Saturday, March 7, 2009

Literacy 2.0 Educational Leadership

First off I'd like to apologize for my rant last post - I should have warned readers that I was in rant mode.

Today, no rants (I hope) - just something I noticed when I read the current issue of Educational Leadership, publication of the ASCD.

The theme of the journal was Literacy 2.0 and it had a number of articles written by well-known read/write web authors. Will Richardson wrote an article titled Becoming Network-Wise about the role of education in teaching students how to navigate, use and create in this 2.0 world effectively and ethically. Anne Davis wrote of the benefits of blogging with students and Howard Gardner wrote of the benefits and pitfalls of using technology to teach literacy. I wish I could link you to these articles, but I can only get you to the abstracts. Educational Leadership is only fully accessible online by buying a membership, and it is not available in full text through any of our databases. But these articles, excellent though they are, are the not the articles that caught my attention.

There were three articles in this issue that made me think about the role of the school library program in this 2.0 world. The first one was Stepping Beyond Wikipedia by William Badke. In the article, Badke writes:

"A 2003 Canadian survey of 3,000 incoming university freshmen found that most included inessential words in searches; used the Boolean operator "or" incorrectly; could not identify the characteristics of scholarly journals; could not distinguish between library catalogs and bibliographic databases; and had difficulty identifying journal article citations, knowing when to cite sources, and evaluating Web sites (Mittermeyer & Quirion, 2003). These recent high school graduates' information skills left them unprepared for further academic work."

He goes on to say that students need to be taught information literacy skills.

"Students will pick up information skills on their own. Just turn them loose in a good library. They'll figure it out. What's so hard about learning to do research?" I hear comments like this all the time, and they dismay me. The "information literacy by osmosis" argument has been debunked by reams of research showing that even university students do not learn how to handle information on their own. They must be taught (see Gallacher, 2007).
[...]information literacy... [needs to be given] ... a foundational role in our instruction. This requires us to reorient the way we teach. Most educators are well aware of the active-learning, constructivist, student-centered approach to instruction, which holds that when students discover things for themselves and attribute personal meaning to the subject matter, they learn more deeply and acquire a more permanent knowledge base. Information literacy instruction has a natural home in active learning."

The second article was Plagiarism in the Internet Age by Rebecca Moore Howard and Laura J. Davies. The authors, just as in the article above, state that plagiarism can be prevented through good teaching - it's not enough just to warn students that plagiarism is grounds for punishment. Howard and Davies go on to write that:

"... [G]ood writing from sources involves more than competent citation of sources. It is a complicated activity, made even more complex by easy access to a seemingly limitless number of online sources. Any worthwhile guide to preventing plagiarism should

  • Discuss intellectual property and what it means to "own" a text.
  • Discuss how to evaluate both online and print-based sources (for example, comparing the quality and reliability of a Web site created by an amateur with the reliability of a peer-reviewed scholarly article).
  • Guide students through the hard work of engaging with and understanding their sources, so students don't conclude that creating a technically perfect bibliography is enough.
  • Acknowledge that teaching students how to write from sources involves more than telling students that copying is a crime and handing them a pile of source citation cards.

Students don't need threats; students need pedagogy. That pedagogy should both teach source-reading skills and take into consideration our increasingly wired world. And it should communicate that plagiarism is wrong in terms of what society values about schools and learning, not just in terms of arbitrary rules."

The third article is What the Research Says About ... Teaching Media Literacy by Jane L. David. The author writes that:

"Media literacy in the past tended to focus on alerting students to stereotypes, advertising, and propaganda and on protecting them from undesirable influences. Today's digital media literacy encompasses many additional topics, from using search engines, to creating Web sites and online profiles, to participating in social networking. One of the most basic strands of media literacy emphasizes the skills and knowledge students need to locate and critically assess online content."

She also points out a number of studies that suggest our students (and their teachers) lack skills necessary to critically evaluate the type of information they find on the Internet.

"Unlike reading assigned textbooks, reading online challenges students to make judgments about the reputability and validity of the information they see. Researchers who directed several hundred college students to three bogus Web sites about fictitious nutritional supplements found that half of the students lacked the skills to identify the trustworthiness of the information, yet most thought they had strong research skills (Ivanitskaya, O'Boyle, & Casey, 2006). Choosing appropriate search engines, following relevant links, and judging the validity of information are difficult challenges, not only for students of all ages, but also for most adults, including many teachers. More than half the adults surveyed in Great Britain were not able to use search engines or databases at a basic level (Buckingham, 2007). In the United States, almost two-thirds of a national sample of adults doing online searches were not aware of the difference between paid and unpaid search results and believed that search engines provide fair and unbiased results for any given search (Fallows, 2005)."

There was a common thread through these three articles. In all three, the author states that information literacy skills must be taught, beginning in the elementary grades and progressing in sophistication to the end of secondary school. It is crucial for students to have these skills to be able to effectively cope with the wide range and breadth of information that they can access on a daily basis.

This is not new to me or to many others who have held the same role I have. The information literacy skills that the authors said students must learn to be able to competently cope with information have always been taught by a skilled teacher librarian collaborating with the classroom teacher, using inquiry-based learning in the context of a good school library program. Teacher librarians, or library media specialists as they are called in the states, have always taught students many of the skills included in the above quotes.

So why, in this age of 2.0 Literacy are school libraries and highly qualified, competent teacher librarians considered a frill? Why aren't the best teachers put into a school library where they can work with all students and teachers, thus having an impact on the whole student/teacher body? Why are weak teachers put into a teacher librarian position when clearly the position needs a professional who demonstrates life-long learning, initiative and leadership?

It is not fair to expect classroom teachers to know everything about information literacy skills; that's why TLs are referred to as information specialists. We don't expect teachers to know everything about good classroom practices. That's why teachers work in professional learning communities. A learning community always existed in an effective school library program because collaboration between classroom teacher and the TL is the foundation of school librarianship.

If you are a TL, you clearly know, based on the information from the above articles, where to focus your instruction: information evaluation, effective searching techniques, plagiarism, critical thinking, summary writing, citing, using databases, research process, questioning, differences and similarities between information sources, etc. If you are not teaching these things, then you're not meeting the 2.0 literacy needs of your students.

I'm taking a break from blogging for the next couple of weeks. I'm going to visit my parents in Florida over the March Break and will not be bringing the computer with me. I expect that my next post will be around March28/29.

Badke, W. (2009). Stepping beyond Wikipedia. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 54-58.

David, J.L. (2009). What the research says about ... teaching media literacy. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 84-86.

Davis, A.P. & McGrail, E. (2009). The joy of blogging. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 74-77.

Moore Howard, R. & Davies, L.J. (2009). Plagiarism in the internet age. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 64-67.

Richardson, W (2009). Becoming network-wise. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 26-31.

Weigel, M. & Gardner, H. (2009). Best of both literacies. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 38-41.