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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

Blooming Questions?

This article was published in Good Teacher, Term 1 2000

Gwen Gawith

Questions are the key to unlocking knowledge; competence in questioning is at the heart of information literacy. If children are naturally curious, natural question askers, why is student questioning the aspect of information literacy where teachers most frequently identify the need to improve student skill levels?

Bloom's Taxonomy has been around for a LONG time. It provided me with a useful framework 25 years ago for analysing the quality of student questioning and thinking when they did library-based 'projects'. It has recently been recognised as important here through the work here of USA 'gurus', Art Costa and Jamie McKenzie. Suddenly, Bloom has become 'the' answer to student questioning. But is it?

Bloom's Taxonomy is one of several taxonomies which develop a hierarchy of cognitive skills. There's no doubt that it is a useful guide for teachers for analysing and developing their own questioning strategies, and for analysing the quality of student questioning and thinking, as I did 25 years ago. But is it a pedagogy? Does it provide a way of teaching students to ask questions more effectively, to improve the quality of the questioning they do within the information-finding and information-analysing 'inquiry'/ 'research' processes now integral to all curriculum areas? I'm not sure.

In short:

• how do you teach Bloom to students?

• who is teaching Bloom to students in New Zealand?

• if they are, what pedagogy are they using?

• what concrete evidence have they of its effectiveness?

Knowing about a hierarchical taxonomy is one thing; transforming a taxonomy into a pedagogy is something else again. It is not enough to say, "Questioning? Aha... Bloom" when questioning has been a documented problem with 'projects' since the 1890's.

There are some simple techniques to improve the quality of the questions students ask. These techniques apply at all levels, from Year One to tertiary.

• Firstly, it is really hard to ask questions when you don't know enough to know what you need to know. At all levels students need more than a quick 'brainstorm' to develop quality questions. They need to be able to break down a topic into subtopics, and to know enough about each sub-topic to allow them to work out what they might need to know and translate it into questions.

• Secondly, they need to be able to do this last step, ie identify areas/ things/ aspects they might need to know about before they develop questions. Just being told to ask questions is a hellishly hard ask, even for adults. If you don't believe me, introduce a group of teachers to a new topic (try genetic engineering) by getting them to brainstorm it for a few minutes, and then tell them to prepare a question or several questions using the 'W' and 'H' prompts - who, what, where, when, why and how.

• Thirdly, once you've got some sub-topics, it helps to know the 'food in the belly theory', ie that if you have some knowledge, it's easier to work out where your gaps are and find the food to feed your hunger. If you have inadequate food in your belly it just becomes a frustrating and artificial exercise to take a swipe at a few questions in the hope of getting 'relevant' information.

• Fourth, when you are building your questions, it helps to know that you need to ask factual questions first to build your 'food in belly'. Asking large complex questions which require inferences based on comparing and relating knowledge before you have adequate knowledge is silly. Once you have a base of factual knowledge it is easier to use higher level thinking skills to synthesise information and build answers to 'thinking' questions.

Even Year 1 children understand, or can be taught, the difference between factual and thinking questions, and there are plenty of Form 7's who need to understand that it is impossible to answer complex inferential questions without first getting a good base of factual knowledge.

• Finally, all students need to know that in applying questions they are like a detective hunting for clues and building evidence. Answers don't leap out of books. Even less do they leap out of the information jungle called, appropriately, the Web. 'Answers' are constructed by mixing and matching, synthesising evidence from different sources, applying higher level thinking skills and constructing knowledge from information. Complex questions must be broken down and the factual 'bits' asked first.

How will students learn this? One way is for teachers to translate Bloom into a pedagogy by modelling for students exactly how to do the above - for Form 7's just as much as Year 1's and 2's. Information literacy depends on our ability to question the information we retrieve with critical discrimination. If the teacher doesn't model this process, who will?

See also ‘How to ? or not to ?…’ by Gwen Gawith, 1997