Library Instruction in K-12 Schools
by Lisa Denton
A school library media center is a very busy place. In It are students, teachers, and library media Specialists as well as books, reference tools, audiovisual and electronic resources. There is but a single motivation in bringing all these factors together: the effective access and use of information and ideas. The new Information Power II (American Library Association, 1998) informs the school librarian that the mission of the library media program is to "ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information." In the swiftly moving world of information, library instruction must now be fashioned to achieve that goal.
Librarians with files full of lesson plans on the illustrious Mr. Dewey and the Reader's Guide have found themselves waking up on the wrong side of the bed with the new dawning of curriculum integration of library skills. It is widely accepted that library skills should not be taught in isolation. Collaboration is now the shape of library instruction. This type of library instruction integrates Information Literacy Skills with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).
Information Literacy Skills are enumerated in the publication Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning prepared by the American Association of School Librarians with the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (ALA, 1998). They are designed to provide school librarians and teachers with a framework for information proficiency, student achievement and life-long learning skills. They address those skills necessary for proficiency in three main areas: information literacy, independent learning, and social responsibility.
Although efforts have begun in Virginia to draw up a "Library Curriculum", we are now operating without a state-mandated approach to library instruction. The Information Literacy Skills, however, give us school library media specialists a balanced framework within which to work toward our ultimate goal of student achievement. The Virginia SOLs do include library skills throughout, thus strengthening the case for curriculum integration of library skill instruction and for collaboration as the method to ensure that this instruction takes place. Collaboration is the buzzword at the moment. Simply, it means co-planning, co-teaching and co-evaluating. The library media specialist and teacher develop a lesson or activity that uses the best the classroom, media center, and wider learning community can offer. The relationship between teacher and librarian should be seamless. The teacher and librarian are to be seen interchangeably in the classroom and the library media center. Collaborative teaching is the best way to ensure student achievement. With the proliferation of the information superhighway, electronic databases, and real-world applications, the library has had to change more than its name to keep in touch. You are as likely to find the latest in presentation software as the latest in YA fiction. Pre-search, research, consolidation, and presentation are the skills today's student obtains from the library. Library media specialists and teachers are working together on media center based activities to encourage reflexive learning that crosses curriculum areas. Students utilizing the media center are learning as much about the center itself as they are the topics they are studying and researching.
The process uses the best of the resources inside the media center as well as outside it. Successful examples are as enjoyable as they are educational. They must meet the Virginia Standards of Learning as well as the requirements of Information Literacy Skills. A good example of a collaborative activity would be Historical Karaoke. Teacher and librarian would meet to plan the lesson and mete out responsibilities and resources. A rubric would be drawn up for evaluative purposes. The students, in small groups, identify and research historical figures. They apply research skills to karaoke songs, refining them until they reflect the historical aspect. This all culminates in a public presentation that is guaranteed to entice even the most jaded student into exercising research and presentation skills.
We are currently working on mathematics collaboration born out of concern over the weighty backpacks students must carry. Students calculate the average weight of backpacks, research health and associated issues to find out what the ideal weight might be based on student's grade level, size, book size, and current medical advice. Students will present their recommendations formally to administrators and school board members. Students will use e-mail, fax, and interviews to glean expert medical opinion to make their case. Elementary students can make effective use of the media center in creating a science-rich butterfly garden. Research is selected from print, audiovisual, and computer resources. The local garden club provides valuable assistance and information to the class. Soil samples are examined, local butterflies identified, and plants chosen for their ability to attract butterflies. The result is a carefully researched and beautiful garden to encourage butterflies to school grounds. It also helps student with underpinning knowledge for SOLs and understanding of the Information Literacy Standards.
To make collaboration effective, the structure of the media center must be supportive. School library media centers are encouraged to adopt flexible schedules where teachers can sign up classes for library and librarian time on an at-need basis. Such a schedule also allows individual students to meet their own needs as independent learners by encouraging these students to drop in. This way, the Librarian can offer extra assistance to struggling readers and researchers at the point of the origin of their discontent. Flexible scheduling can be rather unpopular, especially in the elementary grades, where teachers depend on fixed scheduling because a regularly structured visit to the library may mean a planning or respite period from the busy and demanding job of teaching. Librarians and their educational partners appreciate that this last approach is an ineffective way to teach the Information Literacy Skills. Teacher and Librarian must plan, teach and evaluate in concert to ensure the best of subject-area content and skills in information literacy. All the while the collaboration is going on, librarians are still meeting and greeting students and addressing individual learning needs. This is also vital library instruction. It is generally accepted that the proliferation of TV and video games have brought about a decline in the attention span and verbal acuity of today's youth. Already struggling with burgeoning responsibility of a fast-paced world with more to know and less time to learn it, today's youth find themselves divorced from prolonged reading for leisure. In creating life-long learners and student achievers, we instruct students on enjoying reading for its own sake. We know that good readers make good students. Many librarians are in charge of reading software programs that assist students in improving their reading practice. Some of my favorite moments have come when a previously disaffected student becomes an avid reader. It takes time, it takes care, and it takes a librarian. Library instruction in the K-12 environment is effervescent and organic. Some of the areas of growth are unpopular, though proven effective. It is essential that school librarians work together to promote their programs. They must be their own head cheerleader, and be prepared to sing out current research to critics. It is essential to the smooth running of the instructional program that school libraries within districts have library supervisors to add vision, support, advocacy, training and act as mentors. This way school librarians can stand united and remain vocal supporters of what we know is the best way to instruct students and staff in library and information skills. Our bottom line is student achievement. Library instruction in the K-12 environment must never forget that goal.
Lisa Denton is Library Media Specialist at J. S. Russell Junior High School in Lawrenceville. She is also a KidsConnect Volunteer. KidsConnect is a question-answering and referral service on the Internet provided by the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association.