Thoughts on having an “Information Literacy Class” – Harrison’s 21st Century Program

March 24, 2012 in Reflection

I totally understand the reaction from my librarian friends to the fact that there is an “information literacy” class that is part of the 21st century program  at Harrison High School. We have always been told, and indeed, the research supports the fact that this skill (any skill) should not be taught in isolation – in order for the learning to “stick,” it needs to be taught in conjunction with the information need – which translates in a school setting to a class assignment.

Librarians are perhaps more sensitive to this than other educators because of the fact that for many, many years (and actually this is still common practice, particularly in elementary schools) the library has been forced to operate under a fixed schedule, giving librarians no choice but to teach information literacy and library skills in isolation.

The situation at Harrison is really very different. The classes are designed to be cross curricular.  Subjects are not taught in silos. Rather, they focus on solving real world problems, applying particular skills set to do so. Along the way, they acquire knowledge, hone their skills, and develop  deeper understandings.   They have elements of choice in their problem solving, thus increasing the intensity of the “information need” as they follow their own sense of wonder. In this situation, aren’t these students learning information literacy skills at the point of need?

I sensed something else in the reactions to the Information Literacy class.  I could be wrong, but I think there were perhaps some thoughts that only the librarian should be teaching information literacy.  This is a point I take issue with.  I do not believe it is in the best interest of students for librarians to be the sole teachers of information literacy. Absolutely it is our area of expertise. However, for information literacy skills to really take hold in our students, classroom teachers need to continuously model,  teach  and assess these skills in the classroom, especially as more and more opportunities exist there due to internet connected computers and projectors,  Smart Boards,  classroom sets of computers, and personal devices in use in the classroom. If we are serious about students learning information literacy at the point of need, then we need to re-think how that looks in a technology rich classroom and what the librarian’s role is in teaching this skill.

I propose that we need to accept that every classroom teacher should be  a teacher of information literacy.  As experts in this area, school librarians should be providing regular professional development to teachers on how to effectively model good search strategies, how to evaluate information and how to think out loud through the process. Students need to understand the thought processes we go through in deciding on which links to click on – where/how we skim a site to determine if it is worth our time, and how we revise our search strategy if we don’t find what we need.  We cannot just teach information literacy to students whose teachers collaborate with us for the one or two big research projects they do during the school year. Too many kids slip through the cracks.

Let’s rethink what information literacy learning looks like in schools.  I think the 21st Century Program at Harrison High School is addressing this in a novel way, and from where I am standing, it seems to be working.

1 response to Thoughts on having an “Information Literacy Class” – Harrison’s 21st Century Program

  1. Good calls, Nancy!

    And let’s up the ante a bit: Why do we think information literacy should be integrated across content? Why isn’t content integrated across skills? By which I mean that skills are the focus of the learning program (or curriculum), and content is simply the meaningful context in which skills are acquired and applied.

    Beyond the most basic arithmetic concepts, I can think of very few bits of content that I would say with confidence are essential knowledge for most people. Desired knowledge, sure, even urgent. Not essential. But skills? Like reading, writing, information literacy… Essential for every person. So why does school insist that content is what matters most?

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