Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mini Ethnography of Teaching and Learning

The Educational Outreach Team at the Library of Congress is one of several groups within the Library that provides professional development for teachers. Our primary goal is to introduce teachers to the primary sources available on Library of Congress website that are available for use in the classroom. Our secondary goal is to provide tips on how to incorporate these materials into lesson plans and other classroom activities. We do this through materials presented on the Teachers Page and through workshops and programming offered to teachers both in-house and away from the Library. In the past fiscal year the Educational Outreach team presented 63 in-house workshops for 1248 people. This included our four summer teacher institutes where we hosted 89 teachers in four sessions. We did 24 out of house presentations for 4275 people including workshops at the National Conference for Teachers of English, the National Council for the Social Studies conference, and the National Educational Computing Conference.

We do presentations at national and regional educational conferences and occasionally for state organizations. We have also participated in large scale programs such as the Song of America tour where our team developed a day-long teachers institute that was given at each tour stop.
Our in-house program has been quite active. We accept groups from all over the country for half and full day long workshops offered in-house at the Library. For those teachers who cannot travel we offer video-conferencing options. We have also worked to develop a presence in the DC Public Schools offering professional development workshops during the weeks designated for in-service programs. The Educational Outreach division has also offered summer teacher institutes where teachers from throughout the country can come to the Library for a two and one half day program where they meet and work with reading room curatorial staff, learn how to use our website, are given examples of how to incorporate primary sources in the classroom and are asked to create a classroom exercise they might use with their students.

The Educational Outreach team also coordinates the Teaching with Primary Sources program. This congressionally funded program allows our team to collaborate with colleges and universities to help them create programs and classes that help teachers learn how to incorporate primary sources in classroom activities with a focus on Library of Congress resources. We are also developing a virtual institute for those teachers who cannot participate in the Teaching With Primary Sources program so that they can access these experiences from their home districts.

Our workshops do focus on introducing our Library of Congress resources but we pride ourselves on being able to work with teachers from a variety of different disciplines. Besides working with American History teachers, we have done subject specific workshops on Geography, English/Literature/Writing, Music and the other Performing Arts, Foreign Languages and Science. Workshops can be as short as an hour (just a quick website overview) or can last all day. If we have a limited time for instruction we will tend to provide a lecture with handouts that the teacher can refer to after the presentation. If we have a longer time we will do hand-on activities or offer the teachers the opportunity to work in one of our computer classrooms to practice some of what they have learned. We also try to allow lots of time for sharing and discussing what the teachers have learned. For example we may ask the teachers to pick one item that they found while searching that excited them and ask them to put it on their screen and allow the other teachers to wander around and see what their colleagues have found during the day. We may also ask the teachers to talk about one thing they learned during the workshop and how they will use it in the classroom.

One major problem we have with our workshops is that there much information to present and we have a small amount of time to do our presentations. The participants can get frustrated and overwhelmed at all there is to learn and there is often little time during the sessions to reflect on what has been learned and to figure out if they have questions or if they missed a something they need to repeat a search or exercise presented during the workshop. However the teachers are very excited to see what we have to offer and the resources that they can use with students.

To deal with the overwhelming amount of information we have to offer we offer a variety of handouts including guides to the website and tips on using the resources. When possible we also offer links to the resources offered on the website. We also make sure to introduce teachers to the Ask A Librarian website within the first few minutes of the workshop so they know where they can ask questions when they are back home.

We do limited assessment with the teachers. We make sure to allow time for questions throughout each workshop so that we can see where participants need additional instruction. Summer Institute participants are given an exercise where they develop a lesson using the Library’s resources. This helps us to determine what they have learned and what they will take back to the classroom. We also provide summer institute participants with an evaluation to complete at the end of the institute and are working to develop an evaluation that we can use with workshops. We ask questions such as what provided the teacher with an “aha” moment or what didn’t work for them during the institute. Teachers are asked how they will use the resources when they return to the classroom and for information on topics they would like to see at future institutes. We also ask what they would tell the Librarian of Congress about the Library and its web resources if given the opportunity to talk to him. The summer institute evaluations have truly helped us determine future topics and to make modifications to how and what we teach during the institutes. We have also used the evaluations to help justify serving breakfast and lunch to institute participants, something that is quite expensive but provides the teachers with time to interact with each other, the instructional staff and also time to reflect on what they have learned in the morning session.

Most of our programs are offered in the National Digital Library Learning Center a large space in the Madison Building. The space includes two video-conference areas, once of which can also function as meeting room and a theater space that can host up to 45 people. Both the meeting room and theater area have large screen monitors with viewers and a computer area where teachers can show their presentations. When we do hands-on workshops we use computers classrooms located in rooms in the Adams Building. These classrooms have a teacher station in the front and depending on the classroom up to twenty computers available for students.

Student arrangement depends on the classroom setting. In the NDL Theater there are 45 seats placed in rows. Normally students will sit in chairs and will arrange chairs as needed if a group exercise is given or they will move into other parts of the Learning Center. The conference room/large video-conference area is arranged in a large square. This works well for smaller groups. The computer labs are arranged in rows with the teacher in front. As the staff has no control on the arrangement of the rooms there is no easy way to gage how the arrangement of the rooms may impact on education taking place during the workshops.

In-house workshops are offered on demand (excluding summer teacher institutes) for groups. Groups interested in programming contact the workshop coordinator. They are asked what they want to gain from a workshop. Is it hands-on experience with the website? Is it learning about primary sources? Is it a tour of some of the reading rooms with meetings with the curatorial staff? They are asked what subjects the teachers who will be participating teach, what grade levels the teachers work with, and how much time they have available to spend at the Library. Once we get that information and settle on a date and time for the visit, the workshop coordinator plans the activities and locates presenters and support staff for the workshop.

For summer institutes we mount the website announcing the institutes and the subjects to be covered in early January. There are links to an application form that applicants fill out. Applications include requests for standard information but also includes a requests that teachers write a statement indicating why they wish to attend the institute and how they will share the information with others. There are more that three times as many applicants as there are available slots for participants. Participants are selected on a first come first serve basis but we try to limit the number of participants from each state attending each institute session. We also read the statements and do some selection based on these statements. After accepting an initial 25 participants we do create a waiting list in case those selected cannot attend.

The large majority of people coming to our workshops are white and female. Most have been in the classroom for several years and are coming as part of a professional development experience. We have done workshops for DCPS teachers for a couple of years and many of the teachers in those workshops are non-white. We also do workshops for pre-service teachers and for those who teach pre-service teachers. As many of our resources are being directed toward our Teaching with Primary Sources program, we have done a lot of programming for the coordinators of the state programs and for their teachers when they come into town. We have done a number of workshops for the teachers participating in the Northern Virginia Teaching with Primary Sources program because of our proximity to these teachers and do see teachers from the Pennsylvania partner at least once a year. We do also get groups of teachers participating in the Department of Education Teaching American History grant program and the Library has partnered with a few of the groups that have received grants from this program.

The Educational Outreach staff consists of ten people, the large majority with extensive teaching or educational publishing experience. Seven of the staff members are white and three are African-American. One is male. Of the ten members of the Educational Outreach Staff four teach the large majority of the workshops. One is trained as an English teacher, one is trained as an elementary school librarian, one has coordinated library instruction programs on the college and university level and is trained as a reference archivist and one has taught Social Studies to students from grades k-8. Several of the other Educational Outreach Staff will teach workshops if needed but are tasked with coordinating other projects that keep them from being available to teach workshops.

As many of the teachers are interested in working with subject specialists, we will bring in curatorial staff from the various reading rooms to do presentations. As most of the curators and Library staff we work with tend to lecture and just show material from the collections, we will occasionally work with the curators to help them develop teacher friendly content which includes a hands-on component and an opportunity for the teachers to interact with the curator instead of just listening to a lecture. We also work closely with the Digital Reference Team, the reference unit that questions relating to our online collections and who have subject specialties that relate to the online collections. They will also provide instruction for workshops as needed. The Digital Reference Team also does a number of video-conferences for teachers and in-house programming for special guests visiting the Library.

Though we would like to offer more workshops, the importance of providing educational support for major initiatives such as the New Visitor Experience and the Literacy Initiative are diverting staff time and expertise from developing new workshops and activities. Though we are thrilled that Librarian of Congress and other senior level staff are excited supporting the K-12 educational community, we are concerned that more and more staff will be diverted to other projects and away from our current successful initiatives. Hopefully we will find ways to continue our successful initiatives while also building new programming to support the k-12 community.

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