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Becoming Researchers: Community College ESL Students, Information Literacy, and the Library


This qualitative case study explored the information literacy acquisition of 23 students enrolled in a learning community consisting of an advanced ESL writing class and a one unit class introducing students to research at a suburban community college library in California. As there are no other known learning communities that link an ESL course to a library course, this site afforded a unique opportunity to understand the ways in which ESL students learn to conduct library research.

Students encountered difficulties while finding, evaluating, and using information for their ESL assignments. These problems were substantial, but more noteworthy were the strategies that the students, their ESL instructor and their instructional librarian crafted in response.

The learning community structure enabled a number of important strategies. Strategies by the instructors included integration of the two courses' curricula; contextualized learning activities; cross-over teaching by the instructors; explicit instruction followed by guided workshop sessions. Some student strategies were persistence in asking questions, dictionary use, re-reading, and a resourceful disposition. Joint strategies included dialogue to clarify research strategies and to understand difficult text, student-crafted research techniques that were observed by instructors and shared with class; and an affirmation of the students' emerging research practices.

This study adds to our understanding of one particular area of academic discourse acquisition in a second language--how ESL students learn to interact with information in the context of community college. This study's findings refute the idea that ESL students must wait to become researchers until their English is college-ready. ESL students in this study discovered new language forms, new texts, new ideas, and new research practices simultaneously, in large part because of the relationships that developed over time among the students, instructor and librarian.

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