‘Learning Tools and Standards Lead To ‘Ah Ha’ Moments’ by Becky Walker and Pamela Verfaillie

Each year, students in Mrs. Walker’s junior English class research and write a persuasive essay.  This is one of the best known assignments at Valdez High School and is often approached by students with more trepidation than anticipation.

This year, thankfully, we are starting to see a shift in the mindset.  Ok, not the mindset BEFORE they start the assignment, but as the students progress, they come to understand the value of what they are learning.

Mrs. Verfaillie introducing databases.

Much of this shift can be attributed to a collaboration between the classroom teacher and the school library that is based on the 2017 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards and the framework for learners.

Mrs. Walker is continuously adapting and developing her persuasive writing assignment, and has enthusiastically embraced the AASL Standards.  Using the framework for learners as an evaluation starting point, she was able to see goals that were being clearly met, and also review areas of the assignment that could be improved.

Mrs. Walker identified the AASL Standards in her assignment and discovered areas where she could add components to further develop the project.

One such area was ‘Engage.’  Our students have always been taught to evaluate sources, where to find credible sources that have already been evaluated, and how to properly cite them in the paper.  This year there was an added focus on why they do these things.  Mrs. Walker incorporated John Green’s “Crash Course in Digital Literacy” as a way to set the stage for appropriately and effectively engaging with information. An added bonus was a shared vocabulary that improved communication with her students.

‘Inquire’ also received additional attention this year.  Our students spent time investigating possible topics for the paper – not online but by actually wandering through the library and perusing the intentionally curated collection Mrs. Verfaillie, VHS Library Associate, set out on display.  Getting students physically engaged with information rather than just scanning through websites created a broader range of topics and perspectives.  Side note – this reinforces the message, delivered in the Netflix documentary, “A Social Dilemma”, that online metrics tend to show viewers things that reinforce their own opinions rather than opening their minds to a broader range of ideas.

Once students started selecting topics of personal interest for the persuasive essay, Mrs. Walker introduced a graphic organizer to develop a list of questions to further develop their focus.  Students further expanded their curiosity, or sometimes realized that they weren’t all that interested in the topic they had chosen and were able to change direction before getting too far into the research process.  These questions also became the foundation for thesis statements.

The next foundation to receive a closer look was ‘Curate.’ Students have always located sources, gathered information, and taken notes.  Upon review, Mrs. Verfaillie suggested using notecards in NoodleTools as a way to better systematically organize information.  The inquiry graphic organizer again came into play when students were sorting their notecards into piles and creating their outline.

The ‘ah ha’ moments so far have been great. “I want to research Immigration because I don’t know that much about it and I’m not sure where I stand.”  “Oh, now I see how NoodleTools will make this easier to organize.”  We are anxiously awaiting what comes next when the new response activity is introduced during student presentations.

Mrs. Becky Walker, English Teacher, Valdez High School

Mrs. Pamela Verfaillie, Library Associate, Valdez High School