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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5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 5 Media Literacy

5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 5 Media Literacy - Our students need to be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies and School Librarians can integrate a Library Literacy component into any class visit. In Part 5 we look at ways to incorporate Media Literacy—which encompasses all other literacies—into library visits. #NoSweatLibraryIn 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 Five Essential Literacies to be successful in our global society:

  1. Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  2. Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
  3. Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  4. Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  5. Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

School Librarians can integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, and I’m addressing each literacy in a separate blog post to offer examples and suggestions about how we might do that. Previous blog posts covered readingcontent/disciplinary literacy, information literacy, and digital literacy, so this final post of the series looks at Media Literacy.

DEFINING MEDIA LITERACY

Media literacy during the last half of the 20th century focused primarily on print and television advertising, but in the 1990s the growth of computers and the Internet spurred the appearance of organizations such as the Center for Media Literacy, which promoted an expanded view of media literacy, incorporating digital citizenship.

With introduction of the iPhone (in 2007) and Android phones (in 2008), teens and children gained ready access to social media, so media literacy became a major issue for educators. Then the “fake news” epidemic thrust media literacy into the spotlight and elevated its status. Here are some recent definitions:

  • Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending. Common Sense Media
  • Media literacy encompasses the practices that allow the media consumer to access, critically evaluate, and create media to improve their communication effectiveness. Wikipedia
  • Media Literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, communicate and create using all forms of communication. Natl. Assoc. for Media Literacy Education

Our National School Library Standards promote the Center for Media Literacy‘s definition:

  • A framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

Media is one of 5 specific literacies defined by our new National School Library Standards. Along with information literacy and digital literacy, the NSLS includes:

  • Text literacy: ability to read, write, analyze, and evaluate textual works of literature and nonfiction as well as personal and professional documents. [related to reading literacy]
  • Visual literacy: ability to understand and use images, including the ability to think, learn, and express oneself in terms of images. [related to content literacy, i.e. charts, graphs, maps, etc.]
The United Nations 5 Laws of Media & Information Literacy

click to enlarge

Thus, we can build in students a broader understanding of Media Literacy by including civic responsibility and further, by embracing UNESCO’s 5 Laws of Literacy and its general definition of literacy: the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute, using materials associated with various contexts. (UNESCO 2006)

HOW TO INTEGRATE MEDIA LITERACY

School Librarians may wonder why the sudden pressure for media literacy, since our Info-Lit lessons on source evaluation presumably help students decipher ‘true’ from ‘not-true’ resources. Unfortunately, we rarely have an opportunity to deeply immerse students in skills like evaluation, plus, many students lack the command of subject matter that sifting for correct information requires. No form of website evaluation overrides a well-rounded knowledge of a topic or issue. A particularly interesting article explaining this is Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?

I believe media literacy encompasses all other literacies—either by type of material or skills needed:

  • reading skills for printed media,
  • content-area literacy to understand concepts and place them in context,
  • information literacy for analyzing information, and
  • digital literacy because so much media is now digitally presented.

Thus media literacy must be incorporated into all Library Lessons, because we always have students using or producing media products: print, audio, video, or graphic media presented through books, newspapers, magazines, social media, games, radio, television, videos or movies.

Media Literacy Is More Than Fake News! - School Librarians can integrate the 3 aspects of media literacy--media messages, media forms, and media footprint--into any library visit during a few minutes or with a whole unit. Here are some ideas... #NoSweatLibraryIntegrating media literacy can be a 5 minute “media moment” or an entire unit, depending on the purpose of the library visit. When creating these lessons, I focus on these 3 aspects of Media Literacy:

  • Media Messages – including celebrity endorsements and ads that persuade us to act or purchase
  • Media Forms – the media products listed above, along with signs on businesses and billboards on the highway
  • Media Footprint – personal communication & using social media

The breadth of media literacy makes it all the more important to integrate it with classroom content—with the standards and objectives the teacher is using for a unit—and to coordinate our Library Literacy Lessons with classroom activities. We need to not only teach students how to analyze media, but also how to effectively and ethically communicate their own narratives through various forms of media.

Media Literacy Through a Persuasive Book Talk

One simple way to integrate media literacy into a Library Lesson is through student-created booktalks. Whether written book reports, oral book summaries, podcast book reviews, or video booktrailers, these are all persuasive media forms.

Introduce Media Literacy With This Persuasive Booktalk Library Lesson Unit - This Library Lesson unit coordinates with the study of Persuasive Text in the 6th grade ELA classroom. Lessons introduce 3 Key Questions of Media Literacy, along with the PACE problem-solving model so students can create a Visual Persuasive Booktalk using 1 of 3 product options. #NoSweatLibraryWith 6th grade ELA students studying persuasion, I introduce 3 Key Questions about Media Messages:

  1. Who created this message?
    (Concept: All media messages are constructed.)
  2. Why is this message being sent?
    (Concept: Media messages are designed for influence or profit.)
  3. How does this message attract my attention?
    (Concept: Media messages use creative techniques to attract attention.)

Students begin to more deeply understand the 3 media questions and concepts as they create their own “media message”: a persuasive booktalk given as a graphic book preview poster, a graphic booktalk brochure, or a timed booktalk slideshow. I integrate the media literacy component with ELA concepts studied in the classroom: the tone & mood of their book will influence their choice of a persuasive appeal (logical, emotional, ethical) and guide their product choice.

RECOMMENDED ONLINE RESOURCES

I’m incorporating media literacy into more student lessons and to help me, I’m curating online resources. Here are a few that I recommend to help you construct your own Library Literacy Lessons.

Civic Online Reasoning or COR uses everyday digital content, the COR paper, and online assessments to engage learners in credibility decision-making around three COR Competencies: Who’s behind the information? What’s the evidence? What do other sources say? The free assessments include Google Docs assessments to copy and digital rubrics to download. These tasks are perfect for learning across the curriculum and especially for librarian-led learning.

Common Sense Education's News & Media Literacy Curriculum Resources Common Sense Media‘s News & Media Literacy Curriculum Resources equip students with the core skills they need to think critically about today’s media. Classroom-tested lessons and teaching materials help students become smart, savvy media consumers and creators. Lesson plans on everything from fact-checking to clickbait headlines to fake news.

Project Look Sharp is a media literacy initiative of Ithaca College that develops and provides lesson plans, media materials, training, and support for the effective integration of media literacy with critical thinking into classroom curricula at all education levels, including integration with the new Common Core standards.

Identifying Fake News: An Infographic and Educator Resources

In an EasyBib blog post 10 Ways to Spot a Fake News Article, Michelle Kirschenbaum states, “You want to be informed, but a good deal of the information out there is incorrect or biased. Here are some things to keep an eye out for when reading a news article.” The infographic at right was created from the article.

The National Association for Media Literacy Education sponsors a yearly Media Literacy Week in the U.S. and Canada during the first full week of November. They have events and resources that can help introduce media literacy to your students early in the school year.

Feel free to suggest other resources I can add to this list!

This concludes 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.

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