It is easy to imagine the summertime school library as a ghost town. Students and teachers are far-flung for summer break. Furniture hangs about in disarray as capital improvements are undertaken. An eerie hush hovers over the stacks. Who you gonna call?
Although my high school library does lose its typical ecstatic character, it nevertheless pulses with energy and opportunity during the lightest days of the year. The summer affords one the time to reflect and to plan, to look back and look ahead at the same time in anticipation of the return of the library’s most important people.
Looking back on this past year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to begin teaching a journalism course with teens in the library. This perfect marriage of pedagogy and place bolstered my efforts to develop our school library as a space for co-production. Where better to investigate, express, edit, and publish than in the home of circulation? The students take pride in seeing their work live amongst the professional publications that swirl in with dizzying momentum.
As I look ahead to develop our journalism program, I want to build an open structure in which young journalists can be challenged to do their best possible work. I hew to my pedagogical goals to ensure that our library fosters the emergent literacies of my students, especially information literacy. In this way, Lesley Farmer’s book Information and Digital Literacies: A Curricular Guide from Middle and High School Librarians inspires me. In it, she describes ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, a compelling complement to my pedagogical goals.
Granted, the framework is aimed at higher education and I teach in a high school, but we are a college prep school and we aspire to prepare young people for rigorous work and study. The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education offers six concepts that help to develop the knowledge practices and dispositions it takes to do just that.
These six concepts map well into the practice of journalism. I especially like that they are evocative without being prescriptive. That is, I am allowed the creative work of curriculum building to figure out how they best support emerging journalists as they interrogate their world. Below is each concept, followed by a brief description of what I understand it to mean, and how I’d like it to inform my journalism curriculum:
Authority Is Constructed and Contextual
This recognizes an information producer’s ability to assert and interrogate authority via expertise and credibility. It acknowledges that authority can be built and deconstructed. Often, a particular situation will privilege a particular type of authority. Teens develop and exercise this awareness, and I plan to support my journalists as they examine authority in their investigations and invest in their authority via a sound application of the journalistic method. I want them to read widely and question information sources as they prepare to publish their own work and build their own authority.
Information Creation as a Process
Many iterative processes go into the creation of information and these processes look different in different domains. In this way, journalism’s brand of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information is unique. My students benefit from frequent feedback, frequent interactions with peers, as well as frequent application of these processes. As a student-run program, they will collaborate to develop a rigorous publishing schedule and scaffold assignments’ due dates to emphasize quality and frequency of this multivariate operation.
Information Has Value
Information is more than just a commodity. It also serves to educate and influence as people work to make sense of their world. As a social and political entity, information is subject to legal and economic strictures. Teens promiscuously share media. Young journalists are challenged to understand the implications of copyright law and the ethics of attribution in publication. I like that journalism not only gives the students a chance to reflect on their media ecologies and how they are affected by the value of information in their own lives, but they also have a chance to add value to their community through the publication of their conscientious work.
Research as Inquiry
One doesn’t necessarily find answers in research; rather, one develops new questions. By acknowledging inquiry’s iterative nature, students should be challenged to question the implications of their work and push further. My advanced students will undertake a year-long independent focus on a line of questioning of their choice. In this way, I aim to stoke their curiosity and nurture their resilience as they follow increasingly complex questions.
Scholarship as Conversation
Information and knowledge production are a social endeavors that unfold amongst communities of scholars, researchers, and professionals (and generally inquisitive people). These processes take time and develop thanks to varied points of view. Young journalists are invited (and challenged) to join the conversation. Educators can be inclusive by honoring student voice and encouraging many to chime in as they develop the savvy to participate well. I would like my journalists not only to contribute to the school community’s conversations, but to also look outward and join in other specialized fields by publishing more publicly.
Searching as Strategic Exploration
I see my journalists hit the most bottlenecks in this area. That is, inquiry is not straightforward and one must pursue many different paths and piece together many separate strands in order to build understanding. It is ill-defined and messy. Success in school is often conflated with getting the answer and making the grade. Journalism requires one to shake this misconception to do the difficult and messy work of getting hold of disparate information and synthesizing it, often with unclear results. The students that develop the most and do the best develop the resiliency to push ahead and gain footing even in these strange domains.
The summer rhythm may be different and my library may resemble a strange domain at the moment, but the buzz of pedagogical preparation is alive and I can’t wait to see my students again. This framework is more about values than standards and I am excited to see how my students enact and react to it.