Education tends to look back to past success as a model to follow,
but past successes no longer supply the needs of today. Literacy
is an obvious example of this. The back to the basics advocates
want the literacy that they had in their schooling. They look
back to simpler times when literacy was restricted to the ability
to read and to write. While this is still necessary it is no longer
Edward de Bono in his latest book, New Thinking for the New
Millennium, explains why this is so using this metaphor of
a ship at sea:
"The lights keep going out. The engine is faltering. The rudder
is unreliable. The first mate is drunk. The crew is very demoralised.
The service is appalling. The passengers on the ship are very
dissatisfied. Then a new Captain and first mate are brought in
by helicopter. Very quickly everything changes. The morale of
the crew is lifted. Service improves. The engine is fixed. The
lights stay on. Everything is fine. But the ship is still heading
in the wrong direction."
de Bono then goes on to say that this is usually what happens
when we set out to fix things within an existing context. We simply
do not look to see if the basic context needs fixing. If we are
to avoid this trap in the education arena, we must have concern
for the future.
The future context is a knowledge one. Just as we once had an
agrarian revolution followed by an industrial revolution, we now
have an information revolution. This information revolution affects
every possible sector of New Zealand business and enterprise,
and society in general. Too many have yet to realise this. The
education sector and teachers in particular are no exception.
That is the nub of the problem. A new context is upon us, requiring
new and different tools including a new definition and understanding
There is an immediate problem to overcome. Defining literacy
can so easily become an academic exercise. One recent book, The
Literacy Dictionary, published by the International Reading Association
details, 38 different types of literacy, working through the alphabet
from academic literacy to workplace literacy. Surely this is overkill?
It is. If teachers and others involved in education are not to
be overwhelmed then the need is to look for simpler solutions,
step by step, one at a time. What needs doing is to pick the substantive
This is not easy but there are signposts.
The poetic refer to the teacher as the sage on the stage. Others,
less poetic, talk of the teacher as the dispenser of knowledge.
Whatever the term the teacher is finding the answer for the class.
The teacher is doing the thinking rather than the kids.
This is where the need for a new meaning for literacy must be
anchored. Once this is realised the importance of information
literacy becomes obvious.
Information literacy is partly about finding out information,
partly about the need for accuracy and precision, but all about
interpretation. This of course brings into play the higher level
thinking skills of analyses, synthesis, and evaluation.
Thinking skills become the key ingredient of this new literacy.
They could perhaps be termed literacy in their own right: the
literacy of thinking. However, their real place is as a subset
- a very substantial subset - of information literacy, lest we
fall into the over defining academic exercise trap.
Art Costa talks, writes, and cajoles us to use what he calls
Habits of the Mind. One of these is precision and accuracy.
This is a suitable starting point for the information literate
because those who are information literate have precise and accurate
knowledge about searching for information. They know all about
the importance of syntax when searching the Internet and the using
of quotation marks and the use of "AND" when doing advanced searches.
They know which search engine to use and how to use the index
of these search engines to locate headings they may not otherwise
have thought of. They know that detail is important and that correct
grammar and especially spelling are essentials. They know what
those little prefixes - gov, com, edu - mean and their possible
significance to the accuracy and authenticity of the information.
They know to look in more than one place for information and that
cross-referencing is needed.
Posing questions becomes the vital activity here. Where it is
the teacher that asks the question, the question needs to be open
Costa has coined the term Cogitare - where we consciously use
our language to evoke thinking in others. Syntax and vocabulary,
used by teachers in their questioning and assignment setting,
needs to include the specific cognitive clues to involve the required
thinking process. Thus the instruction is at once more precise,
more cognitively empowering, and student rather than teacher focussed.
Instead of saying, "Lets look at these two pictures," those speaking
Cogitare would say "Let's COMPARE these two pictures." In this
way embedded in the vocabulary and the syntax is the instruction
as to what thinking is needed. Other key vocabulary as to which
cognitive process to follow are, classify, cause and effect, analogy
and so on.
Graphic organisers are an important additional strategy here.
It could even be argued that they are an essential part. By far
the best of these are the Thinking Maps devised and developed
by David Hyerle. They are considerably more than just a complement
to other processes. The eight maps each shaped to facilitate a
different cognitive thinking skill do more than just facilitate
the process. Moreover they easily link to Bloom's higher order
thinking skills of analyses, evaluation, and synthesis.
It is important too to remember the connections to other areas
of literacy. Cogitare also means to be specific and to spurn the
fluffy and the general. The media, especially the electronic media
bombards us constantly with the vague and the fluffy - better
than - and such like phrases either implied or stated but never
Making connections are always important. Here there is an excellent
opportunity to have links between information literacy and media
Regurgitation especially when neatly presented is valueless,
yet so often teachers at all levels do just that. Assignment setting
is thus crucial Assignment setting also can contribute to information
literacy. Cogitare is as important here as in questioning. As
Jamie McKenzie would advise, attention to Bloom's higher level
thinking skills requiring judgement through comparison and evaluations
is the process needed.
Assignments can only develop this deep thinking when they are
open ended, but specific enough to require precision of thought
and action. However, as Gwen Gawith's Action Learning model teaches
us, sooner rather than later it must become the responsibility
of the student to learn to formulate their own questions. The
monitoring and developing of these student self-generated questions
by the teacher is in itself a sub set of the teaching of information
literacy. The teacher needs to learn too.
The stage-by-stage information process is a process, maybe even
the process, by which the development of thinking, by asking the
right questions as advocated by Costa, Mackenzie and others, can
be developed. But many teachers still take students' questioning
and grasp of the information process for granted.To paraphrase
de Bono as long as its tidy it doesn't matter if we go in the
A sentence in the Annual Review and summary of Financial statements
for shareholders in British Telecom states, " New ways of learning,
new ways of teaching, new ways of sharing information mean that
education can be for life". This can only be if educators at all
levels, including the tertiary level, enable their students by
giving them information literacy.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge has to be constructed
from information. Too often we allow the two terms to be interchangeable.
If we have knowledge workers working with knowledge and going
no further we are at best short changing ourselves, at worst putting
our nation at risk. What we need is information workers working
A week or two ago the London Times had a feature article on the
need for creative people. The article stated quite firmly that
what was needed were people who come up with solutions when others
only see problems. One operations director was quoted as saying,
" We ask a lot - ideas, stamina, enterprise, analytical and organisational
To do that we must have information literacy. The need is urgent.
Alan Cooper has taught at all levels from primary to tertiary,
including being a deputy principal of a secondary school and principal
of St George's Primary School in Wanganui. He now conducts courses
and presents papers overseas and in NZ - at the Learning Styles
Institute in New York regularly, and the World Thinking Conference
in Edmonton in 1999. He is an Associate of the New Zealand Institute
of Management and has contributed to Art Costa's and David Hyerle's