Media Matters

December 17, 2014

Transforming Dreary Research Papers With a Dynamic Inquiry Process

In this Knowledge Quest article, Leslie Maniotes (Denver Public Schools) and Carol Kuhlthau (Rutgers University) lament about a typical last-minute request to a school librarian: a teacher says her class will be visiting the library the next day to do research on invasive plant species. Students will each choose one plant, find five information sources in the library, and take notes for a six-page research paper. Since the paper is due in two days, there’s time for only one library visit.

“This is an example of an educator suffering from Traditional Research Syndrome (TRS),” say Maniotes and Kuhlthau. “Although teachers have good intentions, they don’t realize that their traditional research approach is actually not supporting student learning.” That’s because when students are given TRS assignments, they often produce shallow reports full of disconnected facts without having given much thought to the meaning and importance of their topic. Sometimes they just go through the motions and copy material straight from their sources.

What’s the alternative? Guided Inquiry Design, say Maniotes and Kuhlthau, with the teacher and librarian working as a team to provide expert guidance as students move through these eight phases (the examples come from an exemplary unit on invasive plant species):

Open – The teacher and librarian pique students’ curiosity on the topic with an essential question – they show students photos of kudzu vines taking over a building and ask, What are the implications of this phenomenon?

Immerse – The whole class builds knowledge on the topic by observing a local invasive plant and hearing from an expert on plants and animals that are affected when an invasive species takes over.

Explore – Students use the library’s resources to learn more about an aspect of invasive plants that particularly interests them. “Only now is each student ready to identify a specific question to research and learn more about,” say Maniotes and Kuhlthau.

Identify – Students then formulate a focused research question that is important in the context of the essential question. Here are some examples:

- How does a particular invasive plant affect the surrounding area?

- How is a particular animal affected by an invasive plant species?

- How can an invasive plant affect local birds?

- How are insects affected by the invasion?

- What potential damage might a particular native plant incur from an invasive plant?

- Is there a benefit to native plants?

- Are there ways to stop invasives?

Gather – Now students can collect information on their individual focus area. They research their question(s), check in on their family members’ knowledge and misconceptions, and begin to think about the main points they want to make in their reports.

Create – Students put together their individual reports and some do a multimedia public information campaign to showcase their learning about a local invasive plant species.

Share – Students present their project at a local community night, invite the expert they heard from earlier, and post their material online.

Evaluate – The teacher and librarian assess the products and lead students in a self-assessment: what supported their learning, what was challenging, how did they deal with

roadblocks, and what are the implications for future inquiry projects?

Maniotes and Kuhlthau conclude with a list of the ways this kind of guided inquiry improves teaching and learning:

- It is learning-centered rather than product-centered.

- It is carefully and intentionally designed.

- It is driven by students’ authentic questions.

- It goes beyond low-level facts to deep understanding.

- It recognizes and supports the emotional side of learning.

- It can promote and support academic research by students at all grade levels.

“Making the Shift from Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning” by Leslie Maniotes and Carol Kuhlthau in Knowledge Quest, November/December 2014 (Vol. 43, #2, p. 8-17),; the authors can be reached at and

Getting Connected in a Connected World

We live in a world that is connected.

Our schools, teachers, parents, communities, and students are connected through social networks, digital tools, and technology. These things bring us closer, not just to each other, but also to the world.

Being connected has opened the doors and taken our library and school outside of the four walls. It has brought amazing opportunities to all of us. It has been a journey filled with learning, collaboration, experiences, and most of all… new friendships and opportunities.

As I look back on this journey over the past five years, there are a handful of things that really stand out. I hope I can help you get connected in the connected world that we are all part of.

And don’t worry. Within this journey, there is something that will be perfect for everyone.

Technology Initiative

I am the district teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa, a small, rural town twenty miles west of Des Moines. We have just over 600 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade within one building.

A little over five years ago, my district was getting ready to kick off an exciting new initiative within our community. All of our secondary students in grades 6-12 received MacBooks at the beginning of the school year. This was not only a new technology initiative within our building, it was also a brand new way of teaching and learning filled with questions, conversations, and the need to connect with others. We wanted to take our students outside of the school walls and give them experiences, opportunities, and the chance to collaborate and create with others.


The administrators and I started watching what was happening on Twitter. People were talking about it becoming a place where educators, students, publishers, libraries, and others in all walks of life were gathering and communicating.

I have to admit that, at first, I thought this whole thing called Twitter was nuts! I couldn’t really imagine talking to and learning with people I had never met… let alone, connecting them to our young people (three of my own were included in this equation).

But as we started tweeting, retweeting, DM’ing, favoriting tweets, and participating in amazing conversations any time of the day, it didn’t take me long to see that this would be the first vehicle of change that would connect us to the world. It would also change my life as a teacher librarian, parent, and as an individual.

We first connected with the superintendent, principal, technology instructor, and a few teachers at Merton Community School in Wisconsin. Within days we were Skyping into a kindergarten classroom with our kindergartners and reading Where The Wild Things Are together. We then created online “wild things” and put them all together in a digital book that we could share online.

The next month they all created brown paper gingerbread men and sent them to one another in the mail. The impact that this connection brought to our kindergartners was amazing. They had another set of classmates that were hundreds of miles away, but really so very close.

This experience truly showed me the power of being a connected teacher and librarian.

Soon after this first connection with our students, I also started getting more and more connected to learning experiences and conversations on Twitter.

First, by following hashtags such as #TLChat (Teacher Librarian Chat) and #EdChat (Education Chat), I was part of a conversation that focused on a topic or I could just share with one of these groups. We even started one for our school, #vanmeter, and for Iowa teacher librarians, #iowatl. Anyone can start a hashtag #___ …you just start using it in your tweets and spread the word on the meaning and mission.

I love how using hashtags not only brings tweets and conversation together, it also brings me together with a group of people that are very similar and motivating to one another.

It is really what you make it—and once again, there is something for everyone.

I also started connecting on Twitter by participating in several of the Twitter chats throughout the week. You can find a list of these chats on this chart (

I joined #EdChat on Tuesdays and #EngChat on Thursdays. I not only learned a great deal throughout the Twitter conversation, but I was meeting great people too.

Two years ago, we started #TLChat (, which is the second Monday of each month at 8:00pm EST. This is a high energy, awesome hour of meaningful conversations and learning, and a chance to make connections for your library, students, and teachers.

And this all takes place on Twitter.

Wikispaces and Blackboard

Another place for teacher librarians to get connected is TL News Night ( I am one of six hosts for the show and I have to admit that this is one of the best times I have had with my friends and colleagues. We all meet in a Google Hangout on Air, and then we are able to share that link as we go live so others around the world can join us.

As all of the fun things are happening within TL News Night, we are also sharing on Twitter throughout that hour. With our tweets, we just add #TLChat and #TLNewsNight so everyone knows for that hour we are dedicating our tweets to this event. It is just one more way to connect teacher librarians to learning and to each other.

Since I am mentioning TL News Night and #TLChat, I also must give a huge shout out to TL Virtual Cafe ( This is where it all started several years ago.

On the first Monday of each month, various teacher librarians host a lively, top-notch show with the best topics such as Leading From The Library and EduTech Smackdown. We meet in Blackboard, which is very easy to enter from the link provided on the website each month.

A Connected World

Do you see how getting connected can bring so much to your life, profession, and school community? By being connected, we can all find our niche—that little piece of something new we want to learn or perhaps that opportunity to teach and share with others.

On top of what I have embraced professionally and personally from Twitter and other forms of social media, I can’t even tell you how important Twitter is to me for the experiences I have brought to my students and library. We have dozens of author and illustrator Skype and Google Hangouts, experts teaching the students, classrooms from halfway around the world joining our students in Iowa, creating and collaborating as part of a class project between several schools, and so much more.

I hope you enjoyed this journey through being connected and have embraced how you will make this part of your life. I can’t wait to hear and connect with you at @shannonmmiller.

We definitely live in a connected world, and now it’s our year to get everyone connected.

School Library Monthly/Volume XXX, Number 8/May-June 2014

Are Ebooks Any Good?

Do digital books help young kids learn to read,or are they mostly fun and games?

To read the entire article go to

School Library Journal, By Lisa Guernsey on June 7, 2014