The Capstone Project

The School Librarian’s Role in the Capstone Project:

5 Ws and H of the Capstone Project.

WHY?On whose shoulders are you standing - Imgur

With the current generation the number one question when we introduce the capstone project is “WHY?”  “Why do we have to do this?”  When I was in high school the teacher’s answer to such an ‘impudent’ question was “because I said so…” however, we give a little more than that these days.

I ask seniors to contemplate the question “On whose shoulders are you standing?”  Although it is important to create works of their own, it is equally important to realize and research the works of others.  Even Isaac Newton acknowledged “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Another critical purpose of the Senior [capstone] project is college preparation.  With the college prep answer, I depart from the philosophical and give them the stats about what college and universities expect. Since 2000 The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) collects data via the The College Student Report,  from first-year students at US and Canadian Universities.  Each year the surveys are slightly different, however the data is effective in making the case to college-bound seniors for a capstone project.  There is much emphasis on high-stakes testing in high school leading up to college.  However, there is some evidence that the amount of testing is actually declining at many colleges and universities in favor of other types of assessments.

Using the NSSE Custom Report Generator I pulled out the following data.

Why a paper?  [Data Years: 2013‐2014]

  • 19% of first year college/university students wrote 1 to 2 papers or reports of 11 PAGES OR MORE
  • 19% wrote 3 to 5 papers or reports BETWEEN 6 AND 10 PAGES
  • 43% wrote 1 to 2 papers or reports BETWEEN 6 AND 10 PAGES
  • 26% wrote more than 6-10 papers or reports of FEWER THAN 5 PAGES
  • 11% wrote more than 11-15 papers or reports of FEWER THAN 5 PAGES
  • 5% wrote more than 20 papers or reports of FEWER THAN 5 PAGES

The takeaway for my Seniors is that writing papers and reports will be a regular activity in college.


Research at a university library [MTSU] for the Senior Capstone Project

Why Pre-writing, revising and research? [Data Years: 2009‐2010]

  • 87 % – Prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in
  • 98.4% – Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources

Why present the material? [Data Years: 2009‐2010]

  • More than 85% of First-year, Full-time students making mostly A’s, and B’s Made a class presentation
  • More than 30% Made a class presentation “Often” OR “Very Often”


At my school I work with eight adults that form the Senior Class advisory team.  I am with a small school, and there are 8-10 students per advisory group.  Each adviser works with their 8-10 students on the capstone project as an independent study and the Librarian is the lead adviser for the capstone project.  This year we added a visit to a university library to enhance the project.   The Librarians at the MTSU Library provided an orientation to the Library’s website, services, collections, and resources, as well as a brief walking tour of the building. They had a very large instruction room where our students did some  preliminary searching for their capstone projects.  They also issued borrowing privileges for some of our students.  We really appreciate the time the university librarians gave to our students.  I want students to leave high school with the idea that university librarians are approachable and can save students so much time in the research process.


The paper and all drafts are written in current MLA format with in-text citation and an alpha-order “Works Cited” page. The students receive rubrics and examples for all “deliverables.”  Eight to Ten scholarly sources are required for their final paper and presentation.   For the presentation of the paper we ask for a minimum of two visuals that can be any of the following: charts, illustrations, graphs, videos, props, and handouts.  Students are asked to explain the research question or thesis statement, show extensive research and critical thinking, provide appropriate and supportive details,  have good transitions and finally, make the presentation memorable. One additional step for our senior capstone project, is that we require primary research.

What is Primary Research – Examples for students include but are not limited to:

  • Following Twitter Feeds or Blogs – journaling your impressions
  • Starting a Twitter Feed or blog about your topic
  • Keeping a research journal
  • Interview an Expert/Professional face to face, Skype, OR via email
  • Survey a group [you can use Google Forms for free]
  • Statistical survey
  • Video Journal an experience
  • Conduct an Experiment
  • Chart a Contrast/Comparison
  • Creating an “Infographic” to include in your presentation
  • Internship
  • Shadow an expert [in person or online]
  • Questionnaires
  • Opinion Poll


Once students write their paper, they present their research in assembly for the entire school.  Each day in the Spring, 2-3 seniors present their research in 8-10 minutes.  They are challenged to be both scholarly and interesting at the same time.  This is tough since topics range from e-textbooks, to fashion, to theoretical physics.  We often use the TED talks for inspiration and ideas on how to present complex research topics.

University Library Instruction

University Library Instruction Classroom [accommodated all 60 students]

TED talks with the types of visuals to use in research presentations

Some other resources:

How – some places to start

One Example of a Senior Capstone Project  Presentation

Senior from 2015





Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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