Wednesday, June 24, 2015

3 Ways to Engage Students in the Research Process

The beloved research unit. Often saved until the last few weeks of school, thousands of students invade computer labs to plagiarize text that is loosely connected to their topic in order to comply and complete the last major grade (in some cases double major grade) of the year.

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How can we, as educators, step away from what are clearly outdated instructional modes to truly engage students in the research process and effectively adapt to the demands and requirements of the 21st-century classroom and world?

1. As a teacher, adopt a research philosophy by creating situations where students are curious to find answers to their questions in traditional databases, YouTube or the much maligned Wikipedia. Examples include scavenger hunts to find rhetorical devices, research the meaning behind literary allusions or finding movie trailers as examples of tone.

2. The often important, and much overlooked, strategy of putting the students in control of their topics. The most authentic research is born of students choosing their own topic and developing their own questions. This changes the process from merely reporting facts the dynamic act of real inquiry. Examples would include having students research different civil wars and then meeting in groups to discuss the patterns to the causes of civil war and the results over time to all who were involved in the conflict. Students choose the battles, discover the patterns and then choose how best to present their results.

3. The worst part of teaching the research process is having to actually read the papers students "write." Make sure the teacher is not the final audience. Our job as teachers is to make sure that student work does not end with our grade on the top of the paper. Examples may include public performances of persuasive speeches, screenings of documentaries, publishing work in community papers, creating a school-wide research journal or sending the work to an expert in the field to gain their feedback.


In a speech delivered at the University of Connecticut, Mortimer Adler said, "For the gifted person, the person who really wants to learn something, too much instruction is insulting." Our job as teachers is to insight curiosity, teach students how to investigate in our Google world and then show them how to share their work so the conversation continues outside of the four walls of the classroom.

For more in depth lesson ideas and full unit descriptions pick up a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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