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2000 Robyn Boswell: Future Problem Solving - NZ kids foot it

2000 Alan Cooper: Thinking to learn

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy in action at SCONZ

2000 Gwen Gawith: Blooming questions

1999 Art Costa: An interview with Art Costa

1999 Robyn Boswell: International Future Problem Solving success

1999 Gwen Gawith: The survival of the book: Co-existing with Gog and Magog

1999 Gwen Gawith: Lost the plot: Reading for what?

1999 Gwen Gawith: Rushkoff and visual literacy

1999 Gwen Gawith: KFL: Knowledge Free learning?

1998 Gwen Gawith: Ban projects: Teach information literacy

1998 Gwen Gawith: The cry for deep learning…

1998 Gwen Gawith: The Mercury model of information literacy

1998 David Hyerle: Thinking literacy in an age of ICT

1998 Pauline Donaldson: A virtual classroom with 3500 students

1997 Jeff Bruce and Gwen Gawith: information literacy and Infolink

1997 Gwen Gawith: How to ? or not to?: That is the ?

1997 Gwen Gawith: Unlocking learning: Key words

1996 Gwen Gawith: Epistemic fluency or the cognitive trots!

1995 Gwen Gawith: A serious look at self-efficacy: waking beeping Slooty!

1993 Gwen Gawith: The National Curriculum and the information process

information literacy:
learning & thinking

Epistemic flu or the cognitive trots

A version of this paper was published in a regular column in Good Teacher in 1996

Gwen Gawith

Give a dog a big name and a dose of epistemic fluency?

If anyone asks why so much educational theory is seen as irrelevant by practising teachers, the answer is simple. IT IS IRRELEVANT! Why is it irrelevant? I think a lot of it is irrelevant, not because of WHAT it says, but because of HOW it says it.

It's what I call the Give-a-dog-a-BIG-name syndrome and render it impotent to all but the few initiates. Most of us can recognize a good, practical, useful dog when we see one, but who would woof with enthusiasm at 'Quadripedal hirsute carnivorous biped's comrade'?

It's not a joke. I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of months eyeball-deep in educational theory, so I'm living proof that a practising teacher can survive, and even benefit from a thorough dunking in the stuff. Just occasionally this prolonged dunking sets off a sequence of light bulbs in the head. This is truly exciting - a refreshing and energising experience for a soggy-lunged, long-toothed cynic. So why am I saying it is irrelevant when it has clearly enhanced my epistemic fluency? Let's take the case of epistemic fluency'.

All that this obnoxious term 'epistemic fluency' means is a case of the cognitive trots! So wouldn't it help us if they told us this?

Given my dreadful commercial background, I'll write advertising copy and you can work out whether your class needs a dose of epistemic fluency:


Do your students suffer from cognitive constipation? Can they make knowledge from information with ease and fluency?

Do they have all the skills and strategies they need to make knowledge out of information?

Information lies around in books, in people, in Encarta, in the Internet. To make information into knowledge that is relevant and personally meaningful you need to work on it, just like you use cooking strategies to transform raw ingredients into scrumptious edibles. Think about your class. Can they:

• use comparing and contrasting strategies?

• use maps, tree diagrams, cognitive webs, spidergrams and other spatial strategies?

• formulate a problem; analyse the problem; formulate relevant questions?

• work out cause and effect; goodies and baddies, shades of grey?

• see the wood for the trees; isolate critical events and features?

• prioritise and make lists; work out stages?

• work out patterns, like trends and cycles, pros/cons?

If they can, they are epistemically fluent, potentially successful members of a knowledge-building community.

If they can't they need A DOSE OF EPISTEMIC FLUENCY to give them the cognitive trots!

When you actually work out what it is, the message is valuable. In our gallop to implement new curricula, are we neglecting some of the basic learning skills and strategies that help students TO HELP THEMSELVES to turn information into knowledge?

The problem with inflating the language is that it takes an interpreter to stop us feeling inadequate, and to make us realise that we're already DOING a lot of it. Anyone who can play "I spy" and "animal, vegetable, mineral" has most of what they need to be 'epistemically fluent' if teachers make the links and make the opportunity for them to practise these epistemic games in the context of curriculum work.

No sweat! All we need is a little nudge from time to time to tell us to remember to talk to our students about learning strategies, to make opportunities to model them in action, to link them to what students can do, and give them the chance to learn the names of these tools and practise using them. Learning is a lot easier and more enjoyable if you have the right tools and use them well.

Learning happens in the head, so you need cognitive tools for epistemic fluency. Whoopee!