How a School Librarian Can Teach Online Subscription Services

How a School Librarian Can Teach Online Subscription Services - Here are 3 ways School Librarians can introduce specific relevant features of subject and grade-level appropriate resources to teachers & students to support classroom content learning, along with a review of how to use them correctly. #NoSweatLibraryAt first glance, a School Library today looks much as it did a century ago: rows and rows of books. But, a second look reveals the influx of technology with desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. By the turn of the millennium, computers and their associated digital applications significantly changed School Libraries. Nowhere is this more visible than with online subscription database services available through the Internet.

Online subscription resources in K-12 schools began as add-ons to familiar print resources—digitized copies of encyclopedias, periodicals, biographies. They were costly, so most schools had only one, or maybe two. As online subscription services proliferated, they became affordable, and now are the primary reference resource in most secondary schools. Eventually service providers combined different types of reference into their own brand-name tools, so now a single resource can provide multiple forms of reference beyond what the tool’s common name would suggest.

SCHOOL LIBRARIANS ARE THE INFORMATION SPECIALISTS

In my medium-sized district, our middle schools alone have access to more than 40 different online subscription services—4 encyclopedias, 9 periodical databases, and more than 30 specialty reference databases and e-books. Imagine being a student or teacher seeing that long list of resource names on a school webpage. They are too bewildered to determine which service to use for their information need, so it’s no wonder they become discouraged and simply type some search terms into Google.

School Librarians Are (Online) Information Specialists - It's our responsibility as School Librarians to know what each of our online subscription services offer, and to determine when and with whom to use each feature of each resource. Here's how I do it... #NoSweatLibraryIt’s unrealistic to expect intermittent users to know our online subscription services and their features, or take the time to learn—on their own—how to use these database services. These services are usually chosen and funded by the District Library Department or the individual School Librarian, so it’s our responsibility as School Librarians to know what each of these online subscription services offer, and to determine when and with whom to use each feature of each resourceAfter all, we are the Information Specialists; we are the Instructional Partners, familiar with everyone’s curriculum; we are the Future Ready Librarians who curate, manage, and integrate digital resources for our students and teachers.

We can’t just run through the list, telling teachers and students all that’s available: if it isn’t immediately relevant to classroom learning, it’s meaningless and quickly forgotten. Instead, we need to create Library Lessons that integrate particular features of specific tools with a classroom activity.

INTEGRATING ONLINE SUBSCRIPTION RESOURCES

I treat online resources the same as the print collection. I don’t introduce all the Dewey Subject books at once, but rather, each topical group as it applies to a classroom assignment. So also, I introduce online resources during subject area visits, focusing on features that fulfill the purpose of the library visit, avoiding others that do not.

My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

Sample Library Lesson Matrix

I use my Library Lesson Matrix to organize online resource lessons. Just as I examine each subject’s curriculum to identify a possible library lesson to enter into my Matrix, so also I examine each online subscription service. I utilize any trainings offered online and try out each feature to see which curriculum need it can satisfy and for which grade level. I record brand name and features into the subject units, then move on to the next online service.

It takes time to go through all the services, but I become comfortable enough with each tool to integrate it and teach it. By mapping these out in my Matrix, I can progressively build online skills so students are proficient in using our online subscription resources before they leave our campus.

USING INFORMATIONAL MATERIALS CORRECTLY

Focus on Content, Not Format, for Information Sources - School Library Lessons that emphasize content type--encyclopedia, topical source, periodical--are more beneficial to students than dwelling on format--print, digital, online. It's an important distinction. Learn more... #NoSweatLibraryThere’s continuing controversy about requiring students to use print or digital or online sources for assignments. We must help teachers realize that the format of information (print vs digital vs online) is NOT important, but rather the TYPE of resource and its content value:

  • Encyclopedias for general information and overview of topic;
  • Content-specific resources for in-depth information;
  • Periodicals for focused, condensed, and current information.

Encyclopedias and periodicals, in print, digital, or online versions, are pretty obvious, but content resources aren’t as obvious to students and teachers, so I always include specifics about these:

  • Print content includes all those specialty tomes we have in our reference area or topical books in the Dewey area.
  • Digital includes CDs and DVDs that we got primarily for teachers but students can be using them, too.
  • Online includes e-books, subscription services (like a biography database), and Web-based books (like Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Digital Book Index).

When I collaborate with teachers, I articulate the different types of resources and recommend what’s best for students to use for the assignment. In my Library Lesson I teach students about types of resources and how to use whichever format is accessible when working on the assignment—print version, in-house digital version, or online version. This is important in a digitally-divided school where some students may not have online access from home.

With Library Lessons that focus on type rather than format, students and teachers learn that print, digital, and online information sources all contribute to student success.

HOW I TEACH ONLINE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES

Scaffold Lessons for Online Subscription Services - Students learn our Online Subscription Services better when School Librarians scaffold Library Lessons as WebQuests, with Curated & Bookmarked Articles, and through Resource Lists. Here's how I do it... #NoSweatLibraryCarefully crafted Library Lessons, customized for each grade level, scaffolded throughout the school year, and aligned with classroom curriculum activities help students (and teachers) become familiar with which online subscription resource feature to use for their information need. It takes time and curriculum savvy to create these lessons, but we can use them year after year for the same online services.

I’ve discovered the best way to scaffold these type of lessons is to use WebQuests to introduce online services a few at a time, use curated folders of bookmarked articles within each online service for specific assignments, and to create Resource Lists of online services and other Web-based tools for longer research assignments.

WebQuests to Introduce Services

WebQuests are my favorite way to introduce online subscription database services. Using the term “WebQuest” to introduce our online resources emphasizes to students that they are the first, best choice to find information on the WorldWideWeb. Each of my WebQuests is designed for a single class period, presents just 3 different online tools with 1 or 2 features of each, and satisfies a particular classroom assignment. Teachers appreciate this guided introduction to high-quality resources that is integrated into their lessons, and, because students respond on a printed or digital worksheet, there’s a daily grade for the class period.

I believe an encyclopedia is the best reference tool for students to begin research, so the first WebQuest of the school year introduces a grade-appropriate online encyclopedia, and I use it for that grade’s online lessons throughout the school year. Repeatedly using a familiar tool activates prior knowledge so students become comfortable using various features of the tool, and we develop online browsing and searching skills that they can apply to other online resources.

As an example, my first two 6g WebQuests—one for Science, one for Social Studies—occur about 2 weeks apart. The only difference is in the features I introduce to meet the needs of the two different subjects.

6g Science Biography WebQuest 6g Social Studies Countries WebQuest
  • introduce WebQuest concept
  • introduce WebQuest structure
  • introduce grade-appropriate encyclopedia
  • 2 features of encyclopedia & their search strategies
  • biography database
  • periodical database
  • same WebQuest concept
  • same WebQuest structure
  • use same grade-level encyclopedia
  • 2 new features of encyclopedia & their search strategies
  • countries database
  • map database

Subsequent 6g WebQuests begin with the same encyclopedia and offer 2 additional subscription resources that meet the needs of the subject, the project, the research, and the lesson. Eventually 6g students learn all the subscription services relevant to their grade-level, how to locate them on the main library page, and how to use their features. (If they ask about other tools they find on the resource homepage, I say I’ll teach them in higher grades, but they’re free to examine them on their own.)

Curating & Bookmarking for Specific Library Lessons

User-created folders is a feature now offered by most online subscription services, where we can curate folders for subjects and grade levels, and then bookmark into them articles chosen from their database. I love using curated folders & bookmarked articles to guide students who have a limited time frame for certain assignments. Once I create a named folder within a service, we can use that same folder and its articles for the same lessons in following years, for as long as we have the online service.

An example of such curating is our English/Language Arts expository text unit across all 3 middle school grade levels. Bookmarked online articles are a perfect match for the unit’s elements:

  • Unit theme=Technology & the Power of Information.
  • Content skills=summarization, inference, and interpretation.
  • Required resources=non-fiction books, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, speeches.
  • Final product=an expository written instrument.

At successive library visits during the grading period, I progressively build Info-Lit skills using different resource formats to activate prior knowledge and then lead students into new experiences to create a final product unique to each grade:

6g ELA Visit 1) Examine components of non-fiction print books (table of contents, index, glossary, graphics).
Visit 2) Learn how to summarize a print magazine article.
Visit 3) Access the chosen online service, go to named folder, read a bookmarked article, and create an expository essay poster with your table group.
7g ELA Visit 1) Compare non-fiction print books and e-books.
Visit 2) Locate new online service, access named folder, and summarize bookmarked magazine article
Visit 3) Using the same online service, do a topical search, read at least 2 articles, and create a written essay.
8g ELA Visit 1) Examine print memoirs from the Biography area.
Visit 2) Access and compare a topical non-fiction print book, an e-book, and a free Web-based memoir.
Visit 3) Access online services and read bookmarked and self-searched articles to produce an online e-zine.

Resource Lists for Longer Research Assignments

Once students have learned how to access and use grade-appropriate online subscription services, I guide them less formally to relevant online resources through customized Resource Lists. Others may call this a Subject Guide, Library Guide, or Pathfinder. (Academic librarian Patricia Knapp devised and named the “Pathfinder” in the 1960s as course resources for college students.) I call it a “Resource List” because it’s a list of resources which support a research assignment.

I build a Resource List using my Library Lesson Planner, just as I would any library lesson. Why so much work?

  • I want to be sure the Resource List fulfills subject & information literacy standards and meets research requirements of the final product.
  • Teachers typically intend a library visit as an introduction to a research project, so I want a short, meaningful lesson to cultivate the requisite Information Literacy skills along with presenting the Resource List.
Resource List Example

LibLessonPlanner example

As I fill out my Library Lesson Planner for “Resources students will use,” I refer to my Library Lesson Matrix to glean print and online resources I’ve already selected as grade and subject appropriate for the assignment. I also enter any guidelines from teachers or subject curriculum guides to help me choose other Web sites that will be helpful for students.

I organize my Resource List according to the problem-solving model I’ve chosen as best for the particular research assignment, and I create it as a webpage so students can access it 24/7 (and so I can make changes or additions without issuing a new handout). Here is a brief enumeration of what I might include on my Resource Lists, as applicable to the project and the problem-solving model:

1. Problem-solving model as organizational structure
2. Recommended resources for background reading/investigation
3. Guidelines for creating questions about the research topic
4. Search strategies for different resources
5. Reminders about citation and creating a bibliography
6. Reminders about paraphrasing and summarizing
7. Resources available in the library (books, reference, other)
8. Recommended online subscription services
9. Recommended Web sites chosen by the librarian or teachers
10. Reminders about assignment requirements (from the teacher’s checklist)

USING OTHER ONLINE SERVICES FOR SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES

When I began creating my Library Lessons for online subscription services in the early 2000s, we used printed guides, but over the years I’ve transmuted them into digital and online documents. For example, WebQuests have become HyperDocs, bookmarking & curation lessons also use tools such as TES blendspace, elink.io, or Wakelet, and my Resource Lists are Symbaloo webmixes or Webjets.

Regardless of the subscription services we have or the other online tools we might use to facilitate lessons, the essence of teaching online subscription services to our students is this:

  • Limit lessons to grade-appropriate services
  • Refine choices to only 2 or 3 different services
  • Focus on content-relevant features

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To Teach Critical Thinking & Inquiry Learning, Entrust Your School Librarian

To Teach Critical Thinking & Inquiry Learning, Entrust Your School Librarian - Research proves the link between critical thinking, content knowledge, and inquiry based learning. Learn why the School Librarian is the expert who can help students learn critical thinking skills and background content knowledge through authentic inquiry based learning. #NoSweatLibraryTo flourish in our modern global world, students need critical thinking skills, so educators are turning to inquiry based learning as the best approach. An Internet search explodes with models for teaching it.

What most teachers don’t realize is that their best resource already resides within their own building: the School Librarian.

School Librarians have been integrating curriculum content, critical thinking, and inquiry based learning for a long time, and this is exactly what educational researchers have recently discovered is needed.

ABOUT CRITICAL THINKING

The Foundation for Critical Thinking describes a critical thinker as one who:

  • raises clear and precise questions
  • gathers, assesses, and interprets relevant information
  • derives well-reasoned conclusions, tested for relevance
  • is open-minded, evaluating assumptions, implications, and consequences
  • effectively communicates solutions to complex problems.

According to a recent article in The Hechinger Report, teaching critical thinking skills in isolation isn’t effective because students aren’t able to transfer skills between disciplines. Critical thinking is different within each discipline, so the skills needed for one subject area aren’t necessarily relevant to another subject area. Rather “the best approach is to explicitly teach very specific small skills of analysis for each subject.”

And this is where content knowledge becomes important. In order to compare and contrast, the brain has to hold ideas in working memory, which can easily be overloaded. The more familiar a student is with a particular topic, the easier it is for the student to hold those ideas in his working memory and really think. (Jill Barshay, 9/9/19)

ABOUT INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING

The crux of inquiry based learning is to pique a student’s curiosity and motivate the desire for answers—it is self-directed, not teacher-directed. The numerous models for inquiry based learning take students step-by-step through the process, but we can consolidate them all into 4 basic stages:

  1. Develop background knowledge & formulate focus questions
  2. Research to discover answers & build understanding
  3. Analyze & interpret information, then synthesize into a worthy action or product
  4. Impart results & reflect on the action/product and the process

By its very nature, inquiry demands that students apply critical thinking, or what educators often refer to as higher-order thinking, at every stage of the process. But, we cannot assume that our students have the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful at inquiry learning—it’s our responsibility to give them the guidance and time needed to learn.

Unfortunately, most teachers have no idea how to do this. Leslie Maniotes & Carol Kuhlthau summed this up in a Knowledge Quest article:

In typical schools of education teachers do not learn in their teacher education courses about the research process. …teachers are simply relying on their own experience in school to direct their approach to research. … Although teachers have good intentions, they don’t realize that their traditional research approach is actually not supporting student learning. (p9)

Maniotes & Kuhlthau point out that teachers are particularly ignorant about the difference between the exploration stage and the collection stage. During that exploration stage, students build the necessary background content knowledge so they can think critically throughout the rest of the process. When that stage is (too often) ignored, both the inquiry process and the resulting product suffer, and students are even less likely to learn, use, and transfer critical thinking skills.

THE GRAND INTEGRATOR: YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARIAN

The one person in the school who has all the necessary knowledge and training to guide students through inquiry learning is the School Librarian, who has examined multiple inquiry models as part of their graduate coursework. As Maniotes & Kuhlthau put it:

School librarians know the inquiry process like language arts teachers know the writing process and science teachers know the scientific method. (p11)

A School Librarian: The Perfect Person for Inquiry Based Learning - With their knowledge & training, the School Librarian is the perfect person to integrate relevant content, critical thinking skills, and an inquiry process for Library Lessons that help students develop authentic, worthy products. #NoSweatLibraryThis makes a School Librarian the perfect person to teach students an inquiry process for any subject area & product. A School Librarian excels at finding content—information and media—so can provide background knowledge that helps students through the crucial exploration stage. Plus, a School Librarian’s broad familiarity with everyone’s curriculum means s/he knows which critical thinking skills are relevant for each subject area.

School Librarians are authorities on critical thinking because the library’s Information Literacy curriculum is all about analyzing, evaluating, inferencing, synthesizing, and communicating complex information in multiple formats. Ann Grafstein of Hofstra University ties Info-Lit to critical thinking and to content knowledge:

Information literacy is a way of thinking about information in relation to the context in which it is sought, interpreted, and evaluated. …effective critical thinking crucially involves an awareness of the research conventions and practices of particular disciplines or communities and includes an understanding of the social, political, economic, and ideological context….

So, it is the School Librarian who can weave together relevant content, an inquiry process, and critical thinking skills to help students develop authentic, worthy products.

INFO-LIT = INQUIRY + CRITICAL THINKING + CONTENT

My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

Sample Matrix

Through my years as a Middle School Librarian I use my Library Lesson Matrix to choose which strategies and skills are timely for each subject, at each grade level, across all grade levels, throughout the school year, in order to scaffold short Information Literacy lessons into any library visit.

My Library Lessons present inquiry strategies & skills in a way that students understand why, when, and how to use them. I believe students learn best with visual and aural “helpers”:

  • I use infographics to illustrate strategies and processes.
  • I use graphic organizers for conceptual knowledge because they help students develop the understanding for themselves.
  • I use short videos (~3 minutes) to make explanations more engaging and understandable for students.

Here are some practices and resources that have been most successful with students, most appreciated by teachers, and have garnered positive feedback from my colleagues when teaching the 3 components of Information Literacy:

Research Process Models

Get This Comparative Overview Chart of Research Process Models - School Librarians can plan a unique experience for inquiry-based learning in any subject area with this PDF chart of 18 popular problem solving models. Read about integrating critical thinking skills, content knowledge & IBL and then download the chart from my FREE Librarian Resources page! #NoSweatLibraryPlanning and exploration must be the beginning of all effective inquiry-based learning. Simple brainstorming can be a quick & easy way to begin a project; however, implementing a model to guide students through the inquiry learning process assures a more successful outcome.

Popular models have from 5 to 20 different steps, so it’s important to choose one that is appropriate for the grade level, subject-area, and duration of the project.

To help School Librarians choose the appropriate design process for any inquiry assignment, download my comparative chart of 18 different research process models, available on my FREE Librarian Resources page.

image of PACE Research Model

A model created for my 6th graders is a simple way to “PACE” students through a project from planning to evaluation. Join my email group and you’ll gain access to my exclusive e-List Library where you can download my PACE PDF or editable DOCX graphic template and assessment rubric.

Search & Evaluation Skills

This Info-Lit component has 3 parts: source selection, search strategies, and resource evaluation. I like to use KWHL charts to guide students in the selection of materials suitable to their needs and abilities. I encourage them to use our library online subscription services for the most reliable information by showing this video:

clip of keyword search formIt’s crucial to allow students time to develop keywords so they receive useful results quickly. My successful keyword search form is available on my Free Librarian Resources page. For evaluation I use a simple ABC acronym. An earlier post explained why that’s all I use with my middle schoolers.

Academic Honesty

image of Academic Honesty Slogan: Give credit when credit is due. Why? Because it's the right thing to do!It may surprise you that I don’t teach “plagiarism.” I’ve found it’s much more effective to give students the positive messages of Academic Honesty and teach them how to be legal & ethical, before getting to the cautions about plagiarizing. I begin each lesson with short relevant videos and then have hands-on activities, that introduce:

  1. Intellectual Property and how to do bibliographic citation
  2. Copyright & Fair Use, along with proper note-taking and in-document citation
  3. Public Domain & Creative Commons, especially for images & media
See my Intellectual Property, Copyright & Fair Use, and Public Domain & Creative Commons lessons in NoSweat Library, my TPT store.
product cover for No Sweat Library Academic Honesty-Intellectual Property & Bibliographic Citation product cover for No Sweat Library Academic Honesty Lesson-Copyright & Fair Use Academic Honesty: Public Domain & Creative Commons Lesson

RESOLVED…TEACHING CRITICAL THINKING & INQUIRY

Inquiry based learning and critical thinking should always begin with the School Librarian. Their raison d’être is helping students inquire and think critically to take in content knowledge and produce multimedia products that can change our lives.

Collaborative planning with teachers for inquiry based learning is essential, but it is hard to convince teachers to allow School Librarians more than a single day for these important Library Lessons. Those that do see their students produce better products more quickly, so they make the School Librarian part of their planning for the next such project. It’s even better when they tell others about how we contribute to their students’ research success!


Sources:

Barshay, Jill. “Scientific research on how to teach critical thinking contradicts education trends.” The Hechinger Report. Teachers College at Columbia University, September 9, 2019. https://hechingerreport.org/scientific-research-on-how-to-teach-critical-thinking-contradicts-education-trends/

Grafstein, Ann. “Chapter 1 – Information Literacy and Critical Thinking: Context and Practice: Abstract,” Pathways Into Information Literacy and Communities of Practice. Chandos Publishing, 2017. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780081006733000010

Maniotes, Leslie K.; Kuhlthau, Carol C. Making the Shift: From Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning. Knowledge Quest, v43 n2 p8-17 Nov-Dec 2014. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1045936.pdf

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