Inquirying into the Research Process - with others....

What tacit knowledge do we all bring to the research and inquiry process?  How useful is the concept of threshold concepts?  What metaphors might help students leap those conceptual thresholds? What pre-searching strategies should we be pushing?  How can predictive search awareness improve search strategies? How can we ensure curation exercises improve the skill of evaluating resources? How we can tap the multi-dimensional power of primary sources?  Are we always aware of the best questioning strategies?  How can we help students build background knowledge?

These are just some of the questions those of us attending "Research Relevance: K-12 Library Instruction for the 21st Century: A Colloquium for School Librarians" at the Castilleja School, Palo Alto, California, June 24-25, 2015, considered.  For a Google Folder of all the raw materials of the presenters -- go to

What stood out for me?  What were my take-aways?

I'll start out by saying what we didn't bother with.  Nobody gave a damn about what words we used to identify the research process.  Models were irrelevant.  Instead we heard about examples of where the right resource at the right time with the right focus helped students appreciate what a slippery process research is.

While tools might have been mentioned, they were secondary.  E.g., annotated bibliographies as an evaluation exercise are very useful, but it doesn't matter if they are made in NoodleTools or EasyBib or Diigo or RefMe or Zotero or a Google Doc.

Concepts were king (queen?).  Debbie Abilock and Sue Smith did a whole valuable session on Threshold Concepts -- and my 5-min. Lightning Round on "Metaphors for Research: food for thought" was in the same vein.

Primary sources came up in several guises.  Especially the notion that in order to know if something actually IS a primary source, you have to know what question you are answering.  Someone recommended the Lapham's Quarterly's feature "Voices in Time."

We use Libguides in our school (though I hate to be judged on ours - there's never enough time to go back and make them all beautiful and consistent).  So I particularly like to see how people are using them - in their school and for PD events like this.  Sara Kelley-Mudie did a session on "Where to Begin" when working with students on research -- and focused on the art of questioning and question-storming.  See her beginning point -- her Libguide -- below.

In another session a Libguide was shown that served as a guide to a kind of Google Lit Trip -- where students in Grade 9 reading "The Grapes of Wrath" created a map as if they were taking the same trip from the dust bowl of the Midwest to California, with limited money and resources, and random misfortunes along the way.

This reminded me of a similar Humanities project for high school that a teacher at the Singapore American School shared at an iLearnEd after-school event last April.  As I recall, it was a Humanities unit (joint literature and geography) where students read Max Brooks' "World War Z: an oral history of the Zombie War" (a narrative which evidently roams the world and is largely based on actual locations) and had to prove -- using Google Maps -- whether the locations and settings in certain chapters were real or fictional.  Click here for a video of instructions to the students re working with Google Maps.

Tasha Bergson-Michelson and Kristin Fontichiaro did a plenary on "Tacit Research: What we know about research and inquiry that we forget to tell kids".  See their slides here:

As an exercise, they gave us all time to read an NPR article on Grover Cleveland - see - and then collected questions that occurred to us.  We had so many!  What a wonderful kind of instigator for inquiry.  About Grover Cleveland and his era, about leaders and ill health (e.g., Roosevelt, Kennedy), about the the rights and power of the media, about the rights of people in positions of power, etc.

We talked about the Wikipedia "Talk" page for each subject and how that also reveals the conversations behind a topic.  We considered at what point we should be pointing students to databases.  How far into the question/topic development process.  We talked about answerable vs. unanswerable questions.   Is there a way to make topic selection sexy? (or even just fun?)  How much time is allotted to question development?  How much to topic selection?

We wondered about the difference between researching on a phone versus a laptop.   Does one device fore-shorten clicking down into results?  How to enable in-depth reading on a device?

We wondered about our cultural assumptions about research.  E.g., Kristin told the story of a student from India who was confused as to why they couldn't use just one source in their bibliography -- because that one sources had something like 700 references listed.  Why did they have to have five references if they had found such an excellent one-stop-shopping one??

Knowing the advanced features of a search engine is invaluable - we all agreed.  Tasha did another session on Predictive Search.

Building background knowledge -- and trying to involve primary sources -- was another focus.  Nicole Hunter and Hayley Beale from San Francisco University High School showed us the LibGuide they made for 9th graders who will spend a year immersing themselves into the full range of Mexican history.

I'll talk about threshold concepts and metaphors for research in a separate post.

So let me end with a beautiful infographic by Michelle Fitzgerald on international reading.  I didn't get to the session she and Debbie Abilock did on supporting students from around the world (otherwise I would have missed Sara Kelley-Mudie's one on beginning the research process!), but I was pleased to find this in the folder afterwords.