Book Reviews

Alex Berrio Matamoros. Information Literacy for Today’s Diverse Students: Differentiated Instructional Techniques for Academic Libraries. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2018. 159p. Paper. $75.00 (ISBN 987-1-4408-6207-6). LC 2018031624.

Book cover: Information Literacy for Today’s Diverse Students: Differentiated Instructional Techniques for Academic Libraries

Alex Berrio Matamoros seeks to help academic instruction librarians accommodate their students’ different learning styles and cultures “by introducing them to a differentiated instruction teaching approach, explaining the approach and its benefits for students” (2). In addition, he aims to provide advice to librarians regarding strategies for implementing differentiated instruction for both information literacy courses and one-shot sessions. Matamoros is Manager of Knowledge Management at an international law firm. He was also an associate law library professor and emerging technologies librarian at the City University of New York School of Law. The author effectively describes differentiated instruction and suggests practical advice on how to introduce the approach within the context of teaching information literacy; however, some of the theory presented to justify the use of differentiated instruction is disputed.

The author bases his argument for using differentiated instruction on critical information literacy theory, cultural background factors, and learning style theory. Learning style theory claims to explain “how students best learn based on personal traits” (3). Learning style theory is controversial and yet its deficiencies are not really addressed in the book. Critics have noted several weaknesses with this theory. For example, according to some researchers, the instruments for characterizing learning styles are invalid and unreliable. On the other hand, Matamoros’s argument that differentiated teaching can address some of the themes in critical information literacy, which stresses “the importance of individuals becoming active agents in their learning,” appears to be a sound justification for using this method (25). For example, he discusses in-class activities for information literacy instruction that require active participation of students. These active methods include debates, group presentations, and think-pair-share activities. Additionally, his argument that presenting information in a variety of modes including text, graphics, audio, videos, and interactive exercises is sound educational practice. Matamoros supplies abundant examples of how to deliver instructional materials that librarians will find very useful in their classrooms.

Matamoros’s book will also be beneficial to librarians because the information he presents is well organized. The book contains seven instructive chapters covering a range of topics structured in a logical manner. Topics include identifying the shortcomings of the traditional teaching methods of lectures and readings in academic institutions, discussing the influence of culture on learning, planning for differentiated instruction, using tools and techniques for differentiated instruction, and implementing differentiated instruction. The book also contains a list of references of primarily scholarly works from a variety of disciplines including information and library science, education, mathematics, business, and law. Finally, the book includes a precise index.

Another strong point of Matamoros’s book is its accessibility. For example, he provides ample and clear definitions of fundamental concepts. In chapter 1, he defines differentiated instruction as “a student-centered teaching approach that acknowledges that every student learns differently because of variations in individual readiness, interests, and learning profile” (7). He also helpfully discusses “what differentiated instruction is not,” noting that it is neither individualized instruction nor a method “to accommodate students with learning disabilities or below-average academic abilities” (12). In another example, he clearly outlines the concept of culture, which “is not exclusively tied to race or ethnicity” but is a wider notion that includes “shared motive, values, beliefs, identities” (17). Finally, he defines the three components of the student learning process. The first component is content delivery, which involves transmitting information to students. The second element is process, which is how students make sense of the information. The final component is product, which entails assessing students’ understanding of the information. Matamoros’s clarity will make this book a helpful starting place for librarians interested in employing differentiated learning in their classrooms.

The techniques and tools for content delivery, process, and product that Matamoros describes are another asset of the book. For example, chapters 4, 5, and 6 are dedicated to differentiating the three elements of the learning process. For instance, techniques for delivering content include in-class lectures that use presentation slides, screencast lectures, and interactive tutorials. Notably, he does not dismiss traditional teaching approaches of lectures and readings. Additionally, the author includes a detailed list of recommended resources for all the content creation sources noted in the chapter, including software and websites. He provides suggestions for differentiating process such as whole-group activities (review and discussion, debates), small group activities (think-pair-share), and individual activities. Suggestions for product differentiation include formative assessments (practice quizzes, polling, minute papers) and summative assessments (research projects, presentations). Subsequently, in chapter 7, he charts seven steps for librarians to use to differentiate instruction in an information literacy course. Moreover, he adds a real-world dimension to the discussion by inserting a hypothetical academic instruction librarian in the text. The purpose of this librarian is to document how she plans for and implements differentiated instruction. Furthermore, Matamoros introduces three hypothetical students to demonstrate differentiated instruction from a student perspective. Finally, very helpful figures such as rubrics and lesson plans supplement the text.

Another strong point of Matamoros’s book is that he is candid about the challenges of implementing differentiated instruction. For example, he acknowledges that trying to differentiate an entire course is unwise and stressful. Therefore, he advises librarians to introduce differentiation slowly. Moreover, he urges librarians using differentiated instruction to explain the method to their students on the first day of class and inform them that they will “be active and responsible participants in their own learning” (90). The author also recognizes that active learning can change the dynamics of a classroom and offers tips on how to handle the differentiated classroom, including advice on managing increased noise levels and distracted students. Finally, he notes that instructional librarians need to devote time to evaluate the successes and failures of their differentiated course and identify ways to improve the class.

Overall, Matamoros’s book is a good introduction for academic librarians who are interested in introducing differentiated instruction in their information literacy courses. He describes the approach clearly. Moreover, he gives concrete examples and sufficient guidance to support academic librarians who endeavor to use differentiated instructional methods in the classroom.—Michelle Hendley, SUNY Oneonta

Copyright Michelle Hendley

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