School Library Programs to Build Student Knowledge

My two-year-old son knows his colors. He loves to point to objects in books and outside and shout out the color. He enjoys showing what he knows! He likes to learn new things. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, that desire for information novelty falls away, and people end up in online silos and communities that reinforce their beliefs and opinions. When they do a search for a topic they don’t know much about, it can be difficult to discern fact from a claim, evidence from junk science. So that’s why it’s essential we devise projects and programs to build student knowledge and understanding of the world and encourage them to explore, study, and read as much as possible about as many things as they can.

School library programs help students construct knowledge that facilitates collaboration, robust discussion, critical analysis, and the need to know more. Some ideas presented at a recent workshop on library programming for school librarians included book clubs, gaming events, financial literacy classes, makerspaces, and family literacy nights. Participants loved hearing how their peers dealt with scheduling and logistical challenges, planning, and promotion details.

One presenter talked about her specialized collection on the American presidency and the innovative programming she created around the topic, which includes an annual portraiture contest with the art teacher, class trips to DC, and multiple research projects on civics, leadership, the role of the president, and more. The collection lends itself to numerous topics in history and science. Students feel ownership of the presidential collection and the knowledge learned because the projects and programming have become institutionalized in the curriculum. Students are engaged with its primary sources, foundational documents, and biographies–sources not used and analyzed enough in school assignments. Rigorous texts and references allow students to construct in-depth knowledge of a topic because of their vocabulary and contextual demands. And contrary to what people think about information–why learn it when you can look it up–we cannot discover new ideas, arguments, and skills if we lack the background knowledge to understand them.

In my current online course on information literacy, I have participants read an opinion piece from an author arguing against using technology in schools from Time magazine titled “Screens in Schools.” Many educators consider Time a reputable source. However, the author of this article is not merely stating an opinion, he uses multiple logical fallacies and hyperbolic language to elicit outrage in readers and create a polarized interpretation of the issue: you either support technology or not, and those that do support technology promote addiction, mental health issues, and an assortment of future ills for our students. A savvy reader with knowledge of how technology is used in classrooms is able to determine how the use of logical fallacies from alleged certainties and spurious correlations undermine his argument and credibility. However, a reader without such knowledge and critical reading strategies could become alarmed about what is happening in our schools with an impact on future funding and support for educational policies.

We want our students to be able to pause and analyze what they read, view, and encounter online. To use reason and their knowledge to parse apart claims and beliefs without reacting. We don’t want them to create their own reality and facts by getting sucked into Internet silos of the conspiracy minded and us versus them mentality.

There’s no joy in constant outrage and anger.

There is joy having our students work together to learn new things, to create, to problem-solve, to discuss, to read, to wonder. So let’s work to design the programs, projects, and learning environments to make this happen!


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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