Minnechaug Regional High School Information & Research Commons
Dr. Georgina Trebbe, Information Specialist
Each year, I especially strive for opportunities to reach every freshman. This year the opportunity came in the development of a new course. Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, Minnechaug Regional High School introduced the Freshmen Foundations course. Similar to other Massachusetts schools, Minnechaug’s Leadership Team determined students needed to build strong and consistent skills to meet the necessary rigor and metacognition aptitude surrounding independent reading, writing, and researching.
Freshmen Foundations had the potential to better establish expected consistencies of information literacy and technology understandings within our students. Selfishly, I realized when educators can rely on student consistent information literacy and technology understandings and skills, it opens the discussion to further school library collaborations. I was all in!
But… before diving into describing the Freshmen Foundations course, I should share what led to its development. Allow me to generalize...Throughout the 2016-2018 school years, educators noticed a phenomenon that while students were capable of immersing themselves in their education, the gains in developing sophisticated high school reading, writing, and researching skills were not where educators anticipated. Our most recent students were different learners. Their attention spans were changing. Questioning a skill’s value was becoming the norm, not the exception. Students openly pondered the practicality for each skills-based learning objective. They weighed heavily the potential usefulness of the skill being taught, against the time spent learning. If a student self-determined a skill as valuable, time was allotted to the learning; if not valuable, limited time was allotted. As Minnechaug’s librarian, this internal debate was not unusual. I had observed individuals debating value when opting for the quick information search rather than locating credible and relevant resources, or patch-writing rather than synthesizing supportive evidence.
Educators also noticed that students, although living in an online world, were not effectively using digital tools and software to better engage in their individual learning. The district had just adopted Google’s G-Suite for Education. Between home and school, students would have the opportunity to understand both local and cloud digital products to process, organize, and present understandings. Students were struggling for balance. Many were feeling overwhelmed from the bombardment of new digital products, readily available often unsubstantiated information, and variety of information access points. The struggle also included wanting to perform well. The need for performing well often superseded practicing metacognition skills, resulting in students asking processing task and results-based questions rather than critical thinking to learn.
In response to improving how our students approached learning, the Freshmen Foundations course was created. The course objectives were to develop foundational high school reading, writing and research skills, within our freshmen, as well as creating value for perseverance within the learning process. These foundational skills were to be the building blocks from which our students would advance. Course approval and organization began with Principal Steve Hale. He brought together a team of content, special education, and school library, educators. Mr. Hale also invested in two reading literacy positions. The newly hired reading literacy educators would contribute to the planning and instruction of the course. Over the 2018 spring and summer, the team began by hashing out, from each of their perspectives, a common set of essential reading, writing and researching skills Minnechaug freshman should have by the end of his, her or their first year. To ensure all freshmen students participated and not become overwhelmed, the course would run each term, there would be no homework, and special education liaisons would differentiate the course content to accommodate their students. I was ecstatic when the team decided the school library collaborations should be both research and technology-based. I would be focusing the school library contributions toward Freshmen Foundations on:
- Creating a research plan consisting of a thesis, research questions, and keywords,
- Accessing and using advanced-search in InfoTrac, Infobase, and Google,
- Determining a credible resource and its relevance to specific research,
- Creating and presenting an effective slide presentation,
- Understanding basic MLA style, in addition to citations,
- Using G-Suite’s email, sharing, printing, and files and folder organizing,
- Understanding Google Classroom and our new learning management system.
Using a Backwards Design model, the team developed the course’s lesson plans, assessments, and rubrics. We weaved in the multiple opportunities for overlapping the learning and practicing of skill objectives. Throughout the course, students read Paul Fleischman’s Whirligig. The book became a foundation for critically thinking and discussing themes of perseverance, relationships, responsibility, redemption, and forgiveness. As students used these themes for developing a focus for research, I was able to weave information literacy understandings into the course content.
Just entering our third round of Freshmen Foundations, the team has begun evaluating the effectiveness of the course. Anecdotally, freshmen educators have positively reported that students who have completed the Freshmen Foundations course appear to be more prepared for class, but more data is necessary. From my perspective, being involved in the collaboration to create a richer researching and technology using community was an amazing experience.