This is Part B of my final assignment for ETL501: The Information Environment, critically analysing the process of creating a pathfinder.
This pathfinder was created to assist Grade 4 students inquire into how environmental changes are connected to human consumption. Whilst students will choose their own personal inquiries into this central idea, expected broad topics under this umbrella, which are covered by this pathfinder, include global warming, climate change, waste management and conservation.
This unit is one of six taught throughout the year, however the only one under the transdisciplinary theme of “Sharing the Planet”. It has a strong social studies component but there are also science and literacy links. The key concepts are connection and responsibility with related concepts of consumption and sustainability. The learning outcomes the students will be working towards when using the pathfinder are:
- LAA.CT.4.7 comprehend, respond to and analyze literary non-literary texts.
- HUM.GU.4.3 Learners will gather, evaluate and use information.
Throughout the pathfinder creation process, I took myself through the steps I would expect of a student when searching for resources. Based on Kuiper, Volman & Terwel’s (2008) and Valenza’s (2004) observations of effective student searching, as well as the readings from Module 6 (CSU, 2013), I planned my search using a concept map consisting of key words from the unit vocabulary list and a list of questions taken from the unit planner.
Keeping Herring’s (2011) website criteria in mind, I used the librarian created, student-specific search engines, KidsClick and ipl2. I knew it was highly likely I was going to find sites that were technically and educationally sound as well as reliable in terms of authorship and content.
I was absolutely shocked by how high the sites I had chosen had come out on readability tests, there was not a single site that came out lower than Grade 5, even those targeted to K-3! These results certainly rammed home Kuiper, Volman & Terwel’s (2008) assertions about how important it is to scaffold internet use for elementary aged children.
As information about the environment can change rapidly, using the school’s OPAC proved extremely helpful, enabling me to find the most recently acquired resources. A basic search on Google and Bing led me to a Follett comparison tool for texts by the various publishing houses. This clarified the reading and interest age of the resources I had chosen, leading to the discarding and replacement of several choices.
Understanding how to create a pathfinder that would enhance my students’ use of information literacy skills was challenging. Based on my knowledge of how my school’s students are taught interactively through the online world of blogs (heavily embedding files and links), I was creating online curriculum instead of a pathfinder embedded with ILS. The difference between giving instructions and directions baffled me for some time and I was mired in indecision and frustration about how I could make my pathfinder’s emphasis on ILS simple yet effective. This was especially important as our students have had very little explicit instruction in, or practice with, ILS.
Discussing my problem with the school’s two Technology Integrators and re-reading Abilock’s (2004) and Eisenberg’s (2003) ILS work helped guide me in a new direction. I decided adding one or two key skills as dot points to each resource could help students learn and assimilate ILS into their research toolkit in small increments.
The biggest lesson constructing this pathfinder has taught me is that effective research relies on extremely high quality ILS instruction. There is no point making a pathfinder full of pertinent resources if the students don’t know how to use those resources to their fullest extent. The information universe is massive yet very few teachers and students have the time or understanding of how to harness it effectively (Valenza, 2004). Being aware of such concepts as the hidden web, search engines more powerful and specific than Google, and the different kind of reading skills needed to access the right kind of information at the point of need, is absolutely integral to effective access to accurate, current, reliable information (CSU, 2013; Kuiper, Volman & Terwel, 2008; Valenza, 2004). I can now see how pathfinders can help TLs to explicitly and patiently give teachers and students the help they need to understand these concepts.
A clever TL could utilise the hard work of others in order to cut down the time it takes to create pathfinders. This could be done by using the existing unit planners and OPAC Resource Lists as a base for pathfinders. The school’s two Library Technicians (who already routinely create Resource Lists) could be taught how to make pathfinders. Additionally, as part of the reflection process, each grade level could complete a skeleton pathfinder of the most useful resources used during that unit. In the case of the latter strategies, it would be prudent for the TL to edit and flesh out the pathfinder with appropriate annotations and citations. The final step of publishing them on the Grade Level blog home page as well as the Library website would help ensure the pathfinders are used again.
Pathfinders can be a simple and powerful way to provide students with both relevant information and important ILS. I have learnt that regularly creating and updating pathfinders that are used in conjunction with explicit, in person, and frequent ILS instruction by the school TL can contribute to highly effective student research.