Saturday, November 10, 2007

Student Pathfinders

I have noticed several threads this week about how much we may be spoonfeeding students by finding resources for them. It seems so much easier at times to just post of list of sites for them to use.
However, I try to work with students whenever possible to help them refine their own searching skills.
We start by developing a list of keywords. This is sometimes done in the classroom with the teacher first. I have come up with a search plan that I often walk students through or select specific parts of to focus on at the beginning of each research class. Here's a brief description of what we focus on. I have a more formalized version which I hand out to students. Some teachers ask their students to compile an annotated list of resources (pathfinder) justifying their choices at the end of their searching.

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Student Pathfinders

Project: Write a sentence describing your project.

Keywords – Remember to consider both subject (Amazon River) and type of information ( diagram, graphics, chart, FAQs, glossary, maps, history, etc.) As long as you need to find more information you should continue to build your keywords.

Start with print! This is a great way to begin your list of keywords. Is there information in the textbook? The encyclopedias or other reference books in the library?

When you have a little basic information and some good keywords begin searching online. Try a variety of search engines: AskX, Quintura, Vivisimo. Try a directory: Librarian's Internet Index (, dmoz, or the Internet Public Library ( They might also try Google Directory.

TIP: If you don’t find something useful in the first ten hits revise your search.

Which online databases from the school or public library might be useful? This includes encyclopedias and periodicals.

Are there any blogs or wikis which would be useful?

By the end of the first session in the library you should have at least three worthwhile sources.

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I find that when students are given the skills and a method of attack they become much more focussed. Before I started doing this we used to call the first research period "Madly Off in all Directions" after a popular radio program. Now the kids come in ready to work. They ask far more questions about the validity of sites and how to cite their selections. If their topic is a controversial one we talk about bias and how to find the author of a site.

It's still very much a work in progress but the results so far are gratifying.


Jeri Hurd said...

This is great! I have a search planner that I'm trying to get students to use, but it's a completely new concept for them (plan my search??? Why would I do that!?) so I think I'm going to hit the middle school and 9th grade hard with it, so they'll be used to it by the time they're juniors and seniors. The older kids will know it's there, and maybe they'll absorb something by osmosis!

In the meantime, I like your structure better than mine. So will plagiarize shamelessly and redraft!

Jeri Hurd said...

oh, hey, btw! Thanks for the mention. I just saw it this morning. I'm flattered, and honored! I've really been letting my online reading go. As you said, I miss the total immersion of last summer. I think my aggregator gave up keeping count of how many postings it has listed. I'm almost afraid to look! Tomorrow the kids are gone and its parent conference day--grin, library perks! No conferences!--so maybe I can spend the morning catching up! It's job related, right!?!? lol