Let’s Get Together Thursday – Research Project Challenges, Pt. 2

Last week, guest blogger, Carter Cook, Director of Library Media Services in Fort Worth, Texas, identified the difficulties that arise when teacher and librarian bring different perspectives to the planning table for student research projects.  This week, he concludes with simple ways to guide the pair in developing a successful student learning experience. 

Start with the end in mind.

  • What should the end product demonstrate?
  • Is there a rubric to evaluate the product?
  • Does the rubric include the steps required to complete the product?
  • Is the topic too broad or general?
  • Is it too narrow or specific?

Avoid Information Overload.

Remind the teacher that publishers usually design sources to provide comprehensive information on topics to meet a variety of user information needs. Does the teacher want each student to produce a comprehensive and exhaustive report of the subject? If not, what specifically should the students learn about the subject? Students need direction in determining which information needs to be extracted and recorded.

Avoid Information “Underload”.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a topic that is too specific and narrow for students to locate enough information to produce a worthwhile end product. Remind the teacher that even with online access, some topics do not have much information published. “Breaking news” topics can fall into this category. If the news is happening in the moment, students will find plenty of search results about it, but all sources are reporting the same scant information as it is released or revealed.

Evaluate the Process and the Product.

Defining (or refining) the objective and determining what a successful end product should look like are things that should be decided upon before the assignment is introduced to students. However, there may not be enough time allocated for students to successfully complete the entire research process, so the teacher and librarian determine what should be covered in the time frame. For example:

  • Should time be devoted to teaching students to locate, access, and critically evaluate all information sources and identify the best ones, or should the librarian locate and provide the sources?
  • Does time need to be devoted to teaching students how to extract and record information? Can notetaking be made more efficient by providing an outline, data chart, or graphic organizer?
  • Will students synthesize the information during their time in the library? Will the teacher and librarian help students paraphrase, rearrange the information in a new way, elaborate?
  • Given the time allocated, should the student end product change? A completed data chart or outline instead of a final presentation or report?

Finally, suggest to the teacher that he or she judge both the product AND the process. Instead of the end product being one heavily weighted grade, evaluate the success of the student at each stage of the process. In this way, the teacher has multiple opportunities to measure student success. Also, if the allocated time runs out, students have covered the intended subject even if a final end product is not presented or published. In the next collaboration, the teacher may decide that he or she wants the students to concentrate more on locating and evaluating information sources and spend less of the allocated time on organizing and presenting the information. In the end, a successful teacher/librarian collaboration should result in a student experience in which they learn both the intended content and the skills to independently conduct their own information inquiry.

Author: Jennifer Laboon

Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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