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Bridging the Information Literacy Gap: Reaching Out to Help Prepare Students for Higher Ed

By econnections on December 4, 2012 12:58 PM | Permalink

Clark County School District teachers and librarians face some real challenges that have pushed them to become more resourceful even while coping with reduced staff, materials and funding. An intensive three-day workshop with UNLV librarians is helping them develop consistent and measurable ways to help K-12 students learn information skills and prepare for more rigorous college-level research.This summer the UNLV Libraries, with sponsorship from the UNLV Libraries Advisory Board and cooperation of the Clark County School Librarians Association (CCSLA), took the first step in a strategic initiative to help teachers and librarians develop curricula that will better prepare them for college and the real world. Information literacy—the ability to recognize when information is needed and locate, evaluate and use the needed information effectively—has been increasingly cited as an essential competency for college success, for the workplace and for life.

However, because there is no mandatory place for information literacy in the curriculum, some students may travel through their entire K-12 careers without practicing this skill set. The Teacher-Librarian Institute for Integration of Research into the K-12 Curriculum was designed to boost middle and high school students’ exposure to assignments that require them to utilize the inquiry, critical thinking and writing skills that are so valued in higher education. Dr. Jennifer Fabbi, Director of Research and Education at the UNLV Libraries, explained that an additional goal of this institute was to “assist school librarians in becoming critical partners in student learning and success. This advocacy role is crucial at a time when school librarians’ positions are at risk.” One school librarian accepted to the institute had her position cut by her school administration before the institute was held.

During the three-day institute the K-12 teachers, who are all subject area department chairs at their schools, and school librarians partnered in teams to create standards-based assignments built upon the Big 6 research model. Guided by UNLV librarians, the teams (24 participants in all from seven middle/junior high schools and four high schools) then created assessments and basic rubrics by which to measure the impact of information literacy instruction. The teams better defined specific roles for teachers and librarians in the teaching process. Each team also developed its own set of implementation strategies and communication plans for information literacy projects.

This improved coordination encourages teachers to engage students in doing research projects that are supported with instruction in information literacy principles taught by librarians. Participants align their teaching outcomes to the Common Core Standards adopted by the Nevada Department of Education in 2010, which enable them to better prepare students for their college experiences. Furthermore, teachers and librarians examined the syllabi of required 100-level college courses to become better informed of university-level expectations. “When we were shown the Composition 102 syllabus, that was about as eye-opening as it got. In fact, when we go to disseminate this project out to our faculty, one of the first things is going to be to make sure everyone has one of those in hand so they understand what ‘ready by exit’ really looks like,” says Christa Fialkiewicz, English Department Chair at Green Valley High School.

To measure the effectiveness of the institute, UNLV Libraries requested that participants submit completed curriculum maps for two grade levels and worksheets that detail future plans for collaborative research projects and implementation timelines. UNLV librarians have used these to examine which of the concepts made the greatest impact on participants. However, the true impact of the institute on learning outcomes cannot be measured until K-12 teachers and librarians put the new plans and projects into practice. A poster session will take place at a CCSLA forum in December for institute participants to share reflections, best practices and results of project implementation at their schools.

The Libraries’ K-12 Institute continues conversations among stakeholders called for by a 2008 study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, “Shaping Nevada’s Future.”  This study found that in 2006 only 28% of high school seniors between the ages of 18 and 26 enrolled in college. The majority of these native students continued on to community colleges and universities within Nevada. Programs like this one aspire to improve UNLV’s sometimes disappointing retention and graduate rates. Between Fall 2011 and 2012, only about 76.3% of first-year, full-time college students were retained at UNLV, and only 41.3% of students beginning in Fall 2006 had graduated by 2012, according to UNLV’s Institutional Analysis and Planning Division. Nevada’s high school seniors need more support to develop the confidence and abilities to thrive in college.

Programs like the K-12 Institute empower teachers and librarians to communicate real-world expectations to one another with the shared goal of improving the skill sets of college-bound high school seniors. The increased cooperation between UNLV and K-12 educators targets the necessary skill sets to prepare students for 100-level college classes, with the ultimate outcome of consistent improvement in student abilities—helping them reach their academic potential and one day become the professionals leading Clark County, Nevada, and the world.

For additional information:

Collaboration with the School District 

Perception of UNLV Libraries