The Big 6 A Collaborative Workshop

By Margaret Lincoln Library Media Specialist, Lakeview High School, Battle Creek, MI
MultiMedia Schools October 2002

At some point in your career as a library media specialist, have you attended that one challenging and relevant workshop that truly qualified as meaningful professional development? In July of 1999, I was fortunate to have such an opportunity. A W.K. Kellogg Foundation Excellence in Education grant enabled me to enroll in the "Information Skills in Learning and Teaching: The Big6 Approach" course taught by Bob Berkowitz at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies.

That fall, I returned to Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan (where I have served as a library media specialist since 1973), determined to share this initial knowledge and enthusiasm for the Big6 with library colleagues. If I saw positive results from implementing the Big6 in one library, would the benefits to library users significantly accrue if the Big6 were to become known and widespread in the Battle Creek community? If I had found Berkowitz's course to be so effective and engaging, would educators in our area also gain substantially, given the chance to learn about the Big6 from the model's cofounder?

An Expert in Residence (EIR) proposal, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, indeed allowed us to bring Bob Berkowitz to Michigan in February 2002 so that 48 educators could be trained in the Big6. Our success in obtaining grant support for Big6 training may interest others seeking to organize a staff workshop. Our intention to structure Big6 training according to an ongoing, sustained approach may provide useful ideas for professional development. In short, this article describes a workable plan for implementing the Big6.

The Grant

The EIR proposal was a collaborative effort undertaken by a group of library media specialists representing 14 school districts in southwest lower Michigan. As library media specialists, we had a long and established history of resource sharing and cooperation. We met regularly during the school year through a Regional Educational Materials Center (REMC) Media Council and had joined together for several successful grant projects in the past. For example, in 1995, through Library Service and Technology Act (LSTA) funds, we had obtained retrospective conversion for all of our libraries. Additional grant monies had allowed us to purchase fax machines and develop a fax-sharing periodical network and union list of serials that included the public and community college libraries.

A stated goal of our EIR proposal was to continue to foster such collaboration and cooperation among area libraries. The inclusion of the public and community college libraries lent an element of multi-type library collaboration to our project. Due to the involvement of the public and community college library staff in the Big6 project, adults would also learn to better use library resources with greater ease. Our project would thus benefit people in the community of varied ages and abilities. We proposed a training model whereby teams of teachers and librarians from each participating school, along with representatives from the public and community college libraries, would attend a Big6 workshop given by Berkowitz. In support of this goal, we mentioned a study conducted by the Library Service Center of the Colorado State Library that was cited in Education Week (March 22, 2000). The study concluded that standardized test scores increased as school librarians spent more time collaborating with and providing training to teachers.

An additional goal of our EIR proposal was to promote information literacy. We referred to the nine Information Literacy Standards for student learning put forth in the American Library Association's publication Information Power. We emphasized that the Big6 fosters information literacy and encourages students to become effective and discerning users of ideas and information. A documented need for our project of promoting information literacy came from the world of work. A labor market analysis conducted in Calhoun County (where Battle Creek is located) had identified information problem solving as one of the top academic skills needed by area employers. This survey included 1,301 employers of all sizes and had a30.67 percent response rate. The survey noted the importance of being able to recognize and define problems, determine a problem's cause, find new and creative ways to solve it, and select the best solution among alternatives. These findings correlated with the skills identified by the State of Michigan in its employability skills identified for student portfolio development. The above-mentioned results were obtained from the Calhoun Intermediate School District (CISD) Department of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment.

To underscore the power of the Big6, we cited the study appearing in the November/December 1998 issue of The Big6 Newsletter (Linworth Publishing) that reported dramatically increased results on standardized tests. After the Big6 was used to restructure the format of the U.S. History curriculum at Wayne Central High School near Rochester, New York, the number of students passing the American History Regents exam increased from 53 percent to 91 percent. (Note: This study has also recently been described at length in the May/June issue of MultiMedia Schools.)

Having offered goals and rationale for our project, the anticipated program activities could be summarized as follows:

The budget for our EIR proposal would include in-kind revenue and monies to be given by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Partnering school districts would pay for the costs of the substitutes for teachers and librarians absent from school on the day of the Big6 workshop. The CISD had kindly offered to furnish a luncheon and the use of a large conference room as a training facility. A substantial in-kind contribution came from Project TIME, a federally funded program in the Battle Creek area that seeks to develop innovative ways to use the power of technology to support meaningful learning experiences for students. Project TIME donated over $750 to purchase copies of Big6 reference book materials for all participating libraries. The Battle Creek Inn provided complimentary lodging.

To supplement these in-kind contributions, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation generously gave us $6,946. This amount was spent as outlined in the chart below.

The balance was not spent and was returned to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This amount closely approximated the $300 figure that had been set aside for contingency needs in the original grant.

The Workshop

In April 2001, we received the gratifying news that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation had approved our proposal to support an Expert in Residence visit by Bob Berkowitz. During the remaining weeks of the school year, we confirmed each library's willingness to participate in the project. We developed a database of contact information for all participants. Each librarian/teacher team was given a copy of either Teaching Information & Technology Skills: Big6 in Elementary Schools or Teaching Information & Technology Skills: Big6 in Secondary Schools from Linworth Publishing so they could become acquainted with the Berkowitz/Eisenberg model well in advance of the formal workshop.

The fall of 2001 was a busy time. We communicated workshop news through a listserv, regular mail, and telephone calls. EIR funds permitted us to provide each school district involved in the project with a copy of the Big6 video, Essential Skills for the Information Age: The Big6 in Action (also available from Linworth Publishing). The videos were distributed to reinforce a basic familiarity with Big6 prior to the actual training. A decorative custom identification label was designed and placed on all Big6 grant materials.

Details became finalized for the workshop. Travel arrangements, accommodations for lodging and meals were set. The Big6 eNewsletter had announced the EIR grant with the captivating lead: "What do Maya Angelou, Helen Thomas, Doc Severinsen, and Bob Berkowitz have in common? As of February 2002, all will have participated in the Expert in Residence program sponsored by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation."

After months of planning and preparation, the 24-hour period of February 18-19, 2002, was a complete success. The workshop agenda for February 19 accommodated our goal of training teams of teachers and librarians in the Big6 model so that these teams could collaborate in lesson design. Each participant used his/her own copy of The New/Improved Big6 Workshop Handbook while Berkowitz addressed us. We were made to see the Big6 not only as a process but also as a set of basic essential life skills applicable to various situations. We realized that the Big6 will communicate expectations for students' work and achievement in ways they can understand and utilize to monitor their own academic progress. Berkowitz encouraged us to reexamine established curriculum according to the Big6 skills approach, sharing personal and real-life examples drawn from the educational world to illustrate a point (see Figure 1).

At the conclusion of the workshop, we presented him with several remembrances of his visit to Battle Creek, including an official EIR certificate and watercolor of the Kellogg House, a specially designed EIR/Big6/staff Polo brand shirt, and a copy of the book Tales of Battle Creek (historical reminiscences compiled by long-time local librarian, Bernice Lowe). The last half hour of the workshop had also been designated for a press conference. Area superintendents and representatives from the media were invited to meet Berkowitz and to observe librarians and teachers engaged in the closing activities of the workshop. The press conference was well attended and generated some positive coverage in the media, including a story appearing in the Battle Creek Enquirer, accessible at (see Figure 2).

Evaluation and Follow-Up

The provision for an ongoing, sustained effort to implement the Big6 was an integral part of our EIR proposal. Rather than asking workshop attendees to hastily fill out an evaluation form on the day of the workshop, we requested them to respond within a 2-week period and to reflect more at length upon a series of questions. The evaluation form was distributed at the workshop and uploaded to our Lakeview High School Library Web site at The following questions were posed on the form, which in itself mirrors a Big6 approach:

1) Please identify somethinglearned from the Big6 workshop that you were able to implement right away upon your return to your classroom or library.

2) What strategies or activities used by the presenter in the course of the workshop were helpful to you?

3) What resources (printed material, video, Web sites) do you expect to access as you begin to implement Big6? Please try to be specific and point out a valuable chapter, article, or sample lesson in our various Big6 resources.

4) Comment on your preliminary plans to use Big6 in a collaborative lesson with your colleague.

5) Do you expect to organize the information and ideas gained from the workshop to present a professional development offering in your district? Please explain.

6) How would you evaluate the effectiveness of the workshop in terms of furthering the two stated goals of our EIR program to "address literacy and foster collaboration and cooperation"?

We received a 75 percent response rate of completed forms from participants. All comments were compiled and made available during the after-school group follow-up session held in May at the CISD. This feedback was shared with our presenter.

Several school districts indicated on the evaluation form that they would soon offer a Big6 staff inservice. With help from a colleague of mine at Lakeview High School who attended the February 19 training, I was able to deliver an introductory 2-hour workshop to our teachers on April 17. Lakeview High School had an additional commitment to promoting Big6 beyond the realm of the EIR project. Implementation of Big6 had been adopted as part of a North Central Accreditation strategy of the school's StudentAchievement Subcommittee.

By way of a short announcement for our Big6 inservice, we distributed copies of the Battle Creek Enquirer article mentioned earlier that gave a good overview of Big6 and the February training. Our audience was thoroughly entertained and absorbed by the opening activity. Theater Arts students performed a short dramatization of the two library lessons that appear in the introduction of the Berkowitz/Eisenberg book The Big6 Information Problem Solving Skills. This introduction includes a traditional Readers' Guide lesson juxtaposed with a Big6 lesson in which students decide on what movie to see for a sociology assignment. (We are able to make available to other educators for a nominal handling fee a video copy of these skits. Please contact

Following the skit, we showed an edited, excerpted portion (permission granted from Linworth Publishing) of the Big6 video to highlight just the high school examples. Teachers were given an opportunity to process the skits and video and do some workshop handout activity sheets. We explained to staff that social studies teachers would significantly revamp the required freshman course Global Studies next fall, adopting a Big6 approach to various units. I also demonstrated the redesign of the Lakeview High School Library Research Guide page of our Web site that now is structured by the Big6 and pointed out our subscription to the Big6 Resource Center from NewsBank.

In the concluding activity of our April inservice, we asked teachers (now somewhat acquainted with the basics of the Big6) to confer with members of their department and to consider their existing curriculum. Teachers were then requested to list activities from departmental lessons or units that reinforce Big6 skills. We will utilize this baseline data as we proceed at Lakeview High School with our North Central Accreditation strategy to implement the Big6 approach to problem solving and information literacy.

Our commitment to the Big6 in the Battle Creek community has not ended as the current school year comes to a close. Librarians and teachers did reconvene on May 8 to share progress in lesson development and success in encouraging staff awareness of the Big6. A sample unit developed by Erin Powers, a Spanish teacher at Lakeview High School, can be viewed online [] as an initial positive byproduct of our EIR program. I was privileged to work with Miss Powers, a well-respected and popular foreign language teacher, who applied the Big6 to a career research assignment entitled "Spanish and the Job of Your Dreams."

We look to the future. Additional lessons, rich in potential for promoting information literacy, will be created. More instances of worthwhile cooperation and collaboration among librarians and teachers will occur. A joint conference presentation will be given next fall at the Michigan Association for Media in Education. Dissemination of the Big6 will go forward in Michigan and beyond.

Our workshop goal was to train teams of teachers and librarians in the Big6 model so that these teams could collaborate in lesson design. . . . We [also] realized that the Big6 will communicate expectations for students' work and achievement in ways they can understand and utilize to monitor their own academic progress.

Workshop handbooks and videos $2,081

Speaker stipend $3,500

Mileage reimbursement for workshop attendees $ 416

Dinner $ 34

Airfare, car rental, meals $ 571

Remembrance gifts $ 55

Total expenditures$6,657

Communications to the author may be addressed to Margaret Lincoln, Library Media Specialist, Lakeview High School, 300 S. 28 St., Battle Creek, MI 49015, 616/565-3730; e-mail:

[Information Today Inc.]
Information Today Home Page
[MultiMedia Schools]
Home Page
[Current Issue]
Current Issue
[Current Issue]

Copyright © 2002, Information Today Inc. All rights reserved.