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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

Getting a handle on information literacy

This paper was a draft for the introduction to the booklet Getting a handle on information skills (1998), supplied to individual subscribers to Good Teacher, and available in teacher packs of 10/20.

Gwen Gawith

Information literacy harnesses three different literacies:

˘ Cognitive literacy - the ability to understand, analyse, synthesise, 'think with' and apply information.

˘ Technological literacy - the ability to use technologies to retrieve, process, produce and communicate information.

˘ Library literacy - the ability to find and retrieve information from any source or resource, and to know when self-help ends and the help of qualified teacher-librarians or librarians must be sought. ('Library' is interpreted as 'virtual' library, stored information, rather than a physical room. Increasingly it means being able to use sophisticated search techniques to navigate the Internet).

My six stage Action Learning (AL) model for teaching the information process has been around since 1984 (Gawith, 1984, 1987). It was adapted from the earlier British model (Marland, 1981) and pre-dated the Australian models as well as the American 'Big Six'. It provided the basis of the national 175 hr Infolink course which I developed in 1990.

It provided, and still provides, a good basis for teaching the information process - 'research', enquiry, inquiry, resource-based learning or 'projects' - whatever you choose to call it.

However, I have never claimed and strongly disagree with the view held by some that using one of the information process frameworks is the only way and best way to teach information literacy, or that the information process subsumes ALL dimensions of information literacy.

Teaching information literacy has never been easy and it is getting harder, not easier, with the phenomenal expansion and fragmentation of the curriculum into a million and one objectives. I developed 'The Handles' to try to explain the link between critical and analytical thinking, the Action Learning process, and the development of information literacy and to pave the way to a simpler model which underpins information literacy in all learning, not just in the information 'inquiry' process, or whatever it is called now.

The handles:

These relate to my PhD research as well as the findings from the 1997 NEMP research into information skills, ie that students could find information relatively better than they could use it analytically and critically to develop understanding and knowledge. The three handles fit into Action Learning (Gawith, 1984, 1987) Stages 3 and 4 - using, analysing, and recording information. They extend the stages related to deepening learning, and students' ability to translate the information retrieved (or given to them by teachers) into knowledge.


My research reinforces the commonsense notion that, if you have very little knowledge, it's really hard to know what you need to find out. Unless the learning activity is related to an overview of the topic (where we've been; where we're going) learning for the student tends to be a meaningless completion of teacher-set tasks. This suggests that we need to do two things:

Firstly we need to ensure that all students have an adequate base of knowledge; that they can see the scope of it and how it relates to what they have done before, and what it may be leading to.

Secondly, students need to be able to 'own' and control the learning process by being able to talk about what they need to learn and how they're going to do it. In other words, they've got to have a real interest in the content (the WHAT) and some handle on the actual process of learning (the HOW) in order to 'own' the learning. Most students need help to build and ARTICULATE this knowledge of the content and process. They don't do it without coaching by the teacher, modelling and monitoring.

Students need enough knowledge of the content AND the process to feel that they have been set up for success.


The second handle relates closely to this idea of helping students to shape and articulate their GROWING understanding of the key facts, concepts and understandings of the content. They do it by analysing the information using diagrams, graphic organisers and 'shapers'. These can be adapted into hands-on activities, like cutting up brainstorms and categorising the concepts to make a mobile or developing the knowledge map or lineargram.

In other words this second handle, being able to draw, articulate how the knowledge is structured, is a starting point, but also an ORGANIC, LIVING WAY of documenting the how information evolves into knowledge. For older students this can be an individual or small group process of adding to the map the key facts and concepts as they are discovered. For young/ weaker/ ESOL students it can be modelled as a whole class on-the-board activity.

For all students it is motivating and exciting to see knowledge growing, and for all learners it helps to have a visible coherent conceptual framework. This replaces students' find-facts-paste-'em-up misinterpretation of the project' model.


This suggests that students at all levels need more help from teachers to classify, categorise, compare, contrast, collate information and 'wrestle' with the ideas. These processes are the essence of turning information into knowledge.

Because thinking is a cognitive process, it's hard for teachers to model 'learning by thinking', and have children share their thinking, without some sort of device to act as a focus. The graphic organisers used as a focus for Handle 2 (articulating the initial and growing knowledge) can be used as thinking tools to help students analyse information, 'interview' it by asking questions and to perform the core cognitive processes of comparing and contrasting, categorising and classifying, linking and matching ideas, facts and concepts, sequencing them, distinguishing causes and effects, identifying hypotheses and arguments, identifying evidence to support hypotheses and arguments, etc. These are the foundations of critical literacy. Using diagrammatic thinking tools helps the teacher to model how students can apply questions related to the different categories and 'wrestle' with the information they retrieve.

If you, as TEACHERS can show students (using graphic organisers and thinking tools) how YOU process bits of information into coherent, linked conceptual knowledge, they will be able, with your help, to do the same. The essence of information literacy is being able to convert information into personally understood knowledge. Using with the handles will help.


Gawith, G. (1984, August) Paper and workshop delivered at the New Zealand Reading Association Conference, Wanganui.

Gawith, G. (1987). Information alive. Auckland: Longman Paul.

Gawith G. (1998). Getting a handle on information literacy. Auckland: Metacog.

Marland, M. (Ed.) (1981). Information skills in the secondary curriculum : The recommendations of a working group sponsored by the British Library and the Schools Council. London: Methuen Educational (Schools Council Curricuolum Bulletin 9).