Thursday, May 08, 2008

Information skills in a school

When I was in Glasgow on Tuesday I met up with John Crawford and Christine Irving (see my previous post about their open meeting). One interesting thing I came away with was an unpublished report produced in February by staff at Caldervale High School, Airdrie:
Brownlie, S., Curran, M., Falconer, L., McAllister, J. and Smith, C. (2008) Supporting our pupils in developing their information skills: How do we do it? Caldervale High School.
I will provide a summary of some key elements and some reflections on it. There were several stimuli for the work, including the teachers’ involvement in the research project (looking at schoolteachers’ conceptions of information literacy) led by Dorothy Williams, and the fact that two people were talking the Chartered Teacher programme. The project also developed from a Professional Development Group that the teachers had formed, and the action research they did provided a focus.
They started with the practice -based question “How do we help our pupils to improve their information skills?” They focused this further to the question of what intervention could they design to support their pupils in finding information relevant to a learning activity, collating that information in line with the activity, and presenting the information in the form required by the activity, whilst avoiding plagiarism.
Staff involved in the project (including the Learning Resources Centre manager) developing their own view of what skills were needed in their subjects, ending up with 6 clusters of skills:

- Reading with purpose and monitoring understanding relative to that purpose;
- Listening with purpose and monitoring understanding relative to that purpose;
- Writing with purpose and monitoring understanding relative to that purpose;
- Decoding visual representations;
- Using information honestly and responsibly;
- Synthesise different media with purpose and monitoring understanding relative to that purpose.

The group then targeted a geography class for observation in relation to these skills, as the pilot stage in an action research cycle (identifying more closely what needed to be changed). The outcomes from this observation are described in the report.
The intervention itself was focused on production of a leaflet about pet care, and this was undertaken by a class of 11-12 year olds and 12-13 year olds, over about 8 lessons. The authors describe their planning for different aspects, including how they supported pupils in understanding and developing social skills (respect etc.): the work was undertaken in groups of 4 with specific roles assigned. The strategy also included getting students to reflect on their performance, with time given in class for to complete diary entries.

The two teachers who implemented the intervention each give an account of what happened. The nature and impact of the group working is given quite a lot of attention. This includes how pupils were quick to identify suspected plagiarism in each others’ work (although with the planned nature of the intervention, there were few instances of copying). To see whether the intervention could be implemented more widely, it was used in two computing classes, with pupils using desktop publishing software to produce the leaflet (rather than powerpoint, as used by the first classes) and looking at computing topics rather than pet care.
Drawing a few more things from this report:
- the need to keep bringing pupils attention back to the main aims (formally at the start of sessions, and by intervening with individual groups as needed);
- the need to pay attention to social and teamworking skills;
- the inclusion of reflective acttivity;
- restricting choice of information to specific websites and print material (to try and avoid mindless surfing and scrolling);
- development of a concept of information skills for a specific population and specific subjects, rather than importing an existing skill list or framework. It is notable that the list is different from most “conventional” lists of information literacy skills;
- making the end of the intervention an "event" (pinning up the leaflets, and pupils commenting on each others’ leaflets).

Photos by Sheila Webber: Hillhead, Glasgow, May 2008 (when I lived in Glasgow my lodgings were in Athole Gardens).

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