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JSTOR for secondary school educators

Photo of Wendy DeGroat

Tips from educators

In September 2019, we featured a webinar on faculty and librarian collaboration with school librarian Wendy DeGroat from the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School. An overarching theme of participants' questions concerned the best use of limited time with students. Read on for some ideas, the webinar recording, and a handout.

Rethinking what to teach: alternatives to search demos

Finding required article types: rethinking what to teach

Alternatives to search demos
When teachers make assignments that require specific source types such as scholarly sources, or more specifically primary research studies, this provides a valuable opportunity for librarians to support student success on the assignment by teaching students how to find the required source type(s). Given the time crunch most teachers feel in regard to their curriculum, you’ll typically have just one face-to-face session with students. If your tendency is to offer a search demo of JSTOR and/or other databases during that session, consider alternatives that center students’ critical thinking skills instead of database features.

  • Better words = better search

Context: Students’ lack of an adequate topic vocabulary is often a more significant factor in irrelevant search results than whether they know how to use subject filters or boolean operators.

  • Together, parse two research statements (or questions) into keywords. Offer suggestions about what to include or avoid, and why.
  • If time permits, have students practice again, this time in pairs or small groups.
  • Illustrate pitfalls of searching with vague or overly broad keywords.
  • Emphasize that among its many benefits, strategic preliminary research can strengthen topic-specific vocabulary and improve keyword precision.
  • In JSTOR and/or other databases, briefly show the role of topics, subject headings/terms, and article keywords in accelerating acquisition of topic lingo.
  • Have students parse their own research statement (or question) and enhance their topic vocabulary by actively skimming and scanning results in JSTOR and/or other relevant databases, collecting their findings in a graphic organizer.
  • Collect completed organizers (physically or digitally) and provide individual feedback in your remarks.

  • Source evaluation and selection
    • Select a set of articles that includes both the required article type (e.g. primary research studies) and documents students may mistake for the desired type: book reviews, opinion essays, and news updates from scholarly journals, as well as chapters from scholarly books. Tip: Include choices difficult enough that some students will be misled by them. Creating an opportunity for students to realize (gently) that there’s a gap in their knowledge can increase their motivation to engage fully in the activity.
    • Have students work in pairs or small groups to determine whether one or more of the selected documents qualifies as a primary research study.
    • Ask students to report out on their findings.This can take many forms: red/green/yellow cards held up; verbal reporting out; adding to a collective visual in physical or digital form; etc.
    • Guide students in generating a shared list of traits for the required article type.
    • Fill in any gaps that remain after they’ve built their list of traits.

But if I do this, how will students learn where and how to find such articles?

  • Link students to brief search demo videos (in blog posts, on libguides, etc.) that they can watch before or during their actual search. Like many database providers, JSTOR provides high-quality instructional videos, so you can leave the search demos to them and invest your instructional time in hands-on activities centered on critical thinking.
  • Create your own search demo videos and share them via YouTube or within your course management software. Promote your videos through all available modes: student/parent newsletters, social media, website, etc.
  • Offer lunchtime workshops to help students improve their search strategies. Reflect on these traits as you develop your workshop series:
    • Real-time: Schedule workshops when there are related assignments in progress.
    • Reach out: Promote via teachers, announcements, social media, etc.
    • Relate: Use relatable examples built on current/recent projects at your school.
    • Restraint: Keep it focused—no more than 20 minutes, preferably less (sample).
    • Relax: Allow students to eat while they learn.
    • Repeat: Share slide decks via your school’s course management software.
    • Release control (a little): Invite students to pitch workshop ideas to you and then teach their peers, perhaps as a way of earning community service time.

Collaboration between faculty and librarians

Ever wish there was more collaboration at your school? In this recorded webinar, learn about various techniques that foster collaboration with colleagues to improve student success. 


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