Friday, May 1, 2009

A Biblio-WHAT?!?

(Continued from the previous post, entitled "Happy TRAILS")

Work with the 10th grade ELA class continues. S. is doing a fabulous job of making sure the students stay on track with their Persepolis PowerPoint presentations. She is a truly wonderful teacher and it's inspiring to work with her. At this point, the students have taken their first 9th grade TRAILS assessment and had a lesson on Google precision searching with Boolean operators, both in the library. Today, I went to S's classroom to give a mini-lesson on using MLA style guidelines when citing web sites for the bibliography slide before students broke out laptops to continue their research.

Now, I know for certain S. mentioned bibliographies during one of our previously co-taught lessons in the library. I remember at least one class confusing "bibliography" with "biography" and we explained it to help them understand the difference between the two. That said, the Aim question on my worksheet, "Why is it helpful to use a standardized format for our bibliographies?" threw the first class for a loop. I wrote, "Bibliography: a list of sources used in your research project" on S's white board, and we made sure that this definition was there in big letters the next two times we taught the lesson.

One of the challenges a student brought forth in the first class was, "Why are you making this so hard?" This, I thought, was a reasonable question, so I addressed it. I told them that if we let them head toward college without an understanding of how to do a bibliography, we would be doing them a disservice; failing them, in effect. I went on to talk about some personal experience with someone I'm close to who'd gone to college, with less than stellar grades, based on artistic talent who promptly failed out due to poor classroom performance. Of the plethora of reasons he had difficulty in college, one significant factor was failure to demonstrate adequate academic writing skills.

In the second of the three classes, I incorporated much of what I'd learned from the students in the earlier class into my talk. They seemed to respond well. In fact, about four students from that class showed up with library passes signed by S. to work on their projects at lunch time. From what I could see, they were doing a marvelous job and making tons of progress. Naturally I was thrilled with the idea that S. and I may have had something to do with their motivation to do research.

The last of the three classes, also the school's last period of the day, on a Friday, no less, was the rockiest, yet in some ways the discussion was the deepest. That period is normally co-taught by S. and a Special Education teacher I call Mr. F., who helps individual students in the room stay focused on their work, among other things. Even with three adults in the room, however, the class was unruly and completely uninterested in bibliographies. I got off on the story about a close relative getting into college on artistic merits only to be forced to leave due to poor classroom performance and received moderate interest from the class. I happened to mention that I, like this family member, was a middling to poor student in high school, but because I had waited until the age of 25 to go to college after years of working and living on my own, my college experience was different and I was successful.

When I spoke about how much I hated high school and how little I'd paid attention, one student yelled out, "Well, then at least you know how we feel!" I confirmed that I most certainly did. Then another student, who had been paying attention to my ramblings from early on asked, "How did you decide to become a librarian?" I hadn't really planned on this mini-lesson being about me, but I remembered my supervisor and teaching mentor at previous school, Ms. D., telling me how personal experiences that resonate with students can be very motivating. She was right, and I began to use them more often in my ESL teaching. Given the sudden interest in my background, I thought I would quickly answer the question to keep the dialogue going.

I explained how I'd felt when I took a job shelving books part time in a public library, meeting all these intelligent librarians and library users. "I felt like an idiot for not having paid attention in high school," I said. "Here were all these well-read people, with so much knowledge and I thought to myself, "Where was I all that time?'" I told the class how I asked the librarians how they got their jobs and how they rattled off the their credentials: an undergraduate degree and a masters in Library Science. By the time "Sci--" was out of my mouth the students in the room were all saying, "Wait-wait-wait! What? You have to have all that just to be a librarian???"

"Yup," I replied as S. nodded in agreement. "And I also went on to get a Masters in Education," I added.

"I want to do like you," said the first student who had paid attention. I told her it was a tough way to go. College takes longer and it's harder to pay for when you're older and working full time. I told the whole class they'd be better off trying to get what they could from school now rather than getting out in the work force without a degree and that I would always be behind people who went straight to college in some ways.

With all this talk about school, its delayed value and my foibles, we were running late on the bibliography discussion. I quickly covered the main points of citing web sites, all of which were printed in examples and explanations on my worksheet, so that the students could get their laptops and I could get out of their hair. Oddly, this difficult class turned out to be the most rewarding, in way. Students always teach teachers. The trick is to be able to listen to what they're telling you and adapt accordingly.