Effects of Big6 on Student’s Becoming Independent Problem-Solvers
Jennifer Lippert and Kari Thorpe
University of Wisconsin La Crosse
Many of our Students seem to lack the strategies that are needed to solve problems independently.
“My mom and dad were gone all night, and I didn’t have anyone to ask for help.”
“I can’t find any information on my topic.” Many students share comments like these. They are unsure of where to go when they need help. Students have been enabled to depend on others for all the answers instead of working through problems independently.
“What are we doing today?” “What is the date?” “What’s the next step?” These questions pull at our patience the most since students know where the answers to these questions can be found.
We began to ask ourselves, “Why do so many students lack the problem-solving skills needed to find solutions to not only the challenging problems of academic work but also the everyday situations that arise?”
At the beginning of the year, a colleague of ours introduced us to the Big6, a process model for information problem-solving strategies. At first, we thought this model would be useful for students just to do research. Then we began to realize it stands for practical implementation of solving essential (basic) problems in everyday life. We felt this model could provide students with the strategies they need to become independent, successful problem-solvers.
Wanting to find out more about this program, we reviewed literature that discussed the affects of the Big6 problem-solving strategies on students’ ability to solve problems independently?
To familiarize ourselves with the Big6 problem-solving steps, we read through the program’s workshop handbook and contacted our expert, JaDene Denniston, a consultant of this program. Searching through ERIC documents lead us to a few journal articles about the Big6. We also found several valuable articles and documents in the Big6 online newsletters. Since we are focusing on a particular program, most of the literature we reviewed was written with a biased slant for Big6. To broaden our search, we also reviewed the concepts of problem-based learning, independent learning, and self-regulated learning. As we reviewed the literature, the common themes that surfaced were motivation, confidence, literacy support, independence, technology, and problem-based learning.
Big6 Steps to Information Problem-Solving
Task Definition (define the problem and identify the information needed)
Information Seeking (determine all possible sources and select the best one)
Location and Access (locate sources and find the information within the sources)
Use of Information (engage and extract relevant information)
Synthesis (organize the information and present the results)
Evaluation (judge the results and the process) (Eisenberg, Berkowitz, 1999).
Too many students give up, become discouraged and frustrated, and appear unenthusiastic about their work. Big6 helps students to take ownership of their learning and to become motivated and excited about their daily classroom work. The Big6 allows students to stay organized, take control of their work, and complete classroom tasks in an orderly and easy to understand manner (Robinson, Laura, 2003). This strategy also promotes metacognitive skills that allow students the opportunity for debriefing. Students love taking ownership of their learning, and verbalizing their successes, failures, and levels of confidence and anxiety they experience (Akin, 1998).
In November of 2000, a request was posted on the LM_NET and Big6 listservs asking respondents who use the Big6 to participate in a survey. These surveys asked what the impact of the Big6 was with their students. The responses were varied and highly positive. Most of the comments related that the Big6 helped students to “focus.” There were also a number of comments that students using the Big6 reported “less anxiety” and “more confidence” when approaching assignments and projects. Carol Kuhlthau (1989) has conducted extensive research on students’ feelings and attitudes during the information research process. Luhlthau found that students’ emotions do change-usually from uncertainty and anxiety to security and confidence as they successfully proceed through the process.
Most children do not enjoy reading expository text. Some children become bored with expository style writing. Others become frustrated. Many of them lack the strategies to read expository writing. This affects their learning in core subject areas, their confidence, and their attitude toward reading. Further, in the world of abundant, ever-increasing information, the inability to read expository text greatly affects the child’s development of information literacy skills and lifelong learning strategies. Most children enter school with limited, if any experience with expository writing. The style of expository text is unfamiliar and challenging. Students must develop strategies to read informational writing silently. With experience, appropriate instructional strategies such as Big6 support struggling readers and independent learning across the curriculum (Pages, 2003).
Independence! That’s a major goal. It involves giving children the tools, power, and confidence to frame questions and seek answers. The Big6 approach gives students the guidance they need to ultimately take charge of their own learning. Further, the processes involved in implementing the Big6 approach support children’s development as readers, writers, and learners. This approach gives students the skills they need to develop their lifetime learning strategies. Big6 skills support student development of reading and writing strategies. Coupling effective reading-writing instruction with Big6 Skills helps students of the 21st Century spell success “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-C-E!” (Pages, 2003).
Technology/Visual Learning Tools
With the help of technology, graphic organizers and other visual learning tools such as Inspiration, students can process, organize, and prioritize new information. Using graphic organizers with the Big6 process can help students build their own knowledge and reflect on how new information links to their mental framework, or schema, of the world. This is important because, according to Buzan (1996), the human brain works primarily with key concepts in an interlinked and integrated manner. For each step of the Big6, there is at least one graphic organizer that helps students integrate new information with information that they already know. Graphic organizers give students maps they can use to locate, gather, organize, and synthesize information from a variety of sources.
Tool for Parents and Real-Life, Problem-Based
The Big6 model is a good tool for parents to provide their children with the opportunity to review and practice their homework. They can guide their children through assignments and at the same time allow them to become independent learners. (Eisenberg, Michael B.; Berkowitz, Robert E., 1995).
Children can develop possible solutions for real-life, messy problems. “The process of growing up isn’t easy. It requires us to work through problems, running into barriers as we gather information and trying to reconcile new information to what we already know. That’s why information problem-solving processes, such as the Big6, are important; they allow us to externalize the process we go through” (Ghulin, 1999). Research has shown that teens who are able to problem solve are more apt to be resilient.
Reflecting on the research and review of the literature, Big6 seems to sell itself. Students, teachers, and parents are able to use this process to be persistent in looking for ways to solve problems with confidence and perseverance. We plan to teach our students the Big6 model and infuse these strategies into our everyday assignments and challenges as well as bigger research projects. Through teacher observations, student surveys, and student journals, we plan to record changes in students’ ability to independently solve problems, and their overall confidence as a problem solver. We will start by teaching the 6 steps of the Big6 program and applying these strategies to basic, real-life scenarios. Once the students become comfortable with this process, we hope to discover the positive impact the Big6 model will have on students becoming independent, productive citizens and life-long problem solvers.
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