OPUS a new information and learning model

OPUS model


OPUS is my new model for learning and information that integrates both of those important parts of school life. Although both learning and finding information are two of the most vital areas in school there is no model that links the two together even though there are so many aspects that run through both. To find information is to learn and to learn is to do so through the finding of information.

Maybe it’s because no one has ever viewed bothy of these in the same light together or those that view learning don’t think/know about information literacy and vice versa. In fact this may just be the case and you’ll agree if you work as a school librarian where on a day to day basis you see the ignorance of information literacy and the important role it plays!

However, this model is a potential catalyst for more discussion around both these areas being integrated so they can both work collaboratively and cohesively as they should.

The OPUS model is hopefully a way to be able to not only do this but to also provide libraries and school librarians with a system they can implement that can be used across the school and be fully embedded within the curriculum. This is where information literacy should be and where it can have the biggest impact. Teachers set students work on an hourly basis yet do they do so making sure that the students are aware of what they are looking for, where they might find it how they can best access the correct information? The answer is most likely no. A model like this is therefore what librarians have been crying out for as it encourages this type of learning to take place making sure that the responsibility of information skills is delegated through the whole school and taught in every single lesson.

The model itself represents the four main areas of learning and searching in a progressive order. In each stage there is also a further sub division that highlights the main areas of learning within. These subdivisions are real ‘stuff’ the bits that make the learning happen and the bits that explain how each section is possible. For instance in the Objective stage, the first stage, the sub divisions include the definition of need, the eliciting of prior knowledge and definition of gaps. What this looks like in real terms is an understanding of what is being asked, what prior knowledge exists to answer or complete the query and then a definition of what information is still needed.

The practical application of this in the classroom will be when the teacher is setting work maybe as homework, specific research work or even classwork. Things should be made explicit to the students and this could form a series of questions or a class discussion. For instance the teacher sets the main question thats needs answering and a discussion is had with the class to clearly define what is actually being asked of them.

What information do they need to answer this question. This, fundamentally is the ultimate goal. For a teacher this discussion also means that each student is able to leave the classroom or begin answering the question knowing exactly what it is that is being asked of them. A bonus for any teacher is that this will undoubtedly increase the quality of the work the student produces and the so also the difficulty of the work that teacher sets can get progressively harder over time due to students’ understanding of this methodology.

There is also some give from the teaching in a model like this. They need to be active in the learning as well as the student. Firstly the work they set must be meaningful not a series of treasure hunts, i.e. find ten facts about… The question set has to lead to a thirst for further knowledge and sometimes these are best achieved as challenges. The teacher also needs to be active in eliciting any prior knowledge of students. Helping them to see the links between this piece and any other work they have previously undertaken or even any knowledge the already have for a diffferent reason. This, coupled with guidance on formulating and defining the knowledge gaps leads to the completion of the first stage Objective, or defining the problem.

The next stage Plan, goes hand in hand with Objective as it is again a part of the classroom environment. This is where the teacher will spend time talking about important information literacy aspects such as keywording during internet searching and reliability of sources whilst also modelling what this process looks like. This is both familiar in terms of information literacy but also in terms of learning in an outstanding classroom. The process of modelling is important in allowing the students to see what it is they are to achieve and how they are to go about it. It forms an integral part of both of these aspects.

In the first stage we see the learner trying to gain a better understanding of how they are going to learn. This I have called the learning to learn stage. However in the Plan stage this is about the teaching enabling the learner to continue their journey. They are giving them the skills and knowledge that is going to help them undertake whatever task it might be.

The OPUS model , although not linear in the fact that a learner may move back and forward as they reassess the learning, does also follow a progressive path an ‘end’ stage. This end stage is a combination of the final two sections of the model, the Understanding and Synthesis sections.

The Understanding section involves the discovery of learning or information and it is the part where the learner finds themselves applying their skills, practicing their information searching or learning and assessing their success as the go along. This discovery stage is where the student, having been enabled can undertake the task armed with the correct tools to succeed. This the the meat of the learning and an important part of the whole.

This is also the point where the learner may find themselves referring back to Objective stage as they confirm whether the information, or learning they have completed is correct.

It is also the point that makes the final ‘end point’ possible. Moving seemlessly to the final stage of Synthesis sees the learner applying what they have learnt, found in a practical application. This can take the form of creating something or communicating an understanding or it could be about elaborating on and furthering the knowledge and understanding gained from the discovery stage. As mentioned before, OPUS is not linear so can allow, as learning does, the student to move back.

This model has already proved to be a success in school where we continue to use it as both a teaching/learning model and an information literacy model. In future posts I will cover its practical application with examples of how this can look in a classroom as we already have collected many successful examples of this.

However, it is exciting to see how a model which has information literacy at its heart can link so strongly to that of a teaching and learning model and which can be embedded into the ethos of learning in a school and be fundamental to a clasroom.

So watch this space for more information!


The Effective Information Literate Student

Effective information searching


It’s that time of year when most librarians go about teaching new students about information literacy and reteaching those that have seemingly had their minds wiped over the six weeks of summer. Luckily, since getting rid of having to teach information literacy and putting it into the hands of our teachers on a daily, lesson by lesson, basis (see previous posts for more information) I don’t have that ‘beginning of the year turmoil.’ Yet, I have been thinking quite hard about how the process of information searching works and how to help develop the habits in both our students and staff when it comes to information searching.


For the last couple of years these thoughts have progressed in my own mind after reading and conducting research and collaborating with many fantastic teachers. A lot of this work has gone into creating a new model for information literacy and learning (OPUS) more information can be found about this in future posts but an outline also exists under its own tab. What drove me to create this model was to insistence that there is a strong link between the process of learning and information searching. It seems a silly thing think to say because they are of course linked. Finding information is learning at is basic. However, all the models that exist for information literacy don’t take learning and teaching into account and this is the same with teaching and learning models omitting the links to information literacy.


OPUS is therefore the ‘glue model’ that sticks both these things together. However, this post isn’t about OPUS per se, it is in fact about some of the questions that led to its creation. Questions such as what makes a successful searcher of information? How can we ensure all students and staff are successful searchers etc etc.


Working with a number of teachers we set up an information experiment where we had two (science) classes of equal ability perform a number of tasks over the year. We mapped their abilities, their levelled pieces of work and their output against each other. They were studying exactly the same topics but one class was being taught explicit information literacy skills (through the OPUS model) and the other group had no explicit information skills taught to them. Group A (the group with information literacy training) was given a number of regular opportunities through the year to undertake research and prep (our version of homework – see previous posts for its link to information literacy) was given to aid and support this. Group B had fewer opportunities through the year to undertake research work and their prep was set in a more piecemeal way.


There were a number of things we learnt from doing this and this included, importantly, the teachers seeing the benefits of teaching information literacy within their lessons.  Over the next few months I will writing more about this project and it’s impact but for this post I wanted to look specifically about the impact frequency has in creating an effective information literate student.


The grid above shows how frequency of information searching has a correlative impact on the quality of a students ability to be information literate. One of the things we were hoping to prove was that by being frequently given the opportunity to undertake research students would become more effective searchers. This almost goes without saying, the more you do something, the more proficient you come at it. But it does still need proving. However, what we also found was that students that were being set research and given the opportunity to research on a regular basis were not only achieving better but were also putting more effort into their searching and so were being more effective.  If you look at the graphic above, one of the many we produced from our work, you can see how we categorized students based on the frequency of their research work and the effect their research was having. In terms of effect we looked at how effective their research skills were throughout the task and also at the end product and its success related to the task objectives.


We then plotted each of the students into the four categories from both of the groups. What we noticed was that the majority of students in group A appeared in the maximum effect and high frequency one. In fact 95% of students from group A sat in this category. In group B, the group with a low frequency of opportunities to conduct research, the students were a little more mixed  but the majority (67%) appeared in the minimum frequency minimum impact category. What the results were showing us was that those students that were being fed a regular diet of information literacy skills (through the OPUS model) and being given lots of opportunities to conduct research were being more effective in the quality of work they were producing.


Quite obvious when you think about but to see the specific impact that this was having on the students was brilliant and was justification of the style we adopted with group A. Not only is it about training, teaching and making explicit the skills of information literacy but just as importantly regular opportunities need to be given to allow the students to compound these skills and continue to improve. This then needs to be built into our lessons across the school with all teachers taking the opportunity to make these skills visible and to allow students the opportunity to undertake research regularly.



We’ll do it anyway -CILIP 

So CILIP have just emailed members to try and find out why so many of them are opposed to obligatory revalidation.

At the last vote an extremely slender majority voted in favour of this which means that there is almost as many people who are against it as want it and no doubt the amount of voters was equal to only a small percentage of actual members further meaning that we really have no idea what people think.

My thoughts have also been dead set against the idea of obligatory revalidation. I cannot see the point in making members have to revalidate every year to prove that they are doing a good job. Many organisations themselves have their own schemes of appraisal and even in schools there are various different models of how this is achieved (especially with the ever increasing number of types of school that exist!). For instance in my job I have an appraisal that is linked to my actual job in school and not to some woolly one size fits all scheme that showcases librarianship as a very small set of skills and caters for the majority rather than for all.

So I do my appraisal in my school which takes time etc to do and then I have to undertake an arbritary scheme, that means absolutely nothing to me or my job and takes time away from actually sing my job.

Ok, so I understand in some professions this revalidation performs part of their appraisal process and this is brilliant but again this is CILIP not realising that their members are diverse and want they want from their membership is something that is a bit more specific to them. Revalidation means nothing to my employer so why should I do it and why should I pay the penalty for not doing it when I pay my fees every year and have done so for god knows how many years without actually getting anything from it??

I’ve had this argument before with people involved in CILIP. Their come back has been interesting to say the last. When I’ve argued that it is a waste of my time I’ve been told ‘but it only takes a few minutes to log your CPD online.’ Which then raises even more questions as to what is the actual point of it all if it’s so simple to do. Is there anyway of actually legitimising what people are putting on? Could you just make it up? If so then surely that defeats the whole purpose and gives me even more reason to not to do as it really doesn’t mean anything at all!

Then in answer to my questions surrounding being penalised for not doing it the most common answer I’ve received, apart from a shrug, is ‘well we can’t really penalise people forgot doing.’ What? Well what is the whole point of ding it then? 

To me this is just another example of CILIP being out of touch with not only its membership but also the real world! Why would you continue to spend time money and effort on sketching that ultimately deans actually mean anything. Something you can’t prove as being legitimate and something that you more you think about it the less quality it has.

And yet, with this recent email it tells me that it doesn’t matter what it’s members think. CILIP are going to continue doing what they want to do as they always have done and with that they move further and further away from roviding a service it’s paying members deserve and actually want.

Rethinking information in the school library

So we’ve always been a bit different in our school library. Not different for the sake of being different but different in responding to our students needs and remembering that when it comes to information, reading and libraries there is nothing that is set in stone. No methodology, no process or way of doing things that cannot be changed or adapted to match and meet the needs of our users.

It is with this knowledge and understanding that we have gone through a process of rethinking how students access information and what we can do to make this as easy and successful as possible.

In doing this we needed to think about those things that are providing barriers to the students accessing information successfully and willingly. In knowing that there is nothing set in stone is quite refreshing as it means that everything is up for grabs. This means that we have a blank canvas where we can put the students needs first instead of trying to force them to conform to an outdated model.

This is not only in terms of how they can go about finding information but also about how they can access information too. We thought long and hard about all these things and spent a lot of time talking to students and teachers and watching how students find, pick and view information. An idea that everyone working in school libraries should spend time doing anyway.

From this refreshing viewpoint we started to work out what it was we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to achieve was a couple of different things. The first was a way of organising our stock to make it not only as simple as possible but also organised in such a way that students want to use this type of information instead of going straight to the internet. This was one of the biggest issues and one that from talking to the students you can understand. The internet is seen as an easy alternative, even if we know it isn’t, students perceive it to be. So the question becomes ‘how can we make accessing information in books as simple as possible?’

Now, this is where I may lose some people and don’t get me wrong I do really like Dewey. However I honestly feel that if we stick to certain systems ‘just because’ then we can’t go about actually making anything better. If you want some more of my opinions on Dewey then please see this past blog post. It is also interesting that a lot of the librarians I’ve had comments back from are more than willing to change their fiction collection and ordering system and stickering process to the extreme to ‘make it easier’ for students to access yet won’t even consider doing this in the non-fiction collection. It seems that there is almost a ‘precious’ nature around Dewey and that it ‘belongs’ to libraries and librarians so shouldn’t even be changed?

I won’t go into any more detail about Dewey except to say that we shouldn’t let anything limit our students from being able to access information successfully and willingly.

From our conversations with students and our observations of students we felt that the way stock was organised in the library was by no means conducive to students wanting to and being able to find information quickly and successfully. This became more than just signage it was about the fundamentals to how a library was organised.

At the time we were in a very lucky position where small amounts of money was being made available to improve the library facilities (as well as bidding for lots of different pots). Being a comprehensive state school this didn’t mean a bucket full of money or a complete rebuild. What it did mean though was that we had an opportunity, if we were clever, to be able to doing special to improve how students access and use information in the library.

As mentioned above this was going to include a new way to organise the books in our library and to allow access to information in very different ways. Many people have already heard me talk about our new model and I have been lucky enough to run numerous training course across the country and Europe on information searching and gathering in education sharing this, however I will recover it here for anyone that doesn’t know.

In schools a students life is split up into numerous sections in a very specific way. This is down to what year group they are in, which term it is and what subject they are currently studying. We therefore already had a model of information that students are not only used to but how they actually think. It therefore seems silly not to take advantage of this when we are trying to organise the information we have.

This began our thinking in trying to utilise this. We started to think what this might look like in terms of sorting our books and the result was to simply split stock up relating to the year group it was studied in, the term and importantly the subject that was covering it. It was one of those moments that you think to yourself ‘why haven’t we done this before, it’s just so obvious!’ To achieve this we needed to know specifically what was being studied across the curriculum and when, not necessarily a easy feat to achieve but one made easier by the fact that we were also going through a whole information literacy revolution in school where we were changing the idea of homework and moving it towards research and preparation for learning and encouraging more learning outside of the classroom . This is also set through our information literacy model OPUS (found here). Through this departments created subject overviews which were perfect to be able to make available to parents but also were to be used to allow us to know how to organise the stock.

We specifically purchased the right types of shelving (from Peters suppliers in Birmingham their ‘4-Square’ unit) which allowed us to create 4 shelves on each side. On this we were able to put the subject overview and signage at the top and then create a shelf for each of the KS3 year groups. We decided to stick for KS3 as there was a lot more rigidity in the KS3 curriculum to make this process easier. From just this small change and restructure the amount of non-fiction books that have been issued to students has dramatically increased. Books that were never touched have suddenly become extremely useful because students can easily access them and the information, almost quicker than logging on to the computers! Due to the fact that we do prep students are being conditioned to think ahead in their learning so we have also noticed that books are going out ahead of time as students read up on what they are going to be learning in preparation.

Alongside changing the way students access physical books we also wanted to look into how they go about accessing other types of material and information. We wanted to provide them with the opportunity to access e-material and online resources in as easier a way as possible. To allow this to happen we introduced a number of devices around the library. These had access solely to our library catalogue, to our ebook lending facility as well as devices where they could access a range of apps and the internet.

These have proved successful for a number of different reasons. The ones that we have allowed access to the internet and apps have further promoted our desire for students to use more info lit skills. With an e-device students cannot copy and paste information. It requires them to read, make notes and so their learning is much deeper because of this. As the devices are a lot quicker to load than the computers students are choosing to use these over the computers and because of this we are getting more students, sub-consciously improving their information literacy and note-taking skills.

The other devices dotted around the library are giving students quicker and better quality access to information and allowing them to be more independent in their use of the library and their studies. So much so we have extended this into our reading for pleasure areas by making kindles, talking book stations etc available to students to use for reading for pleasure. Again this is giving students more options in how they can access books and the result is that many more students are reading because these are available for them.


Lancaster’s Reading Continuum

Lancaster's Reading Continuum

So I’ve written a lot about research around reading and how individuals read and the kinds of things you need to put in place to create reading cultures in schools. You can read these articles here, here, here, here and also here, as well as littered through the blog.

To extend upon my thoughts regarding a hierarchy of reading and how the activate the reading brain I’ve been looking at reading in terms of a continuum, i.e. a continuous sequence of improvement. Within this there seems to be three distinct stages that a reader goes through as they first learn to read and then become proficient in the act of. The first stage is the early reading stage, earmarked for 4-9 as young people move through beginning, emerging and developing  sub stages. Each of these can also be furthered categorised by the behaviours within them. As you can see overtime and as the individual moves through the stages they grow in ability and independence in reading until you get to the point where you have an individual that is highly able and independent in all aspects of their reading.

I have taken my thoughts on the reading brain and have placed these within this model. Therefore the main parts that create a successful reader; Knowledge, Curiosity, Cognition and Grit have behaviours attached to each of the sub stages. Within this it is then possible to be able to see where a student is with their reading and potentially what it might be that is holding them back (explained in this post about the reader at a crossroads).

As the child moves through the stages they will encounter the second stage between 10-13 and will travel through the expanding, bridging and fluent stages of being able to read. This marks the transition from learning to read to reading to learn as well as the primary-secondary transition. It is worth noting at this point that this is where a child may struggle in making the transition. If, for instance, there is something holding them back in their reading abilities then they will be caught in the limbo between stages requiring intervention to allow them to make the step between the two. It is at this point that this distinction needs to be made in what the root cause is before any intervention can take place. Looking at the behaviours associated with the key success criteria (Knowledge, Curiosity, Cognition and Grit) will give you a clear idea as the why exactly they are unable to make this step up.

Once a young person has traversed their way through each of the sub stages in this ‘reading to learn’ section they move on the third and final stage of reading. This final stage is where the reader gains mastery over the skills and passes between proficient, connecting and independent. Although I suggest that the age range for this is 14-18 it is important to note that all the age ranges are an ‘average’. Young people move through reading at their own pace and just because a young person may seem behind because they haven’t moved through these stages doesn’t mean there is anything ‘wrong’. However, it is also worth noting that not all readers will progress onto this final stage. Many will plateau at stage 2 and never move on. As mentioned stage 3 is about mastery and many of the skills are akin to those needed for GCSE and A-Level but not all young people pass these or undertake them (A-Level). These individuals may not be what we would class as ‘readers’: they have the ability to process texts and to gain information from them but this is the ultimate limit of their skills. In continuing to the final stage individuals need to be regular readers; they need to access a wide range of texts for different reasons; they need to be able to connect what they have read to other things they have read or know and they need to be independent in their reading. This is way more than being independent in their choices etc it is more along the lines of knowing where to find what they need, how to go about reading ‘around subjects’ and what to do if they come across something they don’t comprehend. These are definitely a lot higher level skills that some young people will never learn to use or want to use.

Utilising this model allows us to track our students in school and see where they fit into something like this. Using the behaviour criteria we have a distinct reason why they are where they are and what we can do to move them on through the stages.
Beyond this it is a understanding of how individuals read that can be used to explain the process to a non specialist. We are using it for both these reasons as well as a guide for parents in helping them to better understand the things they might be able to do to help their child.

As far as tracking goes we are already utilising it and it is giving us a much better picture of the students we are working with.

Stats and facts create readers

Carrying on this week’s look at how psychology can have an impact in creating readers and improving the use of libraries I want to have a look at hindsight bias.

The idea behind hindsight bias is the belief that we as individuals, when confronted with new information, treat it as though we already knew this. This is instead of the misconception that we look back and see how arrogant and wrong we used to be.

The reason we do this is because we edit our memories to make sure that we don’t look or feel stupid. Numerous studies have taken place to prove this effect one of which having been undertaken in Oslo where students were given a number of proverbs including things such as ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. When asked about these all the students comments that of course this was obvious. It’s just common sense. The study then gave the same students another set of proverbs including ‘if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck.’ Again asked about this the students again agreed that it was obvious and just common sense. So what is it then? What’s true? And what’s going on?

Hindsight bias is a very relation to availability heuristics which states that you make decisions based on the information you have at hand whilst ignoring all the other information that might be out there. What this means is that you make decisions based on what you now know rather than what you used to know.

So how can we use this information in our schools and libraries to take advantage of this and create more readers.

Well, to me, what this means is that we need think about how we can use the numerous studies and evidence around reading and position this around our schools. If young people are coming up against this kind of research, telling them the positive effects of reading, then this is the information they have at hand. If these appear in all classrooms, in all corridors then students will regularly be told that reading is a positive thing.

This means we need to think about our advertising in places outside of the normal library space. We need to think outside of the four walls of the library and make sure that students are have this positive reading statements to help them make the decision that reading is going to be a good thing for them.

If we can do this then we continue to use psychology to improve reading and library usage.

Add some attractiveness to your reading

So, I’ve been reading a lot recently. More than usual, which means a lot!

I’ve been reading up slightly different things though from the usual research and fantastic children’s books on the market. I’ve been ‘going back to my routes’ and looking at lots of psychology and learning research. Having had a carthartic emptying of very old boxes (those ones that never get opened after you move) I stumbled across some old papers and this led me to thinking about changes from those research papers to, well to god knows where! However, I did end up reading about the idea of the sunk cost fallacy.

This is what lots of companies use, especially app designers, to get their users to continually buy and spend money. A perfect example of this are apps/games that allow you to buy coins or equivalent to make the games run quicker. One example would be farmville where the user can quite happily play the game for free but only at a certain speed. You need to wait to build up experience until you unlock different , better things that enhance the game play. However by purchasing extra coins you can make things move faster. The thing, that the developers know will happen, is that users will ‘sink’ money into the game to move it along faster. Once they have done this the user will start to feel they have to continue putting time, effort and money into the game otherwise they will see their previous investment as a waste. This only ever increases over time with the more time and money put in the more likely the user is to continue playing.

It is something the developers are more than aware of and the exact reason why they design games as they do. This got me thinking that there must be ways that we can us e this exact same knowledge in terms of reading in our school. How can we make young people feel this way towards reading? Is a way that we can make students feel that they need to continue reading based on how much they have already sunk into it?

This had me thinking along the lines of my reading brain and hierarchy of reading models ( here and here). The more you think about it the more you see that actually this is something that can easily be achieved. If we want to keep students on the reading curve then we can certainly help them to see that the effort they have already invested is a good, important thing. By engaging them into reading and breaking down barriers to change attitudes we can make reading possible for our weak readers and by getting this ‘buy-in’ we can use the sunk cost fallacy to our advantage.

Once this became apparent I started to question whether there were other psychological elements that might just be useful in terms of reading.

I’m going to be looking at some of these over the next few weeks but one that immediately took my eye was that we are more likely to believe information if it is presented to us by someone attractive. We trust beauty more and this is significantly increased when the person is telling us bad news. So this got me thinking maybe we need to get more attractive people working in libraries and telling people to read. Or at least getting attractive people to advertise reading in school. So maybe we need to try and add a bit of attractiveness to reading to get more young people to buy into it!