Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Importance of Reflection

There are few things in life more important than reflection. Where did I start? How did I get through my journey? What will I do better next time? Reflection helps us grow as individuals and as communities. It demands time to consider actions and encourages us to think of ways to improve in similar circumstances. This is integral to learning.

At the end of each project I do with my students, I require reflection. It is built into the projects and serves as a pause that cements into the brain what has been learned. Without reflecting, people fall into habits. Whatever we have done comfortably in the past, we continue to do. In practical terms in a school research setting, students jump on Google, type in a question, and use the first five Google hits to write their term papers. It may not be the correct way to do things, but it is easy and is what they have always done. That is not learning.

Reflection does not need to take a long time. It can be just a five-ten minute exercise for some.  It just takes good open-ended questions and prompts, such as:

  • Name three things you learned in this project
  • Why is it important to vet your sources?
  • What was the hardest part of this project for you?
  • What will you do differently to improve your research next time?

At the end of each project, I too reflect on what went well and what did not. I share my reflections with my co-teachers and my boss. Furthermore, I keep this blog, in part, to aid my overall reflection of my work. Beyond work, I keep a diary to reflect on my life. Taking time to think deeply about my actions helps me improve my future decisions AND gives shape to my life. I have a strong sense of self and purpose, in large part because of my reflection skills.

I find that my more advanced and thoughtful students will take longer with reflections, but for many, reflecting does not come naturally. In this fast paced digital era, considering past successes and failures might not occur if teachers do not build it into projects. My students quickly move from one activity to another - Get out of class, text a friend, play an online game, take a selfie...reflection serves as a means to slow down modern day distractions. It is my hope that even just a little reflecting time will help people recognize its value and build a desire for more reflection.

I ended the school year with a reflection exhibit that asked kids the following:

  • What are the two best memories you have of this year?
  • In what areas do you feel you have improved the most?
  • What are three new things you have learned?
  • What subject have you enjoyed the most?
  • What have you learned about yourself this year?
  • What are you most proud of this year?
Reflection reminds us that we are constantly changing and that the world around us is changing too. Considering how and what we learn allows us to better understand how we fit in the world. It should not be an optional part of education.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Biggest Challenge

One strong librarian skill is sorting information. I constantly and automatically sort things in my head.

New plant for my garden: What other pinks do I already have? What other plants do I have in this family? What garden in my yard will this best fit because of the plants' size, habits, etc.?
New cleaning supplies for the house: Do I already have this kind of brush or that chemical? Will I store this one in the upstairs closet or downstairs? Will the tall bottle fit in that space? Do I need another storage space?
News story on the radio: How does this relate to what I already know? Is this similar to another story I've heard? Does it run counter to it? What other subjects does this relate to?

If you are in a business that requires you to sort information, such as genealogy, I'm sure you sort in your head too. When I was a young adult, it was surprising to me that not everyone sorted this way. I've spent my adult life trying to pick apart this skill to teach others and I think this is the biggest challenge of librarians. How do we get others to think about information as something that needs categorization? How do we show that this benefits our understanding of the world and keep us from being overwhelmed by information?

I don't know where I picked up this skill of categorizing everything. I'm not sure if it was learned or ingrained. When I was young, I spent many Sundays in my room turning on Channel 5 (in New York) on my small black and white television. I played the afternoon movie in the background and sorted things. I dusted and moved around collections of plastic horses on my shelves, I shuffled through baseball cards. I arranged my underwear by day of the week. I knew that this was not my siblings' idea of a relaxing afternoon, but I didn't give our different interests much thought at that point.

One day, when I was a young mother, I watched my daughter take her crayons and line them up by color on the step leading from one room in our house to another. My mom and I began calling the skill that my daughter and I both had "the librarian gene." Some Professional organizers seem to believe that this skill is fully learned. After watching my daughter, I tend to think it is at least in part innate. From wherever the talent comes, it is related to sensemaking and is critical to understanding the information around us.

Making sense of the world around us involves analyzing our organization of information that is new to us

I just finished grading my final research papers for the year. Those students who did best on them were the ones who best organized their information right from the start. They made headers for sections as they took notes; they kept track of sources; they looked for keywords that better allowed them to make connections between information; they asked questions about what they read and sought answers; they reflected on their own thinking. These students have an awareness that I had difficulty helping many others reach. Though there are many successes I can cite this past year in teaching information organizational skills to my students, I am greedy. I want to crack the shell of confusion that prevents many students from understanding.

The school librarian's biggest challenge? How can the teaching of organizational skills be applied to the often overwhelming world of information? I look to all of my organization colleagues for answers.