Ferdi Serim
[DirectConnect]
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Moving Every Child Ahead: The Quest forEvidence
by Ferdi Serim • Editor, MultiMedia Schools
Volume 9, Number 5 • October 2002
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In Seattle, at "ThinkQuest Live! Experience the Future of Learning," Terry Rogers issued the following challenge:

By the year 2010 children will have access to a working and cost-effective learning environment adapted to their individual learning aptitudes and goals, which is as compelling as other parts of their environment, and which helps them achieve their full potential in the world and which is capable of being adapted and used worldwide.

Meanwhile, across the country in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Education clarified the regulations that states will follow to make sure that no child is left behind. These noble and inspiring goals add dimensions to our work in real classrooms, in real schools that go beyond anything we've known before. While much remains to be determined relative to which pathways will prove most effective, it is not too early to say that the answers will emerge from the local level, rather than as pronouncements from inside the Beltway. In the quest for evidence-based practice, our classrooms become the living laboratories for studied interventions. Our skills in facilitating research and project-based learning are often overlooked by decision-makers at all levels, but are critical to the success of any response to the challenges of No Child Left Behind.

Schools face a set of significant challenges in bringing "the power of rigorous, objective, scientific understanding to bear on improving decisions about educational programming and thus student achievement."1These decisions shape fundamental questions about how schools design, implement and assess instruction to meet the needs of all children. The district and school leaders we work with require robust information to about how they compare to similar districts across the country, as well as a means for communicating with their peers in their cohort about what has worked in meeting the specific educational challenges. The readers of MultiMedia Schools magazine, as members of the IT team, are the professionals best equipped to lead in the transformation to evidence-based practice.

So that we are not distracted by the baggage of hyperfocus on annualized, high-stakes testing, or the merits of improving education by eliminating "failing schools," let's consider the characteristics shared by approaches that focus on growth rather than punishment. Let's call such an approach Moving Every Child Ahead, so as not to confuse such efforts with the legislated requirements of No Child Left Behind.

As schools across the nation grapple with the challenge to Move Every Child Ahead, the importance of research-based approaches highlights two critical needs:

Schools need help to accomplish the task of bridging research and practice within a context that reflects the scientific processes of inquiry. By developing district capacity for information-based problem-solving, we become generators of educational evidence for decision-making at the school and classroom level, allowing our schools to move beyond the practice of education as an "evidence-free zone."

The Education Department's recent award of a contract to establish the What Works Clearinghouse will ultimately provide a series of online, searchable databases comprising registries of educational interventions, evaluation studies, approaches and policies, testing instruments, and qualified evaluators. The What Works Clearinghouse will summarize evidence on the effectiveness of different programs, products, and strategies intended to enhance academic achievement and other important educational outcomes.

However, long before the Clearinghouse is up and running, schools and districts will require information they can act upon. By January 2003, school districts will require reliable, research-based information to decide:

Meeting the research challenges of No Child Left Behind is best understood as a knowledge management problem. It's not that individuals in the system don't have access to information; it's that the system is not structured to apply the knowledge it "owns" in the form of the intellectual capital of its constituents. Even with access to the best research, and the best designed processes for collecting student/program performance data, schools would still need to learn how to transfer this knowledge into the real-world classroom settings where improved student achievement actually occurs. The Moving Every Child Ahead provides schools with an alternative method for gathering, interpreting and sharing educational evidence, by building a peer-review community of school-based learning laboratories and educational researchers.

Information Literacy: The Key to Evidence-Based Practice

To assist school leaders in meeting this knowledge management problem, Moving Every Child Ahead employs the Big6 Approach to Information Problem-Solving, the most widely known and used approach to teaching information and technology skills. The Big6 is used in thousands of K-12 schools and higher-education institutions, as well as in corporate and adult training programs. An estimated 84,000 teachers have been trained in the Big6 program. The Bertelsmann Foundation and the AOL Time Warner Foundation have joined with experts from education, business, and government, recently convening an international 21st Century Literacy Summit. Cited as an exemplary practice in the Summit whitepaper2, theBig6 (first developed in 1988) provides a systematic process based on six broad skill areas necessary for successful information problem-solving. This approach builds a set of skills and an organized strategy for effectively meeting information needs while developing critical-thinking skills.

The research basis for this approach is extensive. In her recent literature review of this research3, Carrie Lowe writes, "Information literacy is not a set of individual tasks or skills, but rather a way of thinking that allows individuals to be the flexible thinkers and lifelong learners who will succeed in the information age." Regarding the value of information literacy, Lowe notes that the cognitive aspects and related benefits are key. "Pitts' (1995) examination of the mental models of students engaged in the information problem-solving process4 found that they use different domains of knowledge to complete a task, including one responsible for information seeking and use, and others related to the other aspects of the task, including subject knowledge. Pitts found that a lack of knowledge in one area (including information problem-solving skills) could limit learning and success overall."

In upcoming "DirectConnect" columns, I'll present blueprints to guide our work as school-based IT teams focused on Moving Every Child Ahead:

When we apply what we know about how people learn, how they solve problems through the effective use of information, how technology can assist in the transformation of education to evidence-based practice, we will be significantly closer to meeting the challenge Terry Rogers articulated for global learners. Indeed, it may make all the difference!
 

FOOTNOTES

1 Feuer, Michael and Towne, Lisa. The Logic and the Basic Principles of Scientific Based Research, downloaded 7/8/02 from http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/research/feuer-towne-paper.html.

2 21st Century Literacy Summit (Bertelsmann Foundation; AOL Time Warner Foundation, Berlin, March 7-8, 2002); http://www.21stcenturyliteracy.org.

3 Lowe, Carrie (2002). Research Foundations of the Big6 Skills [http://www.big6.com/showarticle.php?id=145].

4 Pitts, J. et al. (1995). "Mental Models of Information: The 1993-1994 AASL/Highsmith Research Award Study." School Library Media Quarterly, 23(3), 177-184.


Communications to the Editor may be addressed to: Ferdi Serim, MultiMedia Schools, 11 Palacio Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 505/466-1901; fax: 505/466-1901; ferdi@infotoday.com.
 

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