Learner-Centered Curation

Organization and curation have become educational buzzwords — but as librarians, these concepts have always been near and dear to our hearts! As school librarians, we are accustomed to seeking solutions and tools that meet the needs of an individual or address the criteria for a given situation. AASL’s National School Library Standards include the Shared Foundation for Curate: “Make meaning for oneself and others by collecting, organizing, and sharing resources of personal relevance” (AASL 2018). So how do we make our systems and thinking about organization transparent for learners? How do we help learners find systems and curation tools that work for them? Whether we are notetaking, organizing digital or physical resources and notes, or exploring different methods of keeping track of our personal and school lives, how do we find the best solution?Sample page of the author's notebook - highlighting quotes from Jim Knight's book "Better Conversations"Know Thyself!

Systems of organizing information and curation tools work best when we know what our goal is. But they also work best when we know ourselves as learners. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me until my second graduate program to realize that the notes I took could be organized in a way that made sense to me. Somewhere way back in junior high school, I was forced into the outline format for notetaking and never looked back. But as a 40-something-year-old graduate student, a visual learner, my notetaking finally became my own. Colorful. Visual. Important quotes circled and highlighted. Circles, arrows, and boxes to connect ideas. And the occasional snarky side-comment or funny quote captured from a classmate!

A student's visual journal that she is handsewing; the journal shows a watercolor of an octopus

Trial and Error

My newfound freedom with notetaking led me to reconsider my personal calendar. I tried a few different paper planners that were commercially produced, but never felt like a single one met my needs. I still rely on my digital calendar, but there is something about a physical calendar that helps me better “see” the shape of the week ahead at school and at home. I am less likely to forget things when I write by hand. Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research about retention and forms of notetaking confirms what I experience. 

Visual expression in notetaking is making its way into some classrooms in my building. Some teachers offer students the option to use “sketchnotes” as a way to explore concepts and ideas, or as a way to review and organize their knowledge prior to an assessment (“10 Ways to Use Sketchnotes in Your Classroom”). We have a “Visual Journaling” art class at our school. Some teachers are inviting students to add visual responses to their readers’ journals, in addition to written analysis and reflections. Do you have to be an artist to add a visual component to your notes? No! Small doodles, geometric shapes, and abstract representations all “count” — it’s what makes sense to you, the creator, that is most important.

Image of the author's hand-created calendar page with many notesWhy Does This Work For You?

Inspired by some of our teachers and students, I have moved to a single-notebook system — my hand-created weekly calendar (copied from my phone’s calendar each Sunday), followed by my notes from classes, meetings, and conferences, all in one place, and chronologically organized! So if I recall that the quote I am looking for was from a conference in May, I can easily flip through the pages to find the information I need. It works for me to have a single place to capture the details of my life!

This came after I spoke with several students about their practice of “bullet journaling.” I don’t use the details of this method, but loved the single-notebook concept. No matter the method or style of notetaking, curating, or organizing information, I always ask a student what specifically about their method works for them? Or what, if anything, is not working so well? This is the opportunity for a metacognitive discussion that grows out of the student’s own self-awareness. My experience is that students are very eager to share their thinking, methods, and preferences with an interested adult. In turn, this helps me expand my awareness of organizational methods and concepts that I can share with other teachers and learners. As Guy Kawasaki (as quoted by the National School Library Standards, p. 97) states, “It’s just as valuable to curate content as it is to create it.”


Author: Iris Eichenlaub

Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).

Categories: Blog Topics, STEM/STEAM, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. Thank you for the post and these outstanding resources, Iris.These examples of visual notemaking reinforce the idea that this process should be called “notemaking” rather than “notetaking.”

    When learners “make” notes, they put information and ideas into their own words/images. It’s Important for educators to remember Mazano’s research-based instructional strategies that increase student learning (and retention) – summarizing with notetaking (notemaking) and non-linguistic representations are two of them!

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