A Teacher's Perspective: Building Student Interest
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Deskins, Gerber: A Teacher's Perspective - Teaser

I don't know about you, but sometimes I am jealous when I witness what seems to be a wonderful working relationship, usually after I've had a rough day at school. When I've had an unsatisfactory day, I spend some time in reflection. This reflection has brought me to several conclusions: one, a good collaboration takes two willing parties; and two, it takes time to develop. At that point in my thinking, I usually take a deep breath and read more about successful collaborations so that I can find and understand the steps involved in a good teaching relationship. Jessica's experience is a perfect example. —Liz Deskins.

Jessica Gerber:

As a third-year language arts teacher, I was determined to provide my students with a relevant, real-world research project that would help them transition into post-secondary life. Librarian/Media Specialist Debra Logan had been a mentor and collaborator of mine during my first two years of teaching, so I knew that I wanted her to play a major part in the creation of this project. After Deb and I spent countless hours brainstorming, we realized that there was one thing we could count on every senior to have in common: they had spent the last 12+ years of their lives in school, whether it was at a public school, online, or through home schooling. We had our project focus—education reform.

Planning the Project

During the course of our students' lives, they had seen significant changes in education, yet we knew they had been given very little say in what was happening. We decided that we did not want to continue this trend, so we brought the students into our discussion about the project. We asked for student volunteers to help us plan the details of the project. It was a shock to see how many students signed up to be a part of our focus group, which took place during their free time. Students had a variety of reasons for wanting to be involved. Some wanted to have input on specific project requirements such as page length, source types, or presentation style, while others wanted to have a say in deadlines to ensure they wouldn't have major components due around prom, senior awards, or graduation pictures. Initially, I had concerns that the students in the focus group would try to reduce the rigor of the project to make it easier on themselves. However, Deb and I were often the ones that had to try to keep them from going over the top.

From Process to Product

Our inaugural project incorporated extensive research on a current issue in education. Extensive research not only included typical book, internet, and database research, but the students also conducted a survey of fifty people of diverse demographics and interviewed experts in the field of education. Over the years, students have interviewed local superintendents, teachers, and administrators as well as state legislators, Ohio Department of Education employees, and students from France.

After becoming an expert on their specific issue, each student wrote a ten-page research paper that included a proposal for how they believed they could make a change that would benefit all students. Once they had created their own proposal, students were grouped with peers who had similar topics and then, as a whole, they created a presentation to explain how to make a change to improve education for the students of Ohio. Not only did the groups have to propose realistic solutions, but they also had to come up with funding for any changes that would require extra spending. They created a persuasive presentation to convince their peers that they had the best solution to improve their issue.

During the past eight years, I have witnessed students take ownership of this project and put a lot of time and effort into coming up with creative yet realistic proposals. Students have made great cases for starting the school day after 8:30, increasing arts and music programs, changing graduation requirements, reducing standardized testing, adding STEM programs, and funding schools in more equitable ways. One student, who chose to research the role of school librarians in K-12 education, went on to be a guest blogger on the AASL Blog.

Flexibility and Cooperation

Since the inaugural year, Deb and I have made adjustments to the project as the needs of our students have changed. Some years the groups competed to see who could come up with the best proposal, and other years, when student numbers were especially small, the group presentations became paired or individual presentations.

One great aspect of this project was that Deb and I worked together to make sure that our own areas of expertise were used. Deb would use her networking skills to set up interviews with politicians, educators, and education experts. She would also use her knowledge of research strategies to help the students become better at finding information, taking notes, and documenting it correctly. I would work with students on aspects of communication, organization, and composition.

Liz here again. What can we learn from partnerships like Jessica's and Deb's? What goes into a great collaboration?

Time and Trust

Building a collaborative working environment takes time. You need to build trust with the person you are teaching with; in some ways it's like the dreaded "work in a group" project from your own school experiences. Will you be the only one working while the other team members just skate through? Will they be prepared when the time comes to present? As for co-teaching, librarians need to keep in mind a teacher's concern about all the necessary parts of a lesson being taught so that the students learn everything they need to succeed. I believe it takes teaching together over a period of time before there is a true collaboration. In my editorial last month, I talked about building trust with a teacher, first by simply being a second set of hands in the room, then slowing adding more responsibility as she came to trust that I would follow through with what she asked me to do.

Commitment and Consistency

A good collaboration means putting in the time, just like your little league coach used to tell you. Sit down for those planning meetings, get those resources pulled together, and bring your calendar so you don't miss a date. Be consistent with your co-teachers; don't be excited to work with them one time and reluctant the next. They don't realize what chaos you just calmed before they walked in to see you. Sometimes it is difficult for a classroom teacher to realize the breadth of classes and teachers, and yes, administrators and parents, that a school librarian deals with on a daily basis. They might imagine you have just been sitting and eagerly waiting for them to enter your space. Treat them as if that's true.

Accountability

While there is a long-standing debate about whether or not school librarians should give grades, if I am collaborating with someone, I always ask about assisting with grading. I am willing to evaluate citation pages, or check a paper that uses in-text citations. If I have created the rubric with the teacher, I am happy to grade writing as well. It also helps me work with any students who come to me outside of the class period: if I know the requirements and expectations, I can better support their learning.

Student Achievement

As with all things in education, student achievement is the bottom line. Did my collaboration improve learning? Did it allow for student choice or differentiate instruction? Did it give them the opportunity to learn something a new way? Was I able to add a level of technology that students will continue to use? If I can answer yes to these questions, then I am happy with the project/unit and the collaboration.

Evaluation

Are you a reflective educator? If so, you probably really enjoy this part of the process: looking back at the project/unit and deciding what worked, what didn't, what could be improved and how. Maybe you even include students in this evaluation. They are honest! It also gives you another opportunity to have an interaction with your co-teacher; another time to work on building that trust that leads to better collaborative opportunities.

As I continue to build successful collaborations, I will remember to use these steps because I want every day to be a good day, not just for myself but also for my students, the teachers, and their library media center.

About the Authors

Liz Deskins, MA, currently serves as an instructor in the School of Information at Kent State University and has been a teacher-librarian for more than 25 years. She earned her master's degree from the Ohio State University and is coauthor of the books LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All (ALA Editions, 2018) and Linking Picture Book Biographies to National Content Standards: 200+ Lives to Explore (Libraries Unlimited, 2015). She has served in numerous leadership roles within both the Ohio Educational Library Media Association and the American Association of School Librarians.

Jessica Gerber, MSEd, is a language arts teacher at Mount Gilead High School, OH. She earned her bachelor's in English from The Ohio State University and her master's in education from Arkansas State University.

MLA Citation

Deskins, Liz, and Jessica Gerber. "A Teacher's Perspective: Building Student Interest." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, educatorsupport.abc-clio.com/TopicCenter/Display/2138134?productId=2002&topicCenterId=2257524&subId=2260035. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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