What a great day at Treasure Mountain!  Getting up at 6am was still a bit rough (3am Best Coast time), but once the eighth cup of joe got into the system, life was good.  A quick detail breakfast with Dr. Loertscher and we were off to the races.

I remember getting to hear the Chicago Symphony live in Symphony Hall for the only time in my life in 1990.  Our local orchestra was at a bit of a low point and some of their concerts were seeming to drag on for ever.  I remember checking my watch at the end of the second movement of Chicago’s performance of Mahler 6 and being stunned that 45 minutes had already gone by.  It had felt like seconds since our butts had hit the seats.  This morning’s Treasure Mountain sessions felt much the same.  When we wrapped up just after noon, I felt that we’d only just started.

The one-two punch first off was a presenter on online literacy assessment and another on working with academically talented learners.  Dr. Don Leu discussed an ongoing research project that he is working on at the University of Connecticut that is, among other things, developing ORCA, the Online Research and Comprehension Assessment.  This is an assessment tool that walks students through a short (20-40 minute) guided research process that measures their information literacy skills in an online environment.  The assessment itself feels very much like a social media exchange and involves tasks such as selecting appropriate email addresses from an imitation address book, copying and pasting URLs, keyword searching and the assessment of credible online resources.  The tool feels very complete in our very limited viewing during the presentation and looks to accurately provide valuable feedback on student competence in the areas that it sets out to measure.  Dr. Leu is hoping to be able to offer it publicly next Fall and is looking for study groups at the Grade 7 level in Language Arts to help with the final stages of data collection.  Those interested in either providing classes for study or getting access to the tool when it comes available should contact Dr. Leu directly via email.

Our second presenter was equally engaging and talked to us about her work, also at the University of Connecticut, in the area of gifted learners.  Dr. Sally Reis was quick to point out her disdain for the term “gifted.”  She feels that this word can put a heavy burden on kids who then feel that they have to somehow live up to being special and have a hard time when the inevitable struggle in learning comes along.  She feels that academically talented is a much more appropriate term and allows for talents in various academic areas.  Reis spoke passionately about her long standing work in developing SEM-R, the Schoolwide Enrichment Model in Reading.  She also pointed out that talent is not without effort and often goes through stages of latency, emergence and manifestation.  It is important that talented students are challenged and she cites a study that says 25-50% of all academically gifted students in the US either drop out of school or achieve failing grades because their needs are ignored in favour of giving attention to the students with academic challenges.

The third presentation was a panel discussion with three Connecticut school principles who all talked about how important a school library/learning commons was to the culture and academic success of their schools.  It was refreshing to hear of some of the initiatives taken at these schools that leveraged the power of a central, cross-discipline learning space.  One of the ideas that I particularly connected with was that of having collaborative teacher meeting occur in the learning commons space.  What a great way to model collaborative learning than to have teachers be seen as they planned classes in the learning commons.  In fact, in one school, collaborative teacher meeting time is required to occur in the learning commons!

Perhaps the highlight of the day, however was our work with a few groups of students who came to work with our group.  Two high school student technology teams spoke about how they work to integrate technology into their school by being the school’s tech gurus.  At both of these schools, the students help other students to learn tools that help them with their learning and work with teachers to get them up to speed on tools that they can use in class.  The students felt that they were giving back to their community and were clearly proud of the work that they do.  These same students were joined by a group who Skyped in from Utah to be the subjects in a survey that the adults in the room conducted around student feeling about their own learning.  The questions that the students answered were:

  • What do you like learning about?
  • How do you usually go about learning it on your own?
  • How do you know when you have learned something?

This group of students was remarkably comfortable, thoughtful and eloquent in their answering of these questions providing our “speed analysts” of Ross Todd, Carol Gordon and Lyn Hat plenty of material to draw their conclusions from.  Dr. Todd was brilliant, as usual, about synthesizing the findings into a succinct and entertaining presentation that spoke of the students’ personal quests for knowledge that often stemmed from a deep need to explain the world around them.  He noted that this need often came out of a broad social consciousness.  He noted that myriad of different approaches to pursuing these quests that spoke to the personalization of search and learning styles.  He also noted that the realization that a student had truly learned something was rooted in a sense of community and often was expressed in terms of being able to explain their new knowledge to others in ways that get the listener excited.  He also remarked that there was a level of “positive dissatisfaction” in that the resolution of one quest resulted in the recognition of new quests and that the learning never actually stops.

Thank goodness that the learning never stops!  After we’d cleaned up from this inspiring morning, we continued conversations into lunch and beyond.  Registration for AASL was under way and a new adventure was about to begin.  The keynote addresses were a lengthy parade of dignitaries and sponsors ending with a feel-good speech by Tony Wagner which is likely best summarized by the recognition, as he quoted from A Tale of Two Cities, “it is the best of times and it is the worst of times” in education but in both scenarios libraries and school librarians have a key role in moving education forward and helping to teach what matters to kids going forward.

The day wrapped up with a great reception for the independent school teacher librarians where many new connections were made and great conversation was had.  Time to go to bed so that I can actually continue to be immersed in this intense learning environment tomorrow!  Day 1 of AASL…

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