ALTON — Cathy Fraser believes students should do more reading, and is hoping that her newly published practical guide for teachers will lead to students being better-prepared for college-level research.
The book — "Love the Questions: Reclaiming Research with Curiosity and Passion," released on Oct. 30 by Stenhouse Publishers — “had its first outing” at this month’s conference of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Fraser, who serves as librarian and has been teaching at Prospect Mountain High School for 15 years, said the book grew out of what she felt was limited success in teaching student research.
“I felt we needed to find a better way of doing it,” she said. “It became a bigger concern when I saw computers coming into the schools.”
Fraser said she had the impression that students were simply Googling subjects, then copying and pasting the information, rather than really researching their projects.
“In the interest of improving their academic work, I started researching to see if what I’m seeing is really true — and it was,” she said.
It was that concern that led her to “open a notebook and start writing in 2015” after her youngest daughter had graduated from high school, Fraser said. It took years to research and compile what she thought should be included the book.
Intended for teachers’ professional development, Fraser’s book emphasizes that, while posing questions to students has its place — “the culture of inquiry is what we want in the classroom,” she said — having students pose their own questions makes them more passionate about learning the answers.
“Getting students to ask good questions is the biggest part,” Fraser said, advising, “Read widely before you develop a question, and then the questions are better, and that’s where research really begins.”
Instead of approaching research as, “how fast can I get the answer and go?” Fraser said teachers should emphasize that reading is extremely important in developing good questions that form a connection between teacher and student.
In writing the book, Fraser said she was “fortunate to be in association with a number of great people” at the University of New Hampshire, as well as her colleagues at Prospect Mountain.
“I can’t say enough about how supportive the faculty here and this administration were, putting me in contact with people,” Fraser said. “I’d have dialogues with the group at UNH, talking about college readiness, preparing students for college-level work, and they were very supportive of anything we were attempting.”
It was through her colleagues at UNH that Fraser made contact with Maureen Barbieri, an editor at Stenhouse.
“She was very receptive of my concept,” Fraser said, but her proposal was initially rejected because the publishing company had something similar in the works. Fraser pitched the book elsewhere without success and, about a year later, she resubmitted it to Stenhouse, which this time accepted the book.
She said she was advised to make it less of a lecture and more of a practical guide, adding that she was very happy with what they came up with.
Linda Rief, herself an author and a teacher in the Oyster River school system, was supportive of the project and she wrote the foreword to the book.
Because Fraser has not yet established name recognition, she expects it will be word of mouth that supports book sales locally, but with the publisher’s connection to national teaching professionals, she is hoping it will be well-received and that people will find it to be a good resource.
In its promotion of the book, Stenhouse describes it as “accessible and story-filled … this book provides strategies to capture the excitement of genuine inquiry in your classroom.”
Among the recommendations in the book are embracing inquiry, curiosity, and exploration; teaching students to question; developing authentic projects that include surveys, experiments, and interviews; partner with school librarians for educational support; and assess skills, not memorization.
Fraser’s background had been in human resources, but she developed a story hour program for three- to five-year-olds at Alton’s Gilman Library, then returned to school to get a master’s degree in library sciences from the University of Rhode Island. She became librarian at Alton Central School in 2003, prior to the formation of Prospect Mountain High School. Since joining Prospect Mountain, she has gone on to earn a master’s degree in reading from UNH.
In addition to managing the library at Prospect Mountain, Fraser team-teaches a freshman seminar.