No More Bird Units!

No More Bird Units!
What is a bird unit?

"Bird units" are research assignments that do little to contribute to learning. They ask low level "about" questions that invite students to find bits of information, copy and paste them into worksheets, and report back "about" the topic. Invitational plagiarism, and low-level learning!

David Loertscher, Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan (Beyond Bird Units, 2007) explore inquiry models that require students to think more deeply and analyze information to create new and deeper understanding. From the book's introduction: 

Why is a "bird" unit generally a disaster?

When the majority of research in the library or computer lab is merely the cutting and clipping of information into some sort of report, little learning takes place. In the age of technology, students can easily cut and paste megabytes of information from the Internet or electronic sources and turn them in as a report. Obviously, time in the library or computer lab is underused and little progress toward educational achievement is made. In fact, assignments like these encourage plagiarism.

What is to be done?

  1. Re-design the activities so learners must THINK ABOUT and analyze the information they collect in the library media center, thus increasing learning and achievement. 
  2. Re-design activities so that learners must DO SOMETHING (synthesize) with the information they collect (such as sense-making, performing, trying out, acting, building, etc.).
  3. Keep redesigning activities until number one and number two happen. 
What is a bird unit?

Starting with the right question sets the stage for a richer learning experience, and engages students in deeper exploration!

It All Starts with the Question You Ask!

We know from a large body of research that one of the key success factors for students learning in the library is collaboration in the design of learning between the teacher and teacher-librarian. (

The first stage of a good library intervention may be a rich conversation with the teacher/professor/program manager about the quality of the assignment, and an offer to collaborate to kick it up a notch!