This critical analysis reflects on the process of creating a pathfinder on Antarctica designed for Year 6 students. Its purpose is to guide students to a range of resources where they can enhance information literacy (IL) skills. This reflection analyses the curricular context and learning outcomes, search strategies and tools used, how the pathfinder enhances IL skills and how a pathfinder relates to the role of Teacher Librarian (TL).
Curricular context of topic and projected learning outcomes when students are using the pathfinder
For this Year 6 subject, three Australian Curriculum General Capabilities learning outcomes were selected: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability and Personal and Social Capability (ACARA, 2013). The curricular context of Antarctica is rather broad. In a real life situation, classroom teacher collaboration would be essential to target specific outcomes and so the TL was aware of all learning needs (Kuntz, 2003).
I had difficulty in translating the outcomes for students. This process highlighted the need to use appropriate language, particularly for those with poor literacy skills. The pathfinder as a teaching aid provides students with opportunities to determine their own information needs and to make informed decisions as they locate and use information. Students achieve the learning outcomes as they are able to work independently at their own pace, which is a major strength (Valenza, 2008).
Search strategy, use and evaluation of tools and sources
My own knowledge was extended in utilising different search strategies and engines to locate resources. Students often over rely on Google (Kuiper, et al, 2008); however, Google searches retrieved websites too complex for Year 6 students. Twurdy was difficult to access and took a long time to load. These difficulties reiterated the importance of website evaluation and links being regularly checked to ensure they remain active and appropriate for students’ needs (Kuntz, 2003). In contrast, Kidrex was simple to use and provided a good selection of resources although it contained some broken links. Through this process I enhanced my own ICT skills and the importance of modelling effective search strategies was reinforced. My knowledge of website evaluation was also useful as I considered educational, reliability and technical criteria (Herring, 2011).
How the pathfinder will enhance students’ use of IL skills
Students often experience difficulties in finding suitable resources to meet their needs (Valenza, 2004). The pathfinder is a teaching and learning tool that enhances IL skills as students are guided to resources where they can independently locate, select and evaluate information suitable for their learning needs, which is a fundamental life skill (Kuhlthau et al, 2007; ASLA, 2013 & Valenza, 2008). In this instance, more explicit IL instructions were not included due to word count constraints.
Students’ IL skills are developed through navigation, link exploration and assessing their own information needs in a regulated environment. The annotations and explicit instructions encourage students to think more critically about the resources they need and allow for differentiation. Students are able to work independently to develop information search strategies and evaluation skills to locate information that best suit their needs (Hague & Payton, 2010 & Kuntz, 2003). This caters to individual learning needs at students work at their own pace (Valenza, 2004). However, although a pathfinder develops IL skills it is not comprehensive (Kuntz, 2003). Students still require support and scaffolding, with a TL modelling effective search strategies.
How the process of constructing the pathfinder relates to the TL’s role
Constructing the pathfinder was challenging. I discovered it is a valuable tool to enhance the teaching and learning of IL skills and it is the role of the TL, as information specialist, to lead in this regard and prepare students for the world beyond school (O’Connell, 2008 & Horizon Report, 2013). The pathfinder has many strengths; it can be duplicated, refined to meet individual needs, be differentiated and used for different subjects across all levels, saving time in the long term, and this is important for a TL (Kuntz, 2003). IL is embedded throughout the curriculum and it is the role of the TL to offer support and training to classroom teachers to create collaborative pathfinders and to empower students to identify their own information needs (O’Connell, 2008 & ACRA, 2013).
However, the process was initially frustrating and time consuming. This is a limitation in a school context as it takes time to select suitable resources and annotate them (Kuntz, 2003). Difficulties were encountered in attempting a wiki as I found it cumbersome and difficult to navigate. This was abandoned for a weebly which I found much simpler to use. However, once construction was underway and I became more confident, it became evident how important pathfinders could be to a 21st century TL. Another major limitation is access to technology. Currently our school has one computer lab with limited computers that students share so pathfinders may be problematic unless students work collaboratively, which is incongruous to their purpose.
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A pathfinder is a useful teaching and learning tool to enhance IL skills vital for the 21st century. Students independently engage with pathfinders to locate, select and evaluate information suitable for their learning needs. I believe that pathfinders are indispensable to a TL whose role is to provide ongoing support and scaffolding to maximise efficiency and to achieve IL learning outcomes.
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Valenza, J. (2008). Top ten reasons why your next pathfinder should be a wiki. Retrieved
from http://informationfluency.wikispaces.com/Ten+reasons+why+your+ next+pathfinder+should+be+a+wiki