build to/support the conclusion?

Homework

  • Students were asked to read another article and again respond to the dissection guiding questions.

Once again, students were actively engaged in discussion. I was struck by the thoughtfulness of their contributions. The writing assistant in the first year seminar wrote me later to say how she appreciated that the activity and the guiding questions

“scaffolded student discussion and forced students to talk about ‘hard’ or ‘stressful’ topics (like the thesis, using evidence to support claims, determining how the author asserts power) one at a time, thus reducing the anxiety involved! Truthfully, I plan to use these questions to prompt myself next time a reading baffles me!”

I think it’s worth recognizing the affective language in her note: hard, stressful, anxiety, baffles. Developing strategies, as uncovered in these examples, can help students develop agency.

In both courses, guiding questions directed students to read closely and analyze sources incrementally. The guiding questions helped students recognize what’s important in a source and served as a model for how to critically read and analyze other sources. Moreover, the scaffolded questions served as a framework for students to make sense of the content itself and for their own writing and synthesis. By dissecting the sources for these key elements, students could see how each was constructed, decoding complexities that can sometimes seem a mystery and make research and writing feel insurmountable.

How do you help students develop strategies and agency? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.