To all the information literacy specialists

Dear Information Literacy Specialist,

Are you an information literacy specialist in your school? Do you teach information literacy skills to your students? Do you consider this to be your role?

Have you ever thought that your insistence on doing this or being this is actually having a negative and detrimental effect on the teaching of information literacy across your school?

Let’s look at the facts and numbers. Surely a model that all schools should be looking for with the teaching of any kind of skills is that it is in every classroom. On the whole students are lazy so for them to gain a understanding of certain skills they need to access them on a regular basis. If we want them to use these skills without thinking when they come across situations in which they are needed we need to make sure that they become second nature to students.
I think most sensible people would find this hard to disbute.

So, if you teach information literacy skills are your students getting a diet of this on a daily basis, because surely it must have to happen on a daily basis for these skills to become natural? And by this I of course mean all students not just that you are teaching the skills regularly but one student will only have have this type of teaching once a month or so. I also mean that it needs to happen to all students all the time not just intensively with one year group , like yr7 or yr12. Even if you work with some classes and ‘teach’these skills ad hoc that’s all it ever is.

Surely the only answer to these questions can be no. If you’re the specialist and you’re ‘teaching’ it there is no way you can do this. If you have 8 form groups in each year 7-13 and 5 periods in a day that’s 280 classes each day, so are you in all these classes embedding these skills? Clearly not.

So the question then becomes is your insistence on you being the information literacy specialist in school having a negative effect on the teaching of information literacy? Is your precious nature of this being part of your role giving off a negative view of what information literacy is? When you drill even further are you actually the best person to be teaching information literacy skills? This answer I would have to say is a big no. For if you ‘teach’ it then students will only ever view it as a skill that is separate from everything else just because your teaching it, this is regardless of how much you can actually do and how many classes you can be in.

The best model is that every teacher is an information literacy specialist. That every teacher, in their lessons is teaching these skills on a lesson by lesson basis. Then all students not only get a fantastic diet of these skills on a regular basis but they see how these skills fit together in all their subjects. This cannot be achieved any other way.

So are you the person that is stopping information literacy skills being an integral part of the classroom? Is it your precious nature that only you can ‘teach’ these skills that is stopping students from having access to them and them becoming ingrained in their learning? Are you making these skills so far removed from the classroom with the view that only you are the specialist?

Why not alllow all teachers to be information literacy specialists and allow them to do the things they are good at, teaching, while you enable them to do so by leading them. Why not let others, especially the students see that they can be specialists and that it isn’t something only one person in the school can be?

Are you the person stopping this from happening or are you enabling it to grow?

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6 Comments

  1. Methinks I see a straw-man argument arising; who are these information literacy specialists that are against teachers delivering IL skills or view this skillset as within their exclusive, jealously-guarded purview?
    What teachers need is the support and experience of a specialist in order to design long-term, consistent learning experiences where these skills can be nurtured. As with a TLR, a specialist allows for someone with a long-term, whole-school strategic view and a point of contact for sharing best practice, giving support, delivering CPD and giving options about the different ways IL can be incorporated into the curriculum.
    Most of the research, conference and CPD activity around IL skills delivery is about collaboration and embedding nowadays not stand-alone lessons detached from the curriculum; your criticism of an IL a specialist as a concept is actually a criticism of a poorly designed IL program.

    • My criticism is of course of a badly designed information literacy program, prevalent in most schools and predicated by a ‘specialist’ who doesn’t see their role as that of an enabler but as the only person that can ‘teach’ these skills.
      Funnily enough you confirm my exact point in stating that information literacy should be embedded in every lesson and not as an ‘add on’ which can only be achieved if the teacher teaches it themselves as part of their pedagogy. The moment someone else takes on this role then they remove it from the curriculum by proxy.
      So in your school do you ‘teach’ information literacy or is it part of the teachers role in every lesson to be giving these skills? How does this happen, what policies (that mean anything in school) is this written into, how do you get staff to buy in, how are students supported, parents empowered, LSAs knowledgable? If it is you in the school that professes to be the Information Literacy Specialist (I’m guessing it is from the fact you’ve commented) then do you do all the things that I state are needed (and you agree on) as being integral to a successful dissemination of information literacy?
      Research and theory are very different from practicalities and putting something in place, especially in a school, requires a knowledge of all of this. How long have you worked in schools as I sense a naivety around this and in how schools operate?

      • I’m not disputing the premise of your argument that IL should be embedded within the curriculum (though there are multiple means of doing this) but with the assertion that having a member of staff with a specific responsibility for IL is counter-productive; I can’t see the evidence you’ve provided that indicates that it is having a role for a curriculum leader which is what your post claimed. Instead, from what I’ve read, you’re not making the distinction between a role, a responsibility for an area and that person being responsible for the exclusive delivery of it.
        As an example; where a teacher has a TLR for literacy, for example, their additional role is to develop a literacy strategy which will be delivered in every classroom, not making a claim they’ll deliver all literacy instruction for the school. The school appoints someone to the role recognising that they need someone to identify good practice (within and without the school) and share and support teaching staff in delivery. To claim that giving someone a responsibility for IL in school means the school or person sees themselves as solely responsible for IL skills delivery is misunderstanding their role.
        My job title is information literacy lead (I don’t “profess” anything, that is my title) and that reflects that one key responsibility is delivering an IL strategy in school but it’s not a ‘single issue’ title – just as the literacy lead has responsibility for literacy across school alongside normal teaching, a director of learning is a teacher and a manager, a key stage lead teaches and has an additional focus on a particular KS etc. and I lead on IL and do a number of other roles. You state “The moment someone else takes on this role then they remove it from the curriculum by proxy” – does giving someone a literacy TLR remove literacy from the curriculum, does making someone a KS3 Lead devolve all other KS3 teachers of responsibility for those classes?
        I teach in a number of classes, whether my own PBL classes or within schemes of work alongside teaching staff – none of them I would say are ‘teaching IL’ as though it is an isolated skill set – like the skills themselves they are delivered as a means to an end. Support (in and out of classroom) from learning commons staff has improved student outcomes and confidence of staff in incorporating IL, e-learning and C21st skills and I’m seeing progression and ‘stickiness’ in student IL skills. Our LC team are essentially 1 year into a long-term program of improving skill delivery in a number of connected areas, covering C21st skills, e-learning, employability and IL, it’s still a developing area but we’re picking out success and spreading it. With respect, the model of IL delivery you promote may well work for your school (and many others), I can see value in it but it’s not one which would fit in the unique circumstances of every school.

      • I think you are probably confusing yourself a little too much here. No where in the post do I claim that someone having a responsibility for it is a negative thing or that that responsibility means that they will be the only one doing it. In fact, knowing how schools run, being a school leader, it is important for the strategic direction for this to happen. However what I do state is that in many schools the person that professes himself to be the information literacy specialist is the person that only undertakes its ‘teaching’. On top of this the point made about someone else delivering information literacy and taking it out of the curriculum by proxy simply means that if it is not the teacher in the classroom embedding these skills in their practice then the message immediately becomes a disjointed one. The best way to improve literacy across the curriculum is for the teachers, in every lesson, to embed the skills as part of their pedagogy. If a specialist came into each lesson to ‘do’ literacy then it separates it from the learning and undermines the teacher.
        The information literacy model delivery I promote is that of teachers and students becoming the information literacy specialists surely there cannot be a school that can’t undertake this? It is as if you are saying that a model of allowing all teachers to teach literacy skills can’t be possible because all schools are different? Surely this is completely wrong as this is the exact thing that needs to happen!
        I can understand your umbridge, bearing in mind your job title, however it is these exact situations that have led libraries and especially school libraries to the position they are in now which I’m sure even you can’t argue with is in a dire state.
        From the fact that you undertake Project Based Learning in your school I’m guessing your students have a lower than average starting point and make less progress and attain lower, so surely it is in the interest of the students to have a diet of these skills within the classroom, all the time, rather than ad hoc?

  2. I will make this my last comment on this thread just to address a couple of points you’ve made.
    On co-delivery; I don’t recognise that a specialist delivering specific content or trialing new teaching methods within a lesson or within a scheme of work as undermining the teacher; but to a certain extent that’s dependent upon the school – here team-teaching and other people delivering portions of and supporting in the lessons of others where they have particular knowledge or specialism is very common. The experience from myself and colleagues has been that when both parties have been involved in the planning cycle, co-delivery has real benefits for both professionals and the class involved. Personally, I would have concerns that any teacher, , even given exceptional CPD and external support, felt they were an expert in every area aspect of teaching and learning and would never benefit from additional in-class support.
    On embedding models. I don’t think your model is unique [in trying to help students and teachers become specialists]; expertise is an outcome not a process and the aim of all teaching under any model is confidence and expertise. What we’re debating here is the approach we take that we hope will lead to this. IL, literacy, numeracy etc. both can and should be integrated into all areas of the curriculum but where literacy and numeracy differ from information literacy is that these can be and are assessed and quantified – IL skills (if we are to look at them in their entirety) are ultimately entirely context-driven to the unique moments they’re needed and therefore, as a skill, can be developed but not assessed or graded (at least by no means that has been widely accepted by the IL community). Fundamentals of IL can and should be delivered by teachers within their usual pedagogy, as should happen with literacy and numeracy, and have a program to put this is in place but complementing that I do targeted work within lessons and with PBL. I’m not saying, as you’ve stated I am, that IL (or any other skill) can’t be integrated into the curriculum because all schools are different, but that any single model or approach (in its entirety), yours and mine included, of doing so is appropriate for every school.
    What I hope you would acknowledge as a school leader is that every teacher teaching every class is different and what works with one class and one teacher will not with another, let alone with another school with entirely different circumstances, put simply one size never fits all. My ‘umbrage’, if that is how you chose to characterise it, is that your post and subsequent comments suggest, to me, a point of view that IL practitioners in school have the choice of either your model or a failure by their school, students and teachers without acknowledging that we each work in very different schools and that our role as professionals is to look at the available models and select aspects thereof that will work within the unique circumstances of their school.
    You addressed your post to “all information literacy specialists” which includes me and then present what is a generalised characterisation that I don’t recognise within my practice. “Controversial” a post or not, given you have a limited knowledge of the full IL program within mine, or every school with an IL specialist, I feel it is unfair and inaccurate to level the criticisms you did at as though they apply to all information literacy specialists.

    • I think, and I’m only guessing here from your comments, that you have limited experience of working in a range of schools in differing circumstances and contexts (maybe this is your first school). Having worked with hundreds of schools across the country as an advisor over the years I feel qualified to say that in most schools the person that calls himself the information literacy specialist appears to be the only person that undertakes its ‘teaching.’ I can also safely say that it is this attitude that I have seen in all these schools that has been the thing that has hindered information literacy expanding into and through the classroom and becoming fundamental to learning. Part of my role has been to work with numerous school leaders to put this into place and to allow the teachers to make sure they have the knowledge on how to make these skills explicit. Having done this successfully in too many schools to note I think I am capable of making statements around how models/whole school programs can be put into place. Although I may not know your individual school’s style I have certainly, from experience, come across many others like it, not every school is different there are similar threads that run through each depending on locality, pan and social factors. Your comments on project based learning, co-teaching and your limited/textbook only understanding of teaching and learning and the classroom give me enough information to make a judgement as to the type of school you work in.
      Plus the title of the post is a play on the very famous “To all the…” quotes, and surely the point is that if this was the case then you wouldn’t recognise it as your own practice.

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