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ML3: Librarians as Leaders for Media Literacy

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At Project Look Sharp (PLS), our mission has been to enhance students’ critical thinking and civic engagement through thoughtful and reflective decoding of all media messages.  Never has this been more important as media bias fuels polarization and AI promises to increase the Infodemic of fake news – threatening the very essence of our democracy.  For more than 25 years, we at PLS have been working with educators to develop ways to bring habits of critical thinking to all students in New York State and beyond.

In July 2021, PLS, received a 2-year grant from the Booth Ferris Foundation in partnership with the New York State School Library Systems Association (SLSA).  the ML3 Initiative aimed to scale up the work of PLS to enable the integration of critical thinking and media literacy in schools across New York State through the leadership of K-12 public school librarians.  The pilot initiative selected 19 K-12 librarians, library system directors, and coordinators (from over 100 applicants) that reflected the diversity of schools and librarians across all regions of NY state.  The ML3 librarians began their training (starting with 2-day workshops in the fall of 2022) to become leaders in the integration of curriculum-driven, inquiry-based, Constructivist Media Decoding (CMD) in their schools and regions. The grant also included funding for evaluation, documentation, outreach, and networking statewide for scalability.

Each librarian participated in monthly individual coaching (by Susan Allen), monthly cohort meetings on Zoom, and a weekend retreat in Ithaca in July 2022.  They each crafted an ongoing integration plan, led practice decodings, and gave continual feedback on the initiative including through confidential surveys. The ML3 staff (Chris Sperry, Susan Allen, and Cyndy Scheibe) met regularly with an ML3 Advisory Group made up of the leadership of the NYS School Library Systems, and with filmmaker Rhys Daunic, and the ML3 evaluator, Faith Rogow.  

The ML3 Evaluation Report and appendix with reflections by the participants are available at:

The Goals of ML3:
To identify successful approaches, accessible materials and a workable plan that will bring curriculum driven, inquiry-based media analysis to all students in NYS public schools through the leadership of school librarians.

 We call our inquiry-based approach to media analysis, Constructivist Media Decoding, or CMD.

Excerpts from the ML3 Evaluation Report:

  • As a result of the design and content of PLS training and coaching, almost ¾ of ML3’s school librarians made a profound shift in their teaching practice, from teacher-centered information delivery to student-centered inquiry. This change influenced everything they taught, not just CMD.
  • During CMD lessons, more students than normal engaged in discussion, and they displayed deeper analysis and critical thinking skills.
  • The 19 ML3 librarians reached more than 3,500 students with CMD lessons that they led or that resulted from collaborations with teachers.
  • ML3 participants embraced CMD enthusiastically enough to want to share its methods with peers, and they had the skills and opportunities to do so. Their presentations about CMD reached more than 1,500 teachers and library professionals across New York State.

In response to input from ML3 participants, SLSA Directors and the ML3 Advisory Group , Project Look Sharp added the following resources to the PLS website.  These resources will be highlighted on the NYS School Library Systems website beginning in 2024.

New Resources Created as a Part of the ML3 Initiative:

  • Library/Information Literacy as a new Subject Area – with links to 143 Lessons for media decoding.
  • Library Standards added to all new PLS lessons
  • CMD early elementary demonstration videos featuring ML3 librarian, Michele Coolbeth                            
  • 20 subject and grade-specific Starter Kits for integrating CMD into diverse levels and subjects      
  • To support our ML3 Librarians in delivering professional development to their colleagues about media literacy integration we created a new component of our website: Resources for Delivering PD. This includes Handouts, Tips for Collaboration and Advocating, Videos to use in delivering PD, as well as Slide Sets and Presenter Guides for delivering PD for different amounts of time to different professional audiences.
  • To enable librarians to promote CMD to their colleagues we worked with filmmaker Rhys Daunic to create a series of videos that explain and promote ML3.  We encourage you to watch this 9-minute video as an overview of the ML3 initiative                   
  • Our Advisory Group of SLS directors encouraged us to develop asynchronous PD about CMD.  In response we created a hybrid self-paced 4-week course that we piloted in Summer 2023 with librarians across New York State. This has the potential to work for librarians across the U.S. and to be a model for scaling this work with trained librarians facilitating CMD PD with educators in their schools/districts.

In addition to the original ML3 team of 19 librarians, over the last 2 years Project Look Sharp worked with more than half of all NYS BOCES School Library Systems to provide day-long CMD trainings to more than 600 librarians in all regions of the state.  Nearly all these trainings included year-long follow-up teams of librarians working with a trained ML3 coach to support media literacy integration, following the ML3 model.  These CMD workshops and follow-up groups are continuing in the 2023-24 school year.

On May 17, 2023, NYS SLSA presented a full day in-person and virtual PD for 700+ school librarians across New York State that was led by ML3 librarians.  This statewide roll-out will be followed by a new ML3 component of the SLSA website to be added in 2024.

Conclusions:  The ML3 initiative achieved far more than we had hoped in preparing librarians to be leaders of media literacy in their schools.  The initiative shows that the CMD approach prompts shifts in teaching practice to be more inquiry-based, engaging, and effective with all students.  And ML3  nourished the deep desire of librarians to collaborate on this critical mission.  As discussed in the Evaluation Report, the initiative was less successful in enabling all ML3 trained librarians  to systematically deliver quality PD to their teachers.  This will be a focus in our continuing work.

As is evident in this short overview, the ML3 initiative was extraordinarily successful in developing an approach that can, over time, reach all students in New York State with the habits of critical thinking and media literacy necessary for authentic participation in our democracy.

“I learned just how much better my teaching can be by participating in ML3 and I wish that this could be a part of every teacher training program and mandated in every state - it would change the face of education, and likely shift the fractious thinking in our country if implemented.”
                                                                                 -  ML3 participant

Nationwide ML3:  While ML3 will continue to grow in NY State - with multiple workshops, year-long follow-up groups, and the CMD course already planned for the 2023-24 school year - we are also planning to spread this work nationally.  We will be presenting at many state and national conferences, and publishing articles and podcasts.  We have launched a Facebook group to support interested librarians across the country, and we plan to support the implementation of New Jersey’s new information literacy mandate.  In July 2023 we were awarded a 2-year grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to plan to scale the ML3 initiative across the United States.  If you are Interested in participating in the nationwide ML3 initiative, email Chris Sperry at