I agonize over planning my argument research unit each year. I know learning research skills is not a favorite of students, and I always blame myself for this. This means every year I am always trying to revise my unit. I constantly think about:
- How can I add more choice into my research unit?
- What skills are needed to be successful in the research process?
- How can I make research a more student-centered process?
This year, my biggest concern of the three questions above is helping my students be successful during the research process. Many of my students’ reading skills are well below grade level, so I started by adding a lot of practice with skills such as maneuvering through databases, search terms for databases, and using Boolean operators. When it comes to comprehending the information in their sources, I knew my students would struggle with what information was important, as well as what to write for their annotations. For help with this, I looked to two trusted literacy specialists: Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. Their book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, gave me a lot to think about, as well as some excellent ways to show students what to look for while reading. I did not think to introduce the signposts earlier in the school year, so I decided to create a chart that combined some of the signposts. (I am already thinking about how to add this in earlier next year.) We started with what students should highlight:
Students learned that extreme language, numbers and statistics, and quotes from experts are all specific information that could help prove their side of an argument. When it comes time for students to annotate, which will be in their next class, I know they will need this chart:
By giving students the above questions to think about, I believe they will be able to write annotations that will not only get them thinking about their research topics, but also be helpful down the road for writing a well-developed paper.
I will know how truly useful these charts are as we get further into this unit. I am pleased that the students using the first chart are already making progress. Tomorrow I will begin to see how they do with their annotations. For now, I need to watch and see what works, and continue to modify as needed.
What has worked for you, in terms of teaching research skills, in your classroom? Please feel free to share below.