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2002 Gwen Gawith: Copyright Part 2

2002 Gwen Gawith: Copyright Part 1

2002 Donald Joyce: Cheating in an Electronic Age

2002 Gwen Gawith: "3 Doors to Infoliteracy" course

2002: Gwen Gawith: Review of Hyerle's "A field guide to using visual tools"

2002 Gwen Gawith: Re-defining research

2002 Opoho School: "The Opoho Possum Hunt"

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 2.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Responding to "Into a Further World" by Elwyn Richardson.

2001 Carolyn Coil: Teachers make the world of information become knowledge.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Why Read?

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 1.

2001 Linda Selby and Maureen Trebilcock: A call for teacher-librarians

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information Literacy: theory into practice - Part 2

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy: problems and solutions.

2000 Alan Cooper: Information literacy; the past is not enough.

1999 Gwen Gawith: The origins of information literacy.

1998 Graham Prentice: Knowledge architects.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: NEMPing through information literacy.

1992 Gwen Gawith: learning for the future.

1987 Gwen Gawith: Information skills for an information age.

1986 Gwen Gawith Information skills for an information literate future.

1984 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information skills.


information literacy:
definitions & discussion

Information Literacy through the eyes of David Hyerle:
A not-review of "A field guide to using visual tools."

Gwen Gawith

David Hyerle may be surprised to see his wonderful new book, "A field guide to using visual tools" (ASCD, 2000) discussed under the banner of information literacy. So might his publishers because the definition of information literacy in the new ASCD lexicon is certainly the most anaemic I've seen in the 25 years I have taught and researched in the field! I've chosen to do so because, if information literacy is more than just FINDING information; if it embraces the notion of being able to ANALYSE, SYNTHESISE and INTERPRET information, it is central to learning in an information age and central to what David Hyerle is doing in this book.

Let David Hyerle explain why:

"Many are uneasy about students' capacity to access abundant information without necessarily having the tools or the time to organize, process, filter, and evaluate "info-glut" and "info-smog"… our students may have the technical link to information, yet few have the mental fluency to craft information into knowledge." (p.8)

This notion of 'drowning in a sea of information' is not new. It has become one of the cliches of the 'information age'. In fact Norman Beswick anticipated it in 1977 when he quoted (New Zealand's) C.E. Beeby's famous comment that "new ways of teaching, learning and understanding must be found if the new generation is not to be intellectually smothered beneath a mountain of facts." (p. 5) More recently, Rushkoff (1996) has talked persuasively of the visual literacy of 'screenagers' and the need for teachers to help them to extend their attention range and help them to deepen and make their discontinuous thinking more coherent.

In short, while many have talked about the need for new ways of learning, David Hyerle's has explored new ways of learning (and teaching), bridging the gap between theory and practice with solid pedagogy. He builds on the notion of children's enhanced visual literacy to a parallel fluency with cognitive literacy and information literacy. His vision is much broader and more contextualised that that of many 'thinking skills' proponents. His concept of 'mental fluency' embraces three types of visual tools - brainstorming webs, graphic organizers and thinking-process maps. His concept of 'text' as "information stored through time - often permanently in libraries and now often fleetingly on the Internet" and including situations, patterns and relationships leads to a re-definition of reading:

"Meaning is created through the interaction of the mind of each individual learner and these overlapping texts. When we are good at "reading situations," we have the capacity to shift from text type to text type, from cultural context, to different contexts, and fluently "read" new situations." (p. 105)

There is no implication that the tools that build this 'mental fluency' can be de-contextualised and taught as a separate programme, or that different skills and tools can be taught at different levels, and will, somehow, coalesce into a coherent learning process. Quite the opposite! Hyerle is at pains to point out (and supports it with examples) that the same tools are introduced, and coached by the teacher, in Year One and throughout the school. What grows is the sophistication with which learners are able to self-select and combine the tools to interpret information and create knowledge with increasing levels of fluency and confidence. Hyerle says:

"These qualities of each tool lead to more complex orders of thinking, such as evaluating, thinking systemically, and thinking metaphorically. When students are given common graphic starting points, every learner is able to detect, construct, and communicate different types of patterns of thinking about content concepts." (p. 106)

Using the numerous standardised tests applied in American schools, Hyerle has DEMONSTRATED the learning gains in the 1,000 schools that have been introduced to his Thinking Maps. These benefits include:

  • Increased memory of content knowledge when reading,
  • Well-organized final products, particularly written work,
  • Deeper conceptual understandings,
  • Greater capacity to communicate abstract concepts,
  • Heightened metacognition and self-assessment,
  • Enhanced creativity and perspective-taking, and
  • Transfer of thinking processes across disciplines and outside school. (p. 107)

My concern is that, because many New Zealand teachers already 'do' brainstorming and use de Bono's 6 hats and some mindmapping, they may think that they've already 'been there and done that'! This would sell Hyerle very, very short! The point I made above about his vision being broader and more contextualised relates to his capacity to integrate the concept of 'mental fluency' and his tools with the ideas and models of other contemporary educational leaders - Costa's 'Habits of Mind', Gardner's 'Multiple Intelligences', Goleman's 'Emotional Intelligence', Ausubel's 'Advance Organizers', and the work of Buzan, Novak, Feuerstein, Senge, Csikszentmihalyi and others. His synthesis of contemporary thinking into a practical approach which every classroom teacher can learn to use in any curriculum context is unique, and valuable. He doesn't re-invent wheels. He shows how a variety of wheels can work together to make the learning engine go faster.

It was particularly pleasing to see the work of St George's School, Wanganui, acknowledged so fully. St George's provides an excellent example of what happens when professional development is ongoing, planned and coherent. When teachers are introduced to models like Hyerle's Visual Tools, Art Costa's habits of Mind and Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences over significant periods of time, and encouraged to integrate them fully into their planning, teaching and ongoing professional development, all the benefits listed above are obvious.

Personally, I have found Hyerle's earlier book, "Visual tools for constructing knowledge" (ASCD, 1996) a MUST for my own learning. In providing this broader pedagogical context, and a wealth of practical examples, the new field guide is already a much-quoted and much valued part of my professional (information literacy!) armoury! PLEASE buy it for your school (and yourself) and really, really READ it, discuss it, and think about how you could build the tools into your own curriculum programmes.


Beswick, N. (1977). Resource-based learning. London: Heinemann Education.

Rushkoff, D. (1996). Playing the future: How kids' culture can teach us to thrive in an age of chaos. New York: harper Collins.


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