Learning Communities

Denice P. Maldonado
NMSU EDLT 572

Introduction
Hello, my name is Denice Maldonado I am from Las Cruces, NM and I am the head librarian at Gadsden Middle School. I just wanted to give you a little bit of background information before I share with you some of my thoughts and research that I did this semester about Learning Communities. I used to be a Science teacher, so as a Science teacher I had one classroom, a set of about 160 students, and worked with six teachers. To me this was ideal. But then I had a change in position and now I’m the head librarian at the middle school and work with close to 800 students and 56 teachers. This doesn’t include principals, teaching coaches, and everybody else in the school that needs help from the library.

Through my (literature) research I learned the importance of providing effective and efficient learning communities for students and staff as well as online learning communities, and tips on how to enhance participation. As head librarian one of my goals is to change the image that students have of the library. I want them to be able to correlate all of these new innovative learning technologies to the library and know that the library is here to support them when exploring them. I do so by incorporating technology in my library lesson plans. Another goal is for students to change the way they view librarians. I want them to see us as resources, not just as a mean people that’s shushing them all the time.

Learning Communities
Moving on to my topic: Learning Communities and I’m going to be talking about what a learning community is, how I participate in them as a professional, how I organize them in my library and online learning communities. Basically a learning community is a group of people working together in order to achieve a learning goal. Of course one of the most common type of gatherings for learning communities is face to face; for example trainings and workshops. I would even consider church members a learning community.

There’s also online learning communities which are becoming more popular. The way I participate in learning communities as a professional is during teacher trainings at our school. In our school they call them Professional Learning Communities, PLC’s. We met once a week during the teacher’s prep time. Most of the times I’m a participant but sometimes I also present. During these workshops we talk about what the Language Arts teachers are focusing on as far as curriculum and the way that I can supplement that in the library. I use the information shared to create my lesson plans. As a presenter I share information with the teachers regarding the library such as contests, library hours, events, or  just general information.

I want to highlight my presence so the teachers know I’m available and willing to help. The way I provide learning communities in my library is through rotations. I have the students come in with their language arts teacher. Our classes consist of a 90 minute block therefore, we schedule two classes per day, each for 30 minutes. This leaves us about 30 accumulated minutes to make use of before, during and after the students come in for things like transitions and regrouping before the next class comes in. This schedule allows the students to visit the library every two weeks. We create and distribute monthly calendars in which we include the teachers rotation schedule. When creating the calendars we take into consideration events held by the school and holidays, but most of the time we stay on schedule. Students come into the library to check books in and out. I also prepare presentations for them on how to use the online database, library procedures, and search engines. Aside from my presentations I develop lessons that complement the language arts curriculum.

Preparing for Learning Communities
The teacher coach at my school who organizes most of our PLC’s shared the book Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo (2012). She mentioned her and the administrator’s use this book to plan the PLC’s. The book is filled with ideas and tips to keep in mind when organizing learning communities. Leverage Leadership is a great resource for anybody interested in hosting learning communities. Although the information I’m going to share is specific to educators any employer can make use of this resource for any work related learning community they would want to host. For me one of the most important points this book brought up is to articulate an objective. In other words be sure you know what you’re going to be teaching.

What will the teachers be able to do at the end of the session? It’s not enough to just say, “Teachers will know how to do this” or “They will be familiar with this”. Instead, what will the teachers be able to do when they walk into their classrooms the next day? How is their practice going to change because of the information you shared during the learning community you held? Another important tip to keep in mind is give time for the participants to get their hands dirty and do the heavy work. Participants should be able to try the activities that you’re presenting. I compare this to learning to ride a bike. You can see videos, you can hear comments, you can get suggestions from people, but you’re never going to learn unless you go out and get on a bike and try it for yourself.

The last tip I want to share focuses on preparation. I believe this can go without saying, but being prepared is key for any endeavour that requires a gathering of people. However, an essential tip to keep in mind is rehearse. Rehearse what you’re going to say, have an agenda. Also, be ready for those tough questions and responses because they come up and most times we forget to prepare for those. When planning for a learning community we usually focus on the positive information. We tend to oversee that there’s going to be tough questions that are going to put you on the spot. Be ready to answer them. Also, build time and take into consideration if you’re going to have people move around and take breaks. Make sure that you get any materials like binders, packets, or handouts ready as well.

Online Learning Communities
Now I will be talking about online learning communities. I participate in online learning communities as a student as well as a soon to be, online instructor as well. So why is e-learning so popular and why is it important for us to keep in mind? It increases access, improves the quality of learning, prepares students for knowledge based society and creates lifelong learning opportunities. There are different programs that allow us to host online learning communities. Of course there’s Google hangouts and any Learning Management System will have a way of hosting the online learning communities. For example Canvas, offers Adobe Connect. There’s also Skype and Youtube. I include YouTube because although viewing a video is not technically a real time meeting, an online learning community can use it as a reference.

Learning Communities and Education
Finally, learning communities and education. Katerine Bielaczyc and Allan Collins wrote an article named Learning Communities in Classrooms: A reconceptualization of Educational Practice (n.d.). Although I will briefly share some of the key points from this article, I recommend anybody interested in learning communities and education to take the time to read it. The authors share three main reasons why we should incorporate learning communities in education.

The first reason they write about is social constructivism. Social Constructivism is the view that people learn best not by assimilating what they are told but rather by knowledge construction process. In order for individuals to learn how to construct knowledge it’s necessary that the process be modeled and supported in the surrounding communities. Having a learning community will allow you to do that.

The second reason is learning to learn. This argument states that children will learn to read and write if the people they admire read and write. For example, if you have a group of positive people getting together all working towards the same goal, wanting to explore something new, that groups drive and attitude will influence other people that would have otherwise been resistant. But of course, we should be mindful that this could work both ways.

Lastly, learning communities support multicultural education by providing an atmosphere where people of diverse backgrounds can get together and interact. A learning community must synthesize diverse views which allows students to respect people’s varied contributions. This helps students prepare to live, work, and appreciate people from different cultures. Thank you.

References

B., & P. (2012). Leverage Leadership. John Wiley & Sons.

Collins, A., & Bielaczyc, K. (n.d.). Learning Communities in Classrooms: A reconceptualization of Educational Practice . Instructional Design Theories and Models , 2. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic541040.files/Bielaczyc%20and%20Collins-Learning%20Communities%20in%20Classrooms.pdf

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Learning Communities

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