Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Putting critical information literacy skills into action - use them or lose them

Part of a display following a visit to a museum to study the land Wars. To make good use of such an exciting experience students need a full range of literacy, numeracy observation , inquiry, and expressive skills in place. Real literacy requires a context, or need, that students can see the point of acquiring such vital skills. Literacy and numeracy are all about gaining meaning and power.

Exciting studies provides the context for such learning. The trouble is, these days, classrooms seem to place emphasis on literacy and numeracy as stand alone subjects and, by doing so, lesson students engagement and ability learn deeply about whatever the class is studying

The first term ought to have been the opportunity to ensure the appropriate learning 'how to learn' skills are in place through reasonably guided studies. And the success of such studies will depend on how well a wide range of literacy skills have been implemented. By now teachers will have a better idea of what they need to focus on to ensure in depth understanding and presentation of whatever the current inquiry topic is. Students need to comprehend, pick out key points, learn to write persuasively about questions that they have chosen ( with their teacher's help), and to present their ideas through a range of media.

Such learning is based on a vision of what inquiry ought to look like appreciating that a powerful inquiry topic provides the context for acquiring required literacy skills.

The following components of an inquiry study are:

1 The need to immerse students in the topic to be studies to invite curiosity and wonder. A good way to start is to make a display around the study to capture the students interest. Literacy time is vital at this immersion stage. Students need to be helped to define study questions, consider their prior knowledge, and to explore background content material. During literacy time students can undertake guided reading of well chosen experts, and illustrative material, related to the study. Through such focused literacy activities students gather ideas to answer their chosen study questions. As well a range of presentation techniques ( including information media) can be introduced for students to make use of as their study progresses. Some of this material can be added to the original teacher display.

2 From the initial immersion students need to be helped to develop open questions, to search for information and to discover answers expressing their own 'voice'. All this can be done during literacy time. Students can work individually or in small groups exploring aspects of the chosen study. And during this time teachers can help their students learn how to source, and refer, to information using book resources the web, or through first hand experiences. Perhaps the most important role of the teacher is through dialogue with their students to ensure they are gaining in depth understandings and to ascertain what skills their students might need - diagnostic teaching.

3 From the above students need to be helped to pull together the information they have been exploring to ensure focused learning. Whatever is expressed should be referenced to sources or state that it their own view or opinion. It is important that students appreciate that quality of thought is more important than quantity - the idea of digging deeply into chosen aspects rather than 'cutting and pasting' ideas glibly.

4 Finally students need to demonstrate their understandings and share their learning. This can be done in a number of ways each way requiring its own subset of skills to be learnt. They can create well presented booklets withe well chosen illustrations and diagrams, charts, websites, blogs, articles, videos, PowerPoint's, parent evenings ... Much of this work can be added to the display, or presented for viewing on the classroom walls with suitable headings. A class evaluation of the study can be added as well. Students need to reflect on what they have learnt, what new skills they have gained and areas to work on for their next study.

Literacy and inquiry -all part of the same learning process.

After an in-depth study you would expect to see:

Some imaginative language based on the study.
Research writing ( not 'cut and paste') based around 3 or 4 chosen study questions
Illustrative art featuring aspects of the study ( or included as part of student research)
Creative art based on the study.
A wall display with: a heading (as provocation), key questions and or agreed tasks, prior ideas about chosen questions, examples of creative language, research findings, models, appropriate mathematical data/graphs and diagrams associated with the topic,imaginative art and possibly a final class evaluation about main ideas learnt. Even ideas for further research.

Each study should result in three or four specific outcomes ( selected from above) and each outcome will need to have skills in place - or to be introduced during the study time. It is such skill development that ought to be the focus of the literacy time. Preparing simple research report needs several skills to be in place to achieve quality learning - persuasive writing, how to focus on answering questions using their own 'voice', how to reference material, how to layout/design the work, how to introduce illustrations, how to design a cover ,if one is requited, and none the least handwriting skills if not using the computer.

Students should feel , at the conclusion of the study, that they have only scratched the surface of the topic.

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