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2002 Gwen Gawith: Re-defining research

2002 Opoho School: "The Opoho Possum Hunt"

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 2.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Responding to "Into a Further World" by Elwyn Richardson.

2001 Carolyn Coil: Teachers make the world of information become knowledge.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Why Read?

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 1.

2001 Linda Selby and Maureen Trebilcock: A call for teacher-librarians

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information Literacy: theory into practice - Part 2

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy: problems and solutions.

2000 Alan Cooper: Information literacy; the past is not enough.

1999 Gwen Gawith: The origins of information literacy.

1998 Graham Prentice: Knowledge architects.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: NEMPing through information literacy.

1992 Gwen Gawith: learning for the future.

1987 Gwen Gawith: Information skills for an information age.

1986 Gwen Gawith Information skills for an information literate future.

1984 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information skills.


information literacy:
definitions & discussion

Re-defining Research for NCEA

Gwen Gawith

NCEA provides a welcome catalyst to get us to sharpen our definition of research and to hone the way we teach it.

Some students could have five major pieces of research for NCEA...

Some teachers may have limited knowledge of how to teach research even though they may feel more than competent in assessing this (O’Connell, 2001).

Like it or hate it, NCEA is here to stay. Research, as noted by O’Connell, emerges as a significant method of learning at every NCEA level. If secondary students are to be successful in using research as a learning strategy, we need to ask some basic questions:

  • How we define research determines how we teach it. So, how exactly do we define research?
  • Is research the same as the ubiquitous ‘inquiry’ or ‘finding out’ that has emerged as a dominant ‘learning’ method in response to the primary curriculum?
  • What hard evidence do we have that, despite years of projects and ‘inquiry’, students are prepared for what research means in relation to NCEA criteria?
  • Are the very students for whom NCEA is supposed to provide a more relevant alternative to SC those students who don’t have the learning management, self-regulation or COGNITIVE strategies needed for successful research?

The New Penguin English Dictionary (2001) has parallel definitions:

Research noun 1. Scientific or scholarly investigation esp. study or experiment aimed at the discovery, interpretation or application of facts, theories or laws. 2. Careful or systematic searching or enquiry.

In Definition 1 the essence, for me are the words discovery, interpretation, or application of facts, theories or laws - the cognitive dimension - and in Definition 2 the words careful or systematic ...

Rather than alternative approaches, Definition 2 often represents a precursor and parallel process to the work implied in Definition 1.

Whether one is doing scientific or scholarly investigation with a view to discovering, interpreting or applying facts, theories or laws, the researcher needs to read carefully and systematically to get background knowledge on the topic. It is this broad knowledge of and interest in the topic, and awareness of the driving issues and ideas, that elicits the predictions, hypotheses, theses, assumptions, problems which the researcher seeks evidence in order to explore and ‘test’.

In relation to NCEA research, the following points may have bearing:

  • To undertake Definition 1 research - whether in ‘hard’ scientific or ‘soft’ arts and social science topics - you need COGNITIVE SKILLS for analysing, synthesising and intepreting information (data, evidence, etc). These cognitive strategies are eminently teachable. They are taught by being modelled systematically within the context of applying information to curriculum learning tasks requiring analysis, synthesis and interpretation. This is best done BEFORE exposing students to research. The curriculum in every subject area from Years 4 onwards provides ample opportunity for teaching these skills in curricular contexts.

  • There is no research evidence to support the idea that these cognitive skills will, somehow, develop if students (Years 11 plus) are expected to undertake (largely independent) ‘research’ projects. These cogntive strategies are teachable and MUST be taught.

  • To undertake Definition 2 research (rigorous, systematic finding out), most people use some sort of iterative stage framework. Since Irving and Marland’s 9-stage framework, Gawith’s (1983) 6-stage AL Framework or the new 3 Doors® Model* there have been literally hundreds of adaptations and derivatives. What you use is less important than the close modelling and guidance by the teacher that ensures that the process itself is internalised by the learner.

There’s a huge difference between finding some information and pasting it up on a decorated chart or in a multimedia presentation, and doing research where the focus is on finding evidence to confirm hypotheses, theses or assumptions; where the focus is on accuracy, testing, measuring, interpreting and applying information.

The research in the article that follows, by year 4/5 students of Opoho School, demonstrates that, with good teaching and guidance, students can produce significant research. It shows that, even at primary, students are capable of quality Definition 1 research to NCEA standards. Students distinguished between predictions and hypotheses, came to terms with analysing, synthesising and interpreting data and reporting their findings accurately. While the abridged version does not show it, these students also did considerable Definition 2 research and reading prior to, and during, the actual project, and relied on ongoing ‘careful’ and ‘systematic’ reading to gain insights into some of their data, for example the possum breeding season.

There is no doubting the relevance of the project for these students, their involvement and enjoyment, and the extent of the knowledge gained. They will remember it for the rest of their lives. It represents real knowledge, real research versus repackaged information. Congrats Opoho ! Thanks for allowing me to abridge and publish your study.


* Email for more details about new information literacy learning and research models and courses.