By Kim Simpson, Lower School Librarian; Kelly Kessler, Middle School Librarian; and Patricia Kuhn, Dean of Student Research and Library Resources
Where are we going to eat tonight? What kind lawn mower should I purchase? Where should I go to college? How should I spend my vacation in Hawaii?
Everyday each of us tries to answer dozens of questions. Sometimes the questions don’t require much thought or reflection. But many questions require us to do some research – whether we realize it or not. The process we use to answer these questions often determines how satisfied we are with the results. Was the restaurant any good? I should have checked to see if they had gluten-free options. Does my new lawn mower run well? I should have selected a different motor. We are seldom aware of all the steps we go through to solve everyday problems. But we do use a process – and it’s often the same process we use to tackle academic questions in the classroom.
Michael Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz, working through the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in the 1980s, realized that the process people use to make decisions could be broken down into six steps. And these steps could be applied to any question needing to be answered. Why not formalize the process and apply it to the information over-loaded world of academia? This was a particularly prescient move in the early days of the Internet. They called the process the Big6 Research Model.
Managing information overload
According the Big6 website, “Big6 is a six-stage model to help anyone solve problems or make decisions by using information.”
This year, as part of ongoing formalization and contextualization of the research skills being taught at Randolph, our librarians have implemented the Big6 Research Process approach to tackling those questions our students grapple with throughout their Randolph career.
Big6 also breaks down steps people go through, as noted on their website, "consciously or not—when they seek or apply information to solve a problem or make a decision.” By breaking it down and focusing on the steps in the process, we strive to bring greater awareness to the individual steps in the process, allowing students to appreciate the authority they possess over their own learning."
Here’s how it goes:
- Define the Task - What’s expected of me? What exactly do I need to figure out? Do I have a deadline? Look at rubrics, ask questions, and clarify expected results.
- Develop Information-Seeking Strategies – This is the brainstorming stage. Where could I find information about my problem? Could I interview someone? Use a database? Maybe there’s a book about my topic. Do I need current information, or can I rely on historical data? Who can help me out? If I interview someone, what questions do I need to ask? Build effective search terms. Make a plan!
- Locate and Access Information – Physically find the information you need. Go to the library. Use effective search terms to query a database. Refine your search terms. Call an outside source. Open a book and locate the information you need efficiently using the index and table of contents. Refine search terms yet again.
- Use Information - Read, record, listen, question, and extract the information you need to answer your question. Keep track of your sources using an approved citation model. Avoid plagiarism by paraphrasing and taking good notes. Evaluate sources for bias and credibility.
- Synthesize – Select a mode of presentation. Put it all together, organizing information in a cohesive and coherent manner. Present information according to requirements, keeping the audience and purpose in mind. Utilize multiple informational formats if necessary (and beneficial). Create new understandings! Cite your sources.
- Evaluate - Reflect. Did I answer my question? Did I do it effectively and efficiently? Could I have used better sources of information? Am I pleased with my work? Did I complete each step of the process?
The best thing about the model? It’s not linear. Students are encouraged to revisit any stage at any time to better complete the process.
Building research skills
In an academic setting, answering research questions and developing thesis statements and doing it well requires an organized, systematic and thoughtful approach. The Big6 model demands that approach.
“The metacognitive approach taken by the Big6, in the form of scaffolding, was found to improve students’ attitudes and achievement, and also provided students with some valuable skills that they felt they could use in other classes,” says Rebecca McLean, in a paper, “Exploring the Merits of the Big6 Information Literacy Model.”
The skills that Big6 introduces can be scaled to address developmentally appropriate proficiencies in learners of any age. Skills simply build upon themselves. Students require less and less assistance as their abilities (and confidence) grow, culminating in independent research mastery. In an attempt to both standardize and contextualize these skills, the Randolph librarians developed the Library Research Scope and Sequence, outlining the research skills students in Kindergarten through 12th grade should develop at Randolph.
“One idea on which the Big6 is based is that if students embark on a quest for information equipped with a set of skills (the six steps) they will be less likely to get lost in the sea of information and they will be more focused on the important tasks. In other words, the process will be more efficient," (McLean 2). Big6 is cross curricular and applicable both inside and outside the classroom. Win-win.
Respecting the process
Randolph students do a lot of research in the course of their 13 years here. Randolph is unique in the amount of critical thinking and inquiry it asks of its students. Understanding the process required of meaningful inquiry gives our students one more tool necessary for their college careers and for navigating life’s surprising twists and turns.