Let’s Get Together Thursdays – Research Project Challenges, Pt. 1

How do librarians and teachers negotiate their expectations, roles, and desired outcomes during a collaborative research project?  We’ll look at the process in the next two week’s Thursday posts, by Carter Cook, the Director of Library Media Services for Fort Worth Independent School District, in Fort Worth, Texas.

One of the challenges of teacher/librarian collaboration is that the pair is working with the same student outcome in mind, but each one has his or her own idea of how it will be achieved. While the teacher may be focused on the student end product and how it addresses the learning objective for the course, the librarian usually focuses on the process – the prerequisite skill set and sequence of steps the students will need to complete to produce the end product.

To further complicate the collaborative process, the timeline for completion is usually unrealistically short (in the librarian’s opinion) for students to successfully deliver the end product. Why? Because there is always a process for a product. Teaching students the research process, allowing them to practice each step of the process, checking their understanding and progress at each step, and allowing them to go back and do it again if needed requires TIME – time that usually isn’t allocated when a teacher agrees to collaborate.

Unfortunately, curriculum guides that prescribe when a subject should be covered rarely include time for teaching the prerequisite skills needed for students to conduct their own research.

A teacher brings knowledge of the content to the project. An experienced librarian brings knowledge of what students will need to already know (and know how to do) in order to complete the project. Teachers often assume that their students already have this knowledge, so the time spent in the library can be dedicated to the actual research and synthesis of the end product. Frustration quickly grows during the first visit to the library as it becomes apparent that the students:

  • do not know how to use the online catalog,
  • do not know how the collection is organized or how to locate a book by call number,
  • do not know how to access and search the online subscription resources,
  • do not know how to extract pertinent information and record it,
  • do not understand the difference between note taking and printing the entire article, and
  • do not know how to determine if an information source is credible.

At the end of the class period, the students do not understand what they are supposed to be doing; the teacher does not understand why the students do not understand the assignment; and the librarian is exhausted from one-on-one student instruction with each student.

So, how can a librarian circumvent this type of scenario? We’ll outline some questions that can guide the process next week to ensure a successful student experience.

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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