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A class are in the Library along with their teacher, a student and myself. We explain the investigation to the class, and ask them to write down which topic they intend to investigate. Two periods are spent reading and taking notes from the assembled materials and then pupils decide whether they have enough information to start writing their first drafts, or whether to continue their research.

Collating and summarising aren’t easy and some are having problems translating their notes into what they want to say so I wander around checking their work, advising on their information, suggesting ideas and pointing out blatant plagiarism. And that’s when I discover three pupils who have got confused, mixed up, weren’t paying attention, call it what you will, whose notes are unrelated to any of the investigation questions.

Now, I’m a fair person, and I don’t get annoyed when one pupil flings his pen – actually my pen – away in disgust and refuses point blank to do anything else: it’s not fair, how was he supposed to know etc etc etc. What does get my goat is when he tells me it’s my fault.

You told me to copy information out of those books!

Really? Well, I share your frustration, young man, because I specifically said NOT to copy, guess you missed that bit. Also where I discussed identifying useful material, using indexes and contents pages, scanning for keywords, using Ctrl-F, using advanced Google searches, lateral thinking, suggested ideas, showed examples of previous work and helped when you told me you couldn’t find any information on your topic. A topic which is still written at the top of your sheet. Guess you missed that too, eh?

Oh the temptation… and I do begin to say that but what good will it do? Will he listen? Will any of them?

So, tongue firmly bitten, we talk instead about what was meant to happen, why they wrote down the information that they did, identify any notes that could still be used and they’re persuaded to continue researching for the remainder of the period.

And the lesson is: research is inherently frustrating for everyone involved. Mechanisms for coping with those frustrations have to be learned.

Pupils want answers to be sitting waiting for them. They don’t mind looking for them, but they expect them to exist. That’s possible in a textbook, but not in the real world of information. And it’s frustrating when you can’t find the answers, especially if you feel that you’ll be in trouble for not working when what you’re looking for is just not there!

As a librarian, I work with teaching staff to create investigations that meet the demands of Curriuclum for Excellence, encourage independent thought and lateral thinking, but it’s assumed that I’ll be able to provide sufficient relevant information at a level suitable for the young people involved. More frustration, because unfortunately, information is limited: sometimes there isn’t enough, sometimes it doesn’t exist, and sometimes there’s loads of it, but it’s unintelligible.  In good practice, that’s discovered before the class comes along, but too often there’s no advance warning. And no, the internet does not supply all the answers, and even when it does, (as my daughter reminds me) sometimes it’s filtered.

But Curriculum for Excellence isn’t just about subject information. Health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes demand that schools help pupils to

  • build resilience and confidence
  • meet challenges, manage change
  • reflect on strengths and skills

all talents that would have helped our trio. Rather than being frustrated at not being able to find the ‘right information’, they could have considered how the information could be used, or changed topics, or just looked in different places! All of which takes resilience, confidence and the knowledge that the fault wasn’t in them, but in the books and websites they were looking at.

Learning how to use what’s available to your advantage is just as much a part of an investigation as the reading and note-taking, but it takes time and practice. For pupils selecting their own investigations, it becomes increasingly important. I would argue that this is definitely a place where librarians are essential, not just in finding the information in the first place, but in learning to cope with the frustrations that follow.