Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Students in the Rainforest!

Long time readers of this blog (hi Mom!) may assume that the title of this blog is a lead up to an analogy. But I'm being quite literal. For the past 20 years, my school has sent a group of students to the Costa Rican Rainforest in order to conduct scientific research. You can read more about the project on our website. It's an amazing project in many ways.

And I'm going to be a part of it! Wendy Welshans, the project leader, approached me right before the group left on this year's expedition and asked if I wanted to go to the rainforest. After clarifying that she meant next year (you never know. . .), I responded with an enthusiastic yes! I'll be going down with them in order to help them share about the research they're doing while they're there. We'll be blogging and sharing photos and videos, hopefully. As you can imagine, it's quite remote, and we're just beginning to figure out the logistics involved.

For this year, we're working on sharing the results and process of the group that's just returned. We've started a Forman Rainforest Project blog, and a Flickr group , and a YouTube channel (all in the beginning stages, with more to come). The blog includes a separate page for each different project, where we've posted the papers they wrote before heading off to the rainforest, and where we'll eventually share their final dissertations. We'll also be adding interviews with students about their experiences in the rainforest.

This is where I'd like to enlist your and your students' participation. Please, share the blog with teachers and students in your school, and encourage them to comment and ask questions. These students have a ton of great information to share, and their work deserves a wider audience. So share it! Share like crazy! And ask us questions!

Check out our Flickr slideshow and an awesome video of some leaf cutter ants below--if that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Understanding introverts

I am way, way late on writing up anything from ALA Midwinter, but I told a few people I'd write up my reflections from Susan Cain's talk about introversion--and I'd also like to write them up in a more formal way for my own reflection purposes. Given the amount of time that's passed however, this is going to be more of a "what she said/what I thought" list rather than something cohesive.

Cain started by asking everyone in the audience to think about a moment in their childhood that illustrated their introversion or extroversion, then gather in groups of six to share those stories. Everyone shifted uncomfortably for a moment before she said she was kidding. You could feel the entire room relax.

I think it would be fair to assume that the majority of people in that room were self-identified introverts--and I think we've all been in situations where a speaker actually wanted us to actually do something like that. And then all tried to figure out how to escape. It was nice to have a speaker instead acknowledge how terrifying such requests can be.

The idealized extrovert:

What Susan Cain had to say:
  • In this extroverted world of ours, we all act more extroverted than we really are
  • We internalize the biases against introverts from a young age
  • We view introversion as something between a flaw and a pathology
My thoughts:
I know I, as an introvert, internalized biases against introverts. I figured there was something wrong with me because I didn't like being around people all the time--and often find social situations overwhelming. Some of that was shyness, but a lot of it isn't. No one who knows me well who would describe me as shy, but I am definitely still introverted.

I think part of this is that extroverts are more likely to be public figures--and introverts who are in the public eye put on an extroverted face. Which always makes me think: we're being told extroversion is the ideal--but who are the ones telling us that? Extroverts. So maybe their viewpoint is a wee bit biased. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being extroverted--just as there's nothing wrong with being introverted. I think these two personality types can exist without value judgments.

Different kinds of attention:
What Susan Cain had to say:
  • Introverted children absorb information by observing rather than by participating, but they’re still involved.
  • When given a math problem to solve, introverts performed better when there were low levels of background noise, extroverts performed better when background noise went up.
This made me think of the constant debate around multitasking, and students' constant insistence that "I work better with music!" I'm also curious about what this looks like for people who have ADD/ADHD or other executive functioning issues. Does more noise still help? Or hinder? I don't know if there's been any research on that, but I hope there will be.

I also know that I, as an introvert, tend to absorb more by observing than by participating; I think "l'esprit de l'escalier" is the curse of the introvert. In meetings or other groups I am often so busy trying to absorb and process what's happening that it's not until we've moved on (or the meeting is over) that I'm ready to respond. Given the option, I prefer asynchronous communication on group projects--or at least the ability to follow up in writing afterwards (writing helps me figure out my thinking on a topic). Unfortunately, following up with an e-mail about something you "should" have shared in a meeting is often viewed as weak or passive-aggressive (and this is not me projecting insecurities--I've had people tell me this). I've tried to get better in these situations about at least speaking up to say, "I need to think more about this; I'll follow up with my thoughts in an e-mail later."

Lessons for teachers and schools:
What Susan Cain had to say:
  • Classrooms used to mostly involve individual work; focus has tilted almost too much to group work. We need to have room for both.
  • We do a good job facilitating the needs of extroverts; we need to be better at facilitating the needs of introverts
  • Small groups (managed well) can be good for both introverts and extroverts.
  • People learn well in groups, but that’s not the full picture; in real life, these groups are different than the “ideal model” being studied. And really, we learn best 1-to-1
  • Introverted students love to work independently and autonomously, and it drains their energy in order to have to work as an extrovert. 
  • In our push away from “one size fits all” education, are we just trying to cram students into a different mold when the old size actually fit them well?
  • We need balance. And we need room for both.
  • Solitude is an important catalyst to creativity, and introverts are comfortable with solitude. 
My thoughts:

The more we value collaboration in school, what is the impact on our introverted students? I think it's vital that we create ways for both extroverts and introverts to play to their strengths--and to stretch a bit beyond their comfort zone. Collaboration is, I believe, important to learning, but there are different ways to collaborate. Asynchronous collaboration is possible; it doesn't all have to be active group work.

I also think this needs to impact the way we teach and manage our classrooms. Having "active" classrooms is great for extroverts, but overwhelming for introverts. It's important to create room for quiet, too. Just as introverts can benefit from developing the ability to be more active in groups, extroverts can benefit from developing the ability to sit and be still.

Cain also said something else that made me think about how I, personally, work in a school setting. She said that introverts prefer to devote social energies to people they know well. I think this is, likely, why I like working in a small school--working with fewer people, it's possible to develop meaningful working relationships with a higher percentage of the people you work with. And given that librarianship, at least in my mind, is about relationships (more on that in an upcoming post), being able to build those relationships is important. I'm sure I could build those relationships in a bigger school, but building them with a greater percentage of my colleagues feels more possible for me in a small school.

General takeaways:
  • We are losing out on the skills and talents of introverts by compelling them to pretend to be extroverted.
    Introverts are social beings, too. We just express it differently. 
    Extroverts seize the day, introverts make sure there is another day to seize.
  • Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others it is a lamplit desk.
  • Collaboration between introverts and extroverts can be powerful. Each brings different strengths. 
  • I’m not saying John Donne was wrong and man is an island after all. We need each other.
  • We need a world where it is culturally permissible to go off and be quiet. At work and at school.
  • We need to let our children know that it is okay to be introverted
That last one is the big takeaway for me. We need to stop teaching--directly and indirectly--that extroversion is the ideal, and introverts better learn to measure up to it. Or we're all going to miss out.

Friday, March 2, 2012

One School, Many Books

My students have all headed off for Spring Break--a welcome break for all involved! I'm relieved to be on break (goal for break: get my sleep back in functioning condition), but also excited about what will be happening when students come back from break.

We started a program I'm calling "One School, Many Books" this year. I'd long been interested in doing a One School One Book program, but had no idea what book I would choose for such a program. As a result of working in a very small school with students with very diverse reading interests, all of my top ten checkouts have checkout totals in the single digits. What book could I possibly choose? Especially since much of my population is comprised of VERY reluctant readers. If the book doesn't appeal to them, there's no way they're going to even give it a shot.

But then I started thinking about what could motivate students to read a book over Spring Break. And I realized, as with so many other things, it's about making connections between people. A student who might not be interested in reading a book (or only have a passing interest in reading a book) might be more interested if reading that book was tied to a book club being hosted by one of their favorite teachers.

We have an amazing faculty here, and several of them stepped up right away to host book clubs. Each of them have different interests, and connect with different kids, and so picked out very different books. Which I love. We've got groups reading The Hunger Games, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Gentlemen and Trapped.

Once I announced the book clubs, students would come in looking for "the book that Ms. _______ is reading." Didn't matter the book, they wanted to spend time with the teacher. They knew the teacher, liked the teacher, assumed

We're building on relationships that already exist in order to foster a love of reading. And it's really cool to watch it happening.

As part of this, we're hosting a visit from Michael Northrop (author of Gentlemen and Trapped) in April. Handing out those books to kids has been particularly cool. "This is mine to keep? Do you think he'll sign it for me? Awesome!"

In honor of that visit--and in the interest of generating more interest in those books, I made a couple book trailers.

I love making book trailers, as it pushes me to think in ways I don't usually think. "Thinking in pictures" is generally a weakness for me, but many of my students connect really well with images, so it's a skill I work on a lot--and making book trailers is a really fun way to develop that skill set. I use flickrCCBlueMountains for images, and have recently added PhotoPin to my "go to" sites for CC images. I use Jamendo for music, and I don't know what I'd do without it.

Overall we have about 30 (out of 180) kids involved in the book clubs in some way. I'm looking forward to the book club discussions that will be happening after break!