The information-seeking behavior of grade-three elementary school students



This study investigated the information-seeking behavior of grade-three students in order to understand and address their unique information needs and behaviors. The findings informed a three-phase model of information-seeking behavior.

The information-seeking behavior of grade-three elementary school students

Recent cognitive research has established that there are considerable and rapid intellectual changes throughout childhood (Kail, 2004; Siegler, 1998) meaning that previous studies and/or models outlining the information-seeking experiences of older students and/or adults do not adequately identify, explain or address many of the information needs unique to younger elementary school students. This study of grade-three students resulted in a model of their information-seeking behavior that identifies and explains the barriers faced by these children when seeking information, how they used information in an educational context, and how they can be helped to better exploit the information resources available to them.

The qualitative, phenomenological study was conducted over a three and one-half month period (Winter 2006) within two grade-three classes in an elementary school in a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Each class met daily with the same teacher for half of the day, rotating between mornings and afternoons. There were 52 students, 12 of whom were studied in greater depth as part of two sample groups (one group per class); each group consisting of six volunteers. Six data collection techniques were employed: participant observation (field notes, audio- and video-tapes, captures of Internet searching sessions), interviews (teacher, 12 volunteer students and some of their parents), questionnaires (pre and post to all attending grade-three students), self-evaluations (all grade-three students), journals (12 volunteers), and final projects (12 volunteers). The variety of data collection instruments resulted in a rich data set that were coded and analyzed for patterns and themes and triangulated using the Constant Comparison Method of Grounded Theory originated by Glaser and Strauss (1967).

The study found that students have the necessary skills and knowledge to use multiple source formats (e.g. print and electronic) even in the earlier grades of elementary school. While the students preferred to search the Internet for information, books and other printed resources were favored by the teacher. Information culled from the Internet was rarely read in any depth on-screen. Instead, the students printed out the material in order to peruse it at a later time. Several barriers such as search engine design, lack of appropriate sites for young students, inefficient filtering, difficulties with reading online, and time constraints prevented the effective seeking of information on the Internet and out-of-date and/or inappropriate resources, classification schemes, difficulty using finding aids, and difficulty in extracting information were barriers experienced by the students when using print resources.

The study presents a three-phase model of the students' information-seeking behavior. The first phase is called “Preparing” because in this stage the students are instructed in such areas as vocabulary, writing and concept-mapping in order to prepare them for the next two phases, “Searching” and “Using”. The Preparing phase is unique to this model — while other models of information-seeking behavior recognize the presence of an information need and/or possible motivators that drive and shape information seeking (see, for example, Belkin, 1980; Wilson, 1999) they do not address them in detail. The second phase, Searching, is the shortest phase of the model and the least important in terms of the teacher's learning objectives. This is in direct contrast to other models where it forms the main focus (see, for example: Bates, 1989; Kuhlthau, 1991; Shenton & Dixon, 2003; Wilson, 1999). The final phase, Using, is a very important phase for these young students as it involves exploring and learning such concepts as information evaluation, extraction, synthesis, and interpretation and presentation of the findings.

The study concludes that basic information literacy skills encompassing both print and electronic media should be taught to young students so that they may be built upon in later grades. It advocates the integration of print and electronic resources in the classroom, for the design of assignments that exploit all information formats including multimedia such as audio and video, and for the appropriate allocation of resources, whether financial, intellectual, or physical to achieve these goals.