The Research Process

Research Models

There are a lot of different ways to explain the research process.  Don’t believe me?  This page lists some, but not all, of them!  What you’ll notice, though, is that all of the models describe basically the same thing.

Here in Anne Arundel County, we like the Big6 model, which defines six stages of research (follow the link to see what they are!).  As an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme school, we also like to use the Design Cycle, which is a great model for the process of doing just about anything.  I would post a pic here, but it’s copyrighted.

Anyway, there are two big things to remember when it comes to developing research skills.

  1. There are different skills involved!  The Big6 identifies six main ones, and then breaks them each down into 2-3 parts.  We could spend several lessons working on each separate skill!  But if we did that all at once, it would be pretty boring and not very practical.  So we focus on different skills in the context of different research projects, and by the time our students finish 8th grade, they’re ready for high school research.
  2. It’s not linear.  You don’t do one step and then the next and so on.  You’re going to do some backtracking and some rethinking, and that’s GREAT because it means you are DOING IT RIGHT.  Research has shown us that the best research is frustrating, confusing, and sometimes makes you feel like your head is going to explode!


The way we do research at AMS is informed by a few different sources of curricular standards.  That sounds kind of confusing, but actually, they all work toward the same goals.  Like the research models, they’re different ways of describing the same thing.  Here’s a little bit about each:

  • Common Core State Standards: As you may have heard, Maryland is one of the many states that has adopted the National Common Core standards.  You can read more about this process on the AACPS website.  What you need to know here is that librarians LOVE the Common Core because it focuses on the skills we knew were important all along.  Specifically, the standards are about finding, interpreting, synthesizing, using, and creating information effectively, which is the area of expertise of school librarians.
  • AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners: These are national standards for excellence in school library programs.  The American Association of School Librarians has put years of work and planning into these, and they describe both the research aspect of library programs and our commitment to facilitating our students’ development as readers, lifelong learners, and creative people.
  • IBMYP Approaches to Learning: The ATL skills, as we like to call them (does anyone else think of Outkast?) are essential for success on the Year 5 personal project – that’s 10th grade for those of you who don’t speak IB.  They include a section focused on media and information literacy, which correlate closely with the skills outlined by the other two sets of standards I’ve mentioned.  I can’t post them here because of they are copyrighted and owned by IB.

So those are the resources that guide our practice here in the library.  I know it sounds complicated, but basically, what we’re doing is summed up in the AASL’s mission for school library programs: “To ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information.”  What could be more important in a democratic society?

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the only place in the school where these skills are being taught.  Our classroom teachers do it every day.  Our role here in the library is to support, facilitate, collaborate, and keep a weather eye on what skills are strong and weak for our school as a whole.  We also make sure there’s some consistency in the approach to research throughout the building, so students are using the same tools and vocabulary in Language and Literature as in Individuals and Societies or Arts.  And just as an Individuals and Societies teacher has developed expertise in their discipline, the librarian is the expert on research across disciplines, because that’s what we do all the time.  Well, when we aren’t fighting ninjas and retrieving magical artifacts, because that Librarians show is pretty much exactly what our lives are like.

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