on CSI: News Literacy?

I hope my final AISL post of 2020 finds you either already enjoying some well deserved time away from your libraries or that you will be heading off to start your winter break very shortly.

Butter Cookies, Beignets, and Gingerbread Man Time…

Here at Mid-Pacific we begin our school year in the first week of August so, for us, this week marks the end of our first semester. I know that the end of a term is typically extremely busy for many libraries, but in our heavily project-based learning curriculum, demand for library services tends to come early in the semester when projects launch and then about a month before the end of a term when the bulk of work is in progress. Interestingly, the very end of a term tends to be the time when we catch up on cataloging, weeding, cleaning up catalog records, and other “good librarian’s do this” stuff that I HATE doing. I’ve deemed this period butter cookie, beignet, and gingerbread man time because I hate these tasks so much that the only way I can make myself do them is by telling myself, “Catalog 5 things, then you can go to the work room and have a butter cookie, one of the chocolate beignets, or one of the gingerbread men.” It means that I usually have to swap over to the fat pants in my closet about two weeks in, but it also means that I don’t get fired so… #TradeOffs #Pragmatism


A Gift from Santa Your Email Inbox (and No, Not the SPAM Kind from Random Library Vendors that Want to Meet Your Printer Toner Needs) …

Sometimes, though, as you’re wiping the stray powdered sugar from that delicious chocolate beignet off your face, your email notification chimes and you get a random gift that’s so unexpected that all you can do is rub your eyes (you know, metaphorically, because it’s a pandemic and you should never touch your eyeballs) and read it over and over…

I got this email from a 10th grade STEM teacher in our multidisciplinary Mid-Pacific eXploratory [MPX] program:

Hi Dave, saw this.  We have been following the vaccine in class.  How do we turn this into a lesson? https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/01/tech/covid-19-vaccine-misinformation-social-media/index.html

Happy friends
Me in my head…

So, I’ve been thinking about what to do with this…

When Trying to Grow Information Literate Humans, Can Less be More?

I recently came across this article on Why the ‘Paradox Mindset’ is the Key to Success on how “embracing contradictory ideas may actually be the secret to creativity and leadership.” I’ve been thinking about that piece a lot lately. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like I’m working super hard getting all sweaty everyday, and teaching bundles of skills, yet never seeming to get to the point where I feel like we’re sending students out into the world with the degree of information literacy that they need in order to thrive in a networked, polarized world. I’m ready to try something different. I’m wondering if 5 minutes of library instruction can be more productive than 85 minutes. I know that’s crazy talk, but hear me out.

When I think back to my days as an elementary classroom teacher focusing on developing students’ reading literacy, nobody ever expected that reading literacy would come in 6 discrete reading lessons a year. Literacy just doesn’t develop that way. I don’t know why, but it occurs to me that I seem to be trying grow information literate young adults in 6 library lessons a year. When I really think about it, it looks a lot like a fool’s errand.

This is grossly oversimplifying, but literacies, I suppose, develop when students are able to put skills, concepts, and strategies together and apply them to complex, faceted contexts that they haven’t seen before. With reading literacy, when I say skills and concepts I’m thinking things like:

  • Letter-sound relationships
  • Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends
  • In English we read from left to right and from top to bottom
  • Etc.

And when I say strategies, I’m thinking about things like:

  • What should I do when I come to word I don’t know?
  • Based on the title and the illustration, can I predict what this book is about?
  • Does the information that I think I’m getting as I read this story match my prediction or is it causing cognitive dissonance?
  • Etc.

When it Comes to Information Literacy or News Literacy Instruction, We Need to Keep it Simple, but Keeping it Simple is Super Not Simple… 👀

If we ever hope to help students truly become #NewsLiterate or #InformationLiterate, I think we’re going to have to make our news literacy and information literacy instruction look and feel more like reading instruction looks in our elementary classrooms. We need to find ways to teach specific discrete skills and specific strategies in multiple ways over sustained periods of time with lots of opportunities for students to practice application in different contexts. I know that’s a horribly constructed sentence, but I hope you get what I mean.

Half-Baked Thoughts: What If…?

I think that’s what we need to do, but I’m in uncharted territory so I’m feeling stuck and all I have to offer here is my half-baked thoughts on a half-baked plan for some news literacy instruction that we hope to begin working on sometime in January.

What if, instead an 80-minute library lesson, we taught news literacy skills and concepts in the form of short 5-10 minute lessons and activities over a sustained period of time? The pandemic hasn’t been any fun, but if we’re going to have to take the negatives, we may as well embrace the silver linings in the black clouds. We’ve gotten pretty good a making short instructional screencasts and teachers here have become really comfortable having librarians Zooming into their hybrid (most of our students, PK-12, are on campus for face-to-face instruction, but almost every class or section has a few students who are learning virtually) for short “just in time” instruction. We are finding that having the technology in place and working with teachers who are now comfortable with virtual/hybrid instruction is giving us a lot more freedom and flexibility to deliver library instruction in different ways. As in:

“Hey Dave, my kids don’t know anything about in-text citation or works cited!”

“Yeah… No, the frosh haven’t had any instruction on it yet, but do you want me to Zoom into your class RIGHT NOW? I can if you want…”

Sometimes our service is a screencast; sometimes it is a short Zoom session with a class; sometimes it is meeting in a breakout room with a segment of a class; and sometimes is is face-to-face in a teacher’s room.

Here’s What I’m Thinking, But I Need Help Figuring Out How to Make It Work – CSI: InfoLit Edition…

Rather than schedule an 80 minute library lesson on news literacy or source evaluation, I want to try 3-10 minutes of instruction or activities with our 10th grade MPX STEM sections, everyday for 2 weeks. Some days, we’ll teach or demonstrate a skill or concept and on other days we’ll try some guided practice applying the fact checking or source evaluation skills and strategies that we’ve introduced. At the end of two weeks, I’d like students to have to come up with a deliverable of some kind that demonstrates their ability to apply the skills, concepts, and strategies presented.

At some point earlier this year, I had a conversation with AISL librarian Nancy Florio who mentioned that she had her research seminar students record narrated screencasts of their database search efforts to demonstrate what they’d learned in her class. I thought the idea was genius so we’re thinking that at the end of the instructional module, perhaps we can give students sample sources and have them create narrated instructional screencast that demonstrate how they would fact check, verify, and/or place the source in a broader context before sharing it on social media or using it for a research project which we’ll then share out to their parents as a virtual presentation of learning.

The Format…

On instructional days, show or review an information literacy video that we already have on hand or record new screencasts presenting the skill or concept.

Something kind of like this:

Click on the image to view my awesome colleague, Nicole’s, screencast on tracing claims back to their origin.

During the next class meeting, present students with a source for them to fact check and evaluate, then briefly debrief the techniques members of the class used to achieve success.

I’ve lined out the image to indicate that I’ve manipulated the tweet to present a headline out of context. Students simply need to click through the link to read the full headline to see that by removing just a single word, I can make it seem that Bill Gates has taken an anti-vaccination position. READ THE ARTICLE BEFORE SHARING IT, KIDS!!!
This is the actual full headline.

Hoping to Hear from You!

I know it’s not a lot, but that’s where I am right now. That’s all we’ve got. I’ve love to hear about any thoughts, suggestions, concerns, better ideas…

I’m not completed wedded to these ideas, but I’m hoping that getting students to think about source evaluation concepts, skills, and strategies over a more sustained period of time might help to build an information mindsets that leans toward skepticism and determining context, but that avoid turning students into cynics–skepticism is good, cynicism not so much…

I’ve come to believe that when students feel overwhelmed by source evaluation they either:

  • Become cynical and believe that there’s no way to discern “truth” in any form so they just use the first thing they find that le’s them fill their perceived information need get that assignment off of their todo lists.


  • They literally don’t know HOW to investigate a source’s accuracy; origin of a claim; or discern whether a source’s creator has political or financial conflicts of interest that may influence the context for the information presented.

I’m hoping this might be a way to combat those scenarios with a little more success.

That’s All I’ve Got, Friends…

Wishing you all a restful, safe, socially-distanced, healthy, well deserved time away from your libraries. I’m so grateful for everyone in AISL. In spite of the year that has been 2020, you all help me to remember that the world is #MostlyGood and will continue to be so because we choose to make it so. Thank you for being my community!

[Edited: 12/19/2020] Checkology and NewsLitCamps!

Thank you to AISL Librarian, Lia, for her reminder about resources available through Checkology and the News Literacy Project! While we’re at it, please consider attended one of the News Literacy Project’s NewsLItCamps for educators! A number of AISL librarians attended the December 10th event. I thought it was an amazing experience! There is a NewsLitCamp scheduled for January 23rd. Details and registration information is available here: Jan. 26: CNN (Virtual: Open to educators nationwide). The event is free!

3 thoughts on “on CSI: News Literacy?

  1. Have you used Checkology? I learned about it last week at the News Literacy Day presented by The Texas Tribune. I’m teaching a four week course on News Literacy to grades 5-8. It comes to about 16 30 minute classes. I’ve modified it every time trying to find the sweet spot in presenting and letting them explore. I always ask for an eval and I’ve incorporated many of their ideas. It’s been a blast. But it’s ungraded so I want it to be fun and useful… and you’re right, I want them to come out actually being more literate. You know, like a teacher should hope 🙂

    Love your ideas!

    • Thanks for the reminder! I attended the same NewsLItCamp, but haven’t had a chance to dive into the Checkology lessons yet. I’m putting it on my todo list. I’m also editing the post to add a registration link to the January NewsLitCamp!

  2. Love this post, Dave. I used Checkology in my New Student Seminar this past fall and really like the flexibility of being able to have students work independently or watch the instructional videos as a class and then apply the skills/ knowledge in small groups or independently. This has me thinking about who I might approach to work with collaboratively on these skills.

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