December 9, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Free Virtual Conference to Help Librarians Teach Data Literacy

LiteracyVirtualEvent-CoverUnderstanding data and statistics is vital for students—and teaching that skill is no longer a responsibility exclusive to math teachers. With the Common Core State Standards’ emphasis on informational text, students increasingly have reasons to use data across all content areas.

Next month, a free, virtual conference will give educators and librarians support in teaching students how to digest and communicate data in their schoolwork as well as outside the classroom.

The 4T Virtual Conference on Data Literacy: Creating Data Literate Students will take place July 14–15 and focus on statistical literacy, data visualization, and using data in arguments. The online event is part of The Supporting Librarians in Adding Data Literacy Skills to Information Literacy Instruction project, a two-year initiative at the University of Michigan School of Information and University Library.

Funded in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the project aims to give librarians, especially those at the high school level, the data and statistically literacy skills they need to help their students develop “critical comprehension skills.” While the project primarily focuses on high school librarians, middle school librarians would likely benefit from the conference as well, the organizers say.

“I want librarians to recognize that having a small toolkit of high-impact data literacy strategies can make a significant difference in our students’ understanding,” says Kristin Fontichiaro, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan School of Information and a co-principal investigator on the project.

Conference participants can glean strategies in:

  • Deciphering statistical data
  • Asking questions of data
  • Using data to write arguments
  • Creating and understanding data visualization

Mini-Lessons on Using Data

Connie Williams, a teacher librarian at Petaluma High School in Petaluma, CA, and one of the educators working on the project, says that understanding data is important for using grading systems and looking at standardized test results.

“It’s important to be able to ask the right questions so that we can get the answers that inform great changes,” she says, adding that teaching students to properly evaluate the data they see every day is a “huge part” of media literacy. “In today’s connected world there are so many memes, data points, and headlines that promote arguments, persuasions, or points of view, and kids have to be able to sift through the numbers and beautiful graphics to gather the evidence that supports the argument.”

In addition to two virtual conferences—this year and next—the project will also provide librarians with a handbook of background information, basic rules for using data and mini-lessons developed by teams of data and curriculum experts. The intent is to give librarians ideas that they can easily weave into the lessons they are already teaching.

A mini-lesson might “cover a quick intro to a census data tool so that students could find reliable population stats,” says Jo Angela Oehrli, a co-principal investigator and an associate librarian in the University of Michigan Library. “Another lesson might be an infographic-of-the-day lesson where students dissect the meaning of a visualization.”

In each chapter of the handbook, Fontichiaro adds, authors are providing “quick recipes” for how educators can include data and statistics into their practice. “So whether you have five minutes, 30 minutes or multiple days, you’ll have ideas for how you can build your students’ skills over time,” she says.

Professional development materials, such as webinars and discussion questions, will also be developed as part of the project.

“If even one librarian says ‘I don’t tell students to skip the statistics part of articles anymore,’” Fontichiaro says, “we’ll have done our job.”

Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.



  1. Hi Everyone,

    I am Keshav, working for an International in India. Now, I have a sudden challenge in front of me to face by conducting International Literacy Day, which is celebrating on 8th Sept’16. So, the school management has asked me to conduct some activities related to ILD, such that, the school students may get an opportune to learn and lead on the Literacy programs. Hence, I request you suggest few activities wich relates and integrates with the ILD program.