Pen’s TL Blog

Journey to the Centre of Teacher Librarianship

Kuhlthau the guru April 12, 2009

Filed under: Information literacy,ISPs,Teaching and learning strategies — penszen @ 2:19 am

I finally got around to reading Carol Kuhlthau and yes, she is a guru. Having looked at a few of the other information search processes (ISPs) like the Big 6, the NSW DET process and Herring’s PLUS model, I really appreciate the more holistic approach Kuhlthau takes which incorporates the feeling side of the learning process as well as the thinking and acting aspects.

Her chapter titled Learning as a Process, in Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services (2004) is a fascinatng read. Revisiting some learning theory after nearly twenty years was invigorating. Is it because I’m older now, with more life experience, more insight into teaching and learning, that Dewey seems so brilliant? I don’t remember appreciating him as an undergraduate. But to say in 1944 that a democratic society “must see that its members are educated for personal initiative and adaptability” (in Kuhlthau, 2004, p.15) is so progressive. For decades after he wrote, schools were still places where children had to sit quietly and rote learn facts without questioning the teacher. In some classes I fear that’s still the case.

George Kelly is a new name to me, though I have heard of personal constructs and subscribe wholeheartedly to the concept. I am a great believer in the “endless opportunity for change” (p.17) that Kuhlthau describes, though sadly many people seem to find threats to their personal constructs too overwhelming and simply reject the possibility of change. Attitudes about homosexuality seem deeply ingrained, as well as beliefs about gender roles. From an educational perspective, I have seen young learners firmly holding on to personal constructs of themselves as ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’, not to mention the ‘naughty’ kids who find it hard to reimagine themselves as anything different. It takes a patient and persistant teacher or carer, who can repeatedly find opportunities for that ‘naughty’ child to do the right thing and feel the positive consequences that come from it, for that construct to change.

Jerome Bruner builds on the work of earlier constructivists. He describes construction of knowledge as a complex, confusing process. He stresses that thought, feeling and action do not each stand alone, but “constitute a unified whole” (in Kuhlthau, 2004, p.23). Too much new information arouses anxiety but too much redundant information induces boredom. As educators providing a learning experience, we must find a balance that will stimulate the learner without provoking so much anxiety that the learner will switch off.

Kuhlthau summarizes thus: “The process of construction incorporates a cycle of acting and reflecting, feeling and formulating, predicting and choosing, and interpreting and creating” (p.26).

In our second Kuhlthau reading, The Process of Learning from Information (1995), these theories are put into practice. Kuhlthau explains how important a process is to cope with the information overload we are faced with in modern society (p.2). Without a process to follow, we are aimlessly grabbing at bits and pieces of information, with no coherent strategy, easily becoming overwhelmed.

Kuhlthau’s model works through the steps of initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection and presentation, but it also describes the feelings that a learner may experience throughout the process. When a learner knows what to expect, they are better able to cope with the feelings of confusion and anxiety that arise during the challenging phases of the process. The emotions are normalised and when equipped with strategies to move forward, the learner need not remain paralysed by confusion and indecision.

I particularly liked the discussion about what is ‘enough’ (p.10), as I am currently flailing a little in my own assignment, still reading and seeking and wondering if I should include this, or that, perhaps the other. I suspect I haven’t quite formulated my own perspective, which Kuhlthau explains is necessary to determine what is enough. Her ISP “treats the concept of enough as what is enough to make sense for oneself” (p.10). I recognise that I am still cycling through stages two to five… selecting, exploring, formulating and collecting, wondering if I’ve selected an appropriate obstacle, exploring some more, reformulating, collecting some more…

Which reminds me, I have an assignment to write.

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3 Responses to “Kuhlthau the guru”

  1. Fiona Says:

    Glad to hear that someone else is enjoying reading all the learning theory! Me too.

  2. Anne Olsen Says:

    Hello Penszen,

    I have finally found you!

    I decided to take a few days off after Ass 1 stress and look for people who have responded to my Blog from Hell.

    I like Kuhlthau’s approach very much; I’m only just beginning to engage with this material but have been impressed with the Dewey references (also in McGregor) re. constructivist models of learning. There’s something reassuring about Dewey’s visionary contemplation and worrying too, since we seem (in today’s teaching profession) to be terribly slavish still to formulaic models of learning that ignore a rich history of genuine information exchange as opposed to prescription.

    “Attitudes about homosexuality seem deeply ingrained, as well as beliefs about gender roles. From an educational perspective, I have seen young learners firmly holding on to personal constructs of themselves as ’stupid’ or ’slow’, not to mention the ‘naughty’ kids who find it hard to reimagine themselves as anything different. It takes a patient and persistant teacher or carer, who can repeatedly find opportunities for that ‘naughty’ child to do the right thing and feel the positive consequences that come from it, for that construct to change.”

    There are so many ingrained prejudices in our society and, I agree that teachers need to encourage improved attitudes about and approaches to the world rather than attempt to impose them, although change is imperative. I know about the ‘naughty’ child who attempts to alleviate her/his own insecurity by disrupting the classroom and when I talk to these children (secondary in my case) away from their peers they show that they actually do understand what they are doing and why.

    Some of them just cannot sit still for more than two minutes without stretching or yawning or turning around or talking off topic. I imagine that some of our students would benefit from a different kind of ‘classroom’. I’m not sure what that classroom might be – possibly one enhanced by collaboration with information services and initiatives.

    Back to Kuhlthau: It’s that thing about the “feeling side of the learning process” – I can’t imagine learning without feeling. (I’ve been debating about buying the book through Amazon or elsewhere but sooo expensive.)

    My assignment is poor – I’d pass it for endeavour and nice expression and fail it as insufficiently scholarly but I find that getting it in became more important than trying to make it right.: the student’s lament perhaps 😉

    Thank you for this post – really enjoyed reading it.

    Anne

  3. […] behind Kuhlthau’s work inspired me, especially Dewey’s vision. I wrote in my blog entry Kuhlthau the Guru (12/4): “[T]o say in 1944 that a democratic society “must see that its members are educated for […]


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