Information literacy must be taught throughout school

Schools should do more to help students understand the nuances of proper information literacy before they enter the world of higher education and beyond

Sanam Bozorgi

What does quality education research in FE colleges look like?

Often, when students enter college or university, they lack good information literacy skills.

What do we mean by this? Essentially, Information literacy is the ability of a child to:

  • decide what information is needed;
  • be able to make choices about the different types of information available both in print and electronically;
  • be able to locate and select relevant resources to satisfy an information need;
  • be discerning and evaluative about information that is found and the process used to find it and apply it to informed decision-making.

However, it is often the case students – both at school and in higher education – rely too heavily on sources that are not suitable, such as Google or Wikipedia.

As such it is crucial we lay the background in school to improve students’ awareness in the concept of information literacy and why it is essential for their long-term education.

Set the groundwork

For example, this could be by, at first, introducing ideas around which information is trustworthy and which is not – and why.

Then we can discuss where to find trustworthy information, such as in scientific databases and how to assess the data and cite it correctly. And we can discuss how to use well-respected online news outlets, such as The New York Times or The Guardian, and websites that end with .edu or .gov that are also reliable.

However, at present, many schools likely do not spend enough time on this, despite its clear long-term benefits.

As such we need to do more to address information literacy and make it part of learning throughout education.

A life-long skill

After all, think of reading-comprehension skills that begin in Foundation Stage and continue throughout school: the skills are built upon with appropriate instruction at each stage of learning.

This is the ideal approach to information literacy, introducing the skills in the early years, building on them as the student advances through primary school, and introducing new concepts of knowledge-seeking and analysis as they progress.

When this plan is followed well, school librarians can play a key role by working with classroom teachers to design appropriate assignments, provide library instruction for classes and offer one-on-one assistance to students.

At Arcadia School, this is a model we follow.

A whole-school approach

We have developed a whole school information literacy curriculum which, like most curriculum documents, is organized around standards, benchmarks and objectives.

We seek to demonstrate that effective use of the library can help teachers deliver the national curriculum and national strategies and extra time in the curriculum does not have to be found.

There are several information skills frameworks from which to work. We have chosen to use the following six-step model as a basis for our learning objectives:

  • Students access information in a Timely Manner and as Appropriate to Task
  • Students evaluate information
  • Students use information
  • Practices Ethical Behavior in Regards to Information
  • Students integrate information literacy to pursue personal interests
  • Appreciate Literature and other creative expressions of information

After establishing the curriculum, we regularly review its impact and make adaptations or changes which helps us to focus on particular areas for development.

It became clear as the project progressed that how the curriculum was delivered was, in fact, more important than what was included in it.

Cross-curriculum 

The need for the curriculum to be embedded within the academic discipline, the need for flexibility, the need for a holistic approach, the need for a student-centered approach and how it should be marketed and promoted to the various stakeholders across the school is crucial.

The best approach to embed the curriculum into the whole school curriculum is the collaboration between librarians and teachers (core subject and non-core subjects), to understand what students need and to design lessons that meet their needs.

This means that students don’t see something separately labelled “information literacy” as opposed to academic learning. 

Bringing it to life

For example, in February 2020, as the coronavirus spread across the country students were coming to school with misconceptions about the outbreak—and teachers were trying to figure out how best to explain the facts and debunk rumours. 

Discussing the origin and effects of a new virus easily lends itself to science class but I saw the opportunity for an engaging lesson around fake news and how to fact-check Covid-19 misinformation on students’ social media feeds.

In this lesson, students in Year 6 were asked to share the headlines that they see on their social media feeds and then to talk about the kind of emotion the headlines bring out.

We fact-checked several inaccurate claims about how to prevent or treat Covid-19, such as that drinking bleach can destroy the virus or that wearing a mask in public is harmful. 

At the end of the lesson, students were introduced to some resources like the Covid-19 dashboard created by WHO, where they could get accurate information on how to prevent spreading the virus as well as tracking down global cases, death rates, and recovery rates.

The key is that by incorporating these ideas into the students learning experience before university or college, they are familiar with these processes on arrival and in a far better position to take their learning forward, rather than grappling with new learning conventions.

Sanam Bozorgi is head librarian at Arcadia School in Dubai

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