The Information Literate Classroom – expanding skills across the curriculum

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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.

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Escape the filter bubble – consult a librarian

filter bubble

 

Mentioned in my post last week, here, I spoke about the information filter bubble that exist on the internet today and through social media sites.

The importance in knowing this exists, especially if you work in an education setting, is massive. The internet is fantastic, a great invention and the potential it gives for learning and teaching is massive, however both these things, learning and teaching, are not reliant upon the internet. They do not need it to be successful and they should not rely on it. In the UK there is nothing that the curriculum requires of the internet however the internet can provide a lot to enhance aspects of learning and of collaboration.

But, and this is the Kim Kardashian of buts, how many know about the information filter bubble we are being forced into? How many teachers know that the Google factor is not what they have been led to believe it is? How many students take for granted that on any search they are seeing only the information that an algorithm wants them to see? And more importantly how many people have the skills and abilities to make sure they think around this and gather news and information from a range of sources to step outside the filter bubble?

We need to have a healthy diet of all types of information. We need to see things that make us uncomfortable in the news as well as things that confirm our beliefs. We need information desserts as much as information vegetables, however we need someone to enable us and to guide us to make sure we don’t end up with just information junk food.

Seeking information from a range of sources is how a student can get a fully formed understanding of a subject and therefore can begin to turn this into knowledge. However with an over insistence on Google our young people are being led to information that only goes about confirming their own biases, almost a never ending self fulfilling information retrieval prophecy.

In my last post I spoke about the librarian in school being the person with the ability to do this role and to help guide youngsters outside of the information bubble. Maybe I spoke imprecisely about the librarian being a filter themselves. Yes my main attack is on the filtering job that the internet does that places us in this information bubble but when I speak of a librarian as a filter I mean them to be the person who filters out the non needed informtation, the irrelevant stuff, but leaves a bigger picture of the subject being searched for. The Information dessert and vegetable of the required subject.

What schools need to do is think about how their students access information. They need to embed in their teaching policies, the accessibility polices and their SMSC policies the right for students to have access to a range of sources from all different viewpoints. If they do not do this and continue to leave information searching and retrieval to chance then we will be at risk of growing our young to be shut off from the ‘bigger picture’ and only believing in the picture that is being created for them.

Information literacy may not be the most interesting of subjects and at the top of most schools’ agendas yet it is in my respect one of the most important issues of our generation. How can we make sure schools do all they can to allow young people to be able to step out of their isolated information filter bubble?

The first step in my mind has to be the empowerment and trust in the school librarian as a curriculum leader to pursue in schools a balanced and thoughtfully analysed approach to information retrieval. For them to teach and further empower the classroom teacher tying their teaching and the children’s learning into thoughtful information retrieval, importantly not as a an add-on but as a fundamental part of learning. If this can be achieved in schools then we can give our students the opportunity they deserve to become fully rounded individuals instead of only believing in the information they have been forced to see as the truth.

By this can only happen if we position in schools someone who has this knowledge, ability and responsibility.

Someone like a librarian maybe?

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?