In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies that are important in our global society:
- Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
- Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
- Information Literacy (the library curriculum)
- Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
- Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)
As School Librarians we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, so I’m addressing each of these literacies in a separate blog post to offer examples/suggestions about how we might do that. Previous blog posts covered reading (Part 1) and content/disciplinary literacy (Part 2), so this post looks at Information Literacy.
In its new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) defines information literacy as “knowing when and why information is needed, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use, and communicate it in an ethical manner.” (p. 277.) We can embody this definition in our Library Lessons using these 3 Components for Information Literacy:
- Problem-solving Models that help students plan a project, select sources and materials, create a unique product, and reflect on product and process.
- Search and Evaluation Skills that help students access and evaluate resources in a variety of formats.
- Academic Honesty Guidelines that give students an understanding of, and respect for, intellectual property, copyright, and fair use when creating and presenting their work products.
Integrating Information Literacy
We School Librarians face several obstacles to teaching Information Literacy Components to our students:
- The Information Literacy curriculum is often embedded into subject curricula, but not identified as taught by the School Librarian.
- Class library visits are arbitrary and haphazard, making consistency and continuity of lessons difficult.
- Teachers are ignorant about collaboration with a school librarian or have had negative experiences.
To overcome these obstacles, our Information Literacy lessons need to be short purposeful chunks that provide only what students need for the assignment. Such lessons encourage teachers to collaborate often so we can scaffold the necessary Info-Lit skills for each grade level through the school year. I’ve written previously about an organization tool I use to plan & track my lessons, so let’s look at some specific strategies we can use for each Information Literacy component.
I’ve used many Problem-Solving Models, and each has its benefits and flaws, but all can achieve our goal to develop a problem-solving mindset in students. Some PSMs have more steps, some fewer, but all problem-solving models have 4 basic phases:
- aggregate materials
- create a product
- analyze outcome.
Use a chart of various problem-solving models (free download on my Library Resources page) to choose a model most suited to grade level, subject, and assignment, then give students an infographic of the chosen one to make the process clear and understandable. I use only 2 simple problem-solving models for 6th graders and scaffold the planning process throughout the school year. During 7th & 8th grades I present new models, so before they leave our campus, students have learned how to use a variety of models.
Teachers rarely include planning as part of a research assignment—students have a single topic, gather the same information, and regurgitate the same product. We can change that by showing teachers quick planning strategies to incorporate into a library visit. Simple brainstorming with Post-It® Notes, a Thinking Map Circle©, or a KWL chart stimulates students to think in terms of problem-solving and are quick & easy ways to begin a project.
Use a graphic organizer to help students formulate questions for research. Questions help students sift through resources for specific information, and because they require analysis and decision-making, they also lead to a problem-solving mindset. Here are 4 graphic organizers I’ve used to generate questions:
- my own 6-Question Topic Planner (at right)
- the W section of a KWL chart
- the Q-chart Question Builder
- the Britannica Pre-Research Planner
The PSM plan phase is followed by selecting and using sources & materials, and we move seamlessly into that Info-Lit component when presenting resources students can use for their assignment.
Search and Evaluation Skills
We need to teach students 3 different elements of this Info-Lit component: source selection, search strategies, and resource evaluation.
Source selection may be proscribed by the teacher, the grade level, or the assignment. Based on the type of resources students need, we may offer a book-cart of library materials, an online Resource List of Web-based sources, or a KWHL chart (add How to a KWL chart as shown at right) with a variety of resources.
To convince students they will “save time and find better information” by using subscription databases and e-books provided by our state and school district, use this 2½-minute video from Yavapai College: “What Are Databases and Why You Need Them.”
The most important lesson we can teach students about search strategies is how to generate keywords. For a quick lesson students can write keywords on a Post-It® Note (which can be used as an Exit Ticket!). When we use a graphic organizer—such as the KWHL above—have students highlight or underline important words in their questions. Once students have learned the basics, provide a keyword search form at library computers to remind students of the importance of keywords. (free download on my Library Resources page)
Pre-HS students don’t need to know the term “Boolean operators”, as long as they know what they are and how to use them. I simply include the search modifiers AND-OR-NOT on infographics, in graphic organizers, and as part of my keyword search form.
We can quickly teach students to sift top-level domain extensions when searching the free Web by typing site:gov, site:edu, or site:org into the search field of a search engine. This provides a perfect segue into resource evaluation, a topic with many Internet resources and acronyms. To keep things quick, easy, and memorable, try using this simple 3-letter “ABC” acronym which I believe is enough for evaluating the quality of any resource:
- Authority — Who is the source of the information?
- Bias — Why is this published, for what purpose?
- Currency — When was this information published or updated?
I don’t include validity/usefulness because it’s implied when students select sources that answer the planning questions for their topic. (If a source doesn’t provide answers to any questions, they don’t need to evaluate it; if it does, then they use ABC.) I don’t include reliability because it’s part of Currency and Authority. (If the site creator has the proper authority, then we can accept it as reliable.) I don’t include accuracy because that takes place during the “create” phase of a PSM, when students analyze and compare information after it’s been aggregated from sources.
The create portion of a PSM—how to use the gathered information—provides an entry point for discussing Academic Honesty Guidelines with students.
Academic Honesty Guidelines
It’s important to give students an understanding of, and respect for, intellectual property & fair use so they legally access and ethically use information & media, and properly cite copyrighted text, images, music, and video to avoid plagiarism or piracy when producing their end product. For years I struggled through these lessons, but as soon as I began using the phrase “academic honesty,” students gave attention to these lessons—I believe it empowers students to meet high standards and builds their self-esteem.
A previous blog post about how I teach Academic Honesty includes examples and resources, but here’s a quick overview of the 3 conceptual elements of Academic Honesty, organized in the order that best complements the problem-solving mindset we’re trying to implant in students:
- Intellectual property – creations of the mind that belong to the originator or other designated owner.
- Copyright – legal rights given to owners of creative work so it can’t be used or stolen by others.
- Note-taking by quoting/paraphrasing, in-document citation
- Note-taking by summarizing
- Fair Use – limited legal use of copyrighted material.
- Public domain – works whose intellectual property rights/copyrights are expired, given up, or excluded.
- Creative Commons
- Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s words, ideas, or creative expressions as one’s own. An ethical (not a legal) issue of academic dishonesty/fraud.
This conceptual separation of Academic Honesty can allow us to incorporate a short lesson on any concept throughout the school year.
Problem-solving models, search and evaluation skills, and academic honesty complete the Library Information Literacy curriculum, but in our modern technological and global world students need more. Technology skills are crucial for future schooling and employment, and students also need to learn how to ethically interact with and evaluate all the media around us, so come back for Parts 4 & 5 as I offer ideas for incorporating digital literacy and media literacy into library visits.
This is the third entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.