Back in 2000 when I began my career as a school librarian and for the next 10 years, the core instruction of my library program was teaching students how to research using the Big6 problem solving process. It is an effective and methodical way to develop and teach inquiry skills. The originators of the model, Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz, suggested the process should never be taught in isolation in the library but connected to the classroom learning in collaboration with the classroom teacher. Students spent library time questioning, locating, accessing, and evaluating information, engaging with the information, making sure it made sense to each student. Finally students synthesized the information in some sort of presentation form and evaluated the overall process. Students used Big6 vocabulary to describe each step of the research process. Students were engaged in each stage of the learning, often times working together learning from each other. Students couldn’t get overwhelmed with research as they could reflect on each stage or specific skills as we followed through with the process.
Over the years, I moved away from teaching Big6. Teachers had much less time, if any, to collaborate on research projects. Districts’ standardized curriculum, with structured pacing guides, defined classroom teachers’ instruction with little leeway to pursue additional collaboration or student research connected to the curriculum. I knew better, but I taught technology skills more often in isolation giving less attention to the research process. Research skill lessons turned into multiple smaller units of instruction but with what I misunderstood as unnecessary to introduce the Big6 vocabulary and process.
Fast forward to 2016 where I am in the Master’s of Digital Education Leadership (DEL) at Seattle Pacific University (SPU). This quarter I am studying the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) student standards. Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor, expects that students can use digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students should plan strategies to guide inquiry; locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media; evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks; and process data and report results. All of these criteria are the exact skills of the Big6 problem solving process.
I asked the question, How has the Big6 research model adapted to the 21st century learner applying digital tools, information, & communication?
This inquiry led me to further understand the expectations of the 21st century learner and information fluency. Jennifer Sharkey shared that “Students today demonstrate a deep-seated need to communicate and collaborate, to access information at any time of the day or night, and to have the tools they need to synthesize, evaluate, and create information” (2013). She went on to say that educators need to innovate pedagogically to help students develop a high level of aptitude to interact fluently with both information and technology. (2013) What I hear is that Big6 skill development is more necessary than ever for student success in our information rich world. The Big6 problem solving process needs to evolve pedagogically with the needs of the students who want to connect and collaborate. As Mike Eisenberg noted, “The Big6 is both a set of essential life skills and a process. The Big6 approach provides a unified, process-context for learning and teaching information and technology skills. The Big6 is applicable to every age group and level of development-from pre-K to senior citizen” (2003).
So, I’m going back to Big6.
To be information literate, one needs to be an effective problem solver. So makes the case that learning the Big6 problem solving process is necessary for students to become 21st-century learners. Joyce Needham shared the advantages of learning Big6: It requires learning presented as a series of problems or questions that lead to inquiry; multiple literacies (including technology) and content can be integrated in a logical manner; Big6 provides a framework of learning so students can make logical connections between steps; and finally, individual learning standards can be taught within the steps of Big6 as students solve problems (2010).
Never greater in our history have students needed problem solving skills. Sharkey shared in her research that students, when faced with conducting research within academic search engines and databases students struggle because their established search habits do not transfer effectively. The four predominant challenges they encounter are getting started, defining a topic, narrowing the topic, and then weeding out non-relevant sources (2013). For reference, this is Big 6 process 1 (Task Definition) and 2 (Location and Access). Students have difficulty moving beyond lower-order skills-they “graze” in their research rather than “deep dive” (Sharkey, 2013). Librarians, classroom teachers, digital education instructors all must provide skills for students to move to higher order competencies that involve interpreting, synthesizing, and constructing new concepts.
Big6 can provide more than just a “laundry list” of isolated skills for a meaningful, unified information technology literacy curriculum. Big6 problem solving process addresses the “when” and “why” technology is used and moves beyond the “how” it’s being used (Eisenberg, 2010). Students use the process as a guide allowing for creativity, flexibility and finding a genuine purpose for research. It creates more meaningful student learning and therefore more apt to transfer the skills to any kind of problem: “passion project” large or “which bus to take to the mall” small.
Technology use and digital skill development are naturally embedded within the Big6 problem solving process. Hanna Hermes, a fellow colleague in the DEL program, shared a Big6 infographic showing specific technology skills for each problem solving process.
Teachers and librarians, including myself, are already teaching students how to use digital tools. It’s time I bring back the language of Big6 so students understand the context in how it’s used within the research process. It is even more important that students know digital tools are constantly changing and evolving, but understand the meaning of each stage of the inquiry process is essential for further understanding and learning.
Another fellow DEL colleague, Liz Ebersole, continues to use Big6 as an English/Language Arts instructor and technology educator. She said, “I stuck with the steps and found my own methods to guide my students through the process. My students have complete choice in writing assignment topics, and I fit Big 6 into my classroom narrative whenever we are working on an expository (informational) or persuasive piece. I don’t overdo it – I just drop it in whenever students are naturally doing one of the steps.” The Big6 skills do not necessarily need to be completed in any particular order and a given stage may be completed more than once (thus, the Big6 isn’t lock-step or linear) (Eisenberg, 2003). The process provides flexibility for the teacher and the students.
Liz reminded me it’s about talking about the steps and the process as part of the narrative of students’ classrooms. “It’s okay if each teacher uses different tools… that is like real life! The important thing is that students are learning a valuable process that will help them to be better academic consumers and producers.”
It is my responsibility as an educator to provide the framework-the process-the problem-solving model to ensure students can be effective and independent critical thinkers.
That’s why I’m going back to Big6.
Come join me for a Big6 webinar: The Big6 Curriculum: Essential & Practical. Tuesday, April 5th, 1pm-2pm PST.
Eisenberg, M. B. (2003). Technology for a purpose: Technology for information problem-solving with the Big6®. Tech Trends, 47(1), 13-17.
Eisenberg, M., Johnson, D., & Berkowitz, B. (2010). Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT) Skills Curriculum Based on the Big6 Skills Approach to Information Problem-Solving. Library Media Connection, 28(6), 24-27. Retrieved from: http://big6.com/media/freestuff/LMC_Big6-ICT_Curriculum_LMC_MayJune2010.pdf
Eisenberg, M., & Murray, P. (2015, Oct 29). The Big6 curriculum: comprehensive information and communication technology (ICT) literacy for all students [webinar]. In edWeb.net. Retrieved from http://home.edweb.net/webinar/the-big6-curriculum-comprehensive-information-and-communication-technology-ict-literacy-for-all-students/
Needham, J. (2010). Meeting the New AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner via Big6 Problem Solving. Library Media Connection, 28(6), 42-43. Retrieved from: https://ls5443wiki.wikispaces.com/file/view/Big+6.pdf
O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(1), 33–39.
Eisenberg, M. (n.d.). Big6 Image [Digital image]. Retrieved from http://www.chsd117.org/index.php/antioch/big6
Eisenberg, M., & Berkowitz, B. (2010). Technology in Big6 Context [Digital image]. Retrieved from http://big6.com/media/Big6-Tech2010.JPG