The Big6™ and Student Achievement

Author: Kathleen L Spitzer

Setting the Scene

Scott Hopsicker is a social studies teacher at Wayne Central High School in 1997-1998. Wayne Central is located near Rochester, New York. Even though he had been a teacher at Wayne Central for only two years, Mr. Hopsicker was a very active and popular teacher, he was involved in coaching as well as teaching, and was well-liked by his students. But Mr. Hopsicker had a problem. In his first year as a teacher, his students did not perform well on the New York State Regents Exam in American History. Only 53% passed the Regents exam, a standardized test that most New York State students must take.

Needless to say, Mr. Hopsicker was concerned about his students, and wanted to do something to help them improve their scores. He spoke to the Assistant Principal, who suggested that Hopsicker discuss the situation with Bob Berkowitz, the library media specialist. Bob has had success with helping students on Advanced Placement tests in various subjects. Maybe he could help Mr. Hopsicker. Mr. Hopsicker saw himself as a conscientious, well-prepared teacher. He obviously needed a new strategy.

The students at Wayne Central are a heterogeneous group. In 1997-98, Mr. Hopsicker had a total of 59 students in three sections of American History. This group was similar to the previous year’s students–nothing made the students stand out. Last year, only 53% of his students passed the American History Regents Exam. There was no reason to expect this situation to change unless Mr. Hopsicker changed his approach. He went to see Bob.

The Big6™ Intervention

Bob Berkowitz began working with Mr. Hopsicker in Fall 1998. Bob explained the Big6 approach how the process focuses on helping students solve information problems — and the philosophy — how the process can put kids in a position to succeed. Together, they analyzed the American History curriculum and Regents Exam from a Big6 perspective. Bob served as Mr. Hopsicker’s information consultant, using the Big6 and his understandings of information processes to design a series of instructional strategies to help students learn American History content and to be able to demonstrate their knowledge through the New York State Regents Exam.

The approach taken was not a one-shot or even a few Big6 lessons. Bob and Mr. Hopsicker decided to use the Big6 as a framework for teaching the course content. They analyzed the curriculum from a Big6 perspective and designed Big6 strategies to help students learn the content of the course and express their knowledge through writing, projects, and exams. Examples of some of the Big6-related learning activities included:

Learning the nature of the Regents exam including key words in essay and multiple choice questions (Big6 #1:Task Definition).

Developing techniques for organizing and presenting information, for example, “Bob’s Boxes”, which involves analyzing the components of an essay question and creating a graphic chart to organize the information and ensure that each part of the essay question is addressed (Big6 #5:Synthesis).

Using self-assessment tasks to help students recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and how to learn skills and strategies to address their weaknesses (Big6 #6: Evaluation).

The main differences between Mr. Hopsicker’s approach in 1997-98 and the previous year were the use of the Big6 model and Bob Berkowitz. The approach was “information-centered” based on the Big6 model of information problem solving. Bob Berkowitz acted as an “information consultant.” Students learned to apply Big6 skills to every aspect of the course. Therefore, the Big6 served as the basis for analyzing the course curriculum and for the students’ activities and strategies.

To summarize the intervention, the Big6 approach allowed Mr. Hopsicker’s students to approach the Regents exam as they would any other information problem; this increased students’ confidence, since they knew going into the test that they had the tools to succeed. And succeed they did.

Action Research

Action research is an important tool for practitioners like teachers and library media specialists. Action research studies allow researchers to measure the impact that changing the way something is done in real life affects the way an organization operates. In the case of Mr. Hopsicker’s class, it was possible to measure the results Mr. Hopsicker got from changing his approach to preparing students for the Regents exam.

The nature of Mr. Hopsicker’s class made an action research study very easy to design and carry out. As was mentioned before, there were no substantive differences between Mr. Hopsicker’s American History classes in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Both groups faced the same task at the end of the year-to take the Regent’s exam. No other aspects of the learning process changed-except for the Big6 intervention. The class structure, grouping, scheduling, curriculum, and textbook were the same.

And, at the beginning of the year, Mr. Hopsicker himself was no different in 1997-98 than the year before. But this began to change with his regular interaction with Bob Berkowitz and the Big6. This interaction began in Fall 1997. Bob and Mr. Hopsicker met one to three times a week during Mr. Hopsicker’s preparation period. Mr. Hopsicker learned to view his course (both content and the processes involved) from a Big6 perspective. He saw how the Big6 process could be used to structure content for better student learning as well as help students to show what they knew on assignments and exams. Over the course of the year, Mr. Hopsicker did change-he was able to restructure his course and teaching approach from a Big6 perspective.

Since the students involved were essentially the same and no other variables were different except for the Big6 influence, it is reasonable to compare the students’ performance from one year to the next. In essence, Mr. Hopsicker tried two different approaches to preparing students for the American History Regents Exam: (1) a traditional, content-driven approach and (2) a Big6, information process-driven approach. Thus, Mr. Hopsicker provided a test of the difference the Big6 approach can make for students.

Results

In 1997-98, Mr. Hopsicker’s students, 59 of them, comparable to the students from the year before in almost every way-took essentially the same standardized test as the year before. But this year, the results were very different. In 1996-97, only 53% of Mr. Hopsicker’s students passed the American History Regents Exam. This year, armed with the Big6, 91% of Mr. Hopsicker’s students passed the Regents exam! Needless to say, this is a dramatic improvement.

Of the 59 students in Mr. Hopsicker’s class, 54 of them passed the Regents exam (note that a score of 65 is required for passing on all New York State Regents Exams). Of Mr. Hopsicker’s students, 83% passed with a score of 70 or more. The scores were distributed as follows:

Score
(percentage
Number
of Students
100 1
90-99 10
80-89 15
70-79 23
65-69 5
Less than 65 5

There were five students in the class designated as learning disabled (i.e., having school developed “independent education plans.” Typically, these students do not pass the New York State Regents Exam in American History. In Mr. Hopsicker’s group this year, two of the five students passed.

Discussion-What All This Means

Such a dramatic improvement in students’ scores would be big news for any teacher. The fact that the improvement relates to Mr. Hopsicker’s use of the Big6 with his students makes these results especially exciting for us.

The Big6 process clearly made a difference in this situation, both for Mr. Hopsicker and for his class. In terms of Mr. Hopsicker’s use of the Big6, he was able to redesign his curriculum with a Big6 perspective, to create a more focused, effective curriculum. In discussions with students, it was evident that they came away from the experience with a different attitude towards American History, as well as toward tackling information problems. They learned that it is important to remember the process, not just the knowledge.

There are other possible explanations for the students’ success besides their use of the Big6, for example, the Hawthorne effect or the collaboration itself.

The Hawthorne effect (named after a Western Electric company plant) refers to a study that found productivity increased due to the attention that the subjects received rather than the intervention itself. In this case, one might argue that the that the extra time and effort that Mr. Hopsicker spent with the students had more of an impact on them than the techniques that he employed. Mr. Hopsicker is a highly conscientious teacher-he spends a great deal of time and effort on his students. The fact that Mr. Hopsicker is a caring, dedicated teacher with contagious enthusiasm might account for some of the improvement. However, Mr. Hopsicker was no less enthusiastic or caring during the previous year. It seems unlikely that the dramatic difference in results was simply due to the attention given and Mr. Hopsicker’s personality.

We all know that some of the best teaching that can be offered to students is through collaboration with colleagues. Perhaps Bob Berkowitz and Mr. Hopsicker working together with this class made the difference. This is true to some extent, because Bob brought his expertise to bear on his colleague’s problem. Hopsicker himself acknowledged that his change related to working with Bob and the Big6. However, while collaboration might account for some of the differences, the collaboration was based on viewing, analyzing, and restructuring the curriculum from a Big6 perspective. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the collaboration alone accounted for the dramatic improvement in student achievements.

Next Steps

This article represents only a preliminary report of the results. We intend to complete a more thorough comparison to previous classes in Wayne Central and to others taking the American History Regents Exam in 1997-98. There are also data concerning student attitudes to analyze and report. We also will attempt to track the performance of Mr. Hopsicker’s students on other Regents exams to determine if there was any carry-over effect. That is, from discussions, students explained that they applied the techniques learned in Mr. Hopsicker’s class in other subjects. It may be possible to explore whether this actually was the case.

Beyond this study, we recognize the importance of replicating this study in other settings. Replication is the strongest form of research evidence, and we will be conducting other studies of Big6 interventions and measuring the impact on assignments, projects, and exams.

We also encourage others to conduct their own action research studies-to focus on the use of identifiable Big6 applications within a subject area and to compare similar assessments across time and groups. We continually hear from teachers and library media specialists about their positive experiences with the Big6 and how they have observed how valuable it is in working with students. We hope you will consider carrying out your own study on the impact of the Big6 on student learning.

Finally, as noted, we will present more on this study in future issues of The Big6 Newsletter. As a first follow-up in the next issue, we will offer an extended interview with Mr. Hopsicker explaining what took place from his perspective.

1 – As of this writing, we do not have a comparative breakdown of scores from the previous year’s class or from other classes in the school or state. We hope to report these in a future article.

2 – We also hope to offer a more detailed presentation and analysis of students’ attitudes and reactions in the future.

Reprinted with permission from Linworth Publishing:
Eisenberg, M. B. & Berkowitz, R. E. (1998). Big6™ and student achievement: Report of an action research study. Big6 Newsletter, 2(n2), 1, 6-7, 15.

This article also appears in
The Big6 Collection: The Best of the Big6 Newsletter