Guiding students through the process of writing research papers is one of the most challenging, though rewarding, parts of school librarianship. Students lose papers, they forget to cite a source and then can’t remember where their information came from. They struggle to read complex sources or assess the best quality information. They want to avoid plagiarism, but have difficulty restating the ideas of others in their own words. Writing a thesis and synthesizing information is a challenge when even keeping organized or decoding are troubles.
In my school, using a research manager that allows students to not only cite sources, but also plan, take notes, and outline their research (we subscribe to NoodleTools) changed the way my students research. The truth is, before NoodleTools, many students in my school didn’t outline or take notes when they did research or did it sloppily or minimally, even if it was a significant portion of the assignment. Their citations were often just a list of the URLs that they used (usually just the first results that came up on Google), and their outlines were “in their heads.”
Over the course of the two years our school has subscribed to NoodleTools, I’ve seen students grow as researchers. Students more frequently fully cite sources and turn in correctly formatted work. They have learned time-saving strategies like cutting-and-pasting provided database citations and to search for books to cite by ISBN, which not only promotes the use of databases, but also allows them to focus on the more demanding critical thinking skills of research — identifying authentic research questions, justifying their choice of sources, choosing the best ideas and information and quoting, and paraphrasing or summarizing them. Quick ways for teachers to check in with students and make sure they are on track with their projects have also provided critical accountability and feedback. As students have seen that their work is checked frequently, they have more thoroughly and thoughtfully completed each phase of research, leading to better end results.
As my students become more proficient users of NoodleTools, our conversations about research have started to shift from urgent but less significant topics like finding missing notecards, keeping research supplies organized, locating citation information on sources, and formatting work to more meaningful coverage of writing stronger theses, debating the meaning of challenging or controversial sources, and synthesis of information from multiple sources.
If you are looking for a way to help struggling students or teen patrons with research work, I encourage you to look into research managers as a solution. More than just citation managers, these apps are feature-rich tools that promote critical thinking in research. Though each app is subtly different, the most effective research managers offer support for tracking deadlines and assignments, citing sources, outlining, and taking notes. I obviously support NoodleTools, but know librarians who for a variety of reasons prefer Imagine Easy Scholar or EasyBib Notebook. Take a look and see which would work best for your school or library!