#blogjune 22: I Love Info Lit

I had an AnyQuestions shift earlier this evening. It brought about one of those simply wonderful moments in the communication of information literacy.

The young person I was helping was a year seven student. She came on with the question, “Which of the words in these sentences are adverbs?”.

I greeted her and in response she started simply pasting in a series of sentences.

“Hold on,” I said, “I can help you but it looks to me like you’re simply wanting me to do your homework for you here.” (When chatting I imagine myself and the person on the other side of the screen are talking, so I find it useful to notate chat interactions in that way.)

She logged off.

Shortly she reappeared in the queue. This time the question was different: “What is an adverb”.

Knowing she might log off when she saw Mr. Unhelpful (not my actual operator name) again, I quickly said, “Now that’s a question I can help with,” and added “We can even use your sentences to check we got the answer right”

“Okay,” she responded, smiling. Well, she added the smiley emoticon. Either way I took it as a good sign. (For those who think my theory just broke it just got better but that’s a post for another venue.)

We had a little discussion about what she thought an adverb was. She knew that it was a word that describes a verb but she “didn’t get it”. Working through the concepts she had the parts (she knew verbs were doing words) which suggested the approach of locating the verb first.

She was well able to find the verb in her first sentence, “Abby often practised her highbeam routine in the gynmasium.”

Knowing she was going to live in a digital age, I introduced her to the define: function in google search. We looked for definitions of “practiced” and she quickly caught on to the principle. Once she had confirmed “practiced” was a verb (remembering a child who is not confident with adverbs shouldn’t be worried with cases and tenses), she easily picked “often” as the related adverb, which she checked and confirmed.

We managed a second, slightly more complex sentence with the adverb at the end before she had to leave for dinner – as did I.

I’d like to note here a possible objection to the use of this tool as a shortcut which threatens learning. It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. I’ve got two responses, one pragmatic and one philosophical.

I can’t imagine a teacher or librarian objecting to a child using a dictionary. If she were using a dictionary for the same purpose, her physical activities might be different, but the key cognitive – that is to say learning – processes would be the same. In both situations she would be actively forming a hypothesis (word ‘x’ is a verb/adverb) and interpreting  a resource with quantifiable reliability to test that hypothesis.

That reliability can be determined trivially – the define function allows clickthrough to specific online versions of reputable dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster.

My philosophical response rests around the concept of enculturation. This is not at heart a caring process. Our world is rife with ideological conflicts that cost lives and cause massive suffering. More often than not the people creating those conflicts believe what they are doing is the right thing according to their inherited concepts, beliefs and values, much as we’d prefer otherwise.

I argue that education, and information literacy education in this case is purposeful enculturation by another name. I believe that this part of the enculturation process must have the potential to lead to a benefit that must outweigh the dangers, or we simply wouldn’t still be here.

The concept “shortcuts are bad” itself is a product of enculturation processes, likely stemming from the Protestant Work Ethic. Here’s some news, particularly for my New Zealand readers. The whole place was fished up by a tupunu tāne Māui. He was what we call a trickster god. In other words – shortcuts are good.

How good? How about this:

When we take useful shortcuts to learning,  a baby with roughly the same brain as someone from 2000 years ago can potentially become a neurosurgeon, or even something we, enculturated as we are, can’t even imagine.


About seanmurgatroyd
@seanfish Husband of @FiFYI Father of Rosie Librarian Musician Writer

5 Responses to #blogjune 22: I Love Info Lit

  1. Hiya. My daughters’ teacher tells them to never ever use Wikipedia. I tell them differently. I tell them to use it initially as a clue and a signpost to other possibilities.

    I am teaching them to recognise valuable entries (reliable sources), and how to mine useful info out of not so valuable entries.

    Solid cited sources at the end of Wikipedia entries, are generally what they need to look for.

    Course, there are other items that will come up in a Google search – but I’m not as negative as their teacher is about Wikipedia.

    The girls just need to learn how to evaluate the sources they pull up – discounting Wikipedia, just because its Wikipedia is not the answer I feel!

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Oh but one has to! There are many wonderful teachers, my dear mother included, but sometimes to be a good teacher oneself (and I very much count parents as first teachers) one has to gently undo the work of other teachers.

      And what are we doing when we do that?

      We’re teaching information literacy – that as well as evaluating knowledge, we must evaluate the intentions and abilities of those attempting to deliver knowledge to us.

  2. Thanks! I’m a big believer in short cuts for both adults and children. Life’s too short to not find the easiest path to understanding adverbs when there are so many other interesting things to learn! We can take longer on the things that really speak to us.

  3. fionawb says:

    Your mention of Protestant work ethic reminded me of the child of a mixed marriage who, instead of having Catholic guilt and a Protestant work ethic, ended up with a Catholic work ethic and Protestant guilt. So he did no work and didn’t feel bad about it! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Days 22-23 #blogjune – another catch-up | Libraries Interact

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