The assignment was created by a classroom teacher. Seventh grade advanced learners would research the election platform of a U.S president using Worldbook Online or the ABC CLIO database, then use the research to create a thesis statement.
My job was to lurk behind students at their computers in the library, answering questions and helping maintain focus. Almost immediately I noticed a student who was not using one of the two assigned online site.
“So, tell me about the site you’re using,” I said casually.
“I didn’t like those sites you showed us. This one looks better,” explained Cocky Seventh Grade Boy.
I used my calmest and most reasonable voice. “Really? Why?”
Cocky Seventh Grade Boy squinted at the screen. “It’s Conservapedia. See, it has ‘pedia’ in the title so the information is good.”
That’s when I decided that my information literacy focus for the year would be to persuade every person in my school to ask these two questions whenever they encountered information in any form.
Who wrote it? Why should I believe it?
CCSS 7.6 (Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.) really is a gift to Teacher Librarians.
How to spread the word? It would have to be a coordinated campaign. I put a banner with the two questions above my Promethean board in the library. Another sign hung over the library computers.
As far as I could tell, no one noticed.
I put an announcement in the all school bulletin the first of every month reminding students and staff of the two questions Wildcats asked themselves every time they read, viewed, or heard information. Every time I taught a research lesson, I pointed out the two questions. I earnestly taught students the importance of the “About Us” link on websites. I begged teachers to require annotated bibliographies that included a justification of non- database sources.
Teachers graciously added the annotated bibliography requirement to their assignments. Who wrote it? Why should I believe it? began to show up on rubrics and checklists. Staff members told me they were starting to ask themselves the two questions in their lives outside of school.
The tipping point for kids came when I dressed up as our school mascot, Willie the Wildcat, and greeted them with my “Who wrote it? Why should I believe it?” sign outside the lunchroom.
The mascot costume is heavy. It is hot. It smells like middle schoolers before they get to the hygiene unit in health class. The head has no cut outs for your shoulders so it either tips forward or back. The eyeholes are never level with your eyes. It’s impossible to wear with glasses so I needed an escort for my own safety, as well as to keep the over-curious from trying to rip my head off.
Everyone noticed me. They wanted to high five or pat my fur. Best of all they read my sign. They talked with their friends about my sign.
“Isn’t that what it says in the library?”
“What does it mean?”
“Is that the librarian? Because those are her boots!”
I dressed up as Willie two more times before the end of school. At the start of the year, about ten percent of seventh graders I surveyed about using information said nothing about evaluating sources. After the banners, the announcements, the lessons, and interacting with Willie the Wildcat, that spring about seventy percent of the students I surveyed in the fall identified evaluating information as important.
So, looking good at the knowledge level. Now how to move on to application?
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