When information literacy skills are not part of the everyday learning in the classroom they can only ever be ‘add-ons’ and no more.
When a teacher doesn’t embed these skills as part of their pedagogy and the ‘teaching’ of information literacy skills is done elsewhere they can again only ever be ‘add-ons’. As soon as someone else attempts to ‘teach’ these skills it immediately lowers the value students place in them as suddenly they are seen to be separate. Students get taught all the skills and knowledge they need by their teachers and see how subjects fit together by those teachers employing certain things across all subjects. For instance the ability to skim and scan, to successfully keyword and understand how search engines work and to reference materials etc etc are skills that are needed in all subjects so they should be part of the classroom teachers role to disseminate.
If the person in charge of information literacy in a school does not feel that their teachers are qualified or able enough to do this then they need to think about what they are trying to achieve. There’s a good chance that they are entirely missing the point of information literacy and what it means and what these skills should look like too. This happens all too often in schools where a public library approach to information is undertaken (this is in the few schools where information literacy is taken at least semi seriously). Let’s be honest, if you think that the skills that are needed are so advanced that teachers can’t become competent or able to teach them then is your precious nature of these skills stopping them from actually being useful skills? Because the skills needed are really not that difficult. They’re actually common sense and about making the skills of searching as explicit as possible.
To believe that these skills cannot be undertaken by teachers is also missing the entire point of teaching and creating true (not false) cross curricular and whole school approaches. If someone else is needed to ‘teach’ these skills then it is not cross curricular, or whole school and fundamentally I would question whether the buy in from teachers was so limited that this is why it is this way.
To make anything cross curricular and whole school it is the teachers that need to buy into it. They are the ones that will ultimately be doing it at the chalk face so they need to see that not only is it part of their role but importantly that it is a vital part of teaching and learning. They will see this by the person in charge of information literacy not running lots of training on a dry uninteresting subject but by showing them how these skills can improve the quality of learning that goes on in the classroom, and that it has a positive impact on their teaching. If they don’t see this they will ultimately not do it.
To get information literacy skills in the classroom and therefore across the curriculum you need to show the benefit of these skills to learning and teaching. The fundamentals of information literacy is understanding a gap in knowledge and then going about filling that gap. Yes there are other micro skills within this including digital literacy skills, referencing etc etc however the ability to know there is a need for information and to be able to find it successfully is the basis. Funnily enough these skills are also the basis of learning. That is why we have developed the OPUS model of information literacy and learning in our school. However even if you don’t employ a model such as this the core, base understanding and skills information literacy employ are just the same as learning. If we want students to become information and digitally literate these skills need to be employed by all teachers in all learning.
Just with any skill that is needed in learning these things go on in the outstanding classrooms. They happen because the outstanding teachers realise that it is their job to model and make explicit the skills that are needed to undertake a task. If they are asking them to write a letter they will model the correct method of writing a letter. If they are asking them to create a graph they will model the correct way to do so. This is the case whether they are an English or maths teacher or not. This is the meaning of true cross curricular, transferrable skills.
So we, as librarians, knowledgeable about information literacy and digital literacy need to be able to lead our teachers to see how these skills fit into their teaching. How they are fundamental to them, and how importantly they are already part of the outstanding classroom. As soon as this knowledge and this practice is shared and made explicit, and the impact of it is seen too then you start to get positive results.
So how do you quantify these skills to teachers? How do you show them that they are fundamental?
First you have to break them down. You have to show them that information literacy isn’t something to be scared of. Isn’t something that only certain people can be experts or specialists in. You need to show teachers that actually they are probably undertaking a lot of these skills already in their teaching. But it’s about taking the opportunity to make these things explicit to the students and modelling them so the students can see just how it should be done/should look.
The university of Bristol breaks down the skills of information literacy as the following for its students:
-understand what sort of information is required
-recognise where and how that information can be found, and develop an effective strategy for obtaining it
-use a variety of specialist online and printed resources – not just Google and the library catalogue – to find the information you need
-compare and evaluate the information obtained from different sources
-use the information ethically by understanding and avoiding plagiarism – for example, by citing your sources correctly
Now if this is good enough for a university then it is certainly good enough for a school. There is absolutely nothing in here that a teacher cannot do in the classroom. If they are helping their students to learn, are aware of the work that is being set of students etc etc then these skills are part of the learning process. To consider them otherwise is probably the reason very few schools take information literacy serious.
What we need to do is talk to teachers and show them how making these skills explicit will improve the quality of the work that the students are completing. Students are always needing to find information, whether for homework or research purposes and it is at this point that we need to work with teachers and show how the outstanding classroom makes this setting of work as explicit as possible. In the outstanding classroom the teacher sets meaningful work which ties into the lesson and learning and they talk to the students about how they might undertake the process. This includes answering any questions there and then that arise from the work, instead of allowing the students to leave the classroom unaware of exactly what it is they are being asked to do. This includes thinking about where they might find this information and how they might go about presenting it. Students leave having had these skills modelled to them and know what the finished piece is going to look like. These are all information literacy skills but they’re just made explicitly so. This is what we need to change.
The classroom is the place where information literacy belongs in a schoool and it belongs in the hands of the teacher. If we can make this happen by making the skills of information literacy explicit to teachers and students we can achieve a lot for the benefit of learning instead of a job title.