The Big6™ Experience: Process As Product by Kate Herzog

Librarians know that 21st century skills include both information and technology literacy.  Today everyone needs the ability to identify his/her information needs and then to find, use, apply and evaluate information to answer those needs.  Librarians are also well-versed in ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards.  These eight basic standards relate directly to the Big6™ skill set.  However, at the Big6™ Summer Leadership Seminar, which took place July 26-27 in Rochester, I learned that this skill set can be utilized at all curriculum levels and in a variety of ways.

The Big6™ is not just an information literacy curriculum; it is “an information problem-solving process and a set of skills which provide a strategy for effectively and efficiently meeting information needs.  The Big6™ Skills approach can be used whenever students are in a situation, academic or personal, which requires information to solve a task.  This model is transferable to school, personal, and work applications, as well as all content areas and the full range of grade levels.  When taught collaboratively with content area objectives, it serves to ensure that students are information literate.” (Eisenberg, Michael B. and Bob Berkowitz. "The Big Six Skills Approach to Information Problem Solving." 1988 From ERIC Digest EDO-IR-96-04)

To review, the Big6™ Skills Approach to Information Problem Solving Includes:

1        Task Definition
1.1       Define the problem
1.2       Identify the information needed to complete the
           task or solve the problem
2        Information Seeking Strategies
2.1        Brainstorm the range of all possible sources
2.2       Select the best source by evaluating priorities
3        Location & Access
3.1       Locate sources both intellectually and physically
3.2       Find information within sources
4        Use of Information
4.1      Engage(e.g., read, hear, view, touch)
             the information
4.2       Extract relevant information
5        Synthesis
5.1       Organize information from multiple sources
5.2       Present the information
6        Evaluation
6.1       Judge the result/product (effectiveness)
6.2       Judge the process (efficiency)


Using the Big6™, the student asks a series of questions to get him/her going in the right direction:

1.    What does the teacher want me to do?
2.    What books and resources can I use for this project?  Which are the best?
3.    Where can I find these resources?  Where is the information found in those resources?
4.    What can I use from these resources?
5.    How can I organize the information?  What project can I create to show what I’ve learned?
6.    How will I know I did my job well?


The workshop began with the concept of change and planning for change.  “Education is all about change.  We can no longer rely on the old ways of doing things.”  In order to effect change, several elements must be in place:

  •    Compatibility – change must be compatible with current practice
  •    Complexity – change must be easy to understand and to explain
           to others
  •    Observability – change must be observable
  •    Try-ability – change should be easy to try with too much

Bob Berkowitz adds the following points about change:

1.    Change is just around the corner.  Don’t get complacent or
          comfortable with the status quo
2.    People learn through repetition.
3.    We can learn patterns to help us be both effective and
4.    People are brought together through shared common

The Information Age has brought a host of problems including: information overload, information quality, a lack of information and information technology skills; and keeping curricula, instruction, and assignments in context with current information technologies.  Eisenberg and Berkowitz make the case that the Big6™ process can be applied to all subjects with students of all ages.  Big6™ is both adaptable and flexible and can be applied to any information situation.  In addition, technology skills become meaningful within a Big6™ process.  Finally, Big6™ helps librarians to integrate information literacy into all subject area curricula at all grade levels.

Plagiarism has become a serious problem in the Information Age.  Eisenberg and Berkowitz make the case that (from the get-go) educators should create a “culture of citing”.  They suggest that teachers begin by having students provide ‘direct quote’ answers.  They should then provide ‘direct quote’ answers to students and have students put the quotes into their own words.  In addition, when a picture is used in a PowerPoint slide, when teachers use a photocopy from a book, we (instructors and librarians) should always indicate the source of the material in our handouts.  We should model the concept of citation in context in all the materials we prepare.  We should have students cite all sources all the time.  We should not accept work without citations.  We should use citing in class discussions as well.  Our students then learn the protocols for citing ideas, images and words that they have found in sources.

Another related 21st century skill is Information Technology.  The presenters make the case that, while these skills are important, we do not “provide an adequate model for students to transfer and apply skills from situation to situation.  These curricula address the ‘how’ of computer use, but rarely the ‘when’ or ‘why’… how those various skills fit together to solve problems and complete tasks.  Students need to be able to use computers and other technologies flexibly, creatively and purposefully.”  (Eisenberg, Michael B. and Bob Berkowitz. "Learning and Teaching Information Technology: Computer Skills in Context." 2002 From ERIC Digest EDO-IR-2002-04)

Day one ended with a discussion of instructional design.  The presenters discussed the importance of intrinsic motivation and intellectual curiosity to lifelong learning.  They presented the ”ARCS Model of Motivational Design,” which identifies four essential components for motivational instruction:

   Attention strategies for arousing and sustaining curiosity and interest
o    Perceptual arousal: novelty, surprise, incongruity, uncertainty
o    Inquiry arousal: stimulate curiosity by posing questions and/or problems to solve
o    Variability: incorporate a range of methods and media

    Relevance strategies that link to learners’ needs, interests, and motives
o    Goal orientation: objectives and purpose for both the instruction and methods for successful achievement
o    Motive matching: match objectives to student needs and motives
o    Familiarity: present content in ways that and understandable and related to students’ experiences and values

  Confidence strategies that help students develop positive expectations for successful achievement
o    Learning requirements: inform students of learning and performance requirements and assessment criteria
o    Success opportunities: provide challenging and meaningful opportunities for successful learning
o    Personal responsibility: link successful learning to students’ personal efforts and abilities

   Satisfaction strategies that provide both extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement of the efforts
o    Intrinsic reinforcement: encourage and support intrinsic enjoyment of the experience
o    Extrinsic rewards: provide positive reinforcement and motivational feedback
o    Equity: maintain consistent standards and consequences for success

(Small, Ruth V. "Motivation in Instructional Design." 1997 From ERIC Digest ED409895) 

From this, Berkowitz offers the following “recipe for [student] improvement:”

  • What do I already know?
  • What do I want to find out?
  • How am I going to find out?
  • What did I learn?

The second day of the seminar focused on curriculum integration which reinforces this process through integrating it into lessons and units.  Eisenberg and Berkowtiz believe that Big6™ skills can be mapped to all curricula.  By applying these skills consistently throughout the course of students’ education, teachers and librarians can help their students develop these critical lifelong learning skills.  The Eisenberg and Berkowitz emphasized partnerships and collaboration by librarians with teachers, with parents, and with administration. 

The presenters suggest both a micro level (with integrated instructional units and lessons) and a macro level (integrating Big6™ concepts into classes, grades, subject areas, and/or overall school levels).  By doing so, educators focus on the important elements of instruction, the key skills for student success as well as where students may be having difficulties, and on the specifics of delivering integrated instruction throughout units and lessons.  Collaborative unit and lesson implementation should ask AND answer these questions:

1.    What do we want students to know, do, and be like when they finish this unit of study?
2.    What are the content area objectives:
3.    What are the Big6™ Skills objectives?
4.    Where does this fit into the overall curriculum?
5.    What will students do to demonstrate their new knowledge or skill?
6.    How will the instructional unit be managed?  (grouping, timeframe, materials, etc.)

Assessment is a strategy for systematically observing and describing what students are learning.  “Teachers should communicate expectations as well as the techniques that will be used to evaluate student performance in relation to expectations.”  Assessment means “going beyond simply whether the students learned the content that was taught.”  Assessment should also “develop ways for students to address deficiencies and problems.”  One of the main tasks I set for myself after completing this seminar was to work with our instructors to develop a set of assessment rubrics to provide to students in conjunction with assignments.  “Students must be able to assess the results of their efforts by analyzing the effectiveness of their products” in addition to the process they used to create them.  Self assessment helps students learn to:

  • Value and recognize quality work
  • Reflect on the says they go about tackling assignments and tasks
  •  Determine how they can improve
  • Recognize the relationship between self-discipline and achievement
  • Gain self-confidence in solving information problems

Providing a scoring rubric in conjunction with an assignment encourages students to assume ownership of their work through self-assessment.  Not only should they be able to identify the components that define a job well done, but students should determine whether they were efficient in time management, product development, and even self-assessment.  The scoring rubric should also include an indication of the emphases as well as weights for categories in addition to a prescription for improvement using the rubric as the diagnosis.

The two-day experience was intense and jam-packed with implement-able ideas and concepts.  Where to start?  Later this week, I will be presenting an in service to our instructors on developing assignment grading rubrics to distribute to students with all their assignments.  In addition, I will be reminding instructors to model the inclusion of citation in all of the materials the present or distribute to their classes.

If you are interested in more details, feel free to contact me via e-mail  I truly appreciated the support that WNYLRC provided in assisting me to finance this wonderful experience and would recommend you consider trying to attend next summer’s workshop.


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