THE DEWEY decimal system of classifying books may have been a godsend to librarians but it can leave 10 and 11-year-olds totally confused. Differentiating between fiction and non-fiction is another task that defeats many children, even in the junior years of secondary school. In fact, one in four 12 to 14-year-olds reverses the meanings of the two categories, according to a New Zealand survey of 5,400 pupils.
The survey results are reported in a paper by researcher Gavin Brown that can be read at http:www.swin.edu.auaare99papbro99108.htm. The paper also describes the development of paper-and-pencil tests that check a child's ability not only to navigate around a library but to use reference sources such as an encyclopaedia.
Predictably, primary girls proved to be better than boys at tracking down information, but the gender difference was less marked for 13 and 14-year olds. Brown suggests that children struggle to break their searching tasks down ino sensible bits. As a result they find it hard to select categories that would help them.
As most teachers know, children's rate of learning can be affected by the way that teaching groups are composed. Timetable rigidity restricts the options for change in many secondaries but a report funded by the Department for Education and Employment confirms that some schools have found creative solutions to this problem. A useful summary of the research by Judith Ireson can be read at http:www.dfee.gov.ukresearchreport166.htm. It would be unwise to make generalisations about the benefits of particular strategies as the schools studied did not place a high priority on objective evaluation of their innovations. Nevertheless, the case study descriptions are valuable. A large collection of DFEE research is at http:www.dfee.gov.ukresearchr_brief.htm.
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