The Learning 2.0 School

Shifting Perceptions of Teaching and Learning in and out of the School Library

Teaching Research Skills: Is Daily Integration Possible?

Posted by Michelle Torrise on October 10, 2011

In my work of supporting our staff towards an increased focus on research in the curriculum, it’s been important to me to take the time to understand their concerns with the research process.  I’ve been especially eager to understand what might, in general, prevent a teacher from teaching research skills or assigning research projects on a regular basis.  It is my understanding that some teachers feel:

  • Research projects take too long–when will I find the time when I have to teach content?
  • Research Projects take too long to grade–what about time for lesson planning?
  • Students don’t know how to research–shouldn’t they know this already?
  • Teachers don’t know how to teach research–shouldn’t the media specialist or English Department be teaching research skills?

These are all valid concerns, and my first response has been to try and fix them all.  I thought, I could work with every teacher on every research project to help reduce the work load.  I could help teachers grade research projects to save time.  I could come up with skills sets and rubrics and ask teachers to integrate them in their classes.  I could teach all these skills myself.    And, I would love to do all of these things, but would these goals be realistic?  

And, then I thought, “we are/I am over-thinking the research process, and in over-thinking it, we are/I am avoiding the teaching of it because it looks like too big of a problem to address in one class, one semester, one content area, with one media specialist.”

HOW DO WE DO RESEARCH IN THE REAL WORLD?

I realized I had to refocus my efforts and so decided to look at strategies for authentic research. Most of us problem solve and use our research skills every day in various areas of our life.  In fact, in real world applications, we rarely pull off a full blown research project.  How do we do this?  Most of the time we address larger problems or information needs by completing smaller, more manageable research activities incrementally over time.   Most research that we actively engage in on a daily basis–even when it’s related to larger problems–is done in chunks, we chunk by problem type (financial, parental, professional);  we chunk our time (set agendas, to do lists), we chunk our information sources (read paper for politics, hire attorney for legal matters, search internet for health issues, ).

ARE WE TEACHING PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS?

This “chunking” is part of the project management process.  I believe that it is our ability to “chunk” that allows us to manage daily research.  We research daily when we question things in the news,  look something up on the Internet, call a reliable source on the phone, plan for a day of work, interact with other people to solve relationship problems, or raise a family.   In all of these situations we activate prior knowledge, seek new information, synthesis what we have to come up with new ideas, evaluate what we’ve done (or not done),  make decisions/plans, and take action.  Most of us, even seek feedback from others, in the process.  So what happens when we don’t know how to chunk?  Life becomes overwhelming We stop problem solving.  We get stuck, among other things.

IS DAILY INTEGRATION POSSIBLE?

Looking back at our teachers’ concerns above, I would say, it’s not at all necessary to assign a full research project to teach the skills students need to be effective and efficient researchers.   In fact, these large projects (if not scaffolded properly) can be overwhelming and stifle the problems soling process.  Why not emulate authentic research processes by “chunking” research into daily lessons.  Put another way, why not integrate research across the curriculum by asking students to (themselves) ask questions, look something up, evaluate a source,  call on a reliable source, or write a reflection on something new they learned.

WHAT ABOUT CONTENT?

What about content?  We can easily integrate content by focusing on research within particular content areas, asking students to think like a researcher in that field.

How do historians do research?
How do Economists do research?
How do environmentalists do research?
What questions do they ask?
What sources do they use?
Who are the experts in their field?
How do they evaluate decisions made within their field?
How do they write about these issues?
In what medium?
Who critiques their issues?
Who advocate for them?
Who protests against them?

If you think about it, we don’t all need to be a media specialists or English teachers to teach research!  Amazing research projects can start by:

  • Posing essential questions around issues, current events, famous people.
  • Encouraging students to explore multiple political, social, and cultural perspectives of all topics.
  • Giving students a rubric up front, so they are clear about expectations.
  • Helping students evaluate and find reliable sources.
  • Require students to cite sources properly.

As important (if not, most importantly), we don’t need to wait for that once-a-year, 30 page research project to teach research skills.  Assign smaller research projects that scaffold research skills so that when you get to the larger projects, you can focus on content and writing.

WHAT NEXT?

There are many great ideas for alternative research projects.  See >

Sample (Research) Assignments: Ideas for Research Assignments Incorporating the Use of Information Retrieval Systems, Buena Vista University (Iowa).

Not a Research Paper: Alternative Assignments to Teach Research Practices, Western New England University.

For more ideas, use Google to search the terms> alternative research assignments, alternative research projects, mini-research projects, teaching research skills, teaching information literacy skills, teaching critical thinking, teaching problem solving.

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2 Responses to “Teaching Research Skills: Is Daily Integration Possible?”

  1. Judi Van Erden said

    Great information, Michelle.
    One of the elements of my Jr AP year-long research paper is that the students have to set goals for completing each independent book that they’re reading relative to the project and for completing the incremental papers. And they have to manage those goals. The point is to model, in a year, the process of writing a long-term paper.
    This is the second year that they are working on this project and I really like it. I’d like to see a scope and sequence for grades 9 through 12 that incorporates research in different disciplines, both short-term and long-term, so that students understand of the scaffolding of skills that they are working through, and be able to see the application of those skills.
    Judi

  2. Mrs. Torrise said

    Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? I thought this would be an interesting “mini research” activity for a Shakespeare unit, and thought I’d share.

    See > http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/10/the-anonymous-question-did-shakespeare-write-shakespeare/246948/

    Activity: Ask students to research different theories on the authenticity of Shakespeare and what theorists claim to be their supporting evidence (Is this evidence reliable? Can it be refuted? How?). Students would then offer own their own opinion and (of course) supporting evidence.

    Curricular Connections: Consider having students publish their research on a class blog and debate their findings and opinions with each other by cross posting. This would also be a great opportunity to study the ethics of ghostwriting and talk about copyright and plagiarism.

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