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!


Mapping the Reading Brain

The reading brain

I’ve always been fascinated by neuroscience, the way the brain works and how this is linked to reading. One of my favourite talks and training sessions I give is on the reading brain and the science of reading and some of my earliest research into reading focussed on the brain and the part it plays in successful reading in dyslexic children (this included a piece in the Education Science Journal).

This interest has led me to try and work out exactly what it is that is needed in the reading brain for a reader to be successful. I consider my role in school to be that of a reading specialist. I understand reading, know reading and its intricacies. I know what problems arise in reading, how to teach the weak readers and the signs of reading deficiencies. Just like a Sen-co specialises in their area I specialise in reading. It is therefore from this that I spend a lot of time listening to young people read. I consider this to be one, if the not the, most important part of my role.

Over the years I must have spent hours listening to children read and the knowledge and understanding this has given me has led to putting together this post and these ideas. It is the accumulation of all this and my other experiences with reading that I feel able to put together such an understanding.

For me this has become a guide, just like my hierarchy of reading is a guide for creating readers, of how we can activate the reading brain in the individual and set the conditions for creating a successful reader. Now obviously successful can mean many different things but I think in this instance I am thinking about the highest level of success and so not successful in just being able to read.

It has therefore come from years of research, and many hours spent trying to figure out what differs from the successful reading brain to the unsuccessful one.

There is no beginning of a model such as this as all the parts need to be in existence for the ultimate goal to be achieved. This ultimate goal, for me, is defined by Alan McLean in his journey to excellence as autonomy.

“I keep mentioning Autonomy because it’s gold dust. What is Autonomy? Autonomy is self-determination. How much scope or trust do I have? How much scope do I have for self-determination in my job or in my classroom? And the more self-determination, the more autonomy you have the more motivated you will be. The opposite of Autonomy is anxiety, where you’re overwhelmed, you’re so pressurised or you’re discouraged. ” Alan McLean

Alan hits the nail on the head here when it comes to excelling at something and his theory works just as well in reading as it does in learning. This autonomy is then gained through the application of all the different parts of the reading brain being activated. These parts are made up the ‘stuff’ that makes reading happen and I have been able to break these down into tangible beings so that they can be understood and taken advantage of to allow the student to gain this autonomy in their reading.

Unlike Lancaster’s Hierarchy of Reading ¬†which looks at how you can produce the right environment for reading to excel this model looks more at the individual, or the micro not the macro and how we can engage the individual by knowing what it is that needs to work for a reader to excel.

As good a place as any to start is grit. Grit is more than just the ability to stick at something and to be able to bounce back and be resilient in the face of setbacks. It is also about the active pursuit and determination of goals and achievements and in this model in terms of wanting to read. It includes my favourite area of talking, attitudes and particularly attitudes to reading. As non-cognitive skills go this is so vital to any route of excellence. If you’re just not into it then it’s not going to happen!

Next, it’s worth looking knowledge and what this means in terms of the model. For me a students knowledge and their experiences are key to a students comprehension and understanding of a book or piece of text. If you look more into the science of reading you see the importance knowledge plays in interweaving all the different facets of reading. Daniel T Willingham highlights this in his work and shows us that the ability to comprehend text links to what a person knows and how this knowledge links to retrieving, processing and understanding new things. In the simple view of the brain where we take things into our working memory and those things that remain are the ones that stick to the ‘stuff’ in our long term memory , we see that knowledge is key. The more knowledge, or stuff you have the more Velcro of new knowledge will stick to it.

So this is where experience is vital. The more experiences we have the more knowledge Velcro we have and so the more new knowledge sticks to what already exists. In terms of books and reading this means that in understanding a passage on something like the process of dry cleaning we can immediately understand what is happening and bring explained if we have experienced this before. This is the reason why weak readers, and I use boys as a good example here, choose sport books is because they are already familiar with the terminology and the content of the book so it isn’t such a big step to start reading it. Whereas if they picked up a book that was about something they knew nothing about they would have to make the leap into reading in the first place and to be confused by the content to make them feel an even weaker reader. This leap then is softened if the book’s content is easily accessible. This could also be the reason why non-fiction is heavily read by weaker readers. If you look at their choices they are areas that are already interested in and so become the accessible book to read.

So bringing prior knowledge to a book is therefore really important as it not only aids the process of reading but also enjoyment of reading too. If you feel that you don’t understand the text then you are certainly not going to, or are very unlikely to enjoy it. It also means that when we’re looking to engage a student into reading you need to think about their experiences and what they’re going to be able to access from this perspective.

Activating this knowledge element of reading allows the reader to gain those really important social and reading skills. The ability to feel apathy towards other people or circumstances and also the ability to infer understanding from text. Both of these are a direct result of having knowledge but also activate a certain amount of knowledge at the same time. The reason why they become so important.

The next important part of the successful reading brain is that of curiosity. In all the best readers and those readers the most the most effort in it is because they have this heightened sense of curiosity within their reading.

Within the section we see the constant enquiring nature of the reader , a thirst for more knowledge and understanding through questioning and a deep set interest and wonder in reading. All these small things can easily be seen in the successful reader and the links that are associated with both the knowledge and non-cognitive elements of the successful reading brain make this part of the reading brain the glue that holds it all together.

Just as the ability to have grit around reading is centred on attitude and desire the nature of curiosity keeps this all in line. For a reader to be truly successful they need to access this part of their reading brain and always have this interest and curiosity at the forefront.

The last section of the successful reading brain some would describe as the most important. It is the fundamental skills of reading, the cognitive abilities that include language comprehension, cognition and decoding skills. Some would believe that without these in place then none of the other elements matter or can happen.

I would disagree with this and say that in reality none of these are more important than the other and so without any of them there is no successful reading brain. It is all fair and good being able to decode and comprehend but if you do not have the curiosity of reading, the grit and determination to actively read or the knowledge and apathy of reading then all you are doing is translating squiggles on a page into sounds. For me this is a far distant cry from the actual act of reading which as you can through this model is so much more.

It is my understanding, which has come through much research that to be classified as a successful reader you need to have all these different parts active to meet this classification. If any of these happens to be missing then success cannot be obtained.

So beyond this what does this mean for a school or parent looking to create a successful reader? Well this model highlights all the intricacies of what it takes. It then needs someone to actively pursue the identification and activation of these in the individual child. If you are able to have all these things working then simply you will have a competent, confident and forever imprpving, successful reader.

Improving Reading in secondary schools #3


In this series of posts we’ve been looking at my model for achieving reading for pleasure in a secondary school and all the facets that go with it.

So far we’ve looked at an overview of the model as well as looking at, what I believe is the most undervalued, yet vitally important area, attitude.

This post focuses on the multifaceted area of opportunity. Multifaceted in that by rights you can create a whole model based around the different types of opportunity that need to exist in school. For me, I think I would break this down into opportunities to access reading inside the classroom & outside of the classroom, opportunities to see the importance of reading and finally opportunities for the wider community through the wider community.

Opportunities in the classroom
You may not think at first glance that reading for pleasure can be seen in the classroom. This is in fact the first mistake that many school librarians make. Especially those that say they have a whole school reading ethos but really only have a good library within its own four walls (I would suggest that if a library is only good in its own space and room then it is not a good library). Reading in the classroom is actually vitally important to help promote reading for pleasure. Subject teachers are some of the most passionate people about their subjects, masters of their area and spent the day enthusing and engaging young minds to develop a love of their subject. This ability, if harnessed, can be used to engage a youngster into reading just as readily as it is to engage them into a subject.

A student who is passionate about geography will go out of their way to find more information about the subject as it gives them pleasure. They may watch certain programmes on television, visit certain places in their spare time, take an interest in geographical occurrences whilst on holiday, but if engaged in the right way they also may decide to read more about the subject. To pick up non fiction books to find out more.

Part of a teachers job is to hook the students into learning and this hook might just equally apply when it comes to enthusing students to want to read more about the subject. Yes, it may also be about reading to gain information but it is undertaken as an act of pleasure.

What we need to do is help the teachers with knowledge and expertise to arm them with the ability to do this. Do you provide teachers with fiction and non fiction books related to what they are studying, encouraging them to read them so they can then encourage the students to read them? Do you show parents what books might link into each topic for further, in-depth reading? How do you support the teachers to engage a passion for reading in each subject equal to the passion of learning for each subject?

Outside the classroom

Is reading visible in every area of your school? Can you see that the school values reading from walking its corridors? If I walked into your school how would I know that you promoted reading?

If you can’t see this from walking down any corridor in the school and can’t hear it when you talk to the students about reading then sadly you don’t have a reading culture in your school.

You need to think about how you provide these opportunities so students see reading at every turn. Do you take opportunities for the students to see this at break and lunchtimes and in their other social times? Reading shouldn’t be for special occasions it should be an all the time thing.

Alongside this it’s also seeing positive reading role models across the school. Do students see/hear staff and all types of staff valuing books and reading and if you do is a token gesture or is it truly reflective of the ethos you provide in the school?

The Wider Community

If students only spend 15%of their time in school and we want them to have a consistent diet of seeing reading as important then we need to think about how we provide opportunities through the wider community.

The questions you need to think about are how you engage your parents into the ethos of reading. How they promote reading to their kids? Is it a forced activity or a celebrated enjoyed time? Do you provide training and knowledge to your parents so that they see and know how they should/could go about it? Are parents the positive reading role models to their children and are they seen in school to also value this?

Do you work with your local primary schools to provide opportunities to younger children about this? Are you creating readers before they come to your school, are you helping them make the decision on which school to choose through the opportunities you provide them to become readers?

Transition is such an important stage that is easily forgotten or lacks emphasis. Do you focus just in the summer term or is transition and reading opportunities available throughout the year, providing that wide diet of opportunities that breeds that consistency?

If you do all this how about the wider community? Is reading seen as important at every turn in the local area? Is it focused on in the local paper, on the local radio, in the town in shops and the like. How do you provide the community with the ability to show this and believe in this?

If reading is visible everywhere and all the time think about the benefit of this to all the students in your school and beyond this. If everyone sees reading as important and the opportunities exist for them to see this and to do it then the knock on effect is improved literacy for everyone. If everyone’s literacy is improved we then breed a generation of young people who know no different.

Yes this is obviously the ultimate goal and probably the hardest thing to achieve but because it’s hard does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

Opportunity for me is not just about creating opportunities to read but importantly opportunities to see reading. To see it as important, vital and a natural thing that you just do.