Like many Teaching Librarians across the country, the librarian position in my school had been reduced to part-time before I came to the school. I taught a fixed schedule for grades 1-3 and a flexible, project-based schedule for grades 4 and 5. Managing to fit in all those classes in two days a week required stamina and imagination. I had been reading about the flipped classroom model for months on all my professional development “channels” such as Twitter, EdWeb, and Edmodo and wondered if pieces could be adapted for research instruction at the elementary level.
This seemed a partial solution to my packed teaching and administrative schedule, in which I felt stretched thin. Besides, I reasoned, a cohesive unit based around in-person and recorded sessions for whole classes could free me to work more with small groups in their research. I decided to try it out in my library classroom with my grade 5 students and their flexible team of teachers. This model of collaboration works best with staff willing to experiment.
Grade 5 students in my school participated in an extended interdisciplinary science fair unit, which includes an experiment, research essay and culminating science fair presentations. The flipped classroom model definition by the ALA (American Library Association) in which greater responsibility is placed on the learner to complete work out of class would not work in its original form at the elementary level. We considered the flipped classroom model as more of an inspiration than a blueprint. In our version, it would extend library instruction online, allowing the classroom teacher to forge ahead with my lessons in the computer lab without me physically in the room, and scheduled to teach other classes in the library at the same time. This approach would also free me to work with small research groups online in applying the information literacy concepts. In our Title 1 school, not all students have access to computers at home and not all have the discipline or parental support necessary to replicate the ALA model. At the same time, putting these resources online would allow the more self-directed students access to them at any time. We would experiment and modify to find what worked for these students.
We started planning early, and I scouted for free or low-cost tech tools to bring library instruction to students and to measure their mastery of objectives. Edmodo formed the core as a course management system, as the science teacher had introduced it to our school the year before and could mentor me in its use. Using the Big6 as a general guide, I would focus on student evaluation of resources for credibility. Determining an author’s credibility and bias applies to every information source and is a central Common Core skill.
We began with an information-literacy pre-test, a brief ten-question assessment delivered by TRAILS, Tool for Real-Time Assessment of Information Literacy. Two in-person lessons for each class section followed to introduce/review the library resources. Armed with broad topics of interest, students reviewed intermediate-level searching for books in Destiny, the online catalog by Follett. Next we turned to article searching, comparing Grolier Online with a subscription database at EbscoHost, Searchasaurus and Kids Search.
The science teacher registered all students in Edmodo and made sure the parental permissions were in place. And the teacher also covered the basic concepts of digital citizenship with students. Students would access resources on Thursdays, when the science teacher would rotate the sections through our one computer lab, use my online videos and teach my lessons. Admittedly, giving up this control was the hardest part for me. I worried that I would feel disconnected with no first-hand knowledge of student responses.
Following the first and second in-person teaching sessions, I asked students to evaluate the databases they had explored and compare their coverage of their topics. As their first written activity, they were to post responses via Padlet, a virtual sharing wall. This required students to practice searching different databases by individual topic, identify what types of information were indexed and then judge how well each database would meet their research needs. I hoped that students would take ownership of their searching through posting a public review of each database.
In evaluating information, it’s important that students understand the role of gatekeeper, the trained editor, or editorial team, which evaluate the quality of information published in books, newspapers and most magazines. In contrast to the review done by an editor, information searched on the open Internet is often not reviewed. That puts the student in the role of gatekeeper himself or herself. For that reason, our next in-person class and follow-up videos focused on evaluating websites. As a 3-part sequence, I created an animated cartoon with Powtoons and videos with the screencasting tools Jing and Screencast-O-Matic. Students were put “in the driver’s seat” by searching for websites guided by essential questions and evaluating them using a checklist using the C.A.R.S. framework (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support).
After this collaborative instruction using a variety of tools delivered through Edmodo, the science teacher created research groups based on common inquiry topics. Edmodo is flexible and allows teachers to develop many interactive tools to engage students. I used polls, review questions and assignments to assess each group’s progress in locating, evaluating and using information. Students were able to store digital resources that other teachers and I recommended in their Edmodo backpacks and access them from home. Though I had felt disconnected during the “flipped” computer lab lessons in which I was only virtually “there”, the benefits of my differentiated small group guidance on Edmodo became clear. We created a community in which the excitement of discovery learning initiated in-person chats. My grade 5 drop-in traffic dramatically increased as groups came to visit me in the library to talk about their projects. Students were engaged. Their questions allowed me to embed information literacy instruction and technology support at the point of need.
Though student excitement about learning rates very high in determining the success of any unit, achievement data is also important. Have students progressed, and if so, by how much? We administered a post-test using TRAILS to compare the outcome. The student mean increased 7 percentage points in the TRAILS Evaluation of Resources module during this 3-month unit. Because I had selected the grade 6 level tests for these 5th graders, this was significant. At the end of the day, our students demonstrated that they were more able to identify credible information. Not bad for a first year with a new unit.
It’s challenging to learn many new tools during the year when there are so many other professional demands. I spent a lot of time learning the tool functions and recording while putting together this unit. I believe the time spent paid dividends. Now I can edit and improve my existing video footage. I can also create more integrated supporting materials to engage student responses. Rubrics, checklists and other activities are important to measure progress during this unit. As a culminating product to measure information literacy objectives, I’d plan to create the ultimate assessment to measure a student’s understanding of evaluating websites: a student-created tutorial using a screencasting tool.