Helping students connect the dots: Tools to engage students in their own learning

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Helping students connect the dots: Tools to engage students in their own learning

Helping students connect the dots: Tools to engage students in their own learning

Claire Holmes, Research & Instruction LibrarianAlbert S. Cook Library

January ConferenceUniversity of One: Connecting Theory to Practice

Towson UniversityJanuary 14, 2015

I tweet @TUEdLibrarian. #TUJanCon

Welcome! 1

connect the dotsengage students in their own learning

help student build connections

infuse UDL principles and practice

I will be talking today about some of the instructional practices that I have found to be effective in my quest to help students engage. I want them to be engaged in the moment, but also to begin to understand how they learn best. Ideally, they will make curricular connections and build context on their own, but I have found that there are ways to facilitate that reflective process.

While this is not a UDL session, per se, many of the techniques do incorporate UDL practice. I have been a participant and am currently a coach in TU/OAIs UDL professional development initiative. Those of us who have participated have found immediate gains in student engagement by using the UDL guidelines to accommodate learner variability and create varied learning experiences across a wide range of content areas and learning outcomes.2

instructional context & impetusguest statusshort timeframeneutral student dispositionAs library faculty, we usually have between 50-90 min with students to teach concepts and specific skills, but our intent is also to help generate a positive attitude @ Cook Library and libraries in general. We know that sometimes students are not inclined to be interested in library resources

For pre-service teachers with whom I work, I am preparing them to teach information literacy to their own students in the future and modeling ways they will collaborate with school librarians as teachers.

My brief discussion today will center around connections between 2 courses which include single sessions of library instruction related to using childrens literature in lesson planning: EDUC 417 is a broader elem ed methods course about using quality childrens lit in reading & language arts instruction (FLIPPED model instruction with tutorial)ELED 357 is specific to teaching English language learners (apply knowledge of childrens lit and related resources to this more specific context)

The library instruction for these courses is coordinated and complementary, and I have found that explaining this explicitly is important to help students activate their background knowledge and acknowledge and channel their prior experience.

Fundamental information is delivered via flipped model for the EDUC 417 course:

Students complete the tutorial module before the class, which leaves time for more active classroom based learning activities in that library session, including hands-on time with childrens books, time spent in the cook childrens collection to help students navigate it more successfully, small group work on a scavenger hunt activity to explore childrens lit and related resources in order to apply them to course assignments and lesson plans. It also provides the foundation for the library session offered for ELED 357, among other courses.

It is the ELED 357 course library session that I will mainly be discussing here.


create communityInstruction brings like high stakes for library faculty because we are generally guest speakers entering others' classroom communities, sometimes too early in semester for students to know each other or be comfortable w/expectations, so we need ways to generate an engaging setting quickly.

Creating community in this particular scenario: Childrens books are displayed on students desks when students walk in which entices engagement and facilitates informal discussion. I try to use the downtime while students straggle into class productively, even if they are not all there yet. I think it helps establish a rapport and a comfortable atmosphere.


use primary sourceshands-on experienceguided practicerubrics

Childrens literature is used as primary source material in this scenario. Students read pre-selected multicultural kids' books aloud to each other.

In other more traditional scenarios, for example scholarly articles featuring original research, we find that hands-on experience and guided reading support via infographics, checklists or rubrics helps students unpack both the format and the content, all of which boosts comprehension.


facilitate interactiondiscussion in pairs or small groupsspecific task focusexplicit directions

In the library session for the ELED 357 course, again related to teaching English language learners:

A cultural relevance rubric, identified via an article in the teacher education body of literature, is used to guide students paired reading and to help them examine cultural relevancy of the book itself along with their own cultural attitudes and perceptions. This practice generates and guides discussion and awareness.

For small group work to be effective, giving explicit directions and keeping the focus on a specific task is important.


build in accountabilitygroup discussion report outgroup role assignmentschecklistsLetting students know that they will be expected to share their ideas, highlights, conclusions, findings BEFORE they engage in their discussions keeps them accountable to each other and the full class and generally facilitates active participation.

Assigning group roles can provide further structure if needed.

Providing a timeframe and a visible checklist for what the report out will entail keeps students on task.7

collaborate to build contentdirect learning applicationrelevanceconnection to peers

Collaborative learning activities are a great way to apply practical experience.

I find that I tend to work gradually toward large group activities since they can be harder to manage, even within one session starting students with a quick brainstorm activity with their immediate neighbor, then building into small group and full class discussions seems to go better:

In this specific instruction scenario, the collaborative activity involves identifying and listing search keywords to find particular themes in childrens books as a way of building and practicing specific library skills.

We challenged them to create a list of keywords that would be helpful in searching for culturally responsive childrens books and then I posted their list on many of the education course gateways in courses that also use childrens lit . The resource had value for them & their peers with similar challenges, and my colleagues can use it too, when working at the research help desk.


assess continuouslyworking documentsquick checksformative assessment activitiesexit ticketsFormative Assessment: worksheets or google docs facilitate engagement helps guide note taking, paces participation & learning progress,

During paired or group activities, I circulate to listen in on groups interactions, engage as needed with informal checks for understanding and insight.

To build students reflective process, exit tickets are effective. For example, minute paper with main takeaway for today, or a reflective journal or blog entry to answer a question prompt. 9

The ways we engage our students are also the ways we help them reflect on their own learning, understand their own best ways of learning, help them make important curricular connections.

Active learning facilitates students learning and helps them build context and find relevancy, even when they are skeptical.

Responsive UDL instruction is also more fun and engaging for us as instructors. Lets share our techniques here and build a collaborative word wall to portray our collective practice.10