Vagabond Librarian

Reports from the intersection of military life, motherhood, & librarianship.



Intellectual Freedom & Internet Filtering

Incorporating Informational Text Into Library-based Activities

School librarians can serve an important role in supporting teachers and students as they adjust to new expectations. While I still have a number of questions about the best way to assist teachers as they integrate Informational Text into their lessons, I see a number of opportunities that these authentic texts offer. Check out my Goodreads reviews for a number of Informational Text titles appropriate for middle school children–you may be surprised to see titles you already know and love.

Informational Text

The current shift in American school curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, which place an emphasis on increasing the amount of Informational Text students read as they progress through grade levels, has brought the sometimes-misunderstood genre of Informational Text into the spotlight. The Common Core’s emphasis on Informational Text has generated controversy among teachers and parents who are concerned that students’ personal connection to, and analytical study of, literature will suffer in the wake of an emphasis on a genre they fear consists of instruction manuals and “advocacy journalism” (Stotsky, 2012). These concerns highlight common misunderstandings, or misrepresentations, about what the genre of Informational Text encompasses. The purpose of this paper is to introduce the depth and variety of Informational Text as a genre, and to highlight activities that incorporate Informational Text into the middle school library learning environment.

Informational Text is a subset of non-fiction that is unique in purpose, feature, and format. Its primary purpose, whether written to report or to persuade, is to inform the reader about ideas, facts, and principles related to the natural or social world (Duke, 2003, p.17). The features in a work of Informational Text vary according to the purpose and subject of a text, but can include print features such as a glossary, index, or key word guide; visual aids like diagrams, illustrations, maps, and charts; and organizational aids such as bold print, headings, section titles and informational sidebars. Informational Text exists in a number of formats, including print and digital versions of books, magazines, newspapers, essays, correspondence, handouts, brochures, and infographics. Informational Text can be used in the library and the classroom to promote information literacy, provide opportunities for close reading and comparative analysis, and support subject matter content across the curriculum. Additionally, because Informational Text is authentic text, it has the potential to spark meaningful personal connections, as well as provide opportunities for exploration and analysis of literature, culture, and history.


The following suggested activities represent the adaptability of Informational Text to a wide variety of subject area content. Each of these activities employ Informational Text as a generative springboard to encourage close reading, analysis, evaluation, discussion, and reflection of student learning.

Activity 1: Inside-Out Discussion Circle

This activity is adapted from Sharon Kane’s 2008 work Integrating Literature Into the Content Areas (p. 61). Kane suggests placing chairs in two facing concentric circles to set the stage for a dynamic activity that provides students the opportunity to engage in multiple one-on-one discussions.

Description. The teacher-librarian provides each student with a copy of the same informational text and a main question on which to focus and form an opinion, based on textual evidence. Students are then given time to read the text, and subsequently invited to join the circle. Students will share their thoughts and observations about the topic and main question with the person in front of them in the circle. After three minutes of discussion, the students are asked to each move two chairs to the right and begin the discussion anew with the classmate who is now in front of them.

Materials and resources. For this activity, the teacher-librarian will need copies for each student of an informational text on the chosen subject, chairs arranged in two facing concentric circles, and (optional) a bell, maraca, or other noise-maker to signal that it is time for the students to shift to another chair.

Motivational value. This activity provides a platform for students to discuss their own opinions and ideas about a topic with a number of different peers in a one-on-one setting that provides an element of security that will bolster student confidence, thus encouraging student motivation to participate. Student motivation is further encouraged by the student’s freedom to discuss information they found important, as well as the opportunity for all students to be fully engaged during the entire activity.

Activity 2: Student Evaluation Groups

The following activity is inspired by Sharon Kane, who suggests having students evaluate science texts against one another for accuracy in her book Integrating Literature Into the Content Areas (2008, p. 40). The activity has been modified for this paper to illustrate that it is appropriate to use with a variety of subject areas. This activity supports learning about scientific inquiring, analyzing a range of texts, evaluating texts for consistency, and comparing and contrasting values and ideas.

Description. The teacher-librarian divides the students into small groups and asks students to review a number of Informational Texts about the same subject. The students are given the texts, post-it notes, and a chart on which to record basic fact and observations from each text. The students will group the notes on the chart according to facts that are in agreement and disagreement. Students will then investigate the disagreements further and find additional resources that verify or disprove the fact or claim they have culled from the text. Students will then rank their original texts from most to least accurate and present their chart and findings to their peers.

Materials and resources. This activity requires the teacher-librarian to select and have available multiple copies of a small variety of Informational Texts about one topic, and to assemble additional resource texts (print and digital) about that topic. The activity requires post-it notes, markers and a poster board chart (or whiteboard space) for each group.

Motivational value. This activity will prove most motivational to students when the teacher-librarian collaborates with the classroom teacher to choose topics to explore that are both relevant to student interest and classroom subject matter. Students will find being in charge of evaluation motivating and will derive satisfaction from sharing their knowledge and accomplishment with other students.

Activity 3: The Big Idea Infographic

The Big Idea Infographic activity is inspired by Tanny McGregor’s suggestion in Genre Connection: Lessons to Launch Literary and Non-Fiction Texts to spark a connection between art and Informational Text by viewing visual representations of information like those created by information artist, David McCandless (2013, p. 99-100). This activity will challenge students to read, understand, and process information and then to organize and present what they learned in the form of an infographic.

Description. The teacher-librarian will show students examples of data visualization and explore what information those infographics are conveying. Then, the students will choose an Informational Text excerpt from those provided by the teacher-librarian and engage in close reading, making notes and highlighting “big ideas” from the text. Students will then be asked to join other students who read about the same topic to form small groups and discuss the purpose, facts, and main idea of the text. The teacher-librarian will give the groups materials and instruct them to create their own infographic, using the information they have read about and discussed. Students will be allowed time to create their infographic, and then to present to each other, the teacher-librarian, and the teacher at the end of the activity. Once all students have presented, they will share their observations about the process of choosing and representing the information they determined to be important. While I would encourage physically creating an infographic in order to keep all members of the group engaged, students could create a digital infographic like the one included here.

Materials and resources. For this activity, the teacher-librarian will assemble examples of infographics to show on a screen, smartboard, or as posters. The teacher-librarian will also provide copies of a variety of Informational Texts from which students will chose. The activity requires the teacher-librarian to assemble art materials with which the student groups can construct their infographic poster. Suggested materials include the following: poster board, colored pencils, highlighters, colored paper, glue sticks, and scissors.

Motivational value. The opportunities for students to choose their subject matter and to express themselves creatively encourage personal connections that will reinforce relevance, satisfaction, and, in turn, motivation for all students. Although the main purpose of works that fall under the umbrella of Informational Text is to inform, the authentic texts that comprise this genre have the potential to spark powerful personal connections. The examples, annotations, activities, and information included in this paper demonstrate that the genre of Informational Text contains works that not only inform and enrich the investigation of classroom topics across the curriculum, but also have the potential to inspire, as well as to provide valuable opportunities for analysis, evaluation, and critical thinking at all educational levels.

Works Cited

Council of Chief State School Officers. (2012). Key points in English language arts. 2012 Common Core National Standards Initiative.

Duke, N. K., &; Bennett-Armistead, V. S. (2003). Reading & writing informational text in the primary grades. New York: Scholastic Teaching Resources.

Kane, S. (2008). Integrating literature in the content areas: Enhancing adolescent learning & literacy. Scottsdale, Ariz: Holcomb Hathaway, Publishers.

McGregor, T. (2013). Genre connections: Lessons to launch literary and nonfiction texts. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

New York State Education Department. (2013). Selection of Authentic Texts for Common Core Instruction: Guidance and a List of Resources for Text Selection. EngageNY.

Stotsky, S. (December 11, 2012). Common core standards’ devastating impact on literary study and analytical thinking. [Issue brief]. The Heritage Foundation.

Encourage Making Over Using

The following is an actual question, posed by an actual school librarian:
You can’t use citation generators–why?? That is awful–we need to prepare kids for the real world. In the real world we use the generators.
The original post that inspired this “question from an actual school librarian” was by a school media specialist asking colleagues to share a few of their best online resources to provide students learning citation skills, to which she added the note that the students would not be using citation generators. Presumably, the librarian was looking for awesome sites like Purdue Online Writing Lab, which was by far the most popular answer to the query.
Similar “why do we have to learn this when they have an app for that” questions from students, I understand. From a school media specialist, though, the question makes me wonder what this person is doing in education. In the real world we do use tools like citation generators, calculators, and GPS navigation devices. We can and should make use of these tools. It is vital, though, (yes, vital) that we also make an effort to cultivate an understanding of the inputs and rules upon which these tools work. Things like citation generators and calculators should be a convenience, not a necessity–and they will be a necessity if we fail to facilitate learning and instead teach to the tool, app, or gadget.
I’ll be happy to explain why.
It is important that we practice putting together the components of a citation so that we understand what citations are made of and how they “work” to provide reference as well as acknowledgement. It is also kind of cool to look at the way different fields assemble their citations, depending on what is most important to them. Similarly, it is important to understand the fundamentals of mathematics so that we understand what to put into our calculator, and which function to apply in which order and in what situation. I love my home improvement projects and am glad that I know how to figure out on my own how much tile, crown moulding, or driveway sealant I need for a project. And, it is important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of map reading and direction so that when your GPS stops working after the zombie apocalypse…well, maybe not such a great example, but I can tell you I’m ready to evade those zombies.

It is through practice that we learn. Having students practice assembling citations without the help of a generator facilitates greater understanding of the components of a citation. Tools only work if we know what to put into them–and often, what to put into the correct field. Generators make mistakes. How will you know if your generator is spitting out the correct citation if you don’t know what components you are looking for, what order they belong in, or where to look for the standards? Please, please do not sell your students short by only teaching them how to use the tool that will accomplish the task. Teach them the reason for the task, teach them how to find the information they need to complete the task, teach them to be curious about how to improve the task. Encourage your students to be makers, not users. 

Seizing the Teachable Moment in "What’s a Library?"

Over the weekend, video producer Michael Rosenblum’s Huffington Post blog “What’s a Library?” generated quite a bit of discussion in my library-loving world. Mr. Rosenblum, who admits to never having gone inside the now-demolished library that inspired his post, questions the need for libraries in a world where he says everything can be found on the web, which he contends is “free.” More interesting to me than Mr. Rosenblum’s article (after all, haven’t each of us answered this question from every teenager we’ve encountered since we started library school), is the response of Ingrid Henny, The Magpie Librarian, who engaged Rosenblum with passion, research, and an invitation to further discussion. The Magpie, and the librarians who have joined her blog thread, are turning this into a teachable moment. 
That teachable moment is beautiful. And, frankly, we need to seize more of these moments outside of the library. The librarians I know are intelligent, civic-minded, and hard working. These librarians respond to teachable moments regularly in their libraries with deft hands and minds. Then, quite often, these librarians see an article like Rosenblum’s and respond by posting a meme about how librarians are better than Google, accompanied by a pedantic comment about our relevance. In those instances, our intelligence and caring gets lost in peevishness and snark. We have to stop whining. We have to stop beginning to engage in debate and then backing off or disappearing from the scene when someone writes or says something that challenges us, that challenges our core beliefs. We should follow the Magpie’s example and engage not only with passion, but with research, anecdotes, and facts. I see evidence of meaningful debate between librarians daily; we should demonstrate similar engagement outside of our professional circle. Many library advocates do. I know this, and I applaud them. Many more could and should, though. The web is rife with librarians who continue to bleat about relevance, at our own expense. 
I question why librarians continue to engage in the ridiculous debate about whether we can, should, or will be replaced by Google. Google is a tool. And here is where I get peevish and snarky: by perpetuating the “we can bring you back the correct answer and Google throws you into a sea of meaningless information” meme, we reinforce the perception that we are threatened by Google. I am not threatened by Google. If you, as a librarian or library student, do feel threatened, please seek inspiration immediately at a local library program, on YouTube by searching *library school*, or on any blog about the army of librarians who are keeping pace with their communities to provide equitable access to collections, as well as enriching experiences and services, on ever-shrinking budgets.
If I’m so smart, what do I think we should be debating? I’ll give you one to get you started–Equity of Access. I’m sure you can come up with many more on your own. These are conversations we library students and librarians have with each other. Let’s take these conversations out of the back room and share them with people like Mr. Rosenblum.
The Vagabond’s First Debate Topic: Equity of Access. The most startling problem brought to light in Rosenblum’s provocative article is the outrageous perception Rosenblum has of who the library is for and what the library offers access to. Equitable access doesn’t just mean providing internet access for the economically  disadvantaged, though that is one wonderful facet of what our libraries provide. Equity of Access is defined by the American Library Association as follows:
“Equity of access means that all people have the information they need-regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers. It means they are able to obtain information in a variety of formats-electronic,  as well as print. It also means they are free to exercise their right to know without fear of censorship or reprisal.”      
The answer to Rosenblum’s question “What’s a Library?” is multilayered and as unique as the communities we serve. This question is being answered, and will continue to be answered and illustrated, by the many librarians and library members responding to his post. Let’s give our voice greater impact by using this opportunity to talk about the issues our libraries really face, and not by reactionary prose and search engine meme.

Motivational Mixer

American Phychological Theorist David McClelland had a theory about motivation that you are probably familiar with, even if you didn’t know exactly what it was called. The Achievement Motivation Theory is one of those so-simple-yet-so-complex ideas that is easily grasped and multilayered. Simply put, it is the idea that we find intrinsic motivation through three avenues–the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, or the need for power. Being complex creatures, we will find the greatest motivation through our own special blend of these three ingredients, but you are probably already thinking about which of them inspires you the most.

My fellow students and I were asked to think of some advice we could give to other school librarians about how to use what we know about Achievement Motivation in the context of library and information skills instruction. The idea that remained at the forefront of my mind throughout my investigation of Achievement Motivation Theory is that each student will find the greatest satisfaction from their own unique mix of achievement, affiliation, and power, so it is important to offer a variety of opportunities for students to find satisfaction in each area throughout our instruction time with them.

School librarians are in a position to offer new ways of using learning to address achievement motivation. We can leverage information literacy skills and technology that connects with students’ achievement needs while introducing students to new resources and research methods. We can provide opportunities for learners to interact socially with each other in work groups and peer learning groups that meet students’ affiliation needs as well as their learning objectives. Librarians also often provide students with instructions to access school resources from home, which further satisfies students’ affiliation needs. Those social opportunities that address affiliation open the door to peer learning roles and providing students with leadership opportunities in which librarians can help students cultivate positive leadership and peer tutoring experiences that will meet their need to exert influence, or power, over others.

While school librarians should offer opportunities to meet all these needs, I would caution my fellow teacher librarians from trying to evenly “shoehorn” every aspect of Achievement Motivation into every half-hour or hour long information skills lesson. While addressing each aspect is a wonderful goal, sometimes it will be better to provide multiple and varied opportunities to satisfy different motivational needs over a number of lessons, so that we give students more time to engage with the behaviors they find motivationally satisfying.

I would also remind my peers that although our instruction time may be limited, we can offer opportunities through school web sites, after school activities, and, when appropriate, e-mail, chat, or other library social media connections to help students maintain their affiliation with their librarian and library resources even when they aren’t physically in the library.

Are you motivated to learn more about Achievement Motivation Theory? Go to your library and check out McClelland’s book The Achieving Society. Whether or not they have it on the shelf, they can certainly obtain a copy for you.

McClelland, D. C. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton, N.J: Van Nostrand.

Original Post: Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:44:35 PM EST

Roadmap for New Beginnings

This post is an edited, enhanced, and otherwise reworked version of an internal class blog post from a class called Motivating 21st Century Learners at Syracuse University. I am posting a series of these because the topics are close to my heart, they illustrate part of my library school journey, and I believe will get you thinking as they did me. If you are a fellow lover of information, community, and life-long learning–or if you are just wondering what we do in library school–welcome!

I want to be librarian. More precisely, I want to be a library teacher. I love books, but I love people more. I love teaching, and I love the idea that I can give someone the skills they need to find the information they require to create whatever-it-is they want to create. What profession could be better?

As part of our initial exercises for our “Motivating Learners” class, we were asked to share a first-person account of our imagined first day as a new school librarian.


I stand outside the library doors, smiling and saying good morning to wide-eyed fifth graders who mutter their locker combinations or home room numbers so they won’t forget them. I empathize. I am excited and nervous about my first day in a new school too.

Like the incoming fifth graders, I carry my schedule in my pocket and am nervously optimistic about the day ahead. I know what is expected of me but I also know there will be new things for me to pick up as I go. I study the district curriculum maps the way the students study the maps that will help them get to class. From my maps, I know the content and expectations for my role as librarian. I have learned about the curriculum of our subject area middle school teachers as well. I know that continuing to gain understanding of each of our maps will help me to collaborate with them, and to provide complimentary and meaningful content in my instruction.

The students are excited to change rooms and teachers for each of their subjects, and I am excited to collaborate with different teachers to create lessons that are interesting, relevant, and that make the most of my instructional time. In order to for my instruction to be effective, I will need to grab student interest to help them to gain understanding, learn new skills, and develop new avenues of inquiry to pursue. Encouraging and facilitating their involvement is the key to my success in instruction and to their success in learning. I can’t wait to give them the opportunity to connect their own experiences to what they are learning, to practice, to collaborate, to share, to gather, to organize, and to teach what they have learned to their peers. What a wonderful year we all have ahead!

Original Post: Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: