In school today, students are often asked to conduct independent research to answer a question, find out more about a subject, or to inform a presentation to their class. We know that the research process crosses curriculums and subject areas because finding information is necessary in every discipline – in school and long after, and because of this it’s important to have a consistent approach. There’s a standard framework that we like to share with the boys at Trinity when conducting research. The process is based on extensive research by Carol Kuhlthau, Professor Emiratus at Rutgers University who is internationally recognised for her groundbreaking research on the Information Search Process and Guided Inquiry Framework.


The framework involves 7 stages, where each builds on the one before. The stages are Initiation, Selection, Exploration, Formulation, Collection, Presentation and Assessment. Kuhlthau (2004) draws on two decades of empirical research when she suggests that there are three separate but overlapping domains at play when you undertake each stage of research:

  • The cognitive domain (thoughts)
  • The physical domain (actions)
  • The affective domain (feelings)


In line with this understanding, we teach the boys to understand not only the processes and tools to use, but also what emotional responses they can expect at each stage. In particular, it’s important that they know to expect a dip during the exploration stage of their research. This phenomenon has become increasingly more important to recognise in the Information Age where an overabundance of sources (good, average and bad) can be found online.

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What typically happens is that students begin reading widely in the Selection stage and can be feeling very confident with the amount of information available from their Google, Library catalogue and Academic Database search results. However, as they start to read more deeply for the Exploration stage they can become lost in the sheer volume of information, meaning that it’s easy to lose sight of the questions they were trying to answer when they began.


The danger for researchers when this feeling strikes is that they might question their initial idea and decide to start all over again. Our role, as Teacher Librarians, is to reassure them that the emotions they are experiencing are completely normal, and that they should refer back to their planning documents (e.g. brainstorming) when this happens. Referring back to their planning will reinforce their direction and help them get back on track. A planning document is a great framework to scaffold their ideas and writing, and will help them push on through those feelings of doubt and frustration, to emerge into the Formulation stage where they will be the home stretch.


Post by: V.Courtenay

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