Teaching Information Skills in the Information Age: An Examination of Trends in the Middle Grades

By Asselin, Marlene | School Libraries Worldwide, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Teaching Information Skills in the Information Age: An Examination of Trends in the Middle Grades


Asselin, Marlene, School Libraries Worldwide


This study examined the extent of information literacy instruction in grades 6 and 7 and the degree to which a variety of supportive factors are in place in classrooms and school library programs in one western Canadian province. Based on responses to questionnaires from teachers and teacher-librarians, four trends emerged: (a) the existence of broad-level support in schools including a constructivist teaching and learning environment, principals' support of information literacy, and teachers' knowledge of information literacy; (b) the need for school- and district-level frameworks of information literacy; (c) the need for increased attention to teaching ethical and critical thinking aspects of information literacy; and (d) challenges to increasing the potential role of the school library program. Implications for teacher-librarians as school leaders of the "new literacies" required to participate in the Information Age are presented.

Introduction

In Canada, as in most countries, educational policy identifies the goals of schooling in the Information Age as those of the development of lifelong learners, a learning society, and a knowledge-based economy (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, 1999). Literacy researchers argue that to attain these outcomes "it becomes essential to prepare students for ... the literacies [of the Internet and ICT] because they are central to the use of information and the acquisition of knowledge" (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004, p. 1571). These "new literacies" that are tied to the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICT) are a rapidly growing focus of research in the literacy literature and overlap with what the library community calls information literacy. Although the library and literacy fields are largely unfamiliar with each other's work, they share a common focus in the literacies of the Information Age (Asselin & Dreher, 2005). Research in this area is increasing since Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, and Kiefer (1998) noted, "Although studies of (new literacies) are gradually beginning to emerge in research journals of literacy, the paucity of hard data in this area remains all too obvious." What is needed now is knowledge about if and how information literacy is being taught to students. This study examines the extent of information literacy instruction in grades 6 and 7 (ages 11-12) and the degree to which supportive factors of this instruction are in place in classrooms and library programs in one western Canadian province.

Toward Mainstream ing Information Literacy: Situating Information Literacy in New Literacies, the Internet, and ICT Over the past two decades, there has been considerable debate about the nature of literacy. In contrast to those who see literacy as a single general ability to read and write, a growing number of literacy researchers have begun to examine the many ways of reading and writing in cultures and groups (e.g., youth, boys/girls) other than those of white, western, middle-class, and in contexts other than those of school (the workplace, homes, communities). Researchers are also recognizing the multiple forms and modes of literacy beyond those bound by the printed page. In other words, literacy is now viewed as the ability to gain and represent meaning from a variety of symbol systems (e.g., drawing, speaking, photography, video, hypertext). Together, these perspectives form the foundation of the "New and Multi-Literacy Studies" (Barton, 1994; Gee, 1996; New London Group, 1996; Street, 1995).

Thus literacy is now conceived as both more expansive and more complex than ever before. It is being reconceptualized to encompass the multiple forms of literacy that students will need to develop in order to participate fully in the 21st century. These new literacies are changing in ever more rapid ways. For the current generation of students, consider how literacies have expanded since they began school. …

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