This is my first AISL blog post. I am excited to write for a new audience especially during a week (in the United States) predicated on gratitude and connection. This is my second career, I came to librarianship after a stint in academia as both a scholar and an administrator, and every day I am thankful for my new profession. I am not exaggerating. I love the opportunity and the privilege to excite students about reading and research. I love helping students to find new stories and information that open up spaces, emotional and intellectual, spaces in which they can experiment, imagine, and grow. I am grateful for all of the librarians, at conferences, on Twitter and Instagram, and in my regional circle, who teach me new ways to think about our profession and re-invigorate foundational practices such as storytelling, reader’s advisory, the reference interview and collection development. I am grateful for the generous spirit that runs through librarianship which I first encountered during my first American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans in 2011. In the past conferences were difficult experiences filled with endless moments of pretension, arrogance, and what seemed to border upon ridicule. From the moment I walked onto the ALA conference shuttle and was invited to sit down, I knew I was in a different kind of community. This was a community where people built each other up rather than cut each other down. This was a community where people were excited to share what they knew and learn from others. This was a community of hope, dialogue, and connection. In my second year of library school I interviewed for my first teacher-librarian job. Initially I thought of it as an informational conversation. After several weeks, multiple conversations, and an on-site visit, I received a job offer. I have worked at St. Thomas School in Medina, Washington for the past seven academic years. St. Thomas School is a place, like independent schools in general, that believes in the power of librarians and libraries to change the world. Working there has been one of the greatest gifts I have received in my adult life. Thanks to each of you for being devoted librarians, generous colleagues, and inspired citizens. It is a great privilege to work among you.
Ellen and I, and probably many of you, are feeling particularly thankful at this time of year for the wonderful profession we are privileged to work in. While some individual class periods, days, weeks, months, and even whole school years can feel like not our best, there are powerful things to love about each day in our world. There are many things in my life for which I’m grateful, but in my professional life, I am so grateful for:
- good work to do that engages my mind and heart and is different every day, and a stunningly beautiful space in which to do it.
- colleagues who care about our students and their learning and are open to doing this good work together.
- awesome students who amaze me every day with their creativity, curiosity, intelligence, drive, compassion, empathy, humor, and courage.
- supportive administrators.
- books and the authors who write them, especially for young people.
- apps, websites, and tools that make our work easier and more effective.
- a free press and journalists with high standards.
- other librarians in public and independent schools who are so willing and eager to share their brilliant ideas and challenge me to do a better job (whether they mean to or not), and who speak my language and share my questions and professional values.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
An ode to the not so obvious things that I am thankful for in my Middle School Library:
My regular visitors. It is wonderful to have a group of Middle School students in the library each day that sometimes have nothing to do with being in a library. They aren’t here just to check out a book. They aren’t here just for citations. They are here as a group of Middle School students hoping to have the most positive Middle School experience possible.
My tumbler. I never realized how nice it was to have the PERFECT drink cup until I had one. This is constantly by my side and I have the same one in three colors. If your school is like mine, and EVERYONE carries a drink around with them then this is the one you should get. Highly recommend!
My view. I am so spoiled. Really. We have these glass windows and a view of the campus quarry. It is beautiful.
My fleece. Are all school libraries really cold? Is it just ours? I try to hold off breaking this thing out for at least two weeks when school starts in August. Because once it is out it doesn’t go back for the rest of the year. 🙂
Books about animals. I love animals. I want students to love animals. Thank you to authors like Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate for encouraging respect towards animals and people.
White boards in the library. And the messages that students leave. Sometimes I really need their positive words! 🙂
The old school dictionary. How many times do students ask what a word means on the fly? Look it up! Our large dictionary is a treasure. The students actually have fun spinning it around, turning the pages and trying to find the word.
Relics. Old book cards are the best bookmarks that a gal could have! 🙂
Prolific authors. Even though there are so many wonderful Middle School Fiction books it is impossible to read even close to all of them. I am thankful for prolific authors so that I can easily remember the author of a book when I have many students at once that need assistance. Authors like Paulsen and Avi and Creech and Korman are most appreciated.
Finally, the fact that pretty much everything in the library is fixable. Never made a mistake that I could not correct. That is a luxury and a privilege.
Last month I blogged about introducing our faculty to a source evaluation strategy that we hoped was easy and nimble enough that they might actually employ it with kids — on growing information literate humans… We asked faculty to beta test our initial 4-move process and to suggest ways to make the process more applicable and/or student-friendly.
Drafting a Process…
A Final (for Now) Daft of Our “Evaluating While Searching” Process…
Taking the Process Out for a Drive…
We tried an initial roll out of our “Evaluating While Searching” process with a section of juniors and seniors in an IB Environmental Science class, and 3 sections of frosh in our interdisciplinary MPX program. Our MPX students are studying aspects of clean water and water rights so we pulled some sample sources together.
As our students, increasingly, turn to video rather than text sources for information, we watched an “Explainer” video piece from Vox Media about water in Flint, MI, and asked students to do some investigating of Vox Media by searching Wikipedia, the media bias ratings of Allsides, the reports from Mediabiasfactcheck.com, and freeform Googling. We discussed the fact that any ratings were subjective and that sometimes ratings between the sources might conflict, but that at least there is some information about the methodologies that Allsides and Mediabiasfactcheck use. Students discovered that not all sources were rated by the tools, and teachers and librarians discovered that many frosh do not know what it means to be politically “left or right” in the United States.
We gave our frosh some additional guided practice in small groups using other sources from our Google search and had them share their findings with their peers. Our discussion lead to some “aha” moments about bias. Many of our frosh had not considererd, for example, that sometimes a source has a bias because of what they choose to report on or choose not to report on, but what they publish can be high in factual reporting. Our discussion also helped some come to a more nuanced understanding of the term “bias.” The US Center for Disease Control might be seen as having a bias that favors vaccination, but we can probably have a good deal of confidence that content on the CDC’s website is scientifically sound.
Part II – Source Literacy…
We sent a request out to our local library association listserv asking if any academic libraries had journals and trade journals that they were discarding and could give us. The second half of the lesson entailed taking our stack peer reviewed journals, trade journals, and general periodicals and asking the class to sort them into three stacks. They could use any criteria they wanted except for the physical size of the artifact. Every section of frosh sorted first by topic. “This stack is about science. This stack is history. This stack is culture.” We talked about that being a very useful strategy since that’s how librarians and databases classify content as well–that’s why we search a science database for science sources!
We then asked them to sort by reading level. We got, “This stack is easy. This stack is boring. This stack is super boring.” As it happens, “super boring” things tend to be peer reviewed journals. “Boring” things tend to be trade journals, and “easy” things tend to be general periodicals. This exercise served as a really useful touch stone for kids as we did some searching and sorting in our databases. “Masterfile Complete has a mix of all of these kinds of sources, but the mix leans toward easy and boring with a little super boring mixed in. Academic Search Complete is almost all super boring stuff, but that’s really good to know because when you’re juniors and seniors you will need to search for those sources for sure!”
We had students take a close look at what kind of content we could find in each category of source and talked about expertise.
I recently got to see some frosh source annotations. While they were not perfect, I was really encouraged because some of the thinking showed, I believe, that our students are beginning to look at sources in context and in concert with other sources they are finding!
Though this is very much the beginning stages of this rollout, I am excited to finally feel like we are on a path that’s seems to be providing some of the scaffolding our students need to use sources more effectively!
It’s been a LONG TIME COMING!
This is Kind of Exhausting, but It Beats Giving Up…
My father-in-law used to say, “Growing old is not always easy, but it sure beats the alternative…”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m finding teaching source evaluation in today’s information ecosystem and political climate really, really tough and fraught with challenges that feel like pitfalls. I venture on, however, because I fear that if we don’t help students develop trust in something, that they will learn not to be skeptical, but rather cynical of all that is out there. When one is skeptical one still has reasons to continue to seek “small-t” truth and come to an understanding that a reasonable person would consider to be truth. When one is cynical, seeking understanding is a fool’s errand because everyone lies. Everyone deceieves. Everyone is the same…
I don’t believe that everyone producing information, content, and doing scientific research studies is the same. I still think it is worth my effort to seek truth. Walter Cronkite is dead so perhaps I won’t ever again find the “big-T” kind of truth that I believed he was sharing with me on the news at six-o-clock when I was a child. I still, though, believe that many small-t truths from different sources and places can bring me to an understanding that is pretty close to “truth” The world isn’t black and white and the world is not simple for those who aren’t simplistic. Sometimes I hate that, but mostly I’m learning to be okay with it.
So with that I ask… What are you doing that’s been working for you? I can use all the help I can get.
- Librarians as engineers? Not a great leap when you consider that librarians help students to build bridges from information to insights, making connections that add meaning to the research process. Making connections is a powerful thinking strategy that engages students in active and meaningful learning. In a recent publication by The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: Research Implications for Educators,” the authors state that “students need new concepts to link in some way to things they already know, or they will not have the mental maps that their brains need to process the material;” building connections that reflect students’ interests or goals deepens the learning (Allensworth et al 10-11).
Tapping into several Visible Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero, I worked closely with Sara Schultz, the fifth grade Geography teacher, to immerse students in the process of making connections. Following are a few examples:
Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate
Generate: Students mentally pictured the type of signs they might see in National Parks and brainstormed the reason for the signs.
“Do Not Feed the Bears”
personal danger from close contact with bears and
making bears dependent on food (losing ability to fend for themselves)
“Stay on the Trail”
might get lost, or dangerous/slippery/unstable land or
might damage native plants, ground cover
For a dramatic example of deterioration of a National park, students also viewed an interactive graphic of Salt Lake Water Woes (earthobservatory.nasa.gov) and brainstormed cause for the drastic depletion of water.
Sort: Students pointed out which of the reasons were Human Factors that might harm the National Park, such as making bears dependent on human food or damaging native plants or water use and irrigation for agriculture depleting the Great Salt Lake.
Several articles from the New York Times modeled for students how to connect cause to several effects, such as this article about Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades:
As students researched, they organized information on Concept maps. In the example below, Gracie made connections between “Native Species — Bark Beetle — Killing Trees — Easier to Burn Down” and then draws a line to connect concept of Fire to concept of Native Species. This student also added yellow exclamation symbols to those concepts she felt were important or needed further investigation, such as “Grizzly Bears recently removed from endangered lists now being shot in Wyoming.”
Circle of Viewpoints
This thinking routine was useful in showing connections between conflicting viewpoints: 1) brainstorm a list of perspectives; 2) assume a perspective; and 3) generate questions or concerns from that viewpoint. Students viewed several New York Times articles about Bears Ears National Monument and assumed conflicting perspectives over land use:
Trump (open lands for development, such as mining, farming)
Patagonia (wilderness outfitter company– wants to protect recreational use of land)
Native Americans (who wish to protect lands as sacred sites)
This process of modeling strategies and guiding students to make connections has been exciting. I challenge librarians to put on your hard hat, pick up a Visible Thinking tool, and experiment with building your own bridge to knowledge.
While I am fortunate to have extremely supportive colleagues, every once in a while, someone makes a comment that reminds me not everyone knows exactly what we do in the Library. Particularly when we’re not doing something obvious like working with a class. And to be honest, days can fly by without me even realizing how we’re filling the hours.
So when the unimaginable recently happened ( I had a day that was completely clear on my schedule), I decided to track it to see how an unplanned day played out –
- Worked the desk for the morning so my brave colleague could dig out & re-organize our supply cupboard:
- Welcomed students new to library study (reviewed guidelines with them)
- Assisted innumerable students resolve a new printer glitch
- Assisted innumerable students set up new Noodletools accounts
- Helped a student fine-tune her References written from scratch (and then helped her set up Noodletools for future use)
- Provided reader’s advisory to an English teacher looking for books for her new reading initiative ‘First Chapter Fridays’ (love it!)
- Scheduled a postponed summer reading book discussion
- Tried to catch up on professional journals but was reminded how this never works while I’m on the desk
- Did some book club planning with student leaders
- Prepped for my next AP Research class
- Met with 2 advisees (once about a course change; one feeling overwhelmed)
- Prepped for some upcoming classes about accessing audiobooks
- Went to school store to pick up school-crested gift for an author visit
- Reviewed metered titles that had expired in Overdrive, selecting some for re-purchase
- Submitted an order for Grade 9 Lit Circle books to a local bookstore
- Met with our school environmental rep about updating training for student reps (based on my housemaster perspective)
- Confirmed upcoming research visit to Queen’s University
- Reviewed revised interview forms for Admissions (I sit on the committee)
- Set up attendance roster for chapel choir attendance (I’m helping with management)
- Submitted a reference for a former library steward who has applied for a volunteer position
- Moved ‘update budget’ to another day for the 17th time (I really need to make this priority) and called it a day
This exercise reminded me of one of my best all-time experiences at my school. In advance of fundraising for our new Commons (including a library renovation), an Advancement director met with me to learn more about the library (so he could speak more knowledgeably when approaching potential donors). Not knowing where to start, I opened my planner and reviewed the past 2 weeks of activity. He was literally gobsmacked; “I had no idea”.
It was awesome.
Last week, my school credit card was canceled. Even though I’d like to blame this on the way that Amazon can’t seem to help breaking my single order into multiple payments, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the statement was correct.* All school credit card holders had received a reminder from the Business Office with the warning that anyone with an incorrect statement on the 3rd of October would lose access to their card. While people would tell you that I’m more organized than most, and while this never happened with our previous banking system that sent email reminders for unreviewed transactions, it’s not the first time that I missed a deadline with our new system. It is, however, one of the first times I felt a real consequence for an inattention to detail. Since I had been developing a system that was working for me, I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t meet my own expectations, particularly because I felt like I was caught on a technicality. (See below.)
Coming back from a long weekend with my parents and brother, I can’t stop thinking about the credit card as it relates to my successes (and mainly failures) playing video games. For the most part, I found school pretty easy, and I enjoyed it. I still love learning, and I still don’t like making mistakes. Reading is my primary hobby. For my brother it’s video games. With storms in the mid-Atlantic , we spent a lot of time playing video games the past few days. Reading does not lend itself quite as easily as a shared activity across the generations. Yet, video games often get a bad rap. In fact, I’m collaborating on a Sophomore project right now that begins with this premise. However, I want to question that assumption in two key ways.
1. There is tremendous background knowledge required to understand video game systems and the norms in the games themselves. I don’t know where the X button is, what’s likely to make my character jump or that a Martian on screen represents a character from the early 1990s. If you were measuring my video game skill by lexile, it would be low. Not because I couldn’t understand it but because I haven’t yet learned the terminology. Scaffolding is important. The game where I experienced the most success is Mario Kart, largely because I played a lot of SNES Mario Kart when I was in middle school. I was wowed by my brother’s ability to enter a new game, navigate the controls, determine the purpose, and immediately act like he had a direct connection with the avatar on the screen. I can’t even look at the score on the screen while making my character move. He works in the medical field, and I can see how his ability to think quickly, parse new information and multitask would be assets that help him excel on a daily basis. Learning the basics in a field makes it much easier to move on to more advanced knowledge, often without even realizing that we’re using our tacit knowledge.
2. Video games teach resilience. The Switch is a forgiving system for new users. Death Squared, despite the macabre name, is a team puzzle solving game, a modern version of the logic games we used to play in elementary school. There is a goal, teamwork, and sequencing of actions. It is impossible to know what will happen when you step on a tile without actually stepping on a tile. And sometimes getting spiked. Or blown up. Or lasered. Or falling off the edge. At which point you begin the level again with that data and avoid the activity that just got you killed. The two video game experts in the room anticipated this, planned for it, and then chuckled at the new way we’d found to destroy ourselves. The two newbies apologized every time. Even with teaching about the growth mindset, it’s hard for me to keep this from feeling like failing. If you give me a goal, I want to go directly there, but I also realized the resilience my brother has developed while gaming directly relates to his ability to respond appropriately to setbacks in his job.
Playing games this weekend ultimately had me thinking about some of the struggles that some of our best students have with research. Coordinating the Capstone Scholars at my school, I spend two periods a day with students who are grappling with large-scale independent research projects. This is the first time they are creating their own targets, measuring their own progress, and following their own interests. Each has an internal faculty mentor and an external academic mentor, and my role is in helping them navigate this process. I honestly don’t know that I would have had the maturity in high school to motivate myself the way that they do. For students who have always been “good at doing school,” it’s a substantial adjustment to learn for yourself when it’s not clear if you are successful on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. They are making up the rules as they go and trying to follow their own moral compasses. Without an external measure of success from a rubric or a transcript grade, the notion of success morphs. There is no answer that I can provide, and the amorphous shape of real-world research can be overwhelming. I can’t pretend that I was playing video games these past few days to learn a life lesson, but I can tell you that I want to take the notions of contextual knowledge and resilience back to our top students.
No one is perfect, and no one gets it right 100% of the time. But we more often celebrate our successes publicly and cover over our insecurities privately. I think that’s why there was such a strong commiserative response in our community to David Wee’s post about Messed Up Library Lessons. We’ve all felt this way, but how often do we acknowledge this to our peers, to our students, to our families? University of Houston professor Bene Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability has been viewed over 36 million times, likely because we all have times when we’re afraid to be vulnerable. As a perfectionist, this post is tough to write. If I get my credit card privileges back, I will guarantee you that losing it was the most effective way for me to learn a system in which I will NEVER forget to reconcile my statement. I might forget other pieces of office work, but not that. Failure is a powerful teacher. Let’s all keep learning and striving for success and setting up libraries where our students are empowered to do the same.
*Full disclosure—I did reconcile my account the morning of the 1st but then my Amazon order, which had been broken into four parts, despite being shipped in only two shipments, posted two more transactions that afternoon. I hadn’t tallied up the totals of the two I had paid to realize that the order was incomplete. I fully admit that in two earlier months I had forgotten to even enter the system, but a simple calendar reminder is all I needed to solve that problem. So I’m still going to argue that Amazon deserves part of the responsibility here. And if you have had success stopping this sneaky accounting, you’ll be my hero and a hero to all Amazon users at our school!
With September as National Library Card sign up month, I like to send out an email to our teachers, students, and parents about all the neat resources our public libraries have. What other unique resources do your public libraries provide?
September is National Library Card Sign Up Month! Library Cards open you to many many FREE resources! Is your library card collecting dust? Here are some great ways to RENEW your use of local libraries!
- Did you know your Cuyahoga County Public Library card is good at any Cleveland Public Library and CLEVNET Library (including Shaker Hts PL)?
- Libraries have resources beyond reading!
- TechCentral MakerSpace at Cleveland PL and Innovation Centers at the Cuyahoga County PL in Mayfield, Garfield, Parma, and South Euclid have 3-D printers, LEGO® robots, cameras, audio recorders, audio / video studios, Cricut crafting machines, t-shirt presses, Adobe Creative Cloud software, and much more.
- South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch CCPL has The Memory Lab, a “do-it-yourself” space to learn how to access, digitize, and share old videos, audio recordings, photographs, and slides.
- Cleveland PL has over 1 million photos in their Photograph Collection, as well as, unique Chess and Checkers Collections, Folklore, Gypsies and Orientalia collections, a Miniature Books collection, a Tobacco Collection, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards- the only American book award designed to recognize works addressing issues of racism and diversity.
- CLENET patrons have access to Rosetta Stone.
- Access to digital resources: Hoopla (video), Freegal (music), Flipster (magazines)
- Ever been on Amazon, Goodreads, Google Books and wondered “Hey, does my local library have this book?” but you never followed through to check? Not anymore! The Chrome Library Extension appears on the right side of the screen and tells you if your local library owns the book. You can even place a hold on the library book right from Amazon! https://www.libraryextension.com/
- Meet Libby! The new and improved eBook and audiobook library app from Overdrive. If you thought Overdrive was a bit too clunky for use, then the user-friendly app Libby will be your new best friend! https://meet.libbyapp.com/
- Cuyahoga County Public Library app: search the catalog, read reviews, check out, use Overdrive, stream videos via Hoopla, scan a book ISBN to find in the library, register for events, and much much more!
- Shaker Heights Public Library has a dedicated Local History Librarian who can help homeowners research their homes and a Career Transition Center offers resume and interview help. SHPL also has wifi hotspots for cardholders over 18yo.
- Fines got you down? Often times libraries have food drives or other activities to lessen your fines. Be on the lookout!
Well, here we are. Almost one-fifth of the way through the 21stcentury. As I write those words, I can hardly believe it myself. In my career, our profession has progressed mightily, alongside great advances in technology. I wonder how many of us remember typing card catalog cards, and if you made a mistake, using OCLC “Special Match” white-out (or as we called it, buff-out…). Remember when a tweet was a sound a bird made? “Twilight” was just a time of day? We watched television ON television, and at the time it was broadcast? “Green” was just a color? Newspapers, books, and magazines were read on paper? Music was bought in stores? It was science fiction to imagine a hand-held computer that combined a phone, music, access to a vast database of information, a personal assistant, a GPS locator, digital video and still photography. OK—enough of the trip down memory lane; suffice it to say, we now have tools at our disposal few of us could have imagined back in the day. But to what end? May I suggest the vital question is: how do we teach capital R research in a Google world?
While I have no (as yet) hard data to back up my thesis, empirical data suggests that today’s students, children of the digital age, assume a much broader grasp of research methodology than they actually possess. I have regular conversations with Upper School faculty to whom I am trying to market library services—more often than not, their response is along the lines of, “They don’t need a session on finding information—they know how to do that.” What an interesting study it would be to measure these students’ level of information literacy vs. what they actually know. My guess is that they know much less than they think they do, and that their teachers believe them when they espouse their expertise. On our campus, teaching research skills begins in Lower School and continues through Middle School—I know that our dedicated librarians do an amazing job with these younger students, yet in spite of our best efforts, they seem to forget what they have learned by 9thgrade—a topic for a future research project, perhaps? I have set my goal for this year with St. Mark’s Upper School faculty to impress upon them the importance of teaching problem solving, evaluating, analyzing, and reasoning in regard to research—critical thinking skills. I am marketing this using the scenario of university freshmen getting their first research assignment and walking into a 4-million volume library with 200+ databases—don’t we want our students to know what to do and not be intimidated?
So far, so good. I have talked with several high school freshman and sophomore classes, and have more scheduled. Regardless of grade level, I am assuming my students know little about actual research, and I further assume that faculty have something to learn as well; I insist that faculty attend my research methodology lecture. If they seem reluctant, I tell them I need them in the room to help with discipline…whatever it takes to get them in a seat. I am convinced that information literacy is our raison d’etre as school librarians.
Information literacy has progressed from using reference resources to finding information in a complex environment. Visual literacy, digital literacy, textual literacy, and technical literacy are all crucial skills. The pervasiveness of the Internet and the massive amount of information available—accurate or not—requires students to become discerners as well as seekers. Every student (and instructor) needs the ability to select, evaluate, and use information effectively.
I begin by talking about what research is not:
- Research is not compiling data and reporting on it.
- Research is not about asking why or how.
Then what is research?
- Research calls for us to think beneath the surface of an issue.
- Research calls for analysis to solve a problem.
- Research calls for the answer to a pressing question.
- Research uses data to answer a problem-solving question.
- Research leads to a solution that advances knowledge.
As I am sure we all do, I continue by showing examples of good research questions, and encouraging class participation in dissecting good and marginal research questions. Then I ask students where to go first to begin finding information on a particular topic (I always look at their teacher to make sure they are paying attention at this point), and someone in the room will always suggest Google. I show the following Google search and graphic to illustrate my point:
Your topic is a paper on Lincoln (I don’t say which Lincoln), and someone suggests a Google search. How many hits do you think we will get? Rarely does anyone suggest a half billion results. Once they overcome their shock, I ask what sorts of things are we getting? They are delighted to learn that a top hit is Lincoln Logs. They chuckle when I ask one student to review the first 20 million hits, etc. They get why that is funny.
After a bit more discussion, I show the following search in EBSCOhost, and ask them to comment:
The light begins to dawn. Everyone agrees that it will be much easier to review 157 hits for information pertinent to our research than 510,000,000. Now, I can actually begin to teach. I have the students’ and their teacher’s attention. I am convinced that once we have the support of the classroom teacher, with the realization that their students (and their own) information literacy skills could use a reality check, our work will get the attention of department chairs, administrators, and other stakeholders. On our campus, word on the street is that the library is offering “really good” sessions on how to do research, evidenced by the fact that instructors who have brought classes to the library in the past, but “didn’t need any help from us,” are scheduling multiple sessions to upper school classes which I teach as outlined above. Repeat sessions focus on diving deep into specific topics, and include tutorials on the information timeline, Boolean logic, primary source materials, and citing sources.
No matter how you approach your research methodology in any grade, be mindful that our students (and faculty) most likely have an inflated opinion of their research skills. Finding ways to engage them at a basic level, and opening up the world of possibilities for thoughtful, in-depth research with requisite skills will serve your students into their university years and reinforce with your faculty the necessity of partnering with their librarian.
Welcome to the 21st century!
Growing information literate human beings is really hard. I’m just going to put that out there. Over the last few years the information landscape has changed so rapidly, that for the last 4 or 5 years, despite my sincere commitment and diligent efforts, I haven’t confidently known how to help students and teachers successfully navigate the yellow brick road to information literacyland.
A little Historical Context…
Our library program has the truly good fortune to be given a high school faculty meeting each year for which we get to develop and present “library programming” for our high school faculty. While I am grateful for the vote of confidence and commitment that this shows from our Administration, I can also honestly say that these sessions have proven to be the most sweat and terror inducing 50 minutes of each of the 4 school years since I arrived here at Mid-Pacific.
I’m not the Michael Jordan of librarianship. I am NOT the person you want to give the ball to, to take the final shot at the buzzer to win the the big homecoming game. Put me under pressure and I choke like the poor nameless guy in the gray Imperial military uniform who has displeased Darth Vader by foolishly letting the rag tag band of Rebels escape to fight another day. Not pretty, but you get the picture…
Year 1–Research as a Process…
In my first year here at Mid-Pacific, we determined that there would be great benefit if all of our faculty understood research as a process so we set about planning a to embed that concept in our faculty members’ minds and practice.
Mid-Pacific embraces active, constructivist, student-centered learning. If active learning is how students learn best, why should faculty learning look any differently? With this philosophy in mind, faculty meetings here rarely involve presenters standing in front of the auditorium telling us about a concept or a new program for long periods of time so in our faculty library presentation we set out to engage our faculty with an activity intended to develop individual and group understandings of research as a process.
Embracing Constructivist Learning–Put Teachers to Work!
We had teachers sit in small groups. Each group was given 6 large Post-it notes and asked to document the steps they would follow to accomplish a research or information gathering task.
It was a long time ago, now, but I believe the prompt was something along the lines of,
“You need to buy a new car. You need to gather the information necessary to buy the right car for you. What 6 steps would you follow to find the information you need to be successful?”
I think we had 2-3 similar prompts that groups could choose and we also gave groups the option to choose in information task of their own creation. We then had each group put their steps up on a board and we clustered like-steps from various groups together. Unsurprisingly, the steps developed from most groups aligned fairly easily with steps of the Big6 and we as a faculty began the process of “co-constructing” our understanding of research as process.
I find walking around and engaging with small groups of teachers puts me far more at ease than when I am required to play the role of “expert” at the front of the room. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the messaging that this process communicates to our faculty. Engaging this way says to our faculty,
“This isn’t ‘the library’s’ process. This is Mid-Pacific’s process. This is what you, as a good adult learner, already intuitively do. This process isn’t the exclusive purview of the library, and therefore the sole responsibility of the library staff. Rather, it is something we should ALL be teaching in our courses and projects, and by using common language across disciplines, we can activate and leverage students’ previous experiences with research tasks.”
Year 2–Driving Engagement with Sources…
The following year, we addressed the idea that students were probably not engaging as deeply with sources as we all hoped to see. Out of that faculty meeting, grew the practice of asking students to submit annotated works cited lists rather just a list of works cited which was our norm. The very skeletal annotation format that came out of that meeting eventually gave way to adoption of the OPVL citation format encouraged by the International Baccalaureate Program, and as of this year OPVL annotated works cited lists are being required in grades 9-12.
Year 3–Source Evaluation, Part II (Alternative Title: That Time We put the Horse Before the Cart)…
Last year, we had our faculty work through a source evaluation process by having them take articles on the vaccination debate and place them on a coordinate grid as they saw fit. Our hope was that the technique for visibly showing our understanding of a source’s “perspective” (we’re trying to avoid using the term bias because it is proving to be too loaded a term for our students) might “become a thing,” but alas, while we got good feedback, I think the process involved too much time and preparation for the idea to scale beyond a handful of our most committed “information literacy” oriented teachers.
Year 4–Source Evaluation, Part I (Alternate Title: What We Hope is the Missing Keystone Piece of our Source Evaluation Efforts)…
We have been struggling to come up with a scalable instructional model for source evaluation that our content-area faculty might be able to use with students in the course of their everyday work.
Over the summer, we stumbled upon Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers by Michael Caulfield in which he presents a “4-move” process for fact checking web sources. We were intrigued because it gave us a potential model for source evaluation that seemed effective, yet “light, quick, nimble, and fast” enough that we believed that it might be applicable at scale beyond a dedicated “library lesson.” We worked with his process and decided that our particular population of students would likely find more success with Caulfield’s 4-Moves if we changed the order of two of the steps, so we built a prototype flow chart and decided that we’d have our high school faculty beta test the process to see if it might meet their needs.
Here’s what we did with our faculty last Wednesday…
Informal feedback from our faculty on our session and activity has been quite positive. A few let us know that the activity itself was helpful to them for their personal knowledge and awareness as USERS of information, and we got some good formal feedback about the process as well!
As soon as we have a moment, our plan is to take all of the feedback from the faculty working groups and weigh which changes we think we might incorporate into our 4-Move process itself and/or changes that we might decide to make to the document (which we envision as an 11X17 poster in each classroom). Our initial thoughts are that some of the feedback such as changing “read laterally” to some other more student-friendly term will get a lot of consideration while other feedback is primarily useful for us to consider instructionally (defining terms clearly, etc.) as we eventually roll this process out to students.
Once we have gotten our ducks in a row on the library side, I will likely seek 5-10 minutes at a future faculty meeting in order to update our faculty on how their feedback has either been incorporated into changes to the process or document(s), or how their feedback will inform our instruction as we roll the process out to students.
Some statements from faculty such as, “If you use databases, sources are already vetted” indicate that we still have some conceptual information literacy professional development to do, so we plan to work with individual department chairs to find time when we might get some department meeting time to deliver more discipline-specific professional development for our teachers in some key departments.
This Seems Really Hard and Fuzzy So What’s the Payoff?
In the bigger picture we are coming to realize that we have to get students to think about source evaluation in two main phases.
Phase 1 – When you are initially selecting sources from a results list, you should be able to very quickly apply the 4-Moves to help you choose what appear to be your most promising sources.
Phase 2 -Once you have chosen sources, you need need to slow way down and carefully apply the kind of “close reading” strategies that are employed in the X-Y “perspective” activity that we did with our faculty last year. Does the author’s evidence adequately support their claim? Are the studies cited scientifically sound? Is the sample size for the study adequate? What is the author’s primary purpose for publishing this work? …
In a broad sense both kinds of source evaluation thinking need to become part of the “always on” mental models that students employ as they do anything from find the best video gaming hacks to the policy positions they will choose to support as soon-to-be voters.
For us here at Mid-Pacific in the shorter term, we have started requiring students from 9-12th to turn in OPVL formatted annotated works cited lists. The annotation requirement is not an end in itself as much as it is a scaffold that we are employing to “encourage” students to practice the thinking that goes into both phases of source evaluation. To my mind, the information gleaned while executing the 4-moves help to inform students about a source’s origin and, perhaps, purpose; deep/close reading that is done when they engage in activities like placing their sources on a continuum or in a coordinate grid should inform both the source’s purpose and limitation; and I would hope that students would be evaluating a source’s value to them as learners throughout the research process.
Growing information literate humans is hard. We’re struggling to figure out the best paths forward, but we hope that little-by-little and step-by-step, we’re slowly but surely identifying skills and mental models that need to be in place for our students to successfully engage with a universe of information that has grown to be incredibly complex and challenging.
We need all the help that we can get and we’d be so grateful to hear about strategies you are trying with your students. Please hit comment below and share some of them!