|Moving Every Child Ahead: The Big6 Success Strategy|
|MultiMedia Schools • May/June 2002|
|Leaving No Child Behind: High-Stakes
Testing as Information Problem Solving
In far too many schools, the prospect of annual testing for all students in grades 3-8 has needlessly paralyzed progress toward education reform and technology integration. As schools circle the wagons to meet the challenge of high-stakes tests, fear-based responses often sacrifice the higher-order-thinking, project-based-learning approaches, upon which successful uses of technology depend, in favor of rote learning. Our cover story features a proven strategy, which instead improves performance by improving thinking on the part of teachers and students alike. The powerful partnership of Bob Berkowitz and Scott Hopsicker, using the Big6 process, gives us a working model for seizing this opportunity to advance effective teaching and learning by treating the tests themselves as information-based problems.
The Big6 is the most widely
known and used approach to teaching information and technology skills in
the world. Used in thousands of
As this is the most vital issue facing our profession, I encourage you to share this story with your administrators, your school board, your community, and your peers. Together, we can work our way beyond teaching to the test, to the higher ground of improved learning for all.
Concerned about his students, and wanting to do something to help them improve their scores, Scott spoke to our assistant principal, who suggested that he discuss the situation with me, in my role as the school's library media specialist. Since I'd succeeded in helping students on advanced placement tests in various subjects, perhaps I could help. Scott saw himself as a conscientious, well-prepared teacher. He obviously needed a new strategy. Enter the Big6.
First thing, when Scott
came by and dropped off a couple of binders, I said, "I can tell you right
now—you probably taught every small fact, being a first-year teacher, and
you didn't actually teach concepts or themes." He was more of an instructor
than a teacher. Scott recalls, "I presented information and then expected
the students to keep up to date on it—I was assuming things."
Eyes on the Prize
What motivates teachers? Student performance! But this involves far more than test scores, far more than "covering the content." The test is nothing more than an interim objective to a greater goal: moving students from teacher-dependent to independent and lifelong learners. People often focus on what they want kids to know and be able to do. We add to this how we want them to be: capable, confident, independent learners.
We wanted to turn the exam
experience into the basis for a powerful learning experience. To do this,
you have to know: Which race are you running? Which skills are you practicing?
If you are in the hurdles, and all you do is practice running, never practicing
jumping, on the day of the race, you're going to be in for a sad surprise!
So we had to analyze all the skills required and match these up with the
processes and how the content would be used to gain these skills.
The Big6: An Umbrella Strategy
The Big6 approach to information-based problem solving provided Scott and me with the tools we needed to reinvent his teaching. This may sound bold, but anything less would not have done the job. Working as his coach and mentor throughout the year, we treated instructional design as a series of information-based problems or decisions. This allowed Scott to change his style of teaching from a content-driven approach to a Big6 information-process-driven approach. The payoff was huge. After 1 year, his students went from a 53 percent passing rate to 91 percent. The next year the rate rose to 99 percent, with 75 percent of the students attaining mastery level. The third year (and beyond) has continued this pattern of success.
Such success required time and effort. For the entire year, I spent 2 hours each week with Scott, along with an additional 2 hours of follow-up on my own as I did my "information professional" homework. Scott spent 6 hours per week of his prep time—at least two of his three prep periods based on a four-day rotation—doing his homework. Then Scott had me come in and observe his teaching, so I could see his styles and strengths, as well as some of his weaknesses. I also wanted to see the kids in action and how they reacted to Scott. Then we came up with activities and projects. He would tell me what content things he wanted them to know. I helped Scott decide what we wanted to base the projects on, and how often. [Editor's note: These experiences form the basis of a new series of Big6 workshops and conference presentations designed to expand the reach of what's been learned. See http://www.big6.com.]
Scott Hopsicker is quite
direct and unapologetic. "My goal is to make my students successful on
the test. Yes, we use Regents essays and questions, but we really don't
water down the curriculum. We did projects in addition to the essay preparation
and test-taking work. We created cause-and-effect projects so the students
can see how everything is connected together, not just little pieces and
fragments. History is all one piece—all one smooth flow. It's kind of like
reading a book from start to finish; everything is connected somehow."
Instructional Design: A Series of Information-Based
We knew that to move from a content-driven to an information-process-driven basis of instruction, we needed to learn more about the characteristics of high-quality instruction, which include the following:
For example, in a content-driven
model, we focus on standards, on what is taught (teacher behavior). However,
we don't focus as much on what is learned (student behavior) until the
test, when it is often too late. Moving from high-stakes tests to higher-order
thinking requires a different framework for instruction. Providing the
tools and skills to build meaning gives them the foundation they need for
understanding, not just regurgitation of short-term factoids.
Discourse: Missing Links to Learning
Teachers don't think like information professionals. They don't ever ask, "How is information in this content area organized?" Scott and I approached history as "SPEFA," the interplay of social, political, economic, and foreign affairs events. We did exercises and projects, which reinforced cause-and-effect relationships. So in learning geography, the impact of a river as a barrier to trade (or an aid to trade), or the different responses to various technologies in different cultures allowed students to exercise their minds, not just their memories. Now I've given them coat hangers, a place to put information, instead of just throwing it into their mental closets. If I present information as random dots and ask students to exactly recreate the pattern, there's no way that will happen. If instead I draw lines connecting the dots, creating a graphic, showing them the underlying structure of the information, they now have the tools to function at a higher level. Their learning becomes deeper and more lasting, as we know from 30 years of cognitive science.
Scott Hopsicker notes, "What I like about the Big6 is that you assume nothing and that it's really common sense. You just apply the common sense you use in everyday life to school things."
We were surprised to learn that vocabulary needs went beyond the content we wanted to teach. Vocabulary within the instructions was a significant barrier for many students, particularly at-risk kids without a history of success and confidence. Students can be thrown off and perform at levels far below their capability and preparation simply by not grasping what they're being asked to do. Scott says, "We focus on difficult vocabulary words in the essay instructions. Instructions such as 'identify and discuss' are different than 'compare and contrast.' Even in high school, students still won't know what those words mean. We quiz them on the words and continually reinforce their correct use."
We used the information we gathered on a daily basis, both in terms of what was being taught, and the feedback we got from student performance. One key strategy we used was having daily quizzes...success breeds success and "points are cheap." Another key strategy was involving parents as part of the solution. (See the sidebars "Scott Hopsicker's Study Tips" and "Helping With Homework: A Big6 Assignment Organizer.")
Scott notes another key student need. "One of the problems students in high school have is writing essays. So we created a new essay strategy for them—how to find, organize, and present information for essays. We used something called the "perfect chart" (see the sidebar "Perfect Chart: Cases and Issues"), which helps the students outline the essay first. The students develop charts, and I develop one, too. My chart is the "perfect" one—it includes all the information needed to get a perfect 100 score on the essay. So, there is no guessing game. The students know exactly what it takes to get a 100."
Another surprise was the balance of content and process. Scott remembers, "I had someone from another school take a look at our essays strategy. She thought we were watering down the curriculum because we gave them the answers in the perfect chart. She didn't understand. It doesn't matter that we're giving them the content—it's the process that counts. We want them to actually spend more time concentrating on how to put [information] in their own words, and spend less time finding it. And, along the way, they are learning the content."
There were two kinds of evaluation: formative and summative. Formative involves diagnosing student performance during learning so that adjustments can be made before students turn in their work (or take a high-stakes exam!). Adjustments may include the following:
Picture the scene: 130 kids in the cafeteria, as Scott Hopsicker gives the Knute Rockne speech. "You've worked hard, and I believe in you. You will do well. If you get nervous, raise your hand. I won't be able to tell you the answer, but I'll stand beside you and give you my confidence."
Even now that Scott was
lured away from Wayne Central and teaches in the Brockport (New York) Central
School District, his results have followed him, as he puts the Big6 process
to the test, and his students continue to move ahead, pointing the way
for the rest of us. You are the most crucial link for making these results
happen in your school. We can improve scores by improving thinking!
|Big6 Skill 1: Task Definition
To review and analyze all aspects of the teaching and learning process, Hopsicker and Berkowitz relied on multiple sources: review of lesson plans, curriculum, textbooks, classroom observations, student journals. These were then compared to the performance tasks embedded in the Regents exam.
Big6 Skill 3: Location and Access
Big6 Skill 4: Use of Information
Big6 Skill 5: Synthesis
Big6 Skill 6: Evaluation
Helping with Homework: A Big6 Assignment Organizer
Assignment: ______________________________ Date Due: ______________
Complete Big6 Skills #1-5 BEFORE you BEGIN your assignment. Complete Big6 Skill #6 BEFORE you TURN IN your assignment.
Big6 Skill #1: Task Definition
Big6 Skill #2: Information
Big6 Skill #3: Location
Big6 Skill #4: Use of
_____ read/view/listen _____ chart and/or write an essay
_____ take notes _____ copy and highlight
_____ answer questions _____ properly cite
_____ other: ____________________
Big6 Skill #5: Synthesis
Big6 Skill #6: Evaluation
_____ I did what I was supposed to do (see Big6 #1, Task Definition)
_____ The assignment is complete.
The Big6 Eisenberg
& Berkowitz, 1990. Assignment Organizer © Berkowitz & Hopsicker,
Scott Hopsicker's Study Tips
© Berkowitz & Hopsicker, 1998
1. Time Management:
E1 + E2 = E3
Communications to the
author may be addressed to Bob Berkowitz, Library Media Specialist,
Wayne Central School, Route 350, Ontario Center, NY 14520; e-mail: Bberkowitz@wayne.k12.ny.us.
Berkowitz and other trained Big6 Associates are conducting workshops in
student achievement and the Big6 and other topics at a number of conferences,
including Information Today, Inc.'s Internet Librarian and Computers in
Libraries conferences [http://www.infotoday.com].
For more information, visit http://www.big6.com.
Information Today Home Page
Copyright © 2002, Information
Today Inc. All rights reserved.