Most people outside our profession, when asked about the school librarian’s role, would mention books and encouraging reading for pleasure. However, in reality we all know that this is only a part of our job and that the development of good information literacy and research skills is just as important. The fact that fewer people understand this means that we often have to work much harder to get our expertise on this subject recognised.
The recent proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and fake news has highlighted the need for information seekers to have the ability to evaluate what they find in order to filter out the inaccurate, the false and the irrelevant.
I have been very lucky; my predecessor in my current school was a proactive, forward-thinking school librarian who had worked extremely hard to embed the delivery of information skills into the curriculum and had achieved success in certain subject areas. I was determined to keep going with this. As in all schools, staff members come and go and the link with departments changes, but I currently have successful collaborations with our Geography, Science and PSHCE teams. I also have the advantage of a weekly, 40-minute Library Lesson with each Year 7 form (four classes in all), during which I can start to teach these all important skills and then demonstrate them in practice within the collaborations mentioned above. Here are some of the activities I am involved with at the moment.
Science in the Media
This project is an early introduction to thinking about finding the right information. I lead a total of six 40-minute lessons, with the teacher in a supporting role, and this scheme of work is delivered through both Science and Library lesson time in the Spring Term of Year 7. This has several advantages:
Students see the library as a classroom for all subjects, not a separate entity.
Students see the LIBRARIAN as an expert in managing information for all subjects.
Teachers have the opportunity to observe our specialism in action and to learn techniques themselves.
Students see the link between the skills I have been teaching them and the research they do in other subjects.
I use scientific articles from a variety of sources to get the students evaluating the information and thinking about source, bias, accuracy and ways of verifying any facts you have found. This also ties in with science teaching about ensuring accuracy in experiments. We add some fun elements at the end of the scheme with a look at scientific claims in everyday advertising.
This project is described in more detail in my publication for the School Library Association, ‘A School Library for the Curriculum: Supporting Teaching and Learning’, available from the SLA (https://www.sla.org.uk/product/a-school-library-for-the-curriculum-supporting-teaching-and-learning).
Here is what our Head of Science, Dr Richard Grime, said about the activity:
“In our Y7 Science course, we have a very strong focus on the early development of core scientific skills to underpin all that we do in the secondary science curriculum.
One of the elements of this is a focus on the way that science is reported in the media. This work teaches students to evaluate stories that they see and hear to judge whether they are based on reputable sources, the weight of the evidence, the accuracy of the reporting in relation to the published science and whether there is any bias or exaggeration in the reporting in order to make a good story out of something that is not that significant.
The Science department has worked closely with the library to deliver this work on Science in the media during our Science Skills 2 topic. The librarian has developed a series of lessons to show students how to evaluate these media stories. The librarian delivers these lessons in the library setting with the support of the science teachers. By doing this work with the librarian in the library, it helps to show the students the importance of checking literature sources. The librarian evaluates the effectiveness of this work and refines the work each year.”
Geography – Biomes
On a smaller level I have worked with the Geography department for their Year 8 biomes topic. Although I don’t actually lead these research sessions, they take place in the library and I have developed resources to support them, such as a task sheet, research sheet and a selection of books built up over a few years.
In a recent session the teacher had given the students individual biomes to research and set them off on this task with no other guidance. The lovely pile of books remained untouched as students dashed to the computers – a scenario I am sure we are all familiar with! At the end I suggested giving the class 20 minutes using the books only, before they were allowed online. She tried this with a different group and reported back that it went much better and many students remained using the books even when given the opportunity to go online. This example is proof that it is not only the students who need our support, but also the busy teaching staff whose expertise is in their subject area and not in search techniques of evaluating information.
PSHCE – Super Skills
In the Summer Term I lead a Super Skills Project through Library and PSHCE Lessons where we look at all the skills and qualities, outside the academic, needed to succeed in school and beyond. I have collected relevant articles on, for example, qualities such as empathy and their importance; or what employers look for when recruiting. Research is broken down into a structured process and students work in groups to create booklets to advise those about to transition to secondary education.
Physics – Sound Technology
The Sound Technology project is another small project which is led by the teacher and looks at how musical instruments produce sound. For this topic I provide:
A selection of relevant books.
A curated list of websites.
Worksheets which structure the students research and encourage referencing.
A workspace which allows a variety of resources and activities.
There will be one off situations where a teacher will book the library for a lesson and ask me to deliver a quick, 10 minute introduction to the resources available to support their topic and to remind them of the research process. There are also departments with which I have little contact, but will continue to offer support in any way I can. Finding a teacher to work with is vital and, even then, staff come and go and it is a constantly evolving relationship with different subject departments.
Of course, students must learn to use the internet effectively and also to evaluate the information they have found, but using books can introduce many of the skills they need to do this, without the distractions being online can bring. For example:
search techniques – using a contents page or index teaches students to think carefully about their search terms.
reading skills – you have to work harder to find something in a book and therefore skimming and scanning methods are vital.
note-taking/making - using a book means that cutting and pasting is not an option. students are not going to copy down huge chunks of text and therefore have to be selective in picking out the main points.
processing information – students must think carefully about putting information into their own words, therefore they have to understand what they have read and the audience to whom they are conveying it.
For a long time I have used James Herring’s PLUS model for research (https://farrer.csu.edu.au/PLUS/) as a basis for guiding students through the research process. This can easily be adapted to suit a Year 7 project or a Sixth Former tackling an EPQ. Planning your work before starting; locating the best and most reliable information for your task; using that information efficiently and ethically; and self-evaluating at the end of your research – all vital tasks for any level of information literate student.
I am now looking at the fabulous FOSIL (Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning https://fosil.org.uk/) resources and am intending to find a friendly subject department with whom to pilot a scheme of work using this framework. This would entail a lot of effort building the structured development of information literacy skills into schemes of work in different year groups and I am sure will involve a lot of trial and error and amendments. It would be impossible to do this with many departments at the same time, but starting small and allowing students and staff to see the value and success of gaining these skills will hopefully bring more value and status to the school library. Watch this space to see how (if?) things progress…!
My top tips would be:
Start small and grow slowly.
Be nosy and proactive in becoming involved - don’t wait to be asked.
Have confidence in your expertise.
Offer support wherever possible.
Don’t be afraid to abandon something if it isn’t working.
Like many aspects of the school librarian’s role, getting involved in delivering inquiry skills is something we have to demonstrate by promoting our expertise, building relationships and showing how we can bring benefits all round.
Ripon Grammar School
Learning Resources Manager
Literacy & Numeracy Co-ordinator