Friday, July 17, 2009

LTEA conference: academic literacy

Here is another report from the Learning Through Enquiry Alliance conference in Reading 14th-15th July.
Cathy Burnett, Fufy Demisse, Mary Haynes and Sheila Sharpe (Sheffield Hallam University) presented "Now I feel like I'm really at University": using a community of enquiry approach to promote enagement and academic literacy amongst undergraduate students.
The approach they used was adopting the idea of "philosophy for children in schools", feeling it was actually useful for their grown-up students (trainee teachers). The idea is to probe concepts (e.g. "friendship" or "beauty"), encouraging children to form and chose questions for discussion. Underlying the approach are the principles: Critical, Creative, Collaborative and Caring (the 4Cs): there is a society to support this approach SAPERE.
The role of the tutor is to set ground rules and to encourage the "4Cs" in discussion (so students ask critical questions, solve problems collaboratively, are creative in approaching the questions, and caring with each other).The role of students is to pose questions, chose questions and offer suggestions and justify viewpoints using the 4Cs.
The presenters then talked about using it in teacher training at Sheffield Hallam University. At the time celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was doing one of his meals investigations in Rotherham (which is near Sheffield and some students came from there). The general issue of children and junk food was proposed as a topic, then students had to generate a number of possible questions in the first stage, and choose between the possible questions to determine the one they would debate in depth. The question "Is this child abuse?" (i.e. giving them junk food) was chosen.
Ranging through the discussion were issues to do with the value of fast food and it led to debate about what could be done about these issues in the actual school curriculum (i.e. the curriculum the students would in future be contributing to).
Students commented on the seating format (in a circle) and the process structure, as enabling more people to feel it was OK to contribute without anxiety. There was also an interaction between what happened in this seminar and what happened outside: students felt they were learning more about each other as developing professionals and people. Students also noticed the ownership they had of the process, finding information themselves and presenting it to each other (rather than relying on the teacher givingthem material). The multiple perspectives encouraged them to think critically about their own perspective. Therefore this exercise seemed powerful in a number of ways.
If you have sufficient time and control, this seems a good framework for an information literacy exercise, since probing the information need ("what is the question") is prominent, and if information literacy is the focus there could be a particular emphasis on finding and sharing evidence to support your (or other people's) viewpoint.
Photo by Sheila Webber: Pre-conference-dinner - Pimms on the balcony at Henley-on-Thames.

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