Supporting students through the Research Process

Returning to a K-12 school environment after several years’ teaching at a Masters’ level at University has given me interesting insights into the way younger students engage with the research process.

At different stages through their Primary/Elementary years, students are given fantastic opportunities to develop a variety of research skills – they are explicitly taught how to take notes from an information source, they are introduced to the concept of acknowledging the work of others by incorporating a bibliography in their simple research projects, and they spend time examining a host of websites to determine what indicates quality and credibility.

When they move onto Secondary School, and are suddenly asked to ‘research’,  it seems as though all of these wonderful lessons never really happened. Questions from the teacher such as ‘why should we reference?’ and ‘how do we know this source is credible?’ are met with blank stares and a deafening silence.

What I feel has been missing in the leap between Primary/Elementary and Secondary school is the idea that all of these skills, focused on explicitly in earlier years, have not been knitted together into the information search (research) process. A stand-alone note-taking class, or a targeted focus on writing a bibliography does not present the same challenge as a research question and the expectation that 1000 words will be produced in response, along with intext references from credible sources and an accurately structured reference list.

Therefore, I’ve put together this Libguide, which features a series of interactive infographics, in an attempt to collate and draw together the information search process into a series of easily understood stages. Of course, we know that this process is iterative, and that students will move backward and forward through the stages as they build their responses (and hopefully their knowledge and experience). However by presenting the entire process, chunked into blocks and yet interconnected, it is my hope that students will be able to see how the individual, seemingly isolated skills they have been learning during their schooling do, in fact, fit within a larger, more meaningful scheme.

Here is the Libguide; I’ve drawn on the resources of the fabulous Research Guide pages of the National Library of Victoria for the dot points at each stage, but have also curated a selection of videos and other resources within infographics, designed to offer students a quick check in point whenever they feel unsure of their next step on the process.

Front page of Libguide

The guide is a work in progress, and is yet to be completed…in fact, it may never be completed, as resources change, students needs alter and information is discovered. I would love to know your thoughts on how you feel it might be used, whether it is in fact useful, and if there is anything else that could be added to enrich and improve the resource.

2 thoughts on “Supporting students through the Research Process”

  1. Hi Kay,
    The importance of embedding information skills into meaningful tasks was certainly a big part of my learning through CSU. One of the things I came to realise was that although there were great models out there, some were more complicated than others. In the end, our school decided to go with the same basic research model you have referred to. As a P – 12 school, the library team felt that consistency with language across the years was pivotal to building transferrable understandings and skills. We spent a long time agonising over wording to expand on the 6 steps in a way that scaffolded both teachers and students. The beauty of consistency is that we hope students will keep referring to what they learn long after they leave school.
    One of the other things we came across as we prepared our expanded version of the process was that although we knew what we meant at each step, it wasn’t so clear to other staff – there was a lot of information lingo that library staff knew, but not teaching staff.
    At the start of the year our executive approved the library’s version of the research model, and therefore a whole school approach to research – yay. One of the joys in a meeting was when the Year 9 English teacher realised they could use this same process with English essays.
    With having 5 campuses, we intended to roll it out with supportive structures similar to what you have put together – we just haven’t got around to it yet. Although it is really important students have these understandings, we can see how important it is for the teachers to have these same understandings otherwise it will stay a ‘library’ thing. Thanks for sharing your work with us

    1. Thanks for your comment, Katharine!
      It sounds like you are making great progress in developing a shared language around research in your school – an amazing achievement!
      I completely agree that having a shared understanding and approach among the teaching staff is a key foundational step – and that we must never assume that we all have the same interpretations of different concepts. The library is there to support the learning of the entire community, and you are so right, it is vital that our work is infused into the practice of teaching throughout the school, and doesn’t stay locked within the library. Your thoughts are much appreciated! Best wishes with your continued move forward :).

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