In his excellent blog post, “What’s ‘Print’?” Bud the Teacher poses a question that we as librarians confront every day as the nature of information sources changes, and one that I personally struggle with. It’s a must read post for every librarian(and English teacher, I might add!) His post encapsulates the research dilemma very accurately:
“I’ve assigned many research projects in my time as a teacher. Perhaps you have, too. Research, the process of looking and re-looking at the way an issue or idea has been explored, is a vital part of learning.
Perhaps you, like me, have assigned research projects that required that students cite their sources, and perhaps you, like me, wanted to make sure your students went deeper than a quick Google search and the top five hits for whatever search term or terms they happened to type in the first time they went looking.
So maybe you, like me, made a requirement of the project that students had to include one or more “print sources,” materials that couldn’t be downloaded from the Web.
If so, maybe you have this question, too:
What does “print resource” mean anymore? Has it become a meaningless term?”
He goes on to suggest perhaps we make a different distinction–requiring students to use one primary source, rather than limiting that source to a book in particular.
On his blog, I replied (reposting my response here–see caveat at end of my post):
“Bud, You’ve summarized this dilemma eloquently.
As a librarian, I struggle with it and see our teachers and students struggling with this crossroads as well.
Just last week, I ended up using Google Books to find a book for a student who was researching an obscure person but was required to have a book source. I had already searched two local public libraries and our library, as well as our university library, to no avail but found a book on Google Books. I feel somewhat “crafty” when I tell students that even though it’s online, they can count it as a book. But it’s true, of course.
So first off, I agree, that using the “best’ sources possible is the goal for our students, and helping them evaluate what those are. There are many things we can do to steer them to a better understanding of what the best sources are.
Formal teacher/librarian/student conferencing during the research process is one that comes to mind.”
Bud weighs in with an excellent suggestion: “So might I humbly suggest a small change to any assignment that requires students to provide a “print” resource? Ask them for a primary source instead.”
Again, I agree in essence with Bud on this. Back to my response on his post:
…. I often think this is the ‘missing piece’ when we teach research in schools. Professional researchers, authors, historians, scientists, often use primary research in their real world work.
Are they appropriate for every assignment? While I’m not so sure I like requirements that ‘limit’ students rather than organic ones that grow out of their research experience, I think those requirements do help expose students to possibilities they might not have considered before, which is a growing experience, just like requiring them to journal about their research or blog about it, or whatever.
Primary sources are easy to come by, because interviews are a primary source. And for every subject they might research, there is someone to interview–a teacher, a parent, someone who works at a nonprofit in town, a scientist at the university level….and I do think that is a particular primary source that can add a great deal of value.
Of course, there are many other primary sources, but I wanted to point out that option because it is the easiest to teach and to incorporate into a lesson and also has great real world value for our students.
Lastly, I would like to encourage teachers to enlist the help of the librarian. When we’re teaching students about sources, and options, who could be a better guide than the person who works with sources all day every day?
Most librarians have an excellent understanding of this dilemma as we often help students through it.”
We need to acknowledge that much of the research process for students may take place outside of library walls, so it is critical that we work even more closely with teacher-librarian partnerships ourselves to help solve these dilemmas through our own collaborations and discussions in our building of how to approach this paradigm shift.
I also want to say that I love that this isn’t just a “librarian” question, and also that Bud’s question jumped the shark from his blog post to Twitter–and became a collaborative Twitter discussion between several teachers, librarians and technology coordinators.
This is what should be happening in our buildings as well. Are we as librarians leading the charge on this discussion? And in buildings where the questions Bud raises aren’t arising naturally, are we as librarians helping nudge this paradigm shift along?
Lastly, I want to offer some practical, librarian-y suggestions for helping students work with sources and find the best ones:
- Have research “conferences” with groups of students periodically throughout the research process. Enlist the librarian’s help with this. Discuss what issues they are having finding/evaluating sources and push their thinking a little bit.
- Have students gather several sources during a class period, and then have then rank them at the end of class, with an annotation explaining their ranking.
- Use process journals or blogging to have students reflect at the end of the class on their findings. How did their search go? What did they find? What else do they need to look for? What was the quality of what they found?
- Challenge them to use the entire “library” and “world” in one class period to find the best possible source–and then have them defend it in class. (like Iron Chef for research).
- Prior to starting their actual searches, in the classroom, have them list the best places to start looking. Challenge their assumptions. (There are occasions when books are much ‘faster’ sources for what they are looking for.)
- Enlist the help of the librarian who can participate in the blogging, journaling or conferencing with students, and who may have some great techniques for helping students understand what the “best” source might be.)
And finally, a caveat here– I’m not a big fan of reposting my own responses, but I wanted to bring this dialogue over to some library blog readers, and flesh out my comments a little bit more. Thanks, Bud, for starting the discussion!