I spent much of my time in my most recent post as a school librarian trying to explain to pupils the importance of effective searching. Teachers and I observed that many pupils thought online research meant typing their assignment questions word for word into a search engine, then choosing the first results returned. They did not understand how to evaluate information, so would often choose something irrelevant from a source like answers.com. Even fewer pupils understood how to synthesise information from a variety of sources, so they would usually stop after finding one source.
I suspect there are a variety of reasons for the pupils’ lack of information literacy, which I will explore in a later post. The purpose of this post is to focus on the positive steps I took to address this issue.
Most teachers agreed that something needed to be done, but there was little consensus as to what should be done or how it should be done. Unfortunately, there were still a few people in the school who thought that information literacy could be obtained in one-off, generic research skills instructions. Happily, most teachers did not share this view, and some were willing to work with me to try to help pupils build on their searching skills over time.
An English teacher approached me because she was doing a unit on Treasure Island, and she wanted her class to do some background research on pirates. She was tired of reading the same old information regurgitated from websites like Wikipedia, so she asked me what could be done to get the students to approach the research project from a broader perspective.
I created this research pathfinder, then visited the class in their classroom so we could go through and discuss the exercises together using the interactive whiteboard (the library did not have a working IWB or projector). I then invited the class to the library so they could perform research and practice these skills using computers and print resources.
This was an early attempt of using research pathfinders to get students to really think about why they were researching. In previous pathfinders, I gave pupils tips and examples of good resources to give them an idea of what I meant by effective searching, but I didn’t really do anything interactive that required them to reflect on what I was saying.
It’s unfortunate that I had to leave my post just when I was starting to work with teachers to provide more in-depth, relevant research instruction, but hopefully I will have the chance to do so again either at the school or university level. Therefore, if anyone has any comments or tips on how I might improve such instruction in the future, please let me know! 🙂 How do you reach pupils to make them truly understand why they are researching, instead of simply how to research?