Empowering Thinkers

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Around the Bend, Flickr, CC.
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Around the Bend, Flickr, CC.







Been a bit disconnected as of late, summer vacation and all, so I just saw the video about the New Google Drive. The first thing I thought about when seeing it was students learning how to use Drive for uploading files in order to make book trailers at the end of the school year. As time was an issue, one teacher asked that I just tell her students exactly what to do, rather than allowing them to figure out what to do next on their own and explaining the logic behind it all, as I usually do. In all honesty, her request was appropriate because her students would not have had time to finish otherwise, however I realize that this issue is still a problem we need to address. If we want to teach students to think on their own, to see problems and create solutions, we must stop telling them exactly how to get from point A to point B ; we must allow them the opportunity to figure out how to do it on their own! How many times do you say or hear a teacher say, “If they would just follow the directions!” Think about it though, how do you like following other peoples directions? By consistently asking students to just follow the directions, we are taking away their power to think. Actually we’re taking away their power…period.

What does this look like in the real world classroom? This may mean starting a unit with an objective, purpose or essential question. Inquiry and design projects are a great way for students to discover the process on their own…to make the process theirs.

  • Does this mean that students have to figure out how to get from A to Z totally on their own? Absolutely not, but we can ask them to consider how they might get there at the start of a project We might allow then to figure out C to D, etc.
  • Does this mean that there is no place for modeling? Absolutely not! Modeling is highly effective, especially when it’s applicable to model a real world scenario. “This is what I did, because …..” And even more importantly, “I did this first, but it didn’t work so I tried this!”
  • Does this mean that there’s no place for scaffolding? Absolutely not!  Scaffolding is necessary especially for differentiation purposes. Without scaffolding, students may become overly frustrated. However, with too much scaffolding we are not giving them the opportunity to figure it out on their own. In my humble opinion start with as little scaffolding as possible and add it in as necessary.
  • Does this mean that we shouldn’t be using process models, such as inquiry research models, design thinking models, or the scientific method ? Absolutely not, in fact they are imperative, especially for learning how to learn, and transferring the process to other scenarios. What we do have to be careful of not doing is making these processes overly linear. They are drawn in a circle for a reason.
  • Does this mean that everything has to be a big learning project? Absolutely not, of course there is  a need to isolate skills, especially those that students have not achieved proficiently. However, if we give students a lens, a possible purpose, or better yet have them consider why they may need to learn a particular skill, the learning is that much more powerful.

Importantly, reflection is key for students learning how to learn. Ask them: “How do you feel about your progress? What worked and what didn’t? Why did you decide to change what you were doing? What would you do differently next time? Why? What can I do better as a teacher to support you in your learning process?

Could you imagine having to reteach using a technology tool, such as the Google Drive example above, every time the tool makes a change? That’s what we’re doing by not allowing students the understandings necessary to figure out the changes on their own. What I’d rather happen is this:

  • Student A: “Mrs. Schiano, did you see that Google Drive made some changes?
  • Me: “I did, but I haven’t had the chance to play”
  • Student A: “I figured it out. They actually made it better”
  • Student B: “I saw that also. I was having trouble so I typed  tutorial: Google Drive into a Google Search and changed the search tool to last month. I found a a great video that helped me figure it out”
  • Me: “Great. Why don’t you share the video with your class mates in My Big Campus in case they are having trouble also”
  • Student B: “On it!”

Back to reading Me Before You, written by JoJo Moyes. Loving this book!



The current conversation about the need to promote diversity in literature, spearheaded by the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr Campaign and reinforced by Friday afternoon’s Twitter conversation, was the perfect impetuous to introduce Diversity/Multicultural Literature Circles to Ellen Falcinelli’s LA students. I had purchased a selection of multicultural books from Junior Library Guilds back list titles a couple of months ago to support Peg Mitchell’s request for implementing Literature Circle learning experiences in her LA classes. I chose multicultural titles to create a thematic unit that could also serve to foster our students’ openness to and appreciation of cultural differences.

Ellen and I are extremely excited about the potential for this unit of learning. We plan to create a research or simulated research component by allowing students to analyze and synthesize informational resources related to their fiction  reading. We also hope to create opportunities to meet the authors of their books to discuss their thoughts.

Does Big Bird Know What TL’s Do?

Image: 'Hey Big Bird' http://www.flickr.com/photos/37011448@N00/133728858 Found on flickrcc.net
Image: ‘Hey Big Bird’
Found on flickrcc.net

In case you’ve yet to hear about the current issue involving angered School Librarians and Sesame Place, a PA based amusement park, the standardized letter which follows should do a good job of explaining the impetuous for their anger:

“Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on one of our, a promotional offers.  The Teacher Preview Pass offer was valid for current, active K-12 Certified Teachers in the eligible states. Unfortunately, Librarian Certification does not meet the qualifications of the offer.  If applicant also possesses a current active K-12 certificate in a different
subject area, and would like to submit a copy of this certificate for further consideration, please send attachment in response to this email no later than 4/23/14. Although we understand the importance of all educational professionals, if defined parameters are unable to be met, we are unable to extend the offer.”

In reaction, school librarians have gone full force via e-mail, tweets and Facebook comments (which Sesame Place deleted!) to basically dis Sesame Place, but more importantly get the message across that School Librarians do in fact teach.

It’s needless to point out that whomever scribed this e-mail is clueless about customer service and has no clue about knowing when to bend the rules in order to earn consumer loyalty. However his not knowing what school librarians do is, in my humble opinion, not his fault.

Ask yourself: Do your administrators know what you do? Could they clarify your roles and responsibilities? Do they know how what you do effects student learning? Do your parents know? What about Board of Education members?  Your teachers? Your students?

We need to change this paradigm now! Make sure that your roles and responsibilities are clearly written. Show your stakeholders how you’ve met your roles and responsibilities and how in meeting those roles and responsibilities you’ve created student learning.

You make a difference; it’s time to make sure that everyone knows how

Making Connections



Earlier in the day yesterday, while reflecting with Kyle Arlington, our district’s Assistant Superintendent, about this year’s Literacy Night, he mentioned that the event supports our district’s desire to “Connect”. In this case, the connection he’s referring to is predominantly parent to school. This was the event’s original intent from its inception three years ago, and I agree that this connection is invaluable.

During my drive home last night, I received a call from Leslie Blatt informing and congratulating me on winning this year’s NJASL Villi Ghandi Leadership Scholarship. In speaking with Leslie and expressing my love of our profession, I naturally shared my passion for connecting and gratitude for the educators in my PLN. I am continually empowered by this “connection”, and would not be who I am today without this opportunity to learn together.

In writing this post, I’m reminded of the student-world connection that is vital for meaningful learning.  In order that students develop critical thinking skills necessary for skill transfer, we as educators must   provide opportunities that allow students to extend their learning to real world scenarios.  In order to develop positive learning dispositions, students need to consider the “whys”, in addition to the “whats” and  “hows” addressed by state content and common core standards.

Divergent Movie Spoiler Alert!

Our book club kids had a great time on Friday night at the Divergent Premier! Because the closest theater is at least 45 minutes away from our school, we decided to go as a group, rent a party bus and make it a big time celebration! We had a great time! On the way home, the kids did what we all do after seeing the movie version of a favorite book, talk about the differences!

Missing Stuff:

  • Visiting Day
  • The butter knife in Edward’s eye!
  • The line: Four: “You could have killed me” Tris: “I would have let you”
  • Tris calling Four Tobias
  • Uriah, Marlene, Zeke, Lynn
  • Rita’s sister’s fall

Extra stuff:

  • Tris never threw a knife at Janine’s hand
  • Four seeing the serum operation
  • Molly saying, “Cool Tris”

Just differences!:

  •  Mom dies later in movie



Inquiry and Design


Stanford Design School's Design Thinking Process
Stanford Design School’s Design Thinking Process



Kathy Singerline and I have worked closely together in designing her 6th grade Critical Thinking cycle class. The learning goals have remained fairly static, however the way of achieving those goals has gone through a number of transformations, or in other words, a Problem Based Learning Challenge in and of itself!

Our goals for her students include the following skills, dispositions and responsibilities.

Questioning: SWBAT create, identify and practice questioning for learning skills. Students will develop an understanding of curiosity as a means for learning, growth and change. Students will realize their role in asking questions to promote collaborative learning and creation.

Information Fluency:  SWBAT find, evaluate and apply information based on needs and interests. Students will utilize a process for learning using information. Students will develop an understanding of how and why information is shared, the need for evaluating information based on author’s purpose, authority and currency and how information can be used for learning, creating and sharing. Students will realize that they have a role in sharing information ethically in a cyber connected world.

Design: SWBAT apply what they learned about questioning and information fluency within the Design Process. They will participate in design based learning experiences including game design. They will develop an understanding of the need for empathy, wonder, risk taking as it relates to design. They will realize the role design plays in in creating change.

This cycle, Kathy and I have been discussing how students can participate in a cycle long project that fosters most or all of these skills and understandings. We’d like to have their projects be problem based, student determined and real world, so that the learning would be authentic and at best, make a difference.


All of this seems like a perfect #geniouscon opportunity! It seems fairly obvious that the questioning and Information Literacy skills and understandings can best be learned within an an actual Inquiry based project. The design piece could also be incorporated within this framework. However, I’m not sure exactly how. What I can’t quite figure out is where the Inquiry Process and the Design Thinking Process intersect.

If you have any thoughts please share. In the meantime I will keep thinking and learning more about the design process!

Planning for Synthesis

Stripling Plan

This afternoon my senior Honors/AP English son was having difficulty writing an expository essay based on Equus. My son is a decent writer; words come to him much easier than they do to me, maybe due to practice, maybe a better writing education or maybe plain old genetics. However, it was not the writing that was causing him problems, it was his lack of proficiency with planning and research. Could you imagine, and his mom is a librarian to boot! If you’re reading this and you have High School aged kids you probably get this “Mom has no clue scenario” I have to say that I never help him with school work; he plain old never asks, and he’s been successful, I thought so anyway. He’s received good grades and never loses sleep about schoolwork, both literally and figuratively. Now I’m totally blown away with his lack of procedural understanding and wish that he’d came to me before his senior year!

The prompt for the essay was entitled Religious Traditions and read  “Explore how tradition and religion shape one’s moral compass and discuss their usage as a dramatic devise in the play”

What he had accomplished before coming to me:

  • He read the book and basically knew the areas that represented the author’s use of dramatic devices (Connect)
  • He collected literary database articles about Equus, which all dealt with religion since that’s basically what the book’s about! (Investigate)
  • He had a theses statement written which was basically the prompt made into a statement. Oh man!

These are the steps I suggested he take:


  • Clearly define the prompt, in this case the terms religion and moral compass using a credible source so that he could  cite it if needed.
  • Create an organizational scheme based on the religious issues the author dramatize. We created a rough web with the prompt in the middle, (with thought that it will change into a realized thesis later), and spokes for each significant issue exemplified in the play and how it was exemplified.
  • Add “what you think you know” examples from history, society and literature under each exemplified issue you’ve identified.


  • Record questions that arise during this process and after reviewing for uncertainties where they apply.

Note: For younger students we’ve been more formally talking about Plan here. Having them think about where and in what manner they will be organizing notes, collecting needed information and bookmarking found resources. For example, if they are researching to make an informed decision they may utilize a Pro & Con “T” Chart, or create a chart that  allows for comparison of different factors. They may use boxes and bullets if looking for evidence or a timeline if searching for important historical events.


  • He created a rough outline in a word or google doc that he decided to fill in as he wrote. He noted where he needed to research whether for clarification, exact detail, evidence or needed information.
  • He  reviewed the resources he had already collected to see if there was anything there that helped answer what he already noted or brought up important issues that he missed or didn’t think of. From this he added the issue of superstition and religion.
  • He needed my guidance for where to find much of the information he sought. Yes a little scary since he’s off to college in less then a year


Here’s where I think a more formal plan from the start assists with synthesis. Construct for me is part organizational (literal) and part constructing new knowledge (figurative). If this was a lengthier project, I would suggest that he keep adjusting his structure according to increased understandings. However, since this was an essay and really a lot of his knowledge was already constructed by reading the play, it will most likely stay the way he created it based on what he already knew. No matter, by making a formal effort to create an organizational Plan for constructing knowledge before beginning to Investigate, the process of synthesis is more easily realized within the Investigate process.


He’s writing away right now! (I almost wrote “as we speak”!)


At the middle school level, our district is emphasizing simulated research projects in which students are given carefully chosen resources in order that they spend less time searching and more time analyzing information. Similar processes for learning are suggested by Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project and the Library of Congress. The idea is to give students one piece of information to fully analyze. Then give them another and have them compare and contrast view points, tone or credibility; place in chronological order or connect in some way or another. Then add another and go through the same process. In this situation synthesis happens while students are investigating.

In order to allow the understanding of synthesis to be attainable by all students, we no longer can consider it something that just happens. Students need necessary scaffolds, whether it be by creating an organizational plan or by limiting variables and starting small.


Teacher-librarian Roles and Responsibilities: A Work in Progress

Teacher Librarian Roles (Conflict Copy) (1)
I’ve been itching for some time to create a roles and responsibilities document that works for me, what I do and the way I see the whole kit and caboodle-man did I just date myself! I was inspired to collect my thoughts this weekend and so I went with it!

I think any document like this is at best a work in progress and open to change; this is magnified further by the nature of our profession, which roots itself in the need for currency and possibility. Please let me know what you think, what I missed or where your understandings don’t exactly match mine.

Will add formal bibliography also.

A Plan for Focus

Yes, January 1 is the time of year when we consider doing things “better” than we have in the past. Seeing what I can do better; yes, I do this with over rated ease. Whether due to my critical “Why did you do that?” Italian up bringing or a simple lack of confidence, which I can’t help to think stems from the same pessimistic familial attitude, I live my life always looking to do better.  On that note, I do find reflection extremely helpful, but going forward, I plan to turn the negativity  I overly associate with what I should have accomplished, with an optimism for the possibilities of a focused future.

Let my calendar be my guide. Limited time, truly the one known variable we all share. However, this year I plan to change my “there’s never enough time” attitude to a “this is the time I have and I will use it wisely” attitude by filling in my google spreadsheets calendar with not only scheduled classes but also items from from created short purpose based lists, as suggested by Peter Bregman. My lists are in the form of Desktop stickies with the following titles:

  • Resource Management & Development,
  • Reading Advocacy & Promotion,
  • Info Fluency Instruction,
  • Curricular Development & Support,
  • Library Space: Physical & Virtual
  • Personalized Learning Programs
  • Professional Learning and Sharing
  • Documentation/Data Collection

I plan to try my best to NOT plan on getting other things accomplished when my time is best spent attending to student needs,  in my case during lunch and enrichment periods.  Because I like the idea of having everything work related in one place, I plan to use the same Google spreadsheets calendar for after hours work related items, such as learning opportunities and planning times.  My hope is that using my calendar effectively will not only serve as a focusing tool, but also as a way to document what it is that I do!

Just do it. Do what I “need to do” first & fast, especially if it makes someone else’s life easier. For me these tend to be the paperwork and detail type items that I avoid like the plague! By getting these done from the start, there will be more “quality” time for spend on what I think is important! Just realizing that this bullet and the next are also a time thing..obviously something I struggle with!

Schedule Necessary time for planning in advance.  Winging is not effective and makes others feel uncomfortable. Repeat. Repeat.

Some things are best accomplished at the moment of inspiration, but others aren’t I realize that this one doesn’t quite fit with the whole calendar mentality thing above, however, through past experience, if I don’t get it done when I’m inspired to do it, such as writing a blog post, it never gets done, takes longer or doesn’t get done well. Since I do a lot of thinking while driving, I plan to record my thoughts on my phone, listen to them when I get to work and if they require time, fit them on my calendar, even if it means moving something else to another slot. However, that being said, I plan to not let other people’s inspirations determine how I spend my time and I won’t expect my inspirations to determine how others spend their time! Yes, my job by nature often requires on demand needs which don’t fit into the whole calendar scenario. However, if these needs can equally be met in the future, schedule them. The same goes when my needs require other people’s time, request to schedule it, whenever possible.

Write it down better yet on one of those purpose lists I mentioned above! This school year also marks the year I turned 50 which along with the wisdom and experience that number exemplifies, it also means that I forget stuff-a lot of stuff! Along with writing it down goes “putting it down” where it goes! I ode to not become my mother by spending my time constantly lo0oking for stuff!

Keep it all in perspective. Yes, this is especially difficult when you believe in the power of education and the value of your chosen profession, because it totally rocks!  It’s even more difficult when your PLN is plain old amazing and keeps moving at a leaps and bounds pace! However, I need to truly know that I can only do what I can do and although I won’t give up on what I see as important, I do need to be realistic about my limitations whether personal or professional, by working with them, not against them.

Proceed with confidence and don’t let your emotions lead or get in the way Enough said.

Train your mind to think about the outcome. I will do my best to schedule more time and energy on those things with a larger student learning outcome and less time and energy on those things that don’t.

Schedule social learning: Twitter, Feeds etc.  Another time management item! Plan a set amount of time for each, in your calendar each day. When doing so, keep a tab open for Weebly editing and my latest http://www.wanna’ share Smore, so that I can add to these worthy of sharing with LHMS Community. Plus don’t freak out about all you’ve missed if you don’t get to it!

Plan your driving time effectively. Have audio books and podcasts lined up. Listen to NPR News for part of the ride each day to keep up with current events.

Reflect on what you’ve accomplished each day because there’s power in the positive!

I am somewhat remiss about not writing a New Year’s post about advocacy and the need to concentrate on all things that work to show my value with respect to student learning.  This IS a necessity, especially evidenced by our professions’ shameless dwindling numbers. However, on a more personal level, I do believe that by planning for focus, I will be more effective at what I do and what I do is all about students and learning.