Leading the Horses to Water

For the last two weeks, we have been working with Ms. Lester’s ESOL students on their research paper.  These students are exploring veterans’ issues with a focus on homeless veterans. 

Although this was their first experience in the library, they jumped right into the pathfinder we created for them.  Using our del.icio.us bookmarks and tags to “lead” them to the “good stuff” really seemed make a big difference in helping them access the information more easily and with minimum frustration. 

What was most impressive to me was how quickly they picked up new NoodleTools skills.  Because the classes were small (10), we were able to give each student a little more “intensive care” than we can larger classes of 30 students.  We helped each student enter his or her information source NT entries.  Although these students had never used NoodleTools before, they quickly picked up the concept—after the first entry or two, many were able to quickly identify the bibliographic components in their articles and were able to help neighboring peers. 

Why does this stand out to me?  We frequently hear moans and groans from our Honors students that NoodleTools is “hard” even though they do pick up the skills with practice and reinforcement.  However, I will be the first to tell you that their whiney attitudes and negative outlook really does get my under skin at times.  Once you stop and think about what you are doing, that truly is nothing “hard” about using NoodleTools to create your bibliographic entries.  To me, “hard” would be trying to use the MLA handbook to figure out how to cite database articles!  The “hard” part is thinking carefully and determining the type of information source you are citing—once you figure that out, it is all downhill!

 Some of our “Honors” students claim these skills are hard, yet this group of ESOL students, who had no library experience at our high school level until this year, immediately picked up the skills with no whining, no fussing, no wailing and gnashing of teeth.  What was the difference?  While smaller class size helped, the big difference was attitude:  these students were open-minded and had a sense of humility—no manner of arrogance that “This is not the best way” or “This is garbage.”  Instead, they listened—really listened—and then applied what we had showed them with an earnestness that was refreshing.   I was humbled and inspired by the faith these students had in us—they trusted that we would show them something important, something worth knowing, something that would help them.

On a larger scale, I think our experiences of the last two weeks show that attitude still goes a long way.  While I am journaling about this primarily to highlight the progress of these students and our pride in their information literacy skills progress :-), I think there is a larger lesson in this for us as teachers.  We cannot learn, apply, and integrate new ways of teaching (technology based and non-technology based) if we do not have an open-minded attitude.  Do we have to accept every new trend and teaching “toy” that comes our way?  Certainly not, but if we close our eyes to everything, then we are missing out on teaching tools and strategies that could help our students and energize our classrooms. 

Of all people, we as teachers should be modeling lifelong learning.  Ironically, though, I see so many teachers who think they know everything they need to know about their craft once they have earned their four-year degree or just because they have taught x amount of years.  Yes, there is wisdom that can be gained with experience and with advanced study, but learning never really ends for us teachers. 

In our district, we are so fortunate to have access to a great technology infrastructure, tech tools, and access to web-based learning tools.  Yet many teachers see no need to attend training or participate in programs like Teach 21 just because they already have the “goods.”  What they do not understand is that additional training can help us really crack up open the potential of the “goods” we have in classroom and at our fingertips.  We frequently send out emails or flyers about great web 2.0 tools only to discover they are deleted or go unread. 

For me personally, I am constantly wanting to learn and to better hone my teaching craft.  Why would anyone not want to try out all the great new tools we have at our disposal to improve teaching and learning?  Blogs, del.icio.us, RSS….these are just a few web 2.0 applications that have transformed my craft as a librarian and as a classroom teacher. 

I can only hope that if we keep modeling these tools and continue to share our joy and excitement generated by the results of using these tools, then those who haven’t taken a drink of the “waters” will be convinced to taste and open their hearts and minds to the possibilities that technology offers us to enhance our teaching!

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