“While (Indigenous) students are still struggling with encoding and decoding, they will have great difficulty making meaning from written text, and it becomes a real challenge to engage in any rich way with texts in subjects or learning areas. “Their focusing on acquiring these skills often deflects their attention away from making meaning, the primary purpose of literacy”
(Allan and Foster cited in DEST, 2013).
The delivery, collection, analysis and my student’s experience of the Information Learning Activity (ILA), highlighted aspects that will require either additional support or a reconsideration for future research based learning activities. My recommendations for adaption or change ultimately seek to make the inquiry process more accessible for low literacy Indigenous students. Alan and Fosters insights make it clear that teaching literacy skills whether print or digitally based can impact on the depth of knowledge that can be achieved in an ILA. I have chosen in this post, to discuss similar ideas within the context of the two learning theories presented through the unit; Information literacy (IL) and Inquiry based learning (IBL).
Literacy challenged students require support when learning to appropriate information literacy skills. However during an ILA, this support will go well beyond the assistance given to those whose literacy is at standard for their age group. My ILA has reinforced what I have known to be true through practice; scaffolded lessons that model literacy skills are an effective support for engaging low literacy learners in the multi-literacies that impact their daily lives. Instructional Scaffolding, a theory established in the 1950’s by Jerome Bruner, is described as the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006). This means of instructional support has been the most effective way of eliciting skill development in my students. The duration at which teacher and peer support was provided, continued throughout the ILA process as students grappled with locating, evaluating and using information. When scaffolding I am reminded byVygotsky’s (1956) assertions that “when you assign a task and the students successfully complete it without help, they could already do it. They have been taught nothing”. The benefit of scaffolding for my students was the gradual development in self confidence in their own capabilities and the inquiry progression. Although not evidenced in this first ILA, I am confident that future research activities will become easier. If embarking on a new or lengthy process such as an ILA with low literacy learners I would consider lengthening the ILA timeline to accommodate the reiteration of skills and processes.
The practice of locating information in sources was one that was fraught with difficulties. This included inabilities in: structuring their internet searches with appropriate keywords and phrases, narrowing their search results by using Boolean operations, and sourcing level appropriate web content that facilitated comprehension and thus a growth in their knowledge of their topic.
A website which offers internet search lessons aimed at younger students of those requiring simple activity based instruction is Welcome to the Web. This site teaches the use of simple Boolean operations to search the internet for topics. Student friendly search engines are introduced which direct inquiries to information that is appropriate to a lower level of literacy comprehension. Similarly but at a higher literacy level is the Google search education (Figure 1) suite of lessons that start at beginner levels and progressing to advanced search techniques. The beginner series would suit junior secondary students with: Picking the right terms, understanding search results, narrowing a search to get better results, and evaluating credible sources. As the year level involved in the ILA, required instructions that were presented in non-convoluted format, this required creating instructional resources with the students literacy needs in mind. I would suggest looking at Google’s lesson content and modifying it to suit. One strategy that would encourage search skills are simple web challenges in which students learn to locate information by honing their search techniques. .Another search engine that I did not use during my ILA,that would have been very appropriate was Boolify.org. This simple and visual approach to using search terms is a good start to learning to search the web. Following the ILA my investigations into good introductory web tools has lead me to introduce Boolify to the school. I have been providing teacher support in this program in the hope that it will be used as a standard search site in the Primary and Junior secondary years.
(Figure 1: Google Search Education Lessons)
Locating information in print based sources also required a return to basic library skills. Secondary students with lower literacy levels can benefit from a range of print resources that are aimed at their reading levels, but as mentioned in my ILA Analysis, these can also stigmatise secondary students, who may feel that accessing texts at lower levels highlights their literacy ineptitude.
The school library, which is aimed at a primary level has a healthy collection of Aboriginal art texts which are classified as “high interest- low level reading” resources that make reading more accessible to struggling readers and are aimed at low level literacy (DEST, 2013). In a library session at the beginning of the ILA, I asked my students to select a few books from a variety of topic relevant texts. The books they chose were discussed in a group context and were found to have : proportionately more visual information (i.e. photographs, diagrams, bold colourful headings), Larger fonts, less textual information per page and less pages than other higher literacy demand books that were not chosen. Whilst these books were initially attractive and an apparent easy solutions to their inquiry tasks, the students soon realised that in spite of their reading difficulties, these books did not provide them with the depth of information that they needed to satisfy their inquiries. They consequently asked to go back to the library to look at “the other books” that they had left behind. As I had hoped, by allowing them to take the easier books, they had determined themselves that the easy choice does not always provide a deeper knowledge of a topic. This also evidenced a simple means of evaluating the information they had selected.
Beyond the issues of students low literacy levels at the school, is a lack of confidence in using 21st century Information literacy skills by many of the Indigenous and older teaching staff. Whether as a technophobia or simply a lack of technological skills base (Wallace & Husid 2011), inevitably these issues prevent students from developing confidence and competency through a lack of exposure. I have begun to address this with the staff, with the integration of web based tools into their classroom practices, as “a true partnership forms when classroom teachers and school librarians are equally involved with (the) technology”(Wallace & Hussid, 2011, p. 9). Locating student leveled resources from the internet has often frustrated staff resulting in less time being spent using technology. An example of this is that the search engine of choice in all areas of the school has been Google. Whilst this provides secondary students with a broader range of source material, using Google is not beneficial to teaching primary and lower literacy students the basic parameters of locating information that is useful for research purposes. I have, since the delivery of my ILA advocated for the inclusion of search engines for younger students such as kidrex.com, dogpile.com and quinturkids.com to be used on all student computers. This provided those of my year 8 secondary students with reading difficulties sites that were still accessible to them.
Information literacy, or “the ability to make wise judgments about information” (Kuhlthau et al 2010 p. 10), was often compromised by the student’s difficulties in critically evaluating the information they would find. Interactive websites are a great way of engaging students who can be distracted by lengthy text filled screens. An aspect of the ILA that I did not have time to explore fully was the evaluation of a website. Interactive websites are often viewed by my students as attractive ways to learn. A website such as Kids Computer Lab (Figure 2) engage beginning students with the tools to evaluate websites in simple English whilst actively involving them in navigating and assessing sites.
(Figure 2: Screen capture – Kids Computer Lab website)
Pre-selecting sites for students to gather information form can be helpful to the progress of the ILA. Whether the instruction team determine a student’s information needs individually or provide general topic related sites, knowing which sites provide information that is accessible to student literacy yet still pushes students to learn at deeper levels, can be made easier with a checklist. The Multnomah County Library has an easy approach to evaluating websites that doesn’t require the filling in of a boxes to determine a sites validity. It instead asks you to think of the types of qualities that make a good website and use this knowledge to make decisions. Websites like this, which are aimed at older or more literate students, are also a good place for technophobes to learn how to evaluate sites.
Inquiry Based Learning
One of the easier aspects of the ILA according to my students was asking questions. This would seem to be a natural response as asking questions happens on a daily basis for most of us. What was apparent however, in the questions that my students asked about their inquiry topics, was that they were very basic in nature. The KWHL Chart (Figure 3) that I used as part of the Initiation stage of guided inquiry process evidenced a lack of open ended questions that might propel students to seek and learn from new information. I had started to encourage questioning with a simple questioning framework of 5 W’s and an H (Figure 4). Whilst this did not produce the depth of inquiry that I sought, it was a good place to start and a place from which to grow. In my quest to find a simple way of eliciting a greater range of questions, I came across the Q-chart (QSA, 2004). The Q-chart (Figure 5) provides students with questioning skills intended for reading texts as part of the NAPLAN literacy tests.
(Figure 3: The KWHL Chart)
(Figure 4: 5 W’s and an H Chart)
The Q-chart, or Question Chart (nelearn.mylearning.org, 2013) is a tool to help frame questions. It works by starting the question with a word from the left column followed by a word from the top and then a phrase related to the content you are questioning. A further development of the chart (Figure 6) is divided in four quadrants based on the type of questions being asked. They are: Factual, predicting, analytical and synthesis and application. The benefit of this approach is the student’s ability to learning to elevate their questioning techniques by focusing on a question type. In turn this leads students to move from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills.
(Figure 5: The Q-Chart)
(Figure 6: The Q-Chart with 4 Question Type Quadrants)
If I were to be able to move my students inquiries into this higher level of critical thinking I will have achieved much. For the moment however I acknowledge the potential that inquiry based learning has in expanding my students knowledge capital though a confident use of information literacy skills.
Figure 1: Google Search Engine Lessons. [Image]. (2013). Accessed at http://www.google.com/insidesearch/searcheducation/lessons.html
Figure 2: Kids Computer Lab website. [Image]. (2013). Accessed at http://www.kidscomputerlab.org/index.php/research-skills/
Figure 3: The KWHL Chart. [Image]. (2011). Accessed at http://langwitches.org/blog/2011/07/21/upgrade-your-kwl-chart-to-the-21st-century/
Figure 4: The 5 W’s and an H Chart. [Image]. Accessed at http://jessicavazquez514.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/5-ws-chart.html
Figure 5: The Q-Chart. [Image]. (2011). Accessed at http://oneandwonder.blogspot.com.au/2011_11_01_archive.html
Figure 6: Figure 6: The Q-Chart with 4 Question Type Quadrants. [Image]. (2012). Accessed at https://melrosecurriculum.wikispaces.com/file/detail/Q+Charts+Presentation.pdf
det.act.gov.au. (2013). What is literacy? ACT Government Education and Training Directories. Accessed at: http://www.det.act.gov.au/teaching_and_learning/literacy_and_numeracy/literacy
DEST. (2013). What works; The works program: core issues 3 – literacy. Commonwealth Government. Accessed at: http://whatworks.edu.au/dbAction.do?cmd=displaySitePage1&subcmd=select&id=396
Kapitsky, K. (2001). Information Literacy: The changing library. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. International Reading Association.
kidscomputerlab.org. (2013). Website Evaluation Accessed at: http://www.kidscomputerlab.org/index.php/research-skills/website-evaluation/
Kuhlthau, C.C., Manoiotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2010). Guided Inquiry Design: A framework for inquiry for your school. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
multicolib.org. (2013). Evaluating Websites. Multnomah County Library. Accessed at: https://multcolib.org/homework-center/evaluating-websites
Nelearn.mylearning.org. (2013) Professional development: Using a Q-Chart. Nelearn Courses. Accessed at: http://nelearn.myelearning.org/mod/page/view.php?id=371
Queensland Studies Authority. (2004.) Years 3, 5 and 7 Literacy Test: Ideas for test preparation: Locating information. NAPLAN
Sawyer, R. Keith. (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1956). Selected Psychological Investigations. Moscow: Izdstel’sto Pedagogical Academy. Nauk: SSR. Accessed at: http://www.myread.org/scaffolding.htm
Wallace, V. L. & Husid, W. N. (2011). Collaborating for inquiry-based learning: School Librarians and teachers partner for student achievement. Santa Barbara, C.A. Libraries Unlimited.