Integrating Brain-Based Strategies into Library Research Assignments
Flynn, Mari, Academic Exchange Quarterly
College freshman-level research assignments and Information Literacy (IL) lessons share common goals: familiarize students with library resources, help students identify and develop effective research strategies, and provide students with skills to synthesize information into their own work. Applying brain-based learning theories to these research assignments and IL lessons can create interactions that not only achieve the identified goals, but can also mitigate some of the stress in research and composition and provide a more palatable context for library training. Specifically, modeling research strategies in assignments that tap into the strong feelings and values of college students provide the opportunity for building rapport and the context for more comfortable and animated student research.
Society and the media have not always been kind to librarians (e.g. Marinelli & Baker, 2000; Caputo, 1984; Scherdin & Beaubien, 1995). Plagued by negative stereotypes that depict stem women with even sterner hair and dagger-like fingers, librarians now find themselves battling the subtle prejudices of students sent, by professorial edict, "to the library"--a building they don't like, housing books they don't often read, to answer questions they may not always understand. In the face of such unwilling or only-grudgingly-willing customers, interactions that consist of dry lectures, unsmiling faces and tasks that seem disconnected from specific assignments and real-world events--all run the risk of turning "teachable moments" into final straws that leave students frustrated and unreachable. Therefore, handing students a set of prewriting questions, giving them a cursory tour of a library and abandoning them to see and seek connections on their own may be stressful and/or boring and is not a brain-friendly exercise, but with some work, it can be.
In an effort to engage students and bridge the growing distance between the professionals' notion of the library as a comfortable, technologically savvy tool and student notions of the library as a quiet and dull, book-infested building they get "sent to", librarians and instructors can re-frame assignments to engage students in seeing and seeking connections between the library and information in all that students do. Infusing Information Literacy instruction with an interesting and controversial real-world example, tapping into student passion and opinion, helping them ask questions and develop an "angle" and then directing them to use their passion and interest in a search for resources to prepare an argument can prove far more valuable than handing them a seemingly detached list of questions to answer. Such tactics are identified in Jensen (2000) who suggests among other things to "create a contemporary spin on a topic or subject, so that it is perceived as 'cool' and relevant" (p. 104).
One of the standard prewriting techniques used in the research and writing process is a set of prewriting questions--grounded in developmental strategies--intended to help students develop ideas about their topics, generate material and identify potential research avenues. The common strategy offers a typical set of questions that would be given to student researchers after they have decided on a topic--"Affluenza," animal rights, the inherent violence of the Three Stooges, etc. Questions include items such as "What is X?" and "How does your topic resemble something else?" Students are asked to answer the prewriting questions as they pertain to their chosen topic, and then, they are directed to library for a general "where things are" tour that assumes that students can take the newfound knowledge that "Reference books are on the main floor" and "This database offers full-text scholarly articles" and know how such things are related to their topic and any prewriting questions they may have developed. More often than not, students don't. …