Every so often, I cobble together something awesome.
Seems like I managed that today!
I had a scheduled meeting with my new principal to see if we were on the same page as to what constituted outstanding, best practice school library services *for our context*.
Thankfully, we both realised we were on the same page!
One of the biggest issues we discussed was resourcing and the teaching of research skills – how the ATLs fit across our POI and how can we can best use our very limited funds to resource this.
My principal posited the idea that perhaps we just focus on building the fiction collection and leave the NF section until next year. I respectfully disagreed and then outlined my reason – the research source continuum*.
There are levels of information validity. Not all sources are created equally!
For young learners and researchers, knowing this is absolutely crucial. It is imperative to gaining accurate information quickly.
As educators, we can use marvelous evaluation tools like Kathy Shrock’s 5 W’s and use brilliant research process frameworks like the Big 6.
They are wonderful school-wide nitty gritty tools we can use.
However, there needs to be a slightly bigger picture understanding of the *sources* we use within the context of these frameworks and tools.
In order to be proficient, efficient researchers, teachers and students need to understand that different types of sources require different levels of critical thinking and research skills.
Some sources are easy to navigate no matter what experience you have with research or critical thinking. Others, however, require extremely high level, independent critical thinking and complex, well honed research skills.
Therefore, it makes sense to show the school community that there is a continuum of sources that explicitly shows the sliding scale of critical literacy and research skills.
It goes like this, from most closely monitored, vetted and easy to use (in terms of research skills and critical literacy) sources to least:
Books – databases – pathfinders – kid safe search engines – general search engines.
(Now, before anyone gets carried away with “but what about XY and Z exception?”, let me say that OF COURSE there are exceptions. Just like every tool, continuum, framework or any other educational anything. Nothing is one size fits all! But in general, this continuum makes sense for almost all educational contexts.)
Let’s unpack this.
Books are tactile, relatively simple to navigate and easier to police than electronic devices. (Ohhh, I feel hairs and hackles go up on some necks with that statement. Let me pre-empt arguments that I am a Luddite. I love tech. I am obsessed with it. I simply adore how excellent educators are using the SMAR model to revolutionise education.
However, as a teacher librarian of “digital natives” I can tell you that they actually need a HUGE amount of help to use the online world effectively. This is evident nowhere more than when researching! So stick with me here!)
Books go through a fierce editing process before publication. If you are buying from renowned publishers with a long reputation for creating quality materials, you can be assured they are carefully crafted by educationalists who understand how kids best learn. They are written by experts in the field and, usually, are explicit about the biases they carry. They have appealing layouts and often have text that is levelled so that teachers can provide books at a level students can best understand. Most importantly, good quality non-fiction books almost always include text features such as an index, contents page, glossary and captions that explicitly and easily introduce key research skills.
So, in light of my “policing” statement above, let’s move on to the next level on the continuum – databases.
These are a thing of beauty. Basically all the best info found in books, packaged attractively, often intuitively, into an all singing, all dancing, interactive online experience. It’s books come to life.
No ads, no pop-ups, no random clicking. Targeted, vetted, accurate information created by educators for students. They are a teacher librarian’s dream. Databases can range from the most basic aimed at young and/or EAL learners (PebbleGo, BrainPop Jnr, etc) through to content for upper primary/elementary grades and middle school (Encyclopedia Britannica, BrainPop, World Book, etc) right up to university level academia.
Once students have the basic research skills of key words and had practice using those key words and other skills in books, using a database is a breeze!
Basically a list of websites that is created by the teacher librarian, based on the current unit of inquiry/project. The TL has spent hours combing the internet, using their expertise at website evaluation, to curate a list of sites that are kid-safe, ad free, current, accurate and written by experts in their field. Teachers and parents can hand over this list of sites to their students knowing that the content will be safe and on-topic. No need for random Bing/Google/Baidu searches!
Kid-safe search engines
The existence of kid-safe search engines come as quite a revelation to many teachers and parents. Yet, they have been around forever and continue to be a massive helpful source of information for student researchers.
Students can plug their carefully chosen key words into the search engine and know that the content that flashes up will be relevant and moderately to well filtered for ads and harmful content.
Students will need to start using higher level research and website evaluation skills like those outlined in the 5 Ws. They are starting to have to weed out the good from the very good. This is a HUGE skill. It is MASSIVE. It is a years worth of instruction big.You don’t get these skills in one lesson or one set of lessons. This is school wide, years long, scope and sequence-spiral curriculum stuff.
General search engines
This is the highest level of sources on the continuum – the source where critical literacy skills are needed the most – and yet it is the place 90% (or more?!!?) of our students start.
The wide open world of Google/Baidu/Bing/Yahoo, where the most common interface is 100% completely unfiltered for anything. This is scary stuff people.
WHY ARE WE ALLOWING, EVEN ENCOURAGING, OUR STUDENTS TO START HERE?!!?
Most of the time our students are so ill equipped for this task and yet we set them loose in the information wilderness with no weapons for taming the beasts within!
Let’s take a moment to digest my continuum idea and see how it fits in with your idea of how your school, your teachers, your students, YOU, view the sources we use to find information.
Does this make sense for your context? Why, why not?
What do you think needs to be different?
Let’s start this conversation and see where it takes us!
*Now, I believe that I have created/coined this continuum. However, it is also highly likely that after combining 18 months on the job, studying for a Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship and incessant reading of job related literature, I have unwittingly borrowed the concept from somewhere.
If anyone ever reads this and would like to point out that I have indeed stolen this from someone, I will OF COURSE, give full credit to the original author/thinker.