What are you passionate about? What do you want to learn more about? These two questions are the backbone of the research unit I recently began with my 82 English 9 students.
When I started thinking about research, I knew that I needed to grab my students’ attention from Day One. Without any interest, most of them wouldn’t be successful. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Students motivated by their grades could be, but I wanted more than that. I wanted my students to have a true curiosity about their topic. I wanted to see that desire to learn more. So, I began to scour the vast world of the internet to see what was out there. My search probably would have taken a lot longer had I not started with some trusted educators I follow.
My initial search led me to Jessica Lifshitz’s brilliant blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom. (Side note: If you haven’t read any of Jessica’s posts before, you’re missing out. Her creative ideas inspire her 5th grade students, as well as her blog readers like me.) When I went to her blog, I was thrilled to see that she was rethinking how she incorporates research in her classroom as well. Like she mentioned in this post, I knew my students needed ideas for topics they would want to learn more about.
Sheet used to gather ideas (based on Jessica Lifshitz’s document)
Two weeks ago, we began searching for topics of interest using some of Jessica’s slides. My students loved Google’s “years in review” as well as a lot of the images. I also added some of my own, based on what I’ve heard my students talk about. I was surprised to see how much my students didn’t know about current events, even though their classmates have discussed these issues before. We then shared what topics stood out to us in small groups, and some students found a new topic they were interested in after these discussions. By the end of the first week, students created inquiry questions about their topics to help guide their upcoming research.
Last week we started our search for articles, which was honestly difficult for some of my students. I wanted them to use our school’s databases to find reliable sources, but that also meant many of the articles would be written at a high level. We started with ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher, but many of the articles students found were too difficult for them to read (Lexile levels were anywhere from 1100 to over 1400). Some students tried other databases, but many articles were still a struggle to get through.
5th Period’s Skimming Techniques Anchor Chart
In order to make sure my students saved articles they could read and understand, we reviewed how to skim our articles first. Too often, I watched students just look at a title, and then print (or not print) based off of what it said. Once students began finding their helpful articles, I asked them to highlight and add annotations in the margins. The goal of this was to show evidence of close read, and I reminded them that their annotations would be needed later on for their papers.
The first day of searching went smoothly, but then I started to see some students putting their heads down or just getting off task. When I asked those students what was going on, they all said they just didn’t want to read their articles or “do research.” I was nervous at this point, for I thought the reading would happen on its own if my students were interested in their topics. What had happened? I started by going back to my students’ inquiry questions to make sure they were still interested in their topics. Most of them weren’t, or at least weren’t sure where to go with it. I encouraged these students to revisit their topics, and change them if needed. Some of them did revise, and then were back on track. Others were still frustrated and reluctant to try to revise. After talking with them, they seemed overwhelmed with the whole research process, for this was the first time they ever had to find multiple texts to write a “research paper.” I had various conversations about why we are doing research, how it will benefit them now and in the future, and even about the upcoming paper and presentation. I told them that yes, the reading and learning portion is often the hardest part, but if they become an “expert” on their topic, the writing and presentation could be a lot easier. Some students believed me, but I think others were still frustrated.
As I write this, I am currently in the middle of my Spring Break. I am hoping my students return to school next week rejuvenated and ready to continue with their research. The vast majority of my students are enjoying the process, which is a big success in my book. I am also, however, planning accordingly for those that may not be ready or willing. My 82 students should already be “experts” on their topic, since they should have read three articles about it. Some have not finished that reading yet, and one of my two goals is to spend additional time with them next week to help them get caught up. Some may already be caught up, and others may end up using a podcast for a source instead of an article. (I wish I would have encouraged other sources besides articles from the start, but it’s an option now.) My second goal is to begin encouraging my other students to start planning out an I-Search paper. I know not all students plan the same way, so I will have a few different tools to share. I will be writing a paper along with them, so I will have a constant model to display, and even work on right there in front of them. More to come in Part II!
How do you work research into your curriculum? Feel free to leave a comment below.