NATIONAL CURRICULUM FRAMEWORK
AND THE INFORMATION PROCESS
article was published in Apex 6 (1), Summer 1993, pp 19-21.
If one were to suggest that gifted children did not need driving
lessons because their inherent giftedness would ensure an automatic
grasp of the theory and practice of driving, one would rightly
be the object of considerable derision. Driving a car is the metaphor
I use for learning to drive the information process because it
is a similar combination of cognitive and practical skills, rules
and contingency-based experience.
Many teachers still assume that students with special abilities
will learn to find, use and interpret information from a myriad
of information sources, technologies and formats with little instruction
beyond the usual 'go the to the library and look it up'. But,
increasingly, teachers are finding that the information process
is the platform they have been looking for to give gifted students
the fuel, gears and skills to drive their own learning and exploit
their learning potential.
In Canada, specialist resource teachers of learning are employed
to work with classroom teachers to enhance the learning of both
children with special needs and children with special abilities.
New Zealand has yet to adopt such an enlightened step. In fact,
instead of seizing the opportunity to use the skills of the existing
trained teacher-librarians in this way, these senior specialist
supernumerary positions will vanish at the end of 1993! Meanwhile,
many of the 37 remaining trained teacher-librarians, and the 200
currently undertaking training, are doing wonders with learners
of all shapes, styles, ages and abilities using Infolink as a
Infolink is simply a twelve week course introducing the theory
and practice of ACTION LEARNING (Gawith, 1984, 1987). AL is the
model I have developed over ten years for applying resource-based
learning theory in classrooms.
The model encourages students to use reflective, experiential
and enquiry learning strategies to become confident, independent,
self-directed learners. Emphasis is placed on the teacher's role
in ensuring students' success at each step of each of the 6 stages
of the AL information process, and on the crucial role the teacher
plays as the catalyst in guiding even the youngest students to
become metacognitive, self-reflective learners.
In short, ACTION LEARNING provides the framework for teachers
to plan, guide, monitor and evaluate the information process collaboratively
For students, AL provides the framework for self-directed (but
closely monitored and guided) progress through the stages of the
information process, learning how to use the stages iteratively,
like the gears of a car, looping backwards and forwards , self-checking
constantly and conferencing with peers and teachers by using the
AL questions and prompts.
But you can read all this in Information Alive, Action Learning,
or Ripping into Research? Yes, you can, but it is not quite the
same thing as working alongside other teachers (from J1 through
to tertiary), sharing the problems and solutions of applying the
process stage by stage over twelve weeks.
After breathing, eating and sleeping ACTION LEARNING for twelve
years, I find that I am more excited by it than ever as each year's
Infolinkers expand my knowledge and contribute to a growing database
of shared knowledge which is unique to New Zealand and New Zealand
Yes, Australia, Canada, America and other countries train and
employ fulltime teacher-librarians, and many of these specialists
have achieved outstanding results with information skills and
information technologies. But, ironically, possibly because teacher-librarianship
arrived in New Zealand so late (1986) and is dying a premature
death in 1993, we have done more than most countries to share
our specialist knowledge and skills systematically with classroom
The 400 teachers who have completed Infolink in the two years
it has been offered as a national course have become a key national
resource for demonstrating how the essential skills the National
Curriculum Framework Document are all integral to the AL information
process, and can be taught, learned, monitored, documented and
evaluated. Next year we hope to start offering Infolink every
term so that 500 - 700 teachers will complete it every year.
This is how it works:
Mere, aged 11, is bright and enthusiastic, loves learning as long as she is involved, but when she gets bored she opts out. She enjoys collecting facts and figures and in-depth learning. She prefers detail to overviews, and greets the news that the class will do a project on health and safety with groans of "boring"!
However, her teacher tells the class that it will be a project with a difference because she is doing a course called Infolink and she is learning to use the Action Learning Model. This means that the project will be split into six stages and she will have to hand in her homework at each stage working with the class. They are all intrigued!
Stage 1: DECIDING
The class has to work together to decide what they know already, what they still need to know, how they are to obtain the information, and what they are going to do with it when obtained. They start by brainstorming the topic. This is actually quite exciting because Mrs Jones makes them work fast and doesn't allow discussion or argument. Even the 'hard cases' in the class forget themselves and contribute! It is amazing how much knowledge is on the blackboard at the end of three minutes.
Mere enjoys herself because she likes showing off her knowledge, but when they reach the next step where they have to map their knowledge into categories, she becomes 'bogged down' and it is Alan in the group who seems to see really clearly how it can be done. They have fun working out what parts of their brainstorm do not fit into any categories, but Mrs Jones keeps the pressure on them so that they are still busy when she gives them the next task. This is to search for keywords and key search terms - the words they would expect to find in books, encyclopaedias and indexes - the kinds of words and terms they need to look things up.
At this point the children are invited to choose a group to work with together with a particular topic from Mrs Jones' list that interests them most. Then they brainstorm, map, keyword and key term this topic. Mere finds this even more interesting because they group do all the work themselves and only have to show Mrs Jones the results at they end.
The next lesson is fascinating! Mrs Jones has brought along some magazine articles, pamphlets and newspaper clippings and some printouts from a database of industrial safety standards. The class has to work in groups to decide why their topic is important, to list the key concepts relating to it, and why they should be spending so much time on it. Mere is sure she can see the key concepts and the problems that the topic should address, but other children have their own ideas and the discussion becomes quite heated!
Mrs Jones keeps saying that no one is "right or wrong", and she encourages them to consider and discuss the resources she has brought. At this point, Mrs Jones gets the children to focus on their group topics. She asks them to look at areas where more information is required and to prepare key questions on each aspect of their map using the W's Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? as catalysts.
Things become quite hectic! Everyone wants answers to their own questions, but Mrs Jones shows them how to arrange their questions in order of priority putting the easier, factual ones first and leaving the more difficult inferential or thinking questions until later when they have more information.
The next task is to prepare work plans. This is the first time Mere has tried to work back from a deadline and she finds it really hard to visualise the process and see herself finishing certain steps by certain days. Mrs Jones won't accept any plans that she calls 'flabby,' So Mere has to rethink her plan for homework and she asks her family for ideas on where she can go for information. She hadn't realised that her Uncle Mike is a building inspector and quickly writes him into her plan as a 'people information source'. When Mere said she was too shy to visit the building site on Bank Street, so her mother agreed to accompany her. This was included in her plan as well.
Although the DECIDING stage took ages to complete, and the children wanted to charge off to the library to start the next stage, Mrs Jones ensured that all the required tasks were completed before moving on to the next stage.
Stage 2 : FINDING
At the beginning of this stage, most of the children choose to use their people sources first. Mrs Jones insists on them rehearsing their interviews. The children arrange a teleconference with someone in the Health Department, and they have to prepare questions for that. As Mrs Jones said, "Questions based on information are better than questions based on ignorance."
Mere finds that all the hard work pays off because when they ask their questions and interview their sources the people are impressed and spend ages explaining and giving the sort of detailed information she loves. The children are complimented on their questions and so they feel justly proud.
Mrs Jones was also very pleased because the principal comes along to the class to see what the children have achieved. Mrs Jones shows the children that the information Mere's group had collected would have most impact on an audience if it were presented as a series of graphs. Although Mere finds mathematics her weakest and least interesting subject, and that 'fiddling around with all these figures' is nearly 'driving her bananas', when they use the computer graphics package to produce transparencies for the over-head projector the whole presentation comes to life.
Stages 2 &3: USING AND RECORDING
At this point, stages 3 and 4 are well under way. Mere finds that she keeps looping back to her Stage 1 map, keyword and question framework and finding further information. It is somewhat frustrating because she had found masses of information but didn't know what to do with it. Some of her questions no longer seem appropriate, and she finds information related to questions she did not even ask! Mrs Jones suggests that the solution to the problem might be to make a database. This opens up a whole new can of worms and search terms and entered the data they are 'hooked' on the idea.
Stage 5: PRESENTING
However, by the time they have worked out fields this stage of presenting the information is a riot! Mere and her group allocate roles. Mere has to present the database. Mrs Jones borrows an overhead projector which links to the computer. The parents attending the presentation are most impressed, as is Mere! All the children seem well informed and confident, probably because Mrs Jones has had a conference with each of them at each stage and insisted that they rehearse until she is confident that they will be successful.
It is not the end, though! Mrs Jones insists that they work back through the stages evaluating what they did well and what they need to improve, and how that might be done. Thus:
Stage 6: EVALUATING
This stage turns out to be just as interesting as the other stages because Mrs Jones does not interrupt! She writes down everything and checks it with the children because other interested people want an honest opinion. They get it! Hemi says that next time he'll "turn his ears on sooner!" This is something because normally has his ears 'turned off' until the bell goes in the afternoon! Mere reports that she feels older, but feels ashamed that she got impatient with the group and 'went off and did her own thing.'
A brief description such as this hardly does justice to the Action Learning information process, but it does show how the very able child can be extended within the normal classroom curriculum, and how the essential skills of the National Curriculum Framework Document - communication skills, numeracy skills, information skills, self-management skills, work and study skills, social skills - can be learned painlessly in the context of resource-based learning.
By documenting each student's progress through each of the Action Learning stages, the teacher can build a cumulative record of student progress in mastering the essential skills. These records are portable; they are part of a student's portfolio which accumulates over the years, encouraging the student to develop her/his skills profile.
Mere has her first profile. She can't wait until next term when they are going to do another Action learning project. She is going to work on her social and numeracy skills to try to lift her profile in problem-solving and self-management.
Gawith, G. (1984). Paper and workshop presented at the New Zealand Reading Association Conference, Wanganui, August 1984.
Gawith, G. (1987). Information alive. Auckland: Longman Paul.
Gawith, G. (1988). Action Learning. Auckland: Longman Paul.
Gawith, G. (1991). Ripping into research. Auckland: Longman Paul.