Making Library-Classroom Connections

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Last week, I attended my daughter’s open house. She just started middle school (6th grade). As we went through and met her teachers, I began to wonder how research skills fit into the curriculum. So, when I met her language arts teacher, one of the questions I asked was about her relationship with the librarian. Did they collaborate on teaching information literacy skills, etc…? Maybe I shouldn’t have used the term information literacy because I got the impression that the teacher wasn’t interpreting information literacy in the context of research skills. She seemed to view information literacy purely in terms of technology skills. Nonetheless, the answer was no to the collaboration question. She gave me a vague explanation of how the students might get some library instruction when they go to the library (she didn’t seem too sure).

I was not surprised, just disappointed, especially considering that this school district prides itself on supporting 21st century learning. And they have a 1:1 program, so all students from middle school on up are equipped with a tablet-keyboard combo. And guess what? The students are using those tablets for research everyday in their classes. But they’re using Google instead of the library databases (and the library has some nice databases).

This is a problem.

Other than reading, no connections are being made between the library and the classroom. No connections are being made between the research students do in class (using Google) and the inquiry-based research skills that are a part of academic information literacy. Students are not becoming practitioners of academic information literacy. They’re taking their informal information literacy practices and applying them to schoolwork. Students are not learning that there are similarities and differences between the two practices. They’re not being taught how to connect informal with formal information literacy practices.

Again, this is a problem. I’ve seen the end result of it in the freshmen that are entering college for the first time and have little to no library research experience. They’re diehard Googlers. And by the time they enter college, it can be quite tough to immerse them into the new and sometimes foreign information literacy practices that are required. In other words, lack of adequate academic information literacy exposure in K-12 impedes college (and career) readiness.

Librarians are the key players in integrating information literacy skills into the curriculum. But that doesn’t mean they need to be the key players in teaching information literacy skills. Why? Because those skills are already being practiced in the classroom. Every day and without adequate guidance. This goes beyond teacher-librarian collaboration — undoubtedly a good thing, just not always easy to achieve.

How can we solve this problem?

I think first and foremost (and one of my career goals) we need to catch teachers during the pre-service stage to teach them how information and related literacies fit into the bigger picture. Teachers need to enter the teaching practice information literate themselves. This is a job for academic librarians. Secondly, those pre-service courses that librarians take on teacher-librarian collaboration should include both teachers and librarians. This requires a merging of the LIS and learning sciences disciplines.

How can library and classroom connections be made outside the pre-service circuit? Professional development is good a place to start. Teachers need to become aware of the differences between academic information literacy and informal information literacy practices. They need to become aware of the library research sources and learn how those sources fit into their everyday teaching. Then, teachers need to become self-aware of all the information literacy moments that pop up during the process of teaching and learning, and take those moments to model quality academic research practices. It’s not a matter of teaching information literacy skills as a separate unit so much. It’s about teachers immersing and modeling those skills into their everyday classroom practices. It’s about librarians teaching the teachers.

I can think of one last (and often overlooked) approach that would help create greater library-classroom connections. Parents. The one thing that would have made a lasting impression on me as a parent would have been if, during parent orientation (given to 6th grade parents), the librarian had introduced herself and given a brief talk about library skills and resources and their importance for college and career readiness. This is not just limited to the school librarian either. Public librarians can just as easily jump in by partnering with school librarians to offer parent workshops on the library’s role in developing the skills that lead to student success.

As librarians, we know how important information literacy skills are to student success. Sometimes I wonder if we’re the only ones who recognize that.

 

10 Tips for Making the Most of a One-Shot Session

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It’s back to school time! You’ve probably hit the ground running with library instruction, and most of that instruction probably falls into the one-shot category. We all know the limitations of one-shots — no matter how well-prepared the instruction is, there is only so much that you can accomplish in a single class period. So, today I’m sharing 10 tips that will help you squeeze as much learning as you can out of a one-shot session. Here they are:

#1 Prepare your learners. Walking in cold turkey to a class full of students who aren’t expecting library instruction, forgot about it, or have no idea of its purpose is a recipe for disaster and pretty much a guarantee that little to no learning will take place in that time period. Let students know ahead of time (don’t rely on the classroom instructor to do this) what you want them to learn and why it is relevant to their coursework. There are many ways to do this. Here are a few ideas: make an announcement on the course page, create a video message that the course instructor shows the students prior to your session, or show up to the class the week before and briefly introduce yourself. You’re only limited to your imagination on this one.

#2 Don’t assume, assess. We all make assumptions about what students know or don’t know. Classroom instructors do it. Librarians do it. It’s time to stop doing it! Making assumptions is probably the biggest barrier to learning that anyone can create when it comes to one-shot sessions because you end up with one of two results: 1) students who learned nothing because they lacked some prerequisite skills that it was assumed they had OR 2) students who learned nothing new because they already understood the concepts and skills being taught. The easiest fix for this is to assess your students, preferably prior to the session. It doesn’t have to be formal. Something as simple as a survey would suffice. And instead of assessing abstract skills, assess experience. How many research papers have they written? How familiar are they with library databases? Do they understand the expectations of academic research? If you have a class full of students who have little to no experience writing research papers, jumping into database searching or evaluating sources will not be a valuable learning experience. They need to start with an orientation of the research process, beginning with how to select a topic, narrow it down and identify their information needs.

#3 Be flexible. This tip goes with tip #2. So, you prepared to teach students how to find articles in databases, but you assessed them and found that they don’t even have topics selected yet. It’s time to exercise your flexibility because when you go into that classroom, you’re going to have to back up a ways and work with them on topic exploration and identifying information needs (although you can integrate database searching into that)  I think the easiest way to do this is to think of library instruction as modular, with each module representing a discrete skill or concept. If you keep modularity in mind when you develop the presentation of materials, you’ll be able to pull any number of tricks out of your hat on the fly. You’ll always be prepared to teach students at their point of need.

#4 Less is more. Throw 1000 concepts at students and how many will they remember? Likely, none. Too much content leads to cognitive overload. Focus on a limited number of concepts or skills and your students will remember far more. Check out my post on the ‘Rule-of-One’ in One-Shot Sessions. The ‘rule-of-one’ reflects a modular approach to instruction.

#5 Take a multimodal approach. Multimodal presentation of information means that you are presenting the same information in more than one mode (e.g. visual, auditory, tactile). This may remind you of learning styles, but it’s not quite that. The purpose of a multimodal presentation of instruction is not to teach to individual learning styles (learning styles are really more myth than fact). What the multimodal approach does is reduce cognitive load and improve comprehension. Nobody learns best from a single mode of presentation (though they may have preferences). Everybody benefits from multimodal presentation. Keep this in mind when you develop your instructional materials and activities. For example, you might present the concept of primary vs. secondary sources with actual examples (tactile) and with a Youtube video (audiovisual).

#6 Try the workshop model. The workshop model is an approach that is used heavily in K-12 language arts, and sometimes in math. I think it’s an ideal approach for the one-shot session because it helps you plan instruction within a limited timeframe. The workshop model has four primary components: opening, mini-lesson, work time and debriefing. Opening (~5 minutes) is where you set your expectations and identify your objectives for the session. The mini-lesson (~10-15 minutes) is the direct instruction component of the workshop model, and may include demo and/or lecture. The work time (~30 minutes) component is where students are practicing what was taught in the mini-lesson. This may be through case-based learning, or they may be working on their own projects. Varying levels of guidance will occur during this time, depending on students’ needs. The debriefing (~10-15 minutes) component is where students reflect on their work. What did they learn? What questions do they still have?

#7 Use worked examples. Worked examples are an incredible instructional aid. You’re probably familiar with them from math, but I think they serve an important function in library instruction. In order for students to be good researchers and good writers, they need to see what “good” looks like. That’s where worked examples come in. A worked example of a research paper for library instruction purposes should include annotations of the bibliography and parenthetical citations. Why was the source selected? How was it found? Why did it need to be cited in specific locations? Better yet, make it an interactive worked example where each annotated item links to a pop up box with more information. Pop up boxes visually declutter and reduce cognitive load.

#8 Make real life connections. Not every student is a research scholar in the making. Most aren’t. Most don’t enjoy the academic research process. But someday they will be using those information literacy skills in some capacity. So they need to be able to transfer that knowledge beyond academia. That’s why making real life connections is vital for information literacy instruction. How do you make real life connections to research in the middle of a classroom in the middle of a campus in the middle of nowhere? Problem-based learning that is career-related or life-related in some future point of time (they need to be able to transfer beyond school, so make sure the cases reflect some future event). If the students already have a paper they are working on, it’s better to focus on that. However, making connections between school-based learning and lifelong learning is an element of 21st century learning, so libraries should consider integrating this type of problem-based learning into freshman orientation courses or something similar.

#9 Incentivize library use. Nothing is more aggravating than students who are proud to admit they never set foot in a library. They should be embarrassed by that. Success in school requires library use. And regular library users are probably more successful beyond school (I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds good). How do you get students in a one-shot session to go to the library later? Whatever it takes. Extra credit, if the classroom instructor agrees. Food. Prizes. Even a digital badging program if developed well. The most important thing is that students go to the library beyond the session and connect with librarians and library staff.

#10 Follow up. How many library sessions have you taught where you lost track of the students? Or didn’t follow up with the instructor to find out how the students fared on their assignments? Follow up is as important as preparing the learner (tip #1). Student surveys with questions directly related to their course might be useful, but in-person follow-up with the classroom instructor will probably yield the most valuable information and help you improve future library instruction.