Saturday, June 22, 2013

Educating Archives

This week's post is a follow up to April's High School Archives as Independent Study post. As a newly minted high school information specialist, I am seeking better ways to teach students an overall  understanding of information in all its forms so that they may become adept at understanding and using this information. Working in a school has been eye opening. In my opinion, there is a strong need for a more wholistic approach to the use of information among young people.

As a case in point I will discuss one student contact that I see as a success. I had my final meeting with my archives directed study student yesterday and await her final project. The student's goal was to create a timeline of the history of schools in our district. We went on a field trip together to the local historical society. We saw the collection they had related to local schools. The Society gave the student a slim volume that discussed the one room schoolhouses in town. She was off and running.

Over the course of the semester, the tenth grade student used the book she was given to pull out information about local schools with the intent of creating label copy for her timeline that will be exhibited in the library. She worked and reworked her words. She created a timeline covering 100 years of the school district with eventual clear intention that she would not cover up to the present day on the timeline itself.   She plans to credit the book and historical society at the bottom of her timeline. She visited the historical society for a second time on her own and chose photos to include in the exhibit. She went out and took her own photos of the buildings that are still standing.

The students' project morphed along the way. She began by reviewing high school yearbooks to better understand how our high school has evolved and changed; how the interests and activities of students have changed over the fifty years since our high school was built. After our visit to the historical society, she went on the trajectory described above. I think that's okay. I think it set a base for understanding that student life has changed. I think that looking at yearbooks started her thinking about the past and put her in a better frame of mind for imagining life further back. This project made me more firmly believe in the idea of teaching history backwards. I'll be interested to see if the student hands in something related to her yearbook findings on her own or if that aspect gets dropped altogether. It is okay either way.

I visited the local history collection at our public library earlier this week. I made copies of materials that supplemented what the student had found in the historical society's slim volume. Yesterday, I showed the student annual reports that included school committee reports. I also showed her other local history books that mention area schools. One of the larger volumes about our town has been scanned by Google, so I explained and showed her this too. [I do wish that I had done this earlier in the project. However, it may have just confused a student at this age. I need to reflect on this some more.]

Yesterday, when I asked the student what she has learned, she told me that she was surprised by the number of schools we have had in our district over the past 150 years. This is what I told her that I thought she learned:

  • How to create tight descriptive summaries and get rid of useless words
  • How to take someone else's words, study them carefully and extract their true meaning. To question what someone else writes. To understand that even something published is not an absolute authoritative information source.
  • To back up what a writer says by viewing other sources.
  • To seek archives (in this case the school reports) to back up conclusions.
  • The need to write papers (or exhibits) with a clear beginning and end - to not leave the reader "hanging" when writing something that is supposed to be informative. 
  • To state her intention and carry a project to the end, with room for self-discovery and creativity.
  • To reach out to experts (in this case the historical society) on her own for help.
More than the final product, the process of the work done to create an understanding of local history was successful here. What I hope the student gained, more than anything, is a passion for exploring her own interests and for learning. Only time will tell us that.

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