on source type struggles…

Helping kids understand source types is hard.

When I’m trying to teach kids about types of sources and what they do, I find myself feeling like more and more of an information dinosaur with each passing year. My reality is that the vast majority of my students’ research is digital. But… I’m a “librarian of a certain age” and my first instinct is to draw analogies to the print collection. When I’m working with kids I often want to use examples like, “These are like ‘World Book Encyclopedia’ type articles…” then realize that there is a very high likelihood that not a single student the class has ever actually used a print version of the World Book. #SoOld

Over time, I’ve learned to substitute web native equivalents to help students build mental models of source types that might be useful in their database searches. “If I imagine my perfect source right now, it probably looks like a Wikipedia article and in ‘database language’ they’d call that a reference source so let’s click on that reference link and see what we find.”

Increasingly, however, we’ve been finding that students just don’t have adequate mental models of source types to help them grow as online researchers. What follows is my messy, messy in-process of figuring stuff out efforts to help students build mental models for the information they inquire. #UnderConstruction

Putting a Tool Kit Together…

We emailed community college and university libraries in our area to see if anyone had copies of trade or academic journals that they were weeding and would share with us. We gathered two class sets worth of materials (we have two librarians and sometimes both of us are doing research lessons at the same time) and labeled magazine for a general audience with green stickers, trade/professional journals with orange stickers, and academic/scholarly journals with a yellow sticker.

When we’re working with classes we’ll typically have students take a sample of each type so they can thumb through each and maybe look through a neighbor’s. As someone who grew up (50 years ago) in a home that got, probably more than a dozen magazines a month, it’s wild to me that some of my kids seemingly very, very little experience with actual print periodicals. I’ve found that having these artifacts has been incredibly helpful for students! Sometimes #PhysicalArtifactsMatter

I’ve Given Up on Known Sources First As My Default…

Another vestigial tail I’ve had to shed because I’m old is that I clung to the idea that research always should go from print sources to database sources to web sources–in that order. In the perfect controlled world of my fantasies, this is great in theory. As a school librarian at a school with a heavy emphasis on project-based learning, a small print collection that serves 3rd-12th graders, and where projects and topics change every year, emphasizing print first just does not work for purely pragmatic reasons that are completely out of my control. Rather than die on that hill, we’ve worked on emphasizing SIFT source evaluation across the board and chosen to figure out how to arrive at instruction that fits the process our teachers and students actually use to do research rather than trying to impose my process on their assignments and projects. #NoFrozen #LetItGo

What This Looks Like When the Rubber Meets the Road…

When I’m doing a research lesson, I typically have students grab one copy of a source from each category. We have kids look through periodicals for a general audience and have them point out typical features. “There are colored pictures… It’s pretty understandable… Some are about lots of topics, but some are, like about one thing like surfing…

I then have them look at scholarly journals. “Looks super boring… Why is this only in black and white? Is this even English? …” #GottaLoveHSKids #Hahaha At this point, I like to ask the teacher to explain peer review and/or scholarly journals as they apply to their field/subject.

The last category we tackle are trade/professional publications.

Once students have some familiarity with types of print serials, we chat about who typically creates the content for each category and how each type of source might be helpful at different points in their research process.

Some on-the-fly white board notes from a class discussion on source types.

How It’s Going

We’ve got a ways to go, but I’ve been happy with the progress we’ve made by moving in this direction. One of the HAPPIEST outcomes has been that by giving students side-by-side samples of different source types, most come to an understanding that just because your assignment sheet requires “at least two citations from scholarly sources” that short circuiting the process and just searching for a peer reviewed journal article without doing the other foundational research is going to be a largely futile endeavor because if you can’t understand the concepts or vocabulary you end up with sources that are relevant, but not pertinent–they may was well be written in Greek… #Grin

A second, welcomed outcome has been that once they know that different types of print sources exist, showing students how to limit database search results by type actually makes some sense to them. By giving students reference points for “this is a magazine, but this is a trade publication, and this is a peer reviewed article” they seem much more able to parse the slight variations of source type labels used in different databases.

Again, it’s all messy and ugly and “in-process.”

I’d love so much to hear about how you are teaching source types and searching. Please hit the reply button below and share what you’re doing!

Happy Wednesday, all!

6 thoughts on “on source type struggles…

    • Hi Dottie!!!
      We work K-12. In a perfect world, we’d build on all of these concepts starting with our 5 year olds. We progress nicely from fiction/non-fiction with our littlies, but my hopes for building a sensibly spiraling curriculum have proven to be elusive! LOL!

  1. Dave,
    This is such a simple idea, but exactly right! Insert face palm here!

    I actually saved my last print edition of World Book many years ago for this very purpose. I am an LS librarian, JK-4. When we are ready to start learning how to research I take them over to the little shelf that holds that set and show them how it works. Then I Iet each student pull one off and look through it. You wouldn’t believe the oo’s and ahs! In addition to seeing how cool it is to learn random stuff they also get an understanding for starting our research with a basic understanding. When we go to one of our databases and they see the “encyclopedia” then they understand what type of resource and information they’ll see. We talk about Wikipedia at that time too. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to transfer that to the types of sources used in our MS and US. Duh!

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your process!

    • Thanks, Tammy!!!

      You made me remember that WAY back in the day when I was a 4th grade classroom teacher, I had a discarded World Book set that was about 20 yrs old and another that was about 10 yrs old. I had groups of kids research topics like, “Hawaii” using our sets along with the one that was current in the library and we’d compare group’s notes.

      “Hey, why is the population information different. Did you read carefully? Bring your group’s articles up and show us where you got your facts for your notes!!! … What do you mean that group’s book was old? …”

      “Wait, are you saying the copyright date matters? Explain that!”

      It was a great way to introduce citation and source evaluation and my kids always remembered! LOL!!!

  2. Thank you, David! I’m collaborating on this very topic with a 7th/9th grade Social Studies teacher and sharing this post with her. We started with one basic lesson on source literacy but I’m excited to incorporate the magazine/scholarly journal piece into the lesson next year. You are so right; telling them to narrow search results to peer-reviewed doesn’t help all that much when they don’t understand the basic differences.

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