Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why I've Changed My Mind about "Library Skills" Instruction

Back in the day, I had vociferously argued that library skills instruction is child abuse, that being part of a "specials" or "planning period" rotation was a waste of my time.  Now I am begging my principal to "let" me be in the specials rotation for fourth grade everyday next year.

What's changed?

Lots of things.

Shift from Worksheet-Based Instruction to Project-Based Learning

One of the most exciting changes in education is the continuing emphasis on project-based, active learning where students will work on a project in which they will create real meaning.  This is immeasurably preferable to worksheets where students would perfect skills on using the library without actually using it.  How boring are guide words and alphabetizing to the third letter!  But how easily acquired are these skills when they are being used as a means to a learning goal! Students take their work much more seriously when they know their work will reach a public audience, and a public audience is a key component of project-based learning.

Emphasis on Higher Level Thinking Skills and Critical Meaning

Hand in hand with the shift to project-based learning is the emphasis on higher level thinking skills, collaborative learning and critical thinking skills.  Life skills such as planning time, public speaking and targeting an audience are also emphasized.   When a child utilizes these skills to achieve a learning goal, he not only conquers content but also becomes better prepared for life beyond school.

Availability of Resources

In the old days of "library skills" taught in isolation, children were asked to use print sources such as the Reader's Guide to direct them to resources that were more than often not available in the library.  A student wanting to find information on a topic of personal interest was often disappointed to learn that his favorite athlete did not have an article in the 20 year-old encyclopedia.  Hitting dead ends left students (and this teacher) hopelessly discouraged about the value of library skills.  

Compare the previous scenario with our present day situation.  Musty,       misfiled catalog cards that searched an outdated collection have been replaced by automated systems that permits federated searches of all available resources.   The availability of so many sources in full text, online resources is much more gratifying for students searching for  - and actually finding -information.  The increasing availability of laptops and other mobile devices has made information even more accessible.  Children are encouraged to seek information outside their school walls.  Librarians across the county are willing to share resources with children they do not know.

Need for Resource Evaluation and Ethical Use of Information

With the increased publication, interlibrary loan capabilities, and access to electronic media comes a new problem:  too much information.  Yes, students can find -readily- information on any topic, but not all information is equal in terms of quality. Children must learn to be critical users of information.  They need more and more assistance reading for a purpose and paraphrasing information.  They need help synthesizing information from all kinds of different media (transliteracy) into one cohesive package of understanding.

And finally, kids need to be ethical users of information.  They need to understand copyright use and limitations to avoid snafus in their personal and professional lives. Students will see their own works published online.  They will need to learn how to protect their own work as well as respect the rights of others.

I may regret this decision to push to be included in the skills rotation, but ultimately, I think it is important.  I want a balance of fixed vs. flexible scheduling, with the majority of time flexible.  But I need to step up my game.