Teachers and library media specialists searching for new and innovative ways to educate their students about effective research practices now have a new online tool at their disposal: S.O.S. (Situations, Outcomes, Strategies) for Information Literacy.

Launched Oct. 7 at the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference in Pittsburgh, this Syracuse University program–made public now for the first time–is a free multimedia resource for K-8 teachers and media specialists who want their students to learn more, and become excited, about research.

During their own research for the program, project directors Ruth Small and Marilyn Arnone of the Center for Digital Education at Syracuse University focused in part on how to relieve the anxiety that children often have when beginning research projects.

“We asked how we can teach children in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them, yet still teaches them to evaluate sources or understand search engines,” Small said.

The pair’s research indicated that educators often have a difficult time finding lesson plans and motivational instructional methods that address information literacy skills and that they struggle to find plans relating these skills to classroom assignments and research projects in particular.

Information literacy–the ability to locate, organize, evaluate, manage, and use information–is critical for today’s learners, researchers say. These skills lay the groundwork for success in every student’s life.

The S.O.S. project is “a solution to an age-old problem,” said Julie Walker, executive director of AASL. “We talk a lot about integrating content and skills, whether those skills are information gathering or technology, but many people have a difficult time doing that.”

The project includes an online resource page where educators can view lessons plans, video clips, and other teaching materials submitted by teachers and library media specialists. Curriculum-integrated lesson plans and teaching ideas are linked to real-world examples of solid teaching, most notably focusing on collaborative efforts between classroom teachers and library media specialists, Small said. So far, about 150 educators have contributed at least one lesson plan.

The video clips feature educators “in action” or “reflecting” on successful teaching episodes, and these clips are continuously assembled and reviewed by members of the target audience, Small said.

In addition, a Virtual Training page provides educators with hints and ideas to help them develop motivational information-literacy lesson plans of their own, and it shows educators how to use the S.O.S. online submission software to share their lesson plans with others.

Teachers can upload and tag digital photos or other materials that help support their lesson plans, and they can create and submit digital videos that show the lesson. Teachers and library media specialists are encouraged to contribute lesson plans, support materials, and media to help build the S.O.S. teaching database. The Virtual Training page will continue to evolve throughout the next few years as contributions grow, organizers say.

By linking lesson plans and teaching ideas to real-world, multimedia examples, S.O.S. helps educators teach these topic areas in exciting ways, Walker said.

“People can not only see the lesson itself, but they can also look at it, and that removes another barrier to effective planning,” she said. “It’s a confidence builder for teachers and school library media specialists. I’m sure they’ll come forward with more lessons, and they’ll keep submitting and building. It addresses a common concern.”

The “S.O.S.” in the project title (Situations, Outcomes, Strategies) stands for much more than a call to action to improve information literacy instruction. “Situations” stands for the grade level or curriculum area being taught, “Outcomes” stands for information skills to be learned, and “Strategies” stands for teaching ideas or specific techniques to achieve the desired outcome, according to the S.O.S. web site. Educators can input their situation and desired outcomes, and the system will suggest possible motivational teaching strategies when a “strategy” search is used.

Syracuse University recently received a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to expand the S.O.S. project to grades 9-12, and also to create a higher-education version. That expansion began Oct. 1.

S.O.S. for Information Literacy is a project of the Center for Digital Literacy at Syracuse University and the IMLS, in collaboration with AASL. The S.O.S. Advisory Board consists of college faculty members, pre-service graduate students, practicing teachers, library media specialists, and consultants.

“It’s a pretty unique resource,” Walker said.


S.O.S. for Information Literacy

American Association of School Librarians

Syracuse University’s Center for Digital Literacy

Institute of Museum and Library Services