The methodology of the SLIM Toolkit required that the students reflected on their learning at three points in the inquiry process, in the form of three questionnaires. In this case, students only responded to two questionnaires as the classroom teacher completed the unit of work early. It is still possible to analyse the results from the two surveys and so gain a picture of the learning and learning needs of the students.
At Question one, students were asked to reflect on their existing knowledge by writing statements about the topic. Following a slightly modified version of the methodology of the SLIM Toolkit, these responses were scored as factual, explanation or conclusion type statements following which a graph could be generated.
Students wrote significantly more factual statements than explanation or conclusion, in Questionnaire one. This would be expected, and concurs with the research findings analysed by Kuhlthau, Heinstrom and Todd (2008) that during a process of inquiry students will initially make a higher number of superficial factual statements than of any other type. However, the results expressed by Todd (2006), after an investigation using similar methodology as used here (albeit more professionally and clinically performed) would indicate that, in subsequent questionnaires, factual statements would be expanded on and there would be an increase in explanation and conclusion type statements. In this case, factual statements decreased in Questionnaire two, as did explanation statements. There can be a number of reasons that could be explored for this, and are expanded on in ILA Analysis.
Student I, who is one of the best overall achievers in the class, provides evidence of knowledge increasing as expected. In Questionnaire one, the response to Question one was:
“I know Japans Capital is Tokyo, that they speak Japanese, Japan’s in south Asia near the pacific ocean,”
and the response to the same question in Questionnaire two:
“I was researching about Japanese migrants. Japanese came to australia because of the capital defence, they work in the cotton feild. They had to leave Australia because of the white Australian policy.”
The one conclusion type statement made in either questionnaire came from a year five student (student C) and their response in Questionnaire one is highlighted below. The Year five students were researching the development of the Australian wool industry:
“It all started in 1888. Australia started a great fortune. Everyone around the world wanted wool because it was the finest and softest wool but when they found cotten we lost our fortune”
Two Year five students (B and L) obviously copied from notes taken down from a classroom lesson, as in Questionnaire one they submitted answers both very similar:
“The first sheep arrived in Australia shores with the first fleet. some of the first dozen or more Spanish merinos brought to sydney from South Africa were acquired by John MacArthur a soldier and Samel Marseden a clergyman and Samuel MacArthur a soldier.”
The conclusion made here was to be mindful when administering the questionnaires to ensure students are accessing their own internal knowledge only. This I did ensure and may also be the reasoning behind a decrease in statements made in Questionnaire two. I conclude from this that there is only a small amount of knowledge that has been internalised by the students.
In Question two, students were asked to rate their level of interest in the topic. The unit of work on migration began quite promisingly, switching the students on to the topic with a reading of Anh Do’s picture book ‘The Little Refugee‘, accessing student’s prior knowledge on the topic and exploring timelines and vocabulary. Therefore it was quite gratifying to see that the majority had a level of interest described as ‘quite a bit’.
Student level of interest actually showed an increase in more students interested ‘a great deal’ after Questionnaire two, and one wonders what may have been achieved if the students had been able to pursue their research further, rather than being asked by the classroom teacher to finalise their research and complete a report before the inquiry had naturally completed its cycle. At the point that Questionnaire two was administered, students were more engaged in the topic, having made statements in Questionnaire two such as:
“I know about some history I like history too now.” (Student A)
There were other students whose frustration and disappointment was palpable, in Questionnaire two:
“i haven’t got an answer” (Student O) and “food history culture” (Student J)
In analysing Questionnaire two, these responses at question one, followed by indications by both students O and J that they were ‘quite a bit’ interested in the topic, left me feeling frustrated as the teacher librarian at now being unable to pursue the inquiry with this group of students. In working with these students in subsequent terms I aim to ensure that they are given all opportunity possible to investigate and develop their skills for attaining a deep level of knowledge that they can express successfully.
Student responses to Question three indicated their perceived level of knowledge on the topic.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to continue with the unit of work, the marked increase in perceived knowledge was pleasing to see. This result indicated that the learning opportunities provided to the students had indeed enabled them to feel more knowledgeable on the subject. When analysing the actual statements made at Question one, however (see Figure one) it is clear that this was a perception by the students that was not evidenced by their process knowledge. The quality of the statements decreased across the two questionnaires. For example, Student K wrote in Questionnaire one:
“Vietnam is a refugee country. in Vietnam there is a war. There came here due to persecution.”
and in Questionnaire two:
“That Vietnam is situated below China.”
I believe that this example perfectly reflects that at the beginning of the unit, we were collaboratively inviting the students into the inquiry with the picture book reading, the timeline and the vocabulary exploration. As the unit progressed, the classroom teacher’s focus was on the students merely ‘fact collecting’ without actually engaging with the information ‘in critical ways to build a deep level of knowledge as opposed to a superficial one.’ (Todd, 2006)
Questions four and five investigate the skills of research, and the student’s reflections on what they find easy or difficult to do when researching. There are many aspects to skill development for information research and the SLIM Toolkit provides an excellent opportunity for teacher librarians and classroom teachers to analyse what the specific needs of the group are.
It is no surprise to see that many students feel it is easy to find images, as this was observed as being something they enjoyed doing. (e.g. Student D “I find it easy to look up pitchers”) They also seem to ‘enjoy’ looking up information…they are just not as confident with actually doing something with the information they find. A few students mentioned finding it easy to ‘look in books’ for information, which is encouraging to see – as teacher librarian I am keen to regularly bring students back to the good old-fashioned book as a source of information; for students not to become too heavily reliant on looking everything up on Google! (Student N “I like looking at the Internet.”)
The introduction of ‘finding the right website’, ‘finding the right information’ and ‘writing information from the website’ as skills in Questionnaire two is, I believe, a reflection of the core skills developed in lessons between the two questionnaires. These are detailed in Action Taken, however to summarise we spent some time refining our search terms to better suit the information we were seeking, and were subsequently therefore more focused on finding specific information. There is a definite increase in complexity of responses between the two questionnaires at Question four, from the ‘looking at pictures and looking at the internet’ type responses as quoted above, to comments about finding the right information, finding the research and writing down the information from the computer. Similarly, the decrease in students feeling confident at ‘writing in own words’ is due to the awareness raising I did that this is in fact, important, as it is not suitable to copy directly from the source.
There are a number of additions to the skills list, in response to the question of what students find difficult to do. Students have introduced concepts such as ‘explaining things’, ‘writing paragraphs’, ‘using the information’, ‘information retention’ and ‘scanning’. Apart from ‘scanning’ these are all higher order skills and go beyond the more simple tasks that come under the banner of ‘looking things up’. These students are telling us that they need help to go beyond this level and it is our responsibility to do that. Using the information is the most interesting one for me, as this student (P) has identified that there is more to be done with information than simply collecting it. The increase in students ‘finding the right website’ difficult, is in direct reaction to this concept being explored in Action Taken, and students now being aware that they need to be more critical when selecting websites. I found it interesting that two students specified that knowing the vocabulary was difficult for them. Rapid recall of subject specific vocabulary at the beginning of lessons may have helped them with this, as it did not appear in Questionnaire two.
The bounty of information gained without having been able to complete the full set of three questionnaires indicates the capabilities of the SLIM Toolkit. I was able to create a list of information search skills that would be my targeted interventions as I guided the students through their inquiry. In addition, by analysing the quality of the students’ statements I was able to gauge the depth of understanding that was being acquired. At times, as teacher librarian, it can be frustrating when it seems obvious what needs to be worked on with the students. This makes it all the more vital to work to build collaborative partnerships with school teaching staff so that each inquiry journey embarked on is better than the last.
Kuhlthau, C., Heinstrom, J., & Todd, R.J. (2008). The information search process revisited: is the model still useful? Information research 13(4), retrieved from http://informationr.net/ir/13-4/paper355
Todd, R.J. (2006). From information to knowledge: charting and measuring students’ knowledge of a curriculum topic. Information research, 11 (4) Paper 264, retrieved from http://www.webcitation.org/5cbESk41x