Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh, the Humanities!

Now that The Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn or TYWLS has hired a part time ESL teacher to teach the handful of ELLs at the school, the time I spend with TYWLS will be dedicated to teaching library and information literacy skills only for the entire school year. Because TYWLS is the youngest and currently the smallest school on campus, they fund only about 20% of me, which means they can now get about one period a day of library instruction. Progress!

Now, a word about TYWLS (everybody pronounces it "twills" even though that's not really how it's spelled): last year, they were simply a dream to work with. Talana Bradley, the principal is so friendly and easy to talk to and is so intelligent and good at getting things done it's almost hard to believe. How she remains so calm, composed and open in the face of everything principals in city schools have to contend with is a mystery to me.

The teachers are similarly wonderful and the students are just great. Right now, the school only has sixth and seventh grades. Over time, they'll grow all the way to 12th grade, adding one grade per year.

After negotiating the librarian's schedule that accommodates all three schools on campus, which took literally the first two weeks of the school year, it worked out that I'll be able to give one-hour library and information literacy lessons to all the Humanities classes at TYWLS in both grades if I cycle through one a day over the course of about a week and two days. This is great news: I now have an entire student body for which I can design and execute a library and information literacy curriculum throughout 2009-2010, dovetailing my lessons with the TYWLS Humanities curriculum.

This week I'm doing an orientation lesson in the students' classrooms, rather than bringing them up to the library. The main reason for this is that I'm spending about half the hour on orientation and behavior expectations, and the final half hour having the girls use the Tool for Real-time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (TRAILS). Unfortunately, there aren't enough computers in the library to accommodate whole classes, and the computers I have too old and cranky to get the job done efficiently, while TYWLS now has laptop carts for their classrooms.

I'm having each class take the sixth grade TRAILS assessment as a baseline, which we can then compare to follow-up assessment at the end of the year. Currently the sixth grade assessment covers all of middle school grades and the ninth grade versions cover all high school grades.

One of the things I like about TRAILS is that when you have teachers and administrators take it, the idea that there should be a library curriculum and standards for library skills teaching becomes much more clear than just having them listen to me pipe off about it all the time. Taking the test demonstrates how library and information literacy skills cut across all disciplines, and by extension shows that explicit teaching of these skills can benefit students in all their studies, not to mention in college when research becomes so much more important.

TRAILS covers five information literacy categories:
  1. Develop a Topic
  2. Identify Potential Sources
  3. Develop, Use, and Revise Search Strategies
  4. Evaluate Sources and Information
  5. Recognize How to Use Information Responsibly, Ethically, and Legally
The sixth grade assessment has 25 questions and distributes them evenly, with three for each category above. Here is one of the simplest examples from the sixth grade test:

If you want to find books by Christopher Paul Curtis, what kind of catalog search should you try?
  • Title search
  • Author search
  • Subject search
It may sound simple to us as adults, but I have to say, in two classes of intelligent students so far, about half of them have got this question wrong. One girl called me over and asked, "I don't know who Christoper Paul Curtis is. How can I answer this question?" This is the kind of thing that requires some explicit instruction. In middle school, the students are making the transition from loving reading to using their reading skills for both practical and leisure applications.

The assessment doesn't impact the students' grades and I tell them to relax and put a reasonable effort into it without stressing before they open up their laptops. What it does do is provide the librarian a very clear idea of which skills need to be emphasized in library lessons. It will be interesting to revisit TRAILS in the Spring and see if all the library time has made a difference.

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