Reference Desk Observation – Part 2

The eighth grade music classes at X Middle School are in the midst of a research project wherein groups of 2 students create a webpage that fully explains the life of famous composers. In order to do this successfully, students must use encyclopedias, print materials, and Internet sources to answer questions their teacher has specified. Today the class is focused only on print materials and encyclopedias.

Before the class comes in, Ms. Smith has already pulled a number of resources they may use and organized them on a cart. The students are only allowed to use one item on the cart; all other sources must be found in the media center’s stacks. Ms. Smith believes that this gives them an opportunity to begin their research before hitting frustrating points that would prevent the students from wanting to continue.

Ms. Smith has also prepared a pathfinder for her students. As the class arrives, she hands each student a piece of paper with a description of the kind of information that can be found within. She tells me that some students have never had experience even with encyclopedias so the pathfinder, while it won’t give information that is specific to this assignment, can help the students determine which materials to use.

Because the emphasis was predominantly on print materials, Ms. Smith spent about 10 minutes of the 40 minute period discussing how to use indexes and TOC’s, which was great to hear. Some of the students’ basic questions about research included:

“How do you know it’s the right person?”

“How do you look up his father’s name in the index?”
“Where is the table of contents in a magazine?”

“What if we can’t find anything on our composer?”

Instead of answering each of these, Ms. Smith turned the questions back to the students and asked for their input which not only drew the students in but also kept them thinking creatively and drawing them to their own conclusions which proved to be a very effective tactic.

During the rest of the class period, the students buzzed about the media center working together to find the best information on their composers. Ms. Smith and the music teacher were both present to help guide the students to the right resources without being overbearing. No student was given the “answer” and each learned to properly use indexes and TOC’s in encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, and reference books.

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