"Making Library Assignments Come Alive"
Cynthia Mae Helms *

            Why talk about library assignments?
    1. Library is everything! No longer 4 walls, card catalog, and the items on the
    2. Increasing amount of information.
    3. Changing modes of information access - 94% of students 12-17 years old with
        access to the Web use it for research, with 70% citing it as their main source of
        information for school projects. ( Everhart, 2003)
    4. New audience, new students, students who don't understand what we mean
        when we say you sound like a broken record, students who may know more
        about technology than their teachers or librarians.
    5. Greater need to counteract plagiarism.
    6. Librarians play important role in information literacy
    7. Teacher-collaboration increases students' test scores - (Everhart, 2003;
        Manzo, 2000)

            Problems of Traditional Assignments

        1. Form over function - no. of sources, margins, date due, final points than
            discussing resources beyond school, or research methods.
        2. Product over process - too much emphasis on finished product;
            little reward places on process, evidence that student understood the process,
            sources select ed, determination of the most useful evidence.
            Need to challenge students to determine best mode of presentation
            for given audience.
        3. Inadequate skills in information gathering and processing - students do not
            understand basic browsing skills for print and electronic collections, or
            potential use of indexes and abstracts, or need to identify key terms and
            controlled vocabulary.
            Processing requires modeling and practice.
            They need to extract facts, opinions, arguments, and examples that eventually
            build into evidence.
        4. Little interest - a good assignment creates question in student's mind that
            s/he wants to answer.       "Student interest is key to successful project."
        5. Associated not integrated - make it central to the course, use multiple
            resources and critical choices in information selection, push the demands for
            resources beyond those in the school.
        6. Overly emotional - A topic is so emotional that students begin not with
           investigation and reflection but with simplistic conclusions that they
           attemped to "prove."
           They make no attempt to evaluate resources found.
           In such cases there is a need to give greater emphasis to several stages in
           information gathering and frequent class discussions of resources and
           evidence to help students be more open to different opinions.
           Students should be placed in position to voice and defend a variety of
           perspectives along the way.
       7. Lengthy - must provide graded "checkpoints" designed to bring students along
           in the process.
       8. Little time for guidance - class taken to media center with minimal or no
           preparation usually during exploratory phase of research process.
       9. Split roles - teacher as assigner and media specialist as resource finder.
           Worse: assignment is made without consulting library media specialist.
    10. Up-front library orientation - library instruction with no follow-up lessons or
           15-minute sessions every other day more profitable than 60minute heavy
    11. Final product not seen by librarian - media specialist should know what
          resources were used, should new items be added to the collection, were
          resources used correctly, student not challenged to use wider variety of
    12. Little or no audience for final product - students need feedback from peers,
          community, experts, etc. (Callison, 2000)

            Characteristics of a Good Library Assignment
    1. Applies the standards of information literacy (Information Power).
    2. Encourages creativity and active learning.
    3. Matches and challenges learner's level of skills, needs, interests.
    4. Recognizes that information is valid from any format.
    5. Seek all avenues for locating relevant, precise, and authoritative information.
    6. Shift from information location to information use.
        Students should be able to - develop their own questions and construct their own
        meaning - compare, describe, process, justify, solve,
        personalize information - make decisions based on facts, recency, and authority.
    7. Applies or utilizes technology.
    8. Pushes against plagiarism.
    9. Collaborative and cross-curriculum. (Lowe, 2000; Callison, 2000)

  • Traditional vs. modern assignments:
  • Compare and contrast two assignments on a similar topic.

      Set A: Science      Set B: Biography

  • Independent Investigative Method
  • Problem-based Learning
  • Project-based Learning
  • Inquiry-based Learning
  • Bloom's Taxonomy

            Independent Investigation Method - Focus on goal-setting!
    1. Topic: How do animals adapt to their environment Questions students can ask:
        What does it look like?
        How does it eat?
    2. Goal-setting - Playful way of goal setting is to have a pair of dice
            Dice 1: who, what, where, when, why, how
            Dice 2: might, would, can, will, did, is
    3. Research and information gathering skills
    4. Organizing
    5. Goal evaluation
    6. Product
    7. Presentation


10th grade history class in New Hampshire researched historic buildings with the help of school and town librarians in their own area and turned their findings into a walking tour brochure for their town's 300th anniversary celebration.

First-graders in a New-Hampshire class studied an African country: teacher writes questions on chart paper and note facts on sentence strips. At the same time, advance readers work with librarian to research maps and weather. They combine their knowledge to produce quilt, play, and original song. (Nottage and Morse, 2001)

            Problem-based Learning
    1. Focus on real-life problem.

    2. Engage students in process of seeking and using information - resources go beyond textbook, often used primary sources and interviewed community members, data gathered enabled them to construct meaning for the solution to their problem.

    3. Hands-on learning, minds-on learning - students created surveys, devised strategies to collect information, and determined best means of communicating information to others.

    4. Real audience - students targeted readers and listeners.

    5. Students assisted by sharing questions, making decisions, determining method of transmitting information, and assessing.

    6. Teacher functions as coach, facilitator, and monitor.


Instead of a written report on insects, kindergarten class did a two-minute video newscast on the danger of a particular insect.

Instead of worksheets and test on nutritious diet, the 8th graders surveyed their fellow students regarding foods they enjoyed, researched dietary needs of adolescents, and designed menus for the school lunch program.

Instead of studying water quality by doing lab and completing a lab report, the 10th grade biology students who were concerned about pond shrimp in the anchialine ponds on the island of Hawaii collected data at the site, analyzed their data, and presented findings to the Dep. Of Land and Natural Resources. (Harada and Kim, 2003)

            Project-based Learning
    1. Recognizes students' inherent drive to learn.
        - Capability to do important work, and need to be taken seriously by putting them
        at the center of learning process.
    2. The project is central to the curriculum.
        - Engages students in central concepts and principles of a discipline.
    3. Issues lead students to in-depth exploration of authentic and important topics.
    4. Requires use of essential tools and skills, including technology
        - for learning, self-management, and project management.
    5. Specifies products that solve problems.
        - explain dilemmas, or present information generated through investigation,
        research, or reasoning.
    6. Includes multiple products
        - permit frequent feedback and consistent opportunities for students to learn
        from experience.
    7. Uses performance-based assessments (rubrics)
        - communicate high expectations, present rigorous challenges, and require
        a range of skills and knowledge.
    8. Encourages collaboration
        - in some form, either through small groups, student-led presentations,
        or whole-class evaluations of project results.


    The Edible Schoolyard on the campus of the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California is the home of a curriculum-based program where students prepare and eat their own organically grown, healthy lunch.

    Laptops on Expedition. Helen King Middle School in Portland, Maine has adopted the Expeditionary Outward Bound model of personalized, project-based learning. At least twice a year, students who stay with the same group of teachers for two years undertake 4-12-week interdisciplinary projects. They incorporate art, science, language arts, and computer technology. The state of Main provides all 7th and 8th graders with iBook laptop computers. The culminating event comes in different forms: performance of an original play, a geology kit, a CD-ROM, a book, a video, an aquarium, a CD-narrative of Whitman's "O Captain, My Captain," a book of immigrant stories, a guide to shore life at Casco Bay, original music composition and production, documentaries on learning with laptops, a claymation video explaining Newton's laws, and Web site on pollution.

    Geo-Literacy: Forging New Ground at Tolenas School in California. Geo-literacy as defined by the teacher Eva La Mar is "use of visual learning and communication tools to build an in-depth learning (or literacy) of geography, geology, and local history." Their object of study was the Rush Ranch in Suisun, California in the San Francisco Bay area. The Suisun Marsh was once a Native American village than the working ranch of a settler Hiam Rush and now it is owned by the Solano County Farmlands and the Open Space Foundation. The class is gathering digital photos, video footage, audio and written interviews to create an informational multimedia web site. Essential question: Why is the preservation of Rush Ranch important? They were subdivided into 3 study groups and would facilitate cross-curriculum learning: the Native Americans who live in the marshlands, the blacksmith's shop that stands on the property, and the plants and animals that live in the marshlands. They used planning sheets: Questions to Ask, Panoramic Checklist, and Photographer's List. Cross-cultural aspects: geology, geography, a study of plants and animals, research and writing skills. Each student uses an AlphaSmart portable keyboard to type up findings. La Mar's school allows teachers to check out a classroom set of Alpha Smarts (32 in all). Students take turns connecting their keyboards to the room's five desktop computers and watch their writing appear onscreen in a Word document which form the backbone of the students' web writing.

    Assessment is by rubrics (Group Workday Rubric and Writing Rubric) and mini-lesson plans.

            Inquiry-based Learning
    1. Based on an old adage: Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember,
        involve me and I understand.
    2. Focuses on using and learning content as means to develop information-
        processing and problem-solving skills.
    3. Focuses on determining progress of skills development in addition to
        content understanding.
    4. Encourages students to search and use resources beyond classroom and
    5. Can use technology to connect students with local and world communities
        which are rich resources of learning and learning materials.
    6. Lesson plans are replaced with learning plans that account for slight deviations
        while keeping important learning outcome in focus.
    7. Meet questions with :"How do you suggest we investigate that question?"


    Grades 4-5 Decomposition Unit. Week 1: work with students to gather soil from schoolyard and dissect the soillooking for and listing ingredients. Week 2 - sketch observations in nature using descriptive language. Week 3 - Observe decomposing materials in plastic bags and raise discussion questions. Week 4 - Field exploration to find examples of decomposition and signs of decomposes. Week 5 - Discuss how questions for exploration will be chosen, investigations managed, and students grouped. Make miniature compost pile or forest floor using 2-liter bottles. Set up investigations, make sketches in science journals, and add recording sheets for data collection. Week 6-9 - Faithful recording of observations. Week 10 - Discuss findings and raise questions. Examine role of earthworm as decomposer, look up books, and research naturalists' and scientists' research techniques. Week 11 - Make sense of the investigations, communicate findings, and reflect on investigation process. Apply what they have learned by studying what their city/town does with its waste; set up model waste system; and develop a school compost program to create rich compost for a garden.

    Inertia through Inquiry: Fifth grader in Fogelsville Elementary School in Allentown, Pennsylvania learned inertia through stacking a pile of books on a chair, roll it fast, and stop it. They see the books fly.

    Mystery Substances: Second and third graders in Ardmore Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington studied the substances in a county park. They raised questions such as: What does it feel? How does it smell? What does it look like? What is the texture?

            Bloom's Taxonomy
    1. Recalling
        Select 5 accomplishments of the person you have researched and produce a
        Hall of Fame poster based on those accomplishments.
    2. Explaining
        Dramatize exciting event in time period you researched: why is this event the
        best one for dramatization?
        Is your choice influenced by your interest, skills, audience, resources, time,
        Can this presentation be best accomplished as a newscast? Dance? Play?
    3. Analyzing
        Compare your lifestyle and neighborhood to those people living in the time
        period you researched.
    4. Challenging
        Act as an attorney and argue to punish or acquit a given historical character.
    5. Transforming
        Invite 3 famous scientists to dinner and predict what they are likely to discuss
        over the meal.
        Transform conversation from original historical context to modern context.
    7. Synthesizing
        Propose an ethical code for political campaigning and finance. (Callison, 2000)

            Other Creative Examples
  • Environmental science class

      Students are to participate in a foreign exchange program that required them to live in the city for a year. They are to send e-mails back to their friends about life in the new city. When they come home, they could use the e-mails as basis for multimedia presentation to their class about life in another area.

  • Anatomy class studying lupus

      The student who was an expert in the field and has been asked by the lupus advocacy group to testify before a congressional committee considering appropriations for lupus research.

  • Enhanced treasure hunts

      - Compare resources as to which are most current, easy to use, and available at home or library.
      - Understand why different answers may be found in different sources for the same question.
      (Cummings, 2003)

    Choose one topic and design an assignment for it. Do other topics as time allows.

    • Bible: The life of Ruth (or any Biblical character)
    • Geography: The country of Argentina (or any other country)
    • History: The event of 9/11 (or any significant historical event)
    • Literature: Uncle Tom's Cabin (or any literary work)
    • Science: The ozone layer (or any scientific phenomenon)

            Collaboration: the key to successful modern assignments
    Librarian's characteristics
    • flexibility; initiative;
    • good communication skills;
    • leadership;
    • willingness to take risks;
    • willing to work as change agent, innovator, opinion leader, or monitor. (Callison, 1999; Haycock, 1999)


    • Principal
      Supportive, feature library activities in staff meeting, state teachers expectations of library use, serve as role model in effectively using the library, encourage team planning. (Callison, 1999; Tallman and van Deuysen, 1994; van Deuysen and Tallman, 1994; Oberg, 1995)

    • Teacher
      Bring knowledge of strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and interests of students, and the content to be taught. (Doiron & Davies, 1998)

    • Librarian
      Define role as information specialist, help students achieve optimum information literacy, help teachers develop resource-based units, participate in decisions regarding technology, curriculum, and resources at different levels. (Doiron & Davies, 1998; Lowe, 2000)

            How can strong collaborative relationships be developed with administrators
                  and teachers?
      1. Know and understand information literacy.
      2. Be acquainted with the curriculum and the instructional   materials.
      3. Familiarize yourself with the school's strategic plan.
      4. Acquaint yourself with the accrediting agency.
      5. Think a step ahead - prepare statistics, develop a wish-list, anticipate
      6. Talk, walk, and own your mission.
      7. Support and conduct action research.
      8. Educate the educators.
      9. Network, network, network with principal, teachers, colleagues, public libraries,
          educational systems and networks.
    10. Remember: Collaboration is based on shared goals, shared vision, and a climate
        of trust and respect. (Muronaga and Harada, 1999; Bush, 2003)

            Recommended Resources

  • Allen, C. (1999). Skills for life: information literacy for grades K-6. 2nd ed.
    Professional Growth Series. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing.

  • Allen, C. and Anderson, M. A., ed. (1999). Skills for life: information literacy for Grades 7-12. Professional Growth Series. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing.

  • Rux, P., ed. (1993). Skills for life: library information literacy skills for Grades 9-12. Professional Growth Series. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing.

  • Bush Institute for Education. Project based learning handbook. (2002). Available May 27, 2004 from http://www.bie.org/pbl/pblhandbook/intro.php

  • Callison, D. (2000, September). Keywords in instruction assignment. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 17 (1), 39-43.

  • Cummings, K. (2003, March). Pushing against plagiarism through creative assignments. Library Media Connection, 21 (6). Retrieved March 22, 2004 from the Academic Search Elitedatabase.

  • Disney Learning Partnership. Inquiry-based learning. Available May 27, 2004 from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/month6/index.html

  • Doiron, R. and Davies, J. (1998). Partners in learning: students, teachers, and the school library. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 417721).

  • George Lucas Educational Foundation. Edutopia online. (2004). Available May 27, 2004 from http://www.glef.org/php/keyword.php?id=037

  • Everhart, N. (2003, March/April). "Combating plagiarism: the role of the school library media specialist." Knowledge Quest, 31 (4), 43-45. Retrieved March 18, 2004 from the WilsonSelectPlus database.

  • Harada, V. and Kim, L. (2003, Sept/Oct.). "Problem-based instruction makes learning real." Knowledge Quest, 32 (1), 33-34. Retrieved March 18, 2004 from the WilsonSelectPlus database.

  • Haycock, K. (1999, March). Fostering collaboration, leadership and information literacy: Common behaviors of uncommon principals and faculties. NASSP Bulletin, 83, (605), 82-87.

  • Inquiry-based learning. Available May 31, 2004 from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/month6

  • Lowe, C. (2000). The role of the school library media specialist in the 21st Century. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 446769).

  • Manzo, K. K. (2000, March 22). "Education week on the Web." Available August 2000 from http:www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=28libe.h19

  • In Russell, S. (2000) Teachers and librarians: collaborative relationships. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 444605).

  • Muronaga, K. and Harada, V. (October, 1999). "Building teaching partnerships: the art of collaboration," Teacher Librarian, 27(1), 9-14.

  • Nottage, C. and Morse, V. (2001, Sept/Oct.). "Goal setting: the heart of the problem in research assignments." Knowledge Quest, 31 (2), 32-33.

  • Oberg, D. (1995). Principal support: What does it mean to teacher-librarians. Available August 2000 from http://www.ualberta.ca/~doberg/prcsup.htm In Russell, S. (2000).

  • Teachers and librarians: collaborative relationships. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 444605).

  • Southern Oregon Education Service District. Project-based learning. (2001, Oct. 10). Available May 31, 2004 from http://www.jacksonesd.k12.or.us/it/ws/pbl

  • Tallman, J. I. and van Deusen, J. D. (1994). Collaborative unit planning: schedule, time and participants. School Library Media Quarterly, 23 (1), 33-38.

  • Tallman, J. I. and van Deusen, J. D. (1994). The impact of scheduling on curriculum consultation and information skills instruction. School Library Media Quarterly, 23 (1), 17-25.

  • Troutner, J. (2003, October). TLs in classroom partnerships. Teacher Librarian 31(1), 29-30. Retrieved March 18, 2004 from the WilsonSelectPlus database.

Presented by Cynthia Mae Helms - Head: Information Services Department
Andrews University - helmsc@andrews.edu at the
24th ASDAL Conference, School Library Section - Florida Hospital - Orlando - June 20, 2004