Trust Students to Be the Experts

6 min read

| By Heather Bassett, Government Affairs Liaison and Policy Analyst, Albuquerque Public Schools|

During this last school year of the pandemic, we trusted students more than ever. We had to; they were home, sometimes unsupervised, and in charge of their own learning. We learned that kids are capable of so much more than we imagined, and we discovered that some still need that safe place to be able to learn the most. Teaching and learning require a safe place.

Provide a Safe Place

As a mother of three young adults, I still hold my breath for the first thirty seconds when they call, until I confirm they are safe and happy. When they were toddlers, I ensured their physical safety as best as possible so they could discover, play, and make their own mistakes.

Ideally, educators can do the same for their students: provide a safe place as students take the lead to guide their learning, follow their passions, and learn from their mistakes. In an academic sense, Gale provides that safe place. When we send our students to Gale to learn, they learn information, follow their passions, and understand a new topic in a trusted place.

Introduce Databases Slowly and Follow Their Lead

During my days as a librarian and social studies teacher, I would send my students to Gale after they settled on a topic of inquiry. The Gale In Context student databases offer a scaffolding experience that guides students into research.

First, I instructed students to begin in the reference and biographies section for a book source type. I explained:  This is your basic, factual information. It is the “who, what, where, why, when, and how.” All students started here, some stayed here.

Then, once they mastered the basics of their topic, I would suggest they look at the news or magazine source types. These represent why people think the topic matters to our lives today. The information here may or may not help with a project but it helps determine if the topic is in the news right now.

Next, if the students were up to a real challenge, I suggested that they seek out an academic journal source type. I explained to students that this is how smart people argue with each other: “People truly make full-time jobs out of research that creates academic conversations about these topics.” Some students loved that challenge of finding an academic journal, and I encouraged them to consider how a career like that might be something to consider.

From there, I encouraged students to enter the internet equipped with the same source type awareness and newly formed background knowledge. Some students stayed in Gale and some stayed just in the books source type—and this teacher did not have to force any of them to do anything.

Integrate Student Passions

Besides being a safe place with inherent lessons on scaffolding source types, the other trick to successful student learning is igniting their passions. This is the hard part for many teachers and adults because it means we have to stop being know-it-alls. Our students need to be trusted and permitted to find their own questions, follow their own paths, and be the experts. Gone should be the days when teachers design lesson plans solely around things only they know. Teachers should stop making students read the same books, taking the same content assessments, and viewing teaching as only a guide to imparting pre-determined content.

The path to personalized student learning is made possible when we equip learners with some basic knowledge, some skills to find information, and the ability to ask the right questions. Personalized learning is not possible if we only expect all students to finish the year with the same content. When educators trust Gale as a safe place, they can set students free to find their passions through personalized instruction.

Take Advantage of ESSER Funds

Now as a policy analyst, I’m beyond encouraged by the investment the government is making in education and our students. The America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) states, “school districts reserve 20% of ESSER funds for addressing learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions that respond to the academic and social and emotional needs of students.”

This is a great opportunity to sustain best practices while engaging in innovative pilots to reinvent teaching and learning. In some districts and schools, federal funding in the third round of the ARPA can be as much as 20% of their operational budget. And though districts will gravitate toward nonrecurring expenses, the funding is significant enough and available over two or three fiscal years. This is a great chance to begin investments in new directions in education that may lead to innovative solutions for the long-term redesign of education.

The pandemic stretched and challenged all of us and there will likely never be a full return to normal. Our students and teachers discovered new technology, new ways to focus on essential learning and skills, and new ways to connect. Gale provided a safe place for student learning before the pandemic and a critical digital access point during the pandemic.

We can make the best of the challenges and the peak of our stretched learning this year and keep transforming education, keep igniting passionate learners, and keep providing the safest places we can for our learners to grow.

That’s why I, like hundreds of teachers and librarians in districts around the country, turned and continue to turn to Gale. And so can you.

Federal funds are intended to make a lasting impact on reinventing education. Now is the time to create that safe academic place that will reignite and empower all your learners. Get started >>

Meet the Author
Heather Bassett is currently serving Albuquerque Public Schools as government affairs liaison and policy analyst, enjoying the birds-eye-view of schools after spending almost twenty years in the high school social studies classroom and library. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. She thinks research is fun and dreams of schools where all learners can pursue their passions. She is a mother of three young adults who always make her day when they read a book or share what they learned in their Gale databases.
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