What happens when students indicate research experiences are frustrating because of the different ways educators guide where to locate credible and authoritative resources?
School librarians strive to collaborate with all educators in every subject area. Yet, despite this lofty goal the reality is, working with all school educators rarely happens. Each year there is a set of educators who are devoted to collaborating on locating credible and authoritative resources. Students enrolled in these classes are instructed with school librarian know-how woven into the lesson’s learning objectives. Theoretically, these students can transfer their skills for locating resources into other classrooms that may not utilize the library. Yet, at a recent library advisory meeting, students expressed frustration between the various ways they are guided to locate resources. With this problem in mind, we needed to develop a possible solution to reduce student frustration.
Our school’s library advisory consists of about twenty students dedicated to enhancing the school library. When discussing research, students shared their experiences with databases, search engines, and developing a research plan. Especially debated were the directions for locating resources. While many educators were dedicated to guiding students towards databases and specific websites, some simply offered the direction to “go research.” Knowing that there have been staff professional development sessions, newsletters, and individual supports dedicated to resource location, it was time to dig a bit deeper into the students’ frustration and get the real scoop.
Weeding through the various student scenarios, I found students did understand that depending on the research objective, disciplines often required different types of resources. Science and math may lend itself to experimentation. History and the social sciences may examine and re-examine primary documents to discover new understandings. Still, English language arts may focus on a work’s meaning while bringing historical context to a literary interpretation. These differences are important for students to understand when shifting between courses. Delving further, students noted their real frustration when researching came from two situations: when educators assumed student research skills and research assignment requirements.
The concept of assumed student research skills got me to think more about my own goals. Don’t I strive for students to transfer research skills between various learning environments? In order to truly grasp the assumption factor, I needed to understand the student experiences. Students explained that an educator’s lesson often leaps off from an assumed point that all students are at the same level of research knowledge and skills. Library advisory students understood that not all students enter the class with equally developed research skills. They experienced first-hand how an educator’s assumption left some students at a disadvantage. Students were left feeling less confident about engaging in the research and as a result sometimes mentally disengaged from the process. Some library advisory students reported educators using a diagnostic assessment to determine student skills before research began. Assessment results led to either a class or individual re-teaching how to locate credible and authoritative information. Students expressed that especially targeting an individual for extra library help often felt like an uncomfortable “call out.”
The second frustration for library advisory students occurred when an assignment did not require credible and authoritative resources. With my librarian hat on, I made assumptions that no research direction was given and the educator may need library skills support. What I was not prepared for was the students’ perspective. Students were bringing their researching skills to class but found that without educator direction work was less focused, often remaining topical. Even more challenging was working in groups. The library advisory reported students brought a variety of understandings and effort levels for seeking information to their groups. They reported debates not always shared with educators were challenging. Group members did not produce the same level of credible and authoritative resources, leading to additional frustration.
Armed with the concepts of “assumed research skills” and “no research direction” the library advisory students wanted to have a role in helping to reduce classroom frustration when specifically asked to locate information. The students and I came up with the idea of a library “certification” given to those who become experts in understanding how to locate specific types of credible and authoritative information. Recognizing that students have a powerful voice and can be the driving force behind change, the concept of developing a library certification was perfect. By promoting the use of library “certified” students, educators can have a go-to person in the class and students feel comfortable going to a peer. The certification’s potential tangential will lead both students and educators to feel more comfortable seeking additional support from the library staff.
On a volunteer basis, students will be joining me after school in February for intense training on how to search for specific types of resources using databases and search engines. Students will practice how to better use advanced-search options, cloud saving, and subject narrowing, and how to meld search engine, primary resource repositories, and databases in an effort to render the best possible results. We have a lot to learn and recognize in the hours of work ahead. Once library advisory students feel confident in locating a variety of credible and authoritative resource types, we can share our efforts with educators. Together we hope to promote our goal, which is to positively promote the use of library “certified” student as another resource for both students and educators.
Ultimately, the library advisory students have become leaders for change. They recognized a problem, were able to narrow the problem down to essential details, and create a targeted solution. They are energized to be part of the solution. And yes… Pizza is definitely involved. Here’s to anticipated success!
Author: Georgina Trebbe
Georgina Trebbe, Ed.D. is the school librarian at Minnechaug Regional High School in Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct instructor for Simmons University’s SLT program. Georgina’s interests include information literacy, collaboration, and school librarians as researchers.