An Emerging Theory for Evidence Based Information Literacy Instruction in School Libraries, Part 1: Building a Foundation

Carol A. Gordon


Objective – Part I of this paper aims to create a framework for an emerging theory of evidence based information literacy instruction. In order to ground this framework in existing theory, a holistic perspective views inquiry as a learning process that synthesizes information searching and knowledge building. An interdisciplinary approach is taken to relate user-centric information behavior theory and constructivist learning theory that supports this synthesis. The substantive theories that emerge serve as a springboard for emerging theory. A second objective of this paper is to define evidence based information literacy instruction by assessing the suitability of performance based assessment and action research as tools of evidence based practice.

Methods – An historical review of research grounded in user-centered information behavior theory and constructivist learning theory establishes a body of existing substantive theory that supports emerging theory for evidence based information literacy instruction within an information-to-knowledge approach. A focused review of the literature presents supporting research for an evidence based pedagogy that is performance assessment based, i.e., information users are immersed in real-world tasks that include formative assessments. An analysis of the meaning of action research in terms of its purpose and methodology establishes its suitability for structuring an evidence based pedagogy. Supporting research tests a training model for school librarians and educators which integrates performance based assessment, as well as action research.

Results – Findings of an historical analysis of information behavior theory and constructivist teaching practices, and a literature review that explores teaching models for evidence based information literacy instruction, point to two elements of evidence based information literacy instruction: the micro level of information searching behavior and the macro level of the learning task. On the micro level users are confronting information, and searching is seen as the entire process of the interaction of users with a series of information tasks, as described in Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process. The micro level is the level of deep understanding as critical thinking skills craft the connection between information and knowledge. On the macro level the learning task, designed by an instructional team, shapes the inquiry. It is the context for information tasks. The learning task is relevant, engaging, and rigorous to sustain the interest and interaction of the user with information and emerging knowledge. The macro level is the level of instruction whereby the learning task fosters self-reflection, self-correction, and self-regulation. The role of evidence, which is generated by performance assessment and action research, is critical to both levels. On each of these levels the learning task informs the information search.

Conclusion – Evidence is the link between information and knowledge in the learning process called inquiry. Sources of this evidence are information tasks embedded in the learning task, which are nested in a teaching and learning culture of inquiry. In order to generate evidence continuously throughout the inquiry unit, the task is characterized by research-based tools such as performance-based assessment and action research. The synergy of these elements in Part 1 of this article establishes the foundation for building a theory that supports further research of evidence based information literacy instruction.


Action research; authentic assessment; evidence based practice; information literacy instruction; participatory research; reflective practice; performance based assessment; school libraries; school library instruction

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