Saturday, November 28, 2015

Reflection Paper

The following is a reflection paper I wrote for my graduate course after completing my project:

After starting my new job in an elementary school library and seeing the Lexile system in action, I set out to learn more about the Lexile system. I wanted to learn more about the system itself, how and why it was developed, how it was used in classrooms and libraries, and whether it was effective. I also wanted to learn more about its history at my particular school—what had prompted our use of the system and whether we were using it effectively today.

Evolution of the Questioning Process
As I began the inquiry process, my focus was on how exactly lexile scores are determined. While I understood that every student in my building had a score, I wasn’t clear on how those numbers had been generated. So understanding that process was my first priority.

Once I understood the scoring system, I planned to look at the pros and cons of the Lexile Framework. I feel that I was I effective in this regard in my research; sometimes I felt like the articles I read just rotated in a “pro” / “con” pattern. Through my reading, I was able to understand that the Lexile system certainly has limitations—it cannot do what the teachers at my school are expecting it to do, which is to provide a perfect book for their students based solely on its numbering system. But I also found that the Lexile system is not as bad as I thought it was, and if used correctly, it can be a helpful guide.

Finally, I planned to compare the Lexile Framework to other leveling systems to determine if another system, such as Fountas and Pinnell, might be more effective for our school. This was the question that really evolved for me. As I read through the materials from MetaMetrics and realized that it wasn’t necessarily the Lexile system that was bad, but our staff that was using it incorrectly, I rethought the idea of introducing a different leveling system. There would certainly be no guarantee that we would use a different system any more effectively than we were using this one. It seemed to me that the problem was that teachers were relying on those numbered ratings, when in truth we need to be knowing books, knowing kids, and making connections between the two.

In my initial plan paper, I made several references to how use of the Lexile system touched my life both as a parent and in previous job as a public librarian. I continued to make these connections throughout my journal, but I did not include these references in my final project. In the final project, I focused solely on my work as an elementary librarian.

The Inquiry Process
I used the Alberta Inquiry Model. I really enjoyed this model because it allowed me to move so seamlessly between the stages, moving from any stage to “reflecting on the process” and back with ease. In retrospect, I think that I actually labeled many of my stages as “retrieving” when they were actually “processing,” or a combination of the two. I called them “retrieving” because I had located a new resource and selected the relevant information from it, but I believe they were also “processing” because I recorded the information and made connections and inferences from it. As I said, the process flowed together so seamlessly that I could hardly tell the difference between the stages!

I did stall out a little bit in the “creating” phase. At first I was keeping my journal mostly in Microsoft Word, but also partially on scraps of paper that I jotted down as I went. When I looked at that product as the due date approached I realized that I really wasn’t happy with it. So I took my journal entries and entered them into Blogger, keeping the original dates. I was even able to add images to several entries, which really enhanced the entries. Converting the journal from Word to Blogger took much longer than I would have expected, but I was extremely happy with the end result.

I had a similar problem when creating my final product (more on that in the next section). Combined with the demands of my regular job and my medical problems, these lessons lead to a simple conclusion: always plan ahead, and factor in much more time than I think I’ll need.

The Process of Choosing and Creating the Presentation
I had never created a final product that involved audio before, so I knew that this project would involve trying something new and different. After viewing the exemplars from last year, I decided to try PowToon. It looked like a great program that would fit my needs.

I found the program to be a bit tricky to get a hang of, learning that certain functions were only available in certain templates. I found it difficult to get the timing of my animations right. I was frustrated that each slide could only be 20 seconds long, because much of my presentation didn’t divide neatly into slides of that length. I wished over and over again for someone to teach me how to use the program. But I persevered, and after hours in front of the computer turned into days, my presentation was 2/3 done…. And then I learned that under a “free” account, I couldn’t make my presentation any longer than five minutes long, and also that I had limited capability for sharing my final product.

I narrowly avoided throwing the computer through a window, and I cursed my librarian information-seeking skills for having failed me in locating that information before staring the project. I took a break to cool off, then started over from scratch in PowerPoint.

I have used PowerPoint before, but never with audio. Coming to it straight from PowToon, I approached it very differently than I ever have before. Instead of relying heavily on text, I used a lot of images and animations, basically trying to recreate what I had made in PowToon. I was really happy with what I created… until I realized that I would have to find a way to set all the animations and sound to play automatically. If we met in a physical environment where I could present it with button clicks, it would be much easier! In an online environment…. Well, I know that it all works right for me, and I’m crossing my fingers that the settings will hold when I push it out to the rest of you.


In spite of my frustrations with technology and timing, this project was incredibly useful to me. It has already sparked so many conversations between my teacher colleagues and me. I know I didn’t understand how Lexile was supposed to be used before this project; I suspect that many of them don’t either, because they’ve never been taught. I’m looking forward to taking on the role of collaborator to change the way that we look at reading instruction in our school. This will begin with individual conversations with teachers and sharing the findings from my research. As I mentioned in my journal and my presentation, I have become so interested in this topic that I will be doing an independent study with Professor Kramer next semester to continue to look at options for teacher-librarian collaboration and the reading curriculum at my school.

Creating - Rounds 1 and 2

My creation phase did not quite go as planned. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I planned to create my final product in PowToon. I had never used this program before, and found it to be harder to get the hang of than I had anticipated. Certain features are only available in certain templates, and getting the timing of the animations just right is tricky. I also found editing to be hard. I had to start my presentation over three separate times before I got my opening three screens to work like I wanted.

I was also frustrated by the fact that each screen could only be 20 seconds long. In the script I had written, most screens were designed to be longer than 20 seconds. So I had to go back and redesign, finding logical breaks. What I had intended to be one screen often ended up as two or even three, all of which took time to create.

All in all, I found the learning curve to be pretty steep. But I eventually got my presentation up to five minutes, 2/3 done, and I was really happy with everything I had. And then, suddenly, I was unable to add anything else to my presentation. That was when I learned that under the "free" account, my presentation maxed out at five minutes, and I also had very limited options for sharing my final product.

To say that I was SO FRUSTRATED is an understatement. I couldn't believe how much time I had wasted and how I could have avoided it if I had dug into the site's terms and conditions before starting. But at that point, there was obviously nothing to be done but take a short break and then start over from scratch.

I began Round 2 in PowerPoint. I had used PowerPoint before, but never with recording my own voice for audio. I actually wasn't even sure if PowerPoint had that capability or if I would have to couple it with another program to achieve that result, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do all within PowerPoint itself.

Because I moved straight from PowToon to PowerPoint, I approached my presentation very differently than I have in the past. My previous PowerPoints have relied heavily on text and charts, but in this presentation, I used a lot of images and animations. I basically tried to recreate what I had done in PowToon. The final product looks very different than what I've done before, but I'm very happy with it.

My biggest problem came when trying to figure out how to share my presentation with my class. If we met in person, I could play the presentation and click the mouse to cue each audio and animation at the proper time. But since we meet in an online environment, I had to figure out how to record my presentation with the right timings in place, then hope that those timings would hold when I shared the final product with them.

Creating the final product has definitely been a process. I feel like I wasted a lot of time putting together this presentation, time that I could have spent furthering my inquiry or tackling another project. But in the end, I'm happy with how it turned out (assuming that all of my settings hold when I push it out). Mostly, I am just hugely relieved to have it finally done!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


I'm not quite to the evaluating stage yet.  That will come when I have posted and shared my final product with my class.  At that point, I will return to this journal to evaluate my own work and again reflect on my process.  In the evaluating stage, I will:
  • evaluate the product
  • evaluate the inquiry process and inquiry plan
  • review and revise personal inquiry model
  • transfer learning to new situations / beyond school
Alberta Learning.  "Focus on inquiry: A teacher's guide to implementing inquiry-based learning."  Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Alberta Learning, 2004.


The sharing stage of the Alberta Model for Inquiry includes:
  • communicating with the audience
  • presenting new understandings
  • demonstrating appropriate audience behavior
So far, I've only shared my material with my husband.  :)  A few nights ago, I shared some of the key findings from my research with him as I sat working on my final product.  The larger presentation will be posting this journal for my classmates and professor to read and sharing the knowledge and understandings that I have gained since starting this project with them.  Soon, I will also be sharing my final product with my classmates and professor.  In a few weeks, I hope to also share an edited version (improved by suggestions from my classmates and professor) of these products with my colleagues at school.

When I started this project, I had a "gut feeling" that I didn't like using lexiles to level student readers or to limit checkouts, but I lacked the background knowledge to explain why.  Now I understand how the Lexile system was developed and the ways that it is misused in many schools (including mine) today.  Based on research, I feel confident in my vision of the school library as a place that inspires and supports students in developing a love of reading, not limits them to a certain band or level.  I'm excited to move forward and make positive changes in my library and my school.

Alberta Learning.  "Focus on inquiry: A teacher's guide to implementing inquiry-based learning."  Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Alberta Learning, 2004.

Creating and Reflecting

My next step is the creation phase!  In this phase I will:
  • organize information
  • create a product
  • think about audience
  • revise and edit
  • review and revise the plan for inquiry
Part of the reason this project is so exciting to me is because I have multiple audiences.  First, my audience will be my professor and my peers in my graduate course.  They will be the first to read this journal and view my product.  Then, after their feedback, I will revise my product, and possibly even come up with another way to use or share this journal, to then share with my colleagues at school and hopefully begin to inspire change there.

As my product, I am currently working on a video in PowToon to share my findings.  I've never used PowToon before, so I'm finding it to be a bit of slow going.  I'm a little frustrated with myself for not moving faster, but at the same time, I feel like I've learned SO much since starting this project.  I'm also really happy with how this journal and the final product have turned out so far--so I just need to keep plugging along!

Alberta Learning.  "Focus on inquiry: A teacher's guide to implementing inquiry-based learning."  Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Alberta Learning, 2004.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Processing and Reflecting

Wow, what a lot of information to take in!  In the processing stage, I:

  • establish a focus for inquiry
  • choose pertinent information
  • record information
  • make connections and inferences
  • review and revise the plan for inquiry
So actually, I've really been processing all along, as I've selected the relevant bits out of each article and made connections between the articles and my own experiences.  I also reviewed and revised my plan for inquiry when I decided to drop my initial inquiry of looking further into other methods of leveling, because I no longer felt that it was necessary.

Retrieving: Reading Level Chart

One of my original questions for inquiry involved looking at other leveling systems to see if any other systems were better than the Lexile system.  At this point, my reading on leveling in general has pretty much convinced me that it's not something I'm interested in doing.  While I have heard good things about the Fountas and Pinnell system, I have become convinced that leveling systems possibly are meant for curriculum, for classrooms, for reading groups--but not for the library.

However, as a point of reference in order to understand students' reading abilities, I did locate this chart as a helpful tool:

"Reading Level Chart."  Gaston County Schools.