This was an interesting interaction. The students have a research paper they are doing for their World History class. Last week, I observed in the classroom as the Barbara went to show the students some databases to look for information about their topics as well as to help refine their topics. This week the students are looking for information, so Barbara sat down with them to show them how to use the catalog to find appropriate books.
One of the students was aware that the library is ordered by topic and she just wanted to know the “number area” where she could find information. As they sat down, Barbara asked again what the student’s topic was. She replied that her research question was “What is behind police brutality”. The other student who was also there looking for books on her topic told her friend she didn’t get the question and Barbara also wanted to explore this issue a little before she could point her in the right direction. A long conversation then followed where the Barbara tried to help the student explain more clearly what her topic was and how she was going to do research on it. What arguments could be made about the topic and what viewpoints could she look at. Barbara tried to get the student to show her the original assignment, which the student didn’t have available and couldn’t explain either. It was actually a bit painful to watch, as the student obviously needed to flesh out the topic a bit more, but was really just interested in finding books. Finally after discussing the topic for about 10 minutes they started searching the catalog and the student typed in Police Brutality and to her surprise, she didn’t find anything. Again Barbara tried to clarify what the research question was to help find other keywords or topics to search for. After about 20 minutes of this back and forth conversation and a little bit of searching, the student who was sent to find the appropriate section on her own, found a book on “Dealing with Anger”. The student then had to leave for class.
While I found the encounter very educational, I also was a bit frustrated with the process. It seemed like the student was not really willing to consider what Barbara was trying to show her about her topic and about how to search, however, she kept pushing the point and the student ended up walking away with one book that was mildly helpful. I’m not sure she would be encouraged to come back for more help.
On the other hand, the other student who had questioned her friend originally, also wanted help, and so I stepped in and followed in Barbara’s footsteps. I didn’t really question her topic (Global Warming, Pollution and the Indian Government) and so we were able to jump right in to finding books. We did a couple of catalog searches, which lead to the reference section. I showed her where the references were, walking her over and helping find the book she looked up in the catalog. She pulled it down and found a small section on Pollution related to Asian. I then told her it was often helpful to keep looking in the section where she found one book as there might be related topics. I also pointed out the encyclopedia’s where she could find more general, starting information about India. She put one book on reserve and decided to come back after school to look at it and find more.
Both of these situations were very different but I think in general, although Barbara’s approach was correct in helping the student to think more critically at her question, it may have also been drawn out a bit too long. I felt that after a while, it may have been more helpful for the first student to have actual started searching and then been guided through finding helpful starting resources, since she was obviously not ready to hear what Barbara had to say. Letting her search and find or not find her resources would have just been another approach that may have been more helpful to the student in the long run.