This is the second in a brief series of posts about my recent visit with a class of undergraduate students who will soon become high school English teachers. I was invited to share information about the role of school library media programs in teaching and learning.
One of my core beliefs about effective instruction is the importance of knowing your learners. With two hours to make the case and little information about these students to start with, trying to somehow get to know these learners was a difficult challenge. I started with a little information gathering to learn about the students. I did a short exercise at the beginning of the session to get them thinking about their ideas about school libraries and librarians. This exercise also allowed me a glimpse into their initial thoughts on these topics.
I started with a simple google form that I embedded into a wiki page that formed the home base for my presentation. In the form, I asked several simple questions. Given that these are future English teachers, I decided to take a grammar-flavored approach. I asked them to list (separately) the first 5 nouns, verbs, and adjectives that came to mind when they thought of school libraries. (I then asked them to do the same for school librarians, which I will share in my next post.) After the students completed the questions, I went to the spreadsheet of results and copy/pasted the information from each column into wordle.net. As you likely know, wordle generates word clouds based on the frequency of responses. The more often a response is given, the bigger the word in the wordle. This results in a “quick and dirty” analysis of the answers given by students. And yes, there are flaws, but it does give some general information to fuel discussions. (As an aside, I’ve used this little process in many situations to “take the temperature” of a group on a number of subjects.)
Once the wordles were generated, I posted each of them and we asked questions such as: Which words are missing? Which words are bigger or smaller than we might have expected? Which words are surprising? What assumptions or stereotypes might this word cloud reveal? (And yes, one of the possible flaws with this particular process was the use of the stereotype-driven poem at the beginning of the session.) What can we learn from this text?
It usually makes for interesting discussions. Inevitably, there are some unexpected, random words that either make us all laugh or make us all think.
Here are the wordles the students generated when thinking about school libraries. First, the nouns.
“books” is the clear winner here, but I was initially surprised that “computers” came in such a close second. But, if you look closer, “Books” (with a capital B) and “book” are included separately, so I don’t think it is quite as close as it initially seems. Librarians are smaller than I had thought they would be, but other than that (and a few interesting odds and ends – “fortress”), most of it seemed relatively expected. Although I was happy to see the appearance of “ideas,” I wish it had been bigger.
Next up were the adjectives describing school libraries. Maybe the biggest word won’t surprise you…
It is a fascinating mix of words, from safe and welcoming to dusty, confusing, and smelly (and yes, the “book smell” did make an appearance in our discussions.) I wonder, what do you make of this?
Finally, the verbs. As the students completed the google form, many of them seemed to get stuck. When I asked what was challenging, several students said that the question about verbs in school libraries was the toughest to answer. Several of them could not think of five different verbs to list. (Ouch!) As I mentioned earlier, this was not a scientific poll, but it does tell us something about the impressions some young teachers might have about the kinds of things we can *do* in school libraries. For this group, it was far easier to think of objects than actions. I’ll leave you with the wordle of their verbs, and hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.