on the releasing of wolves into your library curriculum…

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but winter break served as a wonderful time for me to catch my breath, take a break from obsessing about fake news, and READ SOME BOOKS!

I hit a good vacation reading run and thoroughly enjoyed:

The Power of Unstructured Time for My Very Unstructured Mind… 

Aside from reading and eating (a lot) I had a lot of wonderfully unstructured time. When I was a young elementary classroom teacher, a wise grade level chair observed my class for a day and chatted with me about the value of unstructured time for students. It was probably about 25 years ago, but I remember the conversation to this day, “Dave, think about it. Sir Issac Newton probably could never have come up with the law of gravity if he had to fill out language arts worksheets continuously during his every waking moment. I’m sure he needed time to sit under an apple tree and watch stuff fall. You don’t have to be so worried about filling every moment they have with you with stuff to do…”

My own reality is that unstructured time allows me to stop thinking about work. Weird as it may sound, for me, times when I am “not thinking about how to solve my work problems” are the moments when I seem to have these strange free association moments of clarity and I arrive at new ways to think about, or look at, long standing work challenges.

Over winter break a non-librarian friend of mine reposted a link that to a Ted video that made the rounds a while back about how the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park lead to “trophic cascade” resulting in a change to the rivers in the park.


What do wolves in Yellowstone have to do with library curriculum and information instruction? Well, because “free association” is how my brain works about 50% of the time, the video immediately made me think of the dilemma of the one shot library lesson or really, the genreal lack of enough instructional time that seems to be a nearly universal issue amongst AISL librarians. In spite of all of our lessons and instruction I inadvertently released a pack of wolves into our school’s information ecosystem that caused a really fascinating cascade of nice things to happen.

Annotated Works Cited Lists Turned Out to be a Pack of Wolves… 

At the end of last school year, we asked our high school teachers to begin requiring annotated works cited lists rather than simply a list of works that students had used. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but I am seeing now, that it is a small change that required very little effort on the part of the library or the librarians. Requiring annotated works cited lists has significantly changed student behavior when it comes to source evaluation, source selection, and use of information.

If you are 14 years old and have to justify the choice of one source over another including:

  1. What was in the source
  2. How the source was useful
  3. [and sometimes] How the source changed your thinking

It seems to “encourage” use of databases, actual reading of source material, and some degree of forethought beyond “I need four sources for this project so I’ll pick out stuff from the first three links on Google…”

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The Citation Project found that 77% of all the citations coded were from “the first three pages, regardless of whether the source is three pages or 400+ pages.” (The Citation Project)

It’s far from perfect, but I will take every opportunity to find ways to make information literacy practices part of the everyday life and an everyday habit of mind even just a little at a time.  In a perfect world I’d love to have enough staffing and instructional time to do all of the information literacy instruction. Most librarians’ reality, however, is that many librarians still only have opportunities for one-shot lessons or, like us, have just two librarians for 1559 students in PK-12. If this is our reality, we have to come to grips with the fact that our responsibilities are to be sure that information literacy instruction is happening. We don’t necessarily have to be the ones doing all the direct instruction. Admittedly, letting go and trusting my teachers is hard. They don’t always “do it how I would do it,” but in the end. That’s okay because a student having a hundred media literacy or information literacy discussions with teachers and peers will take learning much farther than a super awesome lesson in the library once or twice or five times a semester…

Teachers want students to be critical thinkers. They want students to deep dive into the content of the discipline being taught. They want students to develop literacies. Those are all the same things I want for our students. I’m having to let go of my idea of what our perfect information instruction should look and feel like in favor of information instruction that can actually become reality in my real school.

I don’t have to change the rivers myself, I just have to figure out how to release more packs of wolves into my school’s information ecosystem.

Release the Baby Wolves!!!

Though we are “technically” a PK-12 library program, historically, library services hae not started here until grade 3. Just before last Thanksgiving, we were finally able to launch some very low key programming with our kindergarten classes–storytime and borrow and browse time on Mondays. The exciting part about this for me, however, is now that we finally have working relationships with our Kindergarten teachers we are able to begin to work together to develop some foundational information concepts. We’re hoping to build source awareness with some of our youngest learners by asking students not to cite their ideas per se, but to indicate in a very simple form how they know what they know. In IB schools, seniors take a course called, “Theory of Knowledge” where students ponder things like what the difference is between information and knowledge. Well, this is what TOK looks like when you are 5.

“That’s a really cool picture of a tiger, Brandon! How did you know what a tiger looks like because I’m guessing that you don’t have tigers walking around in you house!”


Theory of Knowledge kinder style!

We got a set of stamps made for each kindergarten class and we are hoping that having students identify how they know what they know will encourage habits of mind that will bridge easily to citation and source evaluation later on.

Will it work? Will this be a pack of wolves that changes the way rivers run in our elementary school? I suppose sometimes packs of wolves get released into an ecosystem and die off for a variety of reasons that could not be anticipated by the biologists so, really, I don’t know, but I’m hopeful…

Changes to ecosystems sometimes take a long time to see. Like a wildlife biologist, I’ll wait and watch. I’ll get back to you in three years and give you all an update! 🙂

Happy New Year, all!

6 thoughts on “on the releasing of wolves into your library curriculum…

  1. Loved this, Dave! Unstructured time is valuable, and annotated bibs can make students think more about their choices. Plus loved the image of tigers walking around my house. Also– I want to play with stamps. Can I have a tiger stamp?

  2. Your posts always get me thinking. The annotated Works Cited is something I am going to ponder and perhaps pursue with a teacher or two here. It has occasionally worked as a research lesson to have each student “practice find” 2 or 3 sources, and write annotations on why they would use the sources, if they actually had to write a paper. I check with our English teachers first, and can usually have them do their sample searches and annotations on subject that *surprise!* turn out to be assigned later in the semester. Thanks for sharing!

  3. David,
    I copy and pasted the annotated works paragraph from this blog post, (giving you credit of course), and sent it to the Middle School and Upper School faculty yesterday. Happily, I have already received responses from three teachers saying they would give it a try. Thank you so much. It will be wonderful if I can actually affect some change in the way the teachers teach information literacy. And your letting go of the need to do the actual teaching of information literacy skills gave me the license to do the same. It’s always stuck in my craw a bit that I wasn’t given enough opportunities to do that with classes and now I can just breathe easier!

  4. Dave – I absolutely love your idea of thinking about where we get our information for the younger set. When/where do the students use the stamps? And where can I order them? 🙂 Also, I tried annotated bibliographies with my 8th grade students a few years ago, and I, too, saw a change in the way they wrote their papers and found sources. We even used them when there wasn’t a final paper but instead a class discussion.

    • Hi Natalie,

      This was an idea that was hot off the press so I didn’t have samples to post yet. My kindergarten teachers anticipate building it into journal writing that happens daily, but I’m hoping that they’ll also find uses in many other places including art, PE, health, etc. Our 1st/2nd classes (our classes loop), were actually even more excited about the idea!

      I actually had the stamps made at a local rubber stamp shop based on come clip art icons. Each stamp was about $9.00 so if you find a more economical way to find similar stamps, I’d really love to hear about the vendor!

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