"The Internet has been a boon and a curse for teenagers." -J.K. Rowling
The Internet promotes shallow thinking. We have heard that lament many times and the truth of it becomes apparent when watching secondary learners do research. But, I can honestly say that it's not always their fault. With all that needs to be taught before the end-of-year assessments, it is getting more and more difficult for teachers to carve out adequate time for the entire research process. Often the act of research is more of an exercise in formal writing than the process of finding and evaluating information. Students are handed articles to use, or given a list of acceptable sites, to save time.
How can we help students and teachers overcome this challenge? It is important to build relationships with content area teachers so you can advocate for enough time for students to learn how to effectively search for and select quality sources. Learners must discover that research is more than finding a sentence in an article; it's the critical thinking to evaluate the tenor and thesis of the article.
One way to get students started building these skills is through a project collecting and curating resources for an upcoming unit of study. Lessons could focus on reading and evaluating sources for germane content, authenticity, currency, and accuracy, and students could apply their learning by selecting sources for a topic within the unit of study. See my lesson plan on Thinking Critically about Digital Resource Selection for details on how you can implement this project.
With this experience of evaluating sources under their belts, students will be more prepared to dive into a full research project. I find that scaffolding the source selection process here can help guide students to success. When possible, I begin the first day of research by restricting their search to a database, which keeps them from drowning in source choices. Once learners begin to find articles, we stop and talk about narrowing the search with the goal that by the end of our time together, they will have one or two really useful sources. When they come back the second day, we branch out. The teacher will have talked about subtopics, so I reiterate the power of quality search terms, before letting learners loose to search the Internet.
Students are given a form to fill out for each Internet site to be sure it meets the qualifications for an acceptable site as a double check. This stage is a good time to talk with students about triangulating. As Deborah B. Stanley discusses in her book Practical Steps to Digital Research: Strategies and Skills for School Libraries, by looking at multiple types of sources, students gain perspective on a site's credibility, which can lead to information validation. In her column, "A Preservice Librarian Asks, 'How Can I Teach Triangulation Effectively?'" Debbie Abilock also shares methods related to triangulation for getting students to think critically about the information they're uncovering.
If you are a novice school librarian who would like more support with digital research or even a seasoned pro who wants to stay current, you may want to take a look at Stanley's book. She not only shares step-by-step directions to help you teach each piece of the research model, but also includes diagrams, models, checklists, and more. I especially liked how she connects traditional print-based literacies to their analogous steps in digital research. This is what our learners need today to benefit from the world of sources at their fingertips.
Stanley, Deborah B. Practical Steps to Digital Research: Strategies and Skills for School Libraries. Libraries Unlimited, 2018.