As a school librarian, how often have you found yourself before a class of students without prior knowledge? You may know the students’ grade level, some names, maybe a hint of what they’re studying. But as the sole librarian serving hundreds or thousands of students, there’s no possible way to know each of them as well as their classroom teachers. But as a practitioner of information literacy, you have versatile thinking skills and habits that you can apply anytime, anywhere, with any subject.
Information Literacy on the Fly
Recently, I found myself before a class of middle schoolers with special needs. I had no background on the students, no lesson plans, no curriculum, and no access to their IEPs (individualized educational programs). One clue about their past learning was a bulletin board displaying work on character and setting. I decided to use an information literacy lesson on point of view. Understanding a character’s point of view helps readers better understand feelings and empathize with them. Point of view ties into what someone feels and thinks about someone or something. And what student wouldn’t benefit from building their SEL vocabulary by studying an emotional chart?
I adapted an Empire State Information Literacy Continuum (ESIFC) lesson on point of view by showing a provocative image of an insect. I asked students what they felt when they saw the bug. Then, I showed a picture of a bird. I elicited what the bird would feel about an insect versus their reactions. Students thought the bird would be scared, but when I mentioned many birds eat insects as part of their diet, the students considered maybe the bird liked bugs. I explained the bird had a different feeling or points of view about the insect than they did.
During Guided Practice, we read two fractured fairy tales from the Citywide Digital Library (CDL) on Sora to elicit the point of view of the main character (ex. What does Baby Bear really think about Goldilocks?). During Independent Practice, the students reviewed a feelings chart to identify the vocabulary they wanted to use to complete the ESIFC Graphic Organizer. During the rest of the week, we read other books from the CDL to discover a character’s point of view and build students’ emotional vocabulary to express what that viewpoint was.
We must connect information literacy to students’ lives, interests, and background knowledge. We can’t teach information literacy skills one time but must do so repeatedly in different contexts and situations. Hence, students develop the habits of mind and thinking skills to apply to multiple situations and experiences. But the good thing is, information literacy is easy to integrate across grade levels and curricula. Find one thing students are studying in any subject, and make the information literacy connection with a practical skill that fits.
Repeat over and over as needed. And if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that information literacy is needed now more than ever.
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.