Reflection, ISP, and The Bangles

Time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities.

Oh, Bangles, how right you were!* We all need time to reflect and see what’s become of us and to find our possibilities.  This is no different for learning in the library.  Students need time to reflect as they move through the information search process (ISP).  During the first faculty meeting of the year, our Assistant Head of School/Upper School Director used an apt analogy for trying to learn without reflection.  He described seeing a school of fish at an aquarium over the summer; they were swimming feverishly in a circle while opening and closing their mouths, and though he showed a better video, this will give you an idea:

Sardine Tank at the Monterey Aquarium

When he likened it to students learning without reflection, I pictured them as the fish –  feverishly trying to do well, pass the class, move on the the next level all while opening and closing their minds, trying to receive, fit in, and process what teachers, readings, and research provide.  It reminded me so clearly of what I’ve seen first-hand in the library and while working  in the classroom; students just opening and closing their mouths waiting for the right source, idea, or assistance to flow in often without deliberate thought or care.

In an effort to prevent this scenario, I conferenced with American Studies students during a critical stage of their ISPs – right after they had (supposedly) formulated a focus.  I asked each one to send me an annotated bibliography with four sources ahead of time.  I also had their original topic proposals with teacher comments (both English and History since it is a team taught class).  The variety of issues that arose during each conference was astounding from a student who was confused about notetaking to a student who barely had an initial topic much less a focus to a student who had tons of sources but no real direction.  Now, this is not to say that the students are not conscientious; they are!  It just shows how messy research is and that ISP is circular despite its linear depiction.

I learned so much during these conferences, which I’ll write about soon, but most of all is the need for the type of research interventions that Kuhlthau’s ISP work encourages and the need for those to be flexible enough to be of value to students regardless of where they are in the process.  Conferences are my favorite so far, but they aren’t always possible in a time-crunched world.  What other ways do you have to intervene during the ISP and at what points do you feel it is most important?


* Don’t worry, I know it was actually Paul Simon who wrote those words of truth, but I am a child of the 80s after all!