The Online Educator
Connecting the Classroom and the Library: How One School
Uses Web-Based Library Projects to Build Information-Literacy
by Mike Terry, Educational Technology Specialist,
and Diane Spear, Head Librarian Greenhill School, Dallas,
Those of us who work in school libraries have seen it
At 10:15 the library fills up with students assigned a research project.
The teacher gives the kids some basic instructions, tells them to keep the
noise down, and then turns them loose. The librarian, eager to help in their
search for sources, quickly discovers that many students haven't narrowed their
topics and aren't sure how to do so. She's also surprised to find they're not
researching quite what she thought. And then she cringes as the students, instead
of seeking out the books and databases she's ordered for their project, sit
down at a computer terminal in the lab, pull up Google, and begin searching
It's a recipe for poor research that happens over and over. Five years ago,
the scene in our library at Greenhill School in Dallas was much the same. It
took us little time after joining the school's staff in 1999 to realize that
we needed to address the problem.
Over the years, the administration at Greenhill has created an environment
in which faculty members are encouraged to develop their own curricular programs.
Classroom projects often take on a life of their own, instilling into our students
the desire to learn. This creative freedom has always been one of Greenhill's
While that environment makes classroom life interesting, it creates challenges.
The library works to remain at the center of academic research at the school,
but for years, teachers and librarians were not finding the time to discuss
projects beforehand. Without this initial collaboration, librarians often did
not fully understand the objectives of the research assignments. Teachers remained
unaware of the numerous resources available in the library, including new databases,
which they didn't know how to access or navigate.
Most of the Greenhill faculty agreed that instruction in research methods
was important, but we frequently missed opportunities to do so in the context
of a real information need.
Developing a Solution
The first step we took in 1999 was to stop teaching isolated library skills
classes. We began reinforcing information-literacy skills through class projects.
At that time, we employed traditional strategies, including paper pathfinders
and guided lab sessions. (See the "Paper Pathfinders and Beyond" sidebar below.)
Next, the library began working with the technology office to build the library's
Web page. We created an online space where teachers and students could quickly
find a variety of resources, ranging from Internet databases to the online
library catalog. Almost from the start, we noticed a new interest and enthusiasm
in what the library had to offer. Teachers could now point students to specific
resources with little confusion. No longer did they have to crowd around the
two or three public terminals. Each student could sit in front of a computer
in any lab on campus and begin researching.
This small but significant upgrade in library services began to affect the
way teachers and students viewed information organization and retrieval. They
realized that with resources gathered in one place, they could find information
in a more efficient manner.
The next step in the transition came as we began to move away from traditional
pathfinders. Aside from photocopying issues, paper lists of sites and databases
caused problems for our students. They frequently mistyped long Web addresses.
They lost the sheets, and they often forgot passwords to the various databases.
While the students dealt with the pathfinders, teachers complicated the resource
issue by using network drives to store project information. That strategy made
sense in isolated labs where computers had been mapped tothose resources. But
from labs outside the teachers' buildings or from students' homes, the information
The obvious solution for us was to move toward the use of Web-based project
pages. The first of these were basic, simply linking to Word documents stored
on the network. Eventually, the Web pages became more customized. We phased
out the use of linked documents and decided instead to put assignments, topics,
due dates, and help information directly on the Web pages. As a result of improved
communication between classroom teachers and librarians, we began adding selected
Web sites considered appropriate for individual projects, as well as databases
that would provide high-quality, in-depth information. We created an online
environment that successfully organized project information, made sense of
the confusing glut of information resources, and made those resources available
After experimenting with a few of these projects, we began to see how the
projects might help us carry out our established information-literacy objectives.
Our Information Literacy Program
We laid the foundation to theseinformation-literacy skills in the lower grades
by introducing our younger students to the collection, teaching them how to
find and take care of the books. Our lower-school librarian, Cay Geisler, read
and discussed books with her students, encouraging literacy and artistic appreciation
as well as respect for intellectual property.
At the middle-school level, we taught citation skills. Specific skills, such
as library catalog searching, Internet evaluation, PowerPoint
presentation, use of online databases, and "cyber ethics"
were taught sporadically throughout the grades. Librarians
and technology staff actively sought every opportunity
to reinforce these skills, especially during middle-school
years, with the hope that, by their junior year, students
would begin internalizing the information process and
could conduct independent research.
In spite of good intentions, the scope of our information-literacy curriculum
remained poorly defined and lacked sequence. We had long been aware of the
need to clarify our instructional goals as teacher/librarians and to devise
a strategy for incorporating information-literacy skills into the school-wide
curriculum. In 1998, the American Association of School Librarians and the
Association for Educational Communications and Technology jointly announced
and published national standards for information literacy in schools. (See "Standards:
Recipes for Serving Student Achievement," by Jane Prestebak, MultiMedia
Schools, October 2001; http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/oct01/prestebak.htm.)Several
years ago, studies were conducted in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Alaska on
the impact of school library media programs in those states. (See "Proof of
the Power: Quality Library Media Programs Affect Academic Achievement," by
Keith Curry Lance, MultiMedia Schools, September 2001; http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/sep01/lance.htm.)These
studies provided documented evidence that student achievement is directly related
to a strong information-literacy program within a school, as well as to collaboration
between teachers and librarians. As issues of standards and best practices
in teaching research skills emerged more frequently in the literature and at
professional conferences, we began considering how we could use our library
project pages to help us define the scope and sequence of our information-literacy
curriculum at Greenhill.
We were encouraged in the spring of 2001 when the newly appointed Head of
School Scott Griggs decided to take a closer look at the curriculum. By the
following year, the school board released its strategic plan and named information
literacy as one of its key issues. The plan suggested that along with other
school-wide initiatives, Greenhill School should "develop and articulate a
pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade program in information literacy into
the existing curriculum."
After comparing the library's new approach and the suggestions laid out in
the strategic plan, Scott gave the library projects his stamp of approval.
"Students today have access to information in a variety of forms," Scott said. "The
volume of information is extraordinary, and the quality is varied. Students
must be taught, through an organized and disciplined approach, how to access,
assimilate, and differentiate the information at their disposal. The development
of our library projects program is a cutting-edge example of the type of work
we are doing in the area of information literacy for all of our students. These
projects pull together many aspects of learning with technology that are so
important to our students today."
A Case Study: Art History in the Middle School
When we first began producing the projects for a few middle and lower school
teachers, it was difficult for them to imagine how the sites would be used
in a classroom situation. By encouraging them to send us project instructions
and components, we could then build the pages to demonstrate how the sites
work. Normally, it took just the initial demonstration to gain a new partner.
Peggy Turlington, Greenhill's seventh grade literature teacher, recognized
the project's power as soon as she saw it.
Each winter, with the help of several other middle-school teachers, Peggy
leads the students through an art history unit, which she inherited several
years ago. When she took the project over, it was outcome-focused; the objectives
centered on PowerPoint production. The students spent a day in the middle-school
computer lab scouring the Internet for images and information, then another
3-5 days inserting what they found into a presentation. After hearing the students
speak about their artists, she realized that they had barely scratched the
surface. All the work with the search engines and PowerPoint had gotten in
"There was too much emphasis on technology," she said. "The students were
only getting a thumbnail sketch of their artists. I decided that we needed
to get to the library and do some real research. Maxine Brittain, our middle-school
librarian, had been encouraging me to bring the kids in for some time. It didn't
take me long to agree with her."
Once she agreed to bring her students in, the library and technology staff
planned a Web-based project page that would organize all of the project's research
components. Empowered by the new level of collaboration, Maxine gathered databases
and Web sites, while at the same time pulling out books from the library's
Peggy saw immediate results. "Maxine began to use the project page to teach
the kids about how to find information in the databases, how to identify worthwhile
Web sites, and where to look for the excellent books the library carries," she
said. "The students learned the distinction between databases and Web sites.
Maxine also gave them passwords so that the students could do their research
By the end of a week of active research, the seventh graders had acquired
a wide base of data from which to build their reports. "The project was much
less teacher-directed. The students were able to come into the lab, log onto
the Web pagewhich is a format they are infinitely more comfortable with
than paperand move at their own pace," she said.
The students spent fewer days creating the presentations, but in the end
were able to communicate a deeper understanding of the artistic styles and
movements they studied.
Costs and Benefits
Every new endeavor comes with challenges; this approach to research instruction
is no exception. It requires technical support, both in terms of system hardware
capabilities and of the skills needed for Web page design and maintenance.
We are fortunate at Greenhill to have that support readily available so that
these projects could be developed in a timely manner and without burdening
teachers who may not have the time or inclination to tackle the technical issues
The benefits have been enormous. Teachers, librarians, and technology staff
are not only collaborating more, but with a new understanding and appreciation
of what each team member has to offer. Less time and energy is wasted when
we can all meet on the Web to share and organize our ideas for a research project.
These projects remain a permanent archive, easily revisited, revised, or shared
with other teachers on our own campus or across the country. Best of all, we
have a new tool to examine our strengths and weaknesses in meeting established
standards for information literacy.
While the various outcomes of the library projects have been exciting and
satisfying, the real reward for us as educators has been in the process itself.
We see our students actively engaged in the type of critical thinking that
ignites and fuels a lifelong passion to ask questions, seek answers, and share
Paper Pathfinders and
Traditional pathfinders are simply topical guides to resources in a
specific library facility or system. Call them extended bibliographies.
They usually include:
Book call numbers
Database or reader's guide information
Web site URLs
Online library projects go beyond the traditional pathfinders by:
providing context, organizing class
documents, due dates, and research help.
giving direct access to online library catalogs.
offering online database connections.
linking to relevant Web sites.
providing on-demand access.
Want Some More Background, Some Examples? Take a
If you're wondering how to start a library project and what one looks
like, take a look at www.libraryprojects.org. This site, created by the
team at Greenhill, explores information literacy and the role it played
in the development of the school's initial projects.
The site outlines American Library Association standards and definitions
and also links to a variety of different research models and methods.
One of the site's real gems is its catalog of warehoused projects.
Currently, there are more than 12 different projects on the site, giving
visitors an inside look at the various ways Greenhill is using the tool.
Each example is fully functional with all of the resources intact. Take
a look. You might get some ideas.
Curriculum Mapping and Project Pages Meet on the
The faculty at Greenhill School is currently using a Web-based tool
to map all school curriculum from preschool through grade 12. Through
the initiative and planning of Mark Crotty, director of curricular programs
at Greenhill, all faculty were trained in January of 2002 in the use
of Atlas [http://www.rubiconatlas.com/] from Rubicon International. This
tool allows faculty across all grade levels and divisions to input and
manage curriculum content, skills, assessment, and resources at one Web
site that is accessible and searchable to all users. This development
at Greenhill has presented new opportunities for collaboration and sharing
of resources among Greenhill educators. It enables teachers to follow
sequence across the school and to identify opportunities for team teaching,
reinforcement, and resource sharing.
Greenhill librarians have discovered that the library project pages
have been a crucial aid in mapping information-literacy curriculum. When
an "information-literacy" link is added to each site, these pages provide
an organized record of the skills being addressed in each project, as
well as specific resources being used. In the Atlas software, online
project pages can be linked directly to the mapping grid for easy reference.
The benefits of merging Web-based project pages with online curriculum
mapping work both ways. Librarians can search the school curriculum database
by keyword or skill and discover what information skills are being addressed
by individual teachers at different grade levels. This allows them to
discover gaps that need to be addressed and to identify possibilities
for collaboration with classroom teachers.
Mike Terry, educational technology specialist, has
been developing Web solutions at Greenhill School, Dallas, Texas, since 1999. Diane
Spear is the head of the library department at Greenhill School. Contact
them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.