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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Special Summer 2000 Issue

The Ties that Bind (continued)

Providing Support for Coherence throughout the Research Process

There are half a dozen or more research models to outline the stages involved in the exploration of any demanding question or issue. For an especially comprehensive reviews of these choices, readers might consult either Loertscher, David and Woolls, Blanche. (1999) Information Literacy: A Review of the Research. San Jose: Hi Willow Research & Publishing or Henley, S. and Thompson, H. (2000) Fostering Information Literacy: Connecting National Standards, Goals 2000 and the Scans Report. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.

  • INFOZONE, from the Assiniboine South School Division of Winnipeg, Canada
  • Pathways to Knowledge, Follett’s Information Skills Model, by Marjorie Pappas and Ann Tepe
  • The Organized Investigator (Circular Model) - David Loertscher and presented on the California Technology Assistance Project, Region VII’s web site
  • The Research Cycle, created by Jamie McKenzie
  • Information Literacy: Dan’s Generic Model - Dan Barron.
  • FLIP it!™ - Alice H. Yucht
  • The Big6 Skills Information Problem-Solving Approach to Information Skills Instruction™,- Michael B. Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz

This article will focus on how to develop coherence throughout the stages of the Research Cycle, but many of the strategies would work well with other models. A full description of the Research Cycle is available online at


Stages in the Research Cycle
(repeated until understanding is fully developed)
1. Questioning Researcher starts with an essential question and then develops a rich mind map of all related questions that might help to guide subsequent research.

Stressing Coherence at this stage

2. Planning Researcher thinks strategically about where to look, how to store findings and how to optimize results. Asks for support, advice and suggestions.

Stressing Coherence at this stage

3. Gathering Researcher collects information that relates to the questions asked earlier, screening to emphasize relevance and pertinence.

Stressing Coherence at this stage

4. Sorting
& Sifting
Researcher moves information around so that it goes where it fits. Findings are stored by categories, issues and questions.

Stressing Coherence at this stage

5. Synthesizing Researcher seeks insight by considering the information from the perspective of the essential question. Ideas and information are combined and recombined in various ways to cast light on the issue at hand. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they are rearranged until a picture emerges.

Stressing Coherence at this stage

6. Evaluating Researcher takes a look at findings and considers the adequacy of the discovery and invention process. Are pieces missing? Are there weaknesses? inadequacies? unknowns? holes in the logic or the evidence?

Stressing Coherence at this stage

Researcher goes back through the stages again and again until important new insights are developed and substantiated fully.
-------------> Reporting After several extensive cycles through the stages above, once important new insights are developed and substantiated fully, the researcher proceeds to the sharing of insights, deciding which method of presenting might prove most persuasive and worthwhile.

At this point, the researcher is especially concerned with making findings intelligible by presenting them in a coherent manner.

Stressing Coherence at this stage

The first step is to move past mere collection to an inquiry model that requires the construction of new ideas. This step will then engage students in figuring out how to put the pieces together.

Confronted by authentic research issues and questions, student efforts at data collection will be guided by a continuing search for meaning. This search will emphasize the ordering, combining and rearranging of findings until they are grouped in coherent patterns.

Coherence Throughout the Research Cycle
Emphasizing Coherence while Questioning
The more comprehensive the original mind map listing pertinent questions, the more likely it is that subsequent research efforts will contribute to the logic, clarity, intelligibility, unity and connectedness we expect while establishing coherence.

The mind map creates a visual framework to help organize findings, anticipating connections by grouping, categorizing and drawing lines between items and questions to illustrate relationships.

In one teacher's research module calling for students to compare and contrast ship captains, for example, the teacher asks students to develop cluster diagrams that list the traits associated with good captains and leaders along with the subsidiary questions that would help the fifth grader to determine if any of the three captains possessed those traits or qualities. (see Explorer Home Port)

For each trait they care about, students are expected to pose questions that will help them to contrast the three captains (Magellan, Columbus and Sir Francis Drake).

For navigational skill, for example, they may ask the following:

  • Did he know how to use all the best instruments of his time?
  • Did he keep a careful log?
  • Did he usually know where they were?
  • Did he ever get lost?
  • Did he seem to know what he was doing?
  • Did his ships have to wander around very much?
  • Did he stay clear of known hazards?
  • Did he know how to make the best of prevailing winds?
  • Did he know how to maneuver during a sea battle?
  • Did he have mates that could help him when he needed it?
  • Did he know when to ask for directions?

These questions, once entered in the cluster diagram, become the guides structuring the work of the students during their actual research. While the quality of the questions may grow as they learn more about their topic, these first questions are like a "flight plan" indicating the basic direction of early efforts. They will point the researcher in the right direction, bringing focus and purpose to the search.

Careful questioning contributes to coherence by setting up categories in advance to govern subsequent searching and collecting.

Return to Research Cycle Table

Emphasizing Coherence while Planning
Most people perform better when they aim before firing. In simple terms, coherent results are more apt to accumulate if the researcher is strategic while approaching the gathering stages. Several steps are immediately beneficial.

One important step is asking for advice from those in the know. In most schools, this would be the teacher librarian.

  • Where should I look?
  • What is the best source of data?
  • What are the best books on this issue?
  • What periodicals are likely to give me balanced, reliable coverage?
  • Which Web sites provide authoritative, unbiased information on this question?

Another step is to think in advance about how to collect, organize and store findings in ways that serve the question. Instead of amassing a huge pile of files, records and data fragments, the researcher constructs the storage system to serve the development of meaning and understanding.

In the example of the ship captain cluster diagram above, for example, answers to subsidiary questions can be attached in the diagram to the appropriate cluster. Data is matched to questions, maximizing value and intelligibility.

Return to Research Cycle Table

Emphasizing Coherence while Gathering
Under the old school research model, The More the Merrier, students gathered everything they could find about the topic and created huge mounds of data.

Pertinence now becomes a primary focus during the gathering stage, as only that information which might contribute to new understandings is worth keeping. Volume is no longer valued as a goal in itself. Less is more.

Students no longer keep everything they find. They extract, refine and filter findings so that only the most illuminating information is retained.

Return to Research Cycle Table

Emphasizing Coherence while Sorting & Sifting
As the new information accumulates, the researcher spends increasing time figuring out where various findings belong. Which questions are answered by each new discovery? Which issue is illuminated? Where does this fact fit?

It is not enough to gather. Not enough to collect. The researcher must figure out how to piece the puzzle together. This is a function of arranging and rearranging the fragments, deciding how to group and categorize the data to make the most meaning.

Return to Research Cycle Table

Emphasizing Coherence while Synthesizing
Once a good deal of pertinent information has been gathered and organized in meaningful ways, the researcher works to combine the findings so as to create new insights. This synthesizing requires more than rearranging and categorizing. The researcher is looking to extrude meaning from a series of clues, for example.
  • What judgment do the diary comments of ship members support about this captain when combined, analyzed and weighed collectively?
  • Given the series of near fatal accidents suffered by the crew of this ship, how would we characterize his leadership?
  • Which character traits stand out as most seriously lacking in this captain based on day to day living on board ship?
  • How did his character adjust to the challenges of exploration and conquest on land?
  • Which is more important, his character aboard ship or his character on land?

The researcher uses the original questions to spur reflection, analysis and the development of insight. At this synthesis stage, it is the interaction of these questions and the findings related to them that provokes and stimulates new ideas - a notion that was quite fully developed in the October, 1999 From Now On article, "Students in Resonance: Provoking Fresh Thought and Deep Reasoning with Dissonance, Contrast and Juxtaposition." (see article)

-- there is no wisdom without it.
Resonance is a natural phenomenon, the shadow of import alongside the body of fact, and it cannot flourish except in deep time.

We can employ juxtaposition as a strategy to provoke dissonance.

We expect that the need to resolve this dissonance will lead to resonance and, ultimately, to insight.

Having collected a "body of fact," the researcher is now looking for what Birkerts (above) calls the "shadow of import."

Return to Research Cycle Table

Emphasizing Coherence while Evaluating
At this stage the researcher is asking whether the findings are sufficient to sustain intelligibility as well as understanding. This is when the main aspects of coherence mentioned earlier are given serious consideration.

Evaluation Issue
Connectedness How well have I noted the linkages and shared traits of ideas, information and concepts contrasts?
Logic How well have I related ideas in terms of meaning? Do my findings make sense? Do I have sufficient evidence?
Unity How well have I resolved contrasts, conflicts and dissonance into harmony, resonance and agreement?
Clarity How well have I reduced distractions, emphasizing pertinent ideas and facts, optimizing focus and minimizing fog, distortion and irrelevancies?
Intelligibility How well have I translated complex and difficult concepts into terms that are easier to digest, grasp and comprehend?

These aspects of coherence help the researcher to decide whether further research and thought is required before proceeding to the final stage.

Return to Research Cycle Table

Emphasizing Coherence while Presenting
When presenting findings, conclusions, theories or insights, the researcher must give full consideration to the challenge of translating the material into a form that is cognizable.

The focus is upon effective communication.

Can the new knowledge be made manifest? Can the discoveries be passed along so that they are available for others? Can complex ideas become teachable and knowable?

Some of the challenge is met by carefully organizing the findings so they fit together and flow meaningfully and clearly. But communication of ideas requires more than structure. The ideas must blend together harmoniously in terms of meaning and logic.

Furthermore, effective communication requires translation that reaches the intended audience in a persuasive manner.

Sample Criteria for Reporting

How well does each student . . .

  • Summarize - select and condense critical concepts, findings, and evidence.
  • Organize - arrange the core material in a coherent, logical manner.
  • Present - exploit the array of multimedia and other tools available to “lay out” the case in a thorough and effective manner.
  • Persuade - make a connection with the passions and the interests of the audience in order to gain support for a particular recommendation or position.

The Role of Media Specialists and Teacher Librarians

The approach to research outlined above becomes a major component of an information literate school. Students are engaged in researching essential questions every day. This experience translates into the development of the kinds of inferential reasoning skills required by the increasingly demanding curriculum standards and tests in most states.

It is unlikely that a school could launch, develop and sustain a robust commitment to this kind of student research unless fully staffed with at least one media specialist or teacher librarian to lead the school forward.

Unfortunately, in some schools, the enthusiasm for new technologies has led to changes in staffing that have weakened rather than strengthened support services devoted to information literacy.

Once a school decides that literacy is a basic, the role of teacher librarians becomes clear. (Note: portions of the following appeared first in the October, 1999 issue of eSchool News, © J McKenzie)

LMS as Pilot, Navigator and Sage – The LMS helps everyone to manage Infoglut and Noise. The LMS is skilled at locating reliable information and showing others how to navigate through the increasingly challenging seas of information. After the bandwagon subsides, the LMS assists staff and students with the speedy and efficient location of information worth considering. Some of these efforts show up as links and "user interfaces" that point to the best resources so that no one needs to waste time wandering about. Note links provided for students and staff at the Springfield Township (PA Virtual Library ( created by LMS Joyce Valenza.

But the LMS takes this role even further to make coherence a major goal for all students and teachers in the school. To be successful, the LMS models the strategies mentioned earlier in this article and shows everyone how to optimize results when researching.

• LMS as Professional Developer – The LMS should be prepared to help everyone to understand just what we mean by the term "information literacy" and how we can achieve coherent results. While we would not expect all adult learning to be delivered by the LMS, he or she should be one of the 2-3 most influential planners of adult learning in the school. The LMS should have a deep understanding of the nexus (connection) between research, strategic reading and literacy as well as the capacity to transmit this understanding to colleagues. This responsibility is explained in detail in How Teachers Learn Technology Best. (McKenzie, 1999, FNO Press,

• LMS as Curriculum Team Leader – The LMS is a central player on the teams creating information and research intensive curriculum activities. As we are finding that the invention of such activities and units is a fundamental ingredient in a successful technology integration effort, the LMS introduces these teams to models worth emulating such as WebQuests ( and Research Modules (

LMS as Coach – The LMS works alongside classroom teachers as they introduce technology intensive, information rich learning during regular classroom periods. Sometimes this coaching occurs in the Library Media Center, but increasingly we will be seeing the LMS out in classrooms as we distribute information resources electronically. The LMS goes where the action is. This kind of coaching and peer support is essential if we hope to enlist the enthusiastic participation of the reluctant and late adopting teachers.

• LMS as InfoTect – An InfoTect, much like an architect, designs the information delivery system (along with colleagues from the classroom and network engineers) to bring quality information to the classroom desktops in a well organized manner both user-friendly and reliable. The LMS should be a prime player in deciding with teachers what electronic information needs to be purchased in support of the curriculum and what students should see on their screens as they attempt to do the information prospecting that is the first stage of literacy.

• LMS as Archivist and Curator – The LMS has always prized the role of developing a vertical file overflowing with rich visual information such as maps and art prints. Now we will see locally generated electronic artifacts and digital resources added to the school’s file server in ways to support the curriculum, whether it be scanned photographs of local history or a database containing water quality data from the county watershed. As suggested in the April ( and June issues of From Now On (, the school will take special care to supplement typically meager and unsatisfactory commercial clip art collections with good digital images and student art work. The LMS may lead the way as is the case with Silver Beach LMS, Dar New (

How does your own school’s commitment to library and information services measure up? Consider these four issues:

  • 1. How clearly does the school commit to information literacy, frequent research and strategic reading?
  • 2. How well does the school support the expanding responsibilities of the school librarian?
  • 3. How well does the budget support the expanded services of the library staff?
  • 4. How well does the budget support balanced information resources (print and electronic subscriptions as well as "free" Internet information)?

A Strong LMS Scenario

Frances Cox sits "leaning into the screen" with a cluster of students working in pairs and trios around several computer monitors. They are all intent on solving an information mystery. They have been asked to decide which early explorer was the better leader . . .

Explorer Time Machine -- A time machine you find at a flea market has only three choices, sailing with Magellan, Columbus or Drake. Who was the best leader?

Frances is a new brand of school librarian. She has joined these students and their teacher in their fifth grade classroom equipped with 15 wireless networked notebook computers that rolled in on a cart for the week. The Langston Hughes Middle School faculty has committed to the notion of an "information literate school community," and Frances has led the way as school librarian, teaming frequently and effectively with her colleagues where ever the action brings her.

Unlike some schools who have mistakenly reduced funding and commitment to library programs as they have networked classrooms, this school fought for extra staff funding to strengthen the library program. They doubled the hours of a part time aide, an investment that has freed Frances to provide intensive support to teachers when and where they need it.

Now she is showing students how to map out their questions before starting their gathering. Coherence has become a major goal of the program.


© 2000 Jamie McKenzie
about the author



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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.

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