Getting a handle on information
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.
literacy harnesses three different literacies:
literacy - the ability to understand, analyse, synthesise, 'think
with' and apply information.
literacy - the ability to use technologies to retrieve, process,
produce and communicate information.
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
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.
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
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
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)
1: FOUNDATION OF KNOWLEDGE:
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:
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.
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.
need enough knowledge of the content AND the process to feel that
they have been set up for success.
2: STRUCTURING KNOWLEDGE:
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.
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.
ANALYSIS OF INFORMATION:
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
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.
G. (1984, August) Paper and workshop delivered at the New Zealand
Reading Association Conference, Wanganui.
G. (1987). Information alive. Auckland: Longman Paul.
(1998). Getting a handle on information literacy. Auckland: Metacog.
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).