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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Research Skills-No Excuses

Research skills can be tricky to teach. When you sit down to think about it, the term research skills is a bit of an umbrella, encompassing so many important skills.

When considering the research process, strategies and tools for searching come to mind.  I have been teaching this for 4 years, but still wonder how I can better teach kids to be effective and efficient seekers of information. What strategies can we use and what tools are available? Throughout this stage of the process determining the quality, relevance and reliability and fairness of sources (see filter bubbles) and  is also imperative. Evaluation skills are brought into the mix.

It is important that students learn how to scan, identify important information and separate it from that which is not, read for understanding and take notes on the information they have found (This in itself is a huge skill to learn.) Before any of this takes place however, students must learn how to structure their research questions, and plan their ideas, so outlining skills need to be taught.

All of this must happen in order for students to use their findings to create something through which to share their understanding. The type of project undertaken will affect the structure and content they will use. But we are not done yet. Students must also be taught to reference their work and somewhere along the line, students must be given the opportunity to reflect on their findings, writing and final project.

It is too late to begin this process in high school. It needs to start much lower down, in elementary school, and through meaningful experiences, preferably before bad habits develop. It needs to be planned for with care and a progression determined. Students won't learn all of these skills in isolation, they should be taught across subjects (where applicable) as part of any research task they undertake. They won't learn them all on their own and may have trouble seeing their worth unless otherwise pointed out to them, strategies taught and plenty of relevant practice provided.

We teach searching skills and evaluation skills, and help equip students with some of the best tools available to do so. We teach them how to take notes and share their findings and ideas with others using Twitter and Diigo. We teach them a great variety of ways in which they can publish and share their work and also focus on delivery to a group. I think about all that we do, and when it is done, knowing how much goes into it, recognising the quality of the work we do and yet I know we don't have it right yet. I have never been as convinced as I am right now that the teaching of research skills needs to begin prior to middle school.

Something happened this past week that had never happened before. I was teaching 6th grade how to use smart searching tools and strategies, evaluate websites and share their sources and annotations socially through Diigo. This was the first time we did this quite so thoroughly with 6th grade and I was blown away. Where the older grades are accepting and basically put up with it prior to many of them reverting back to their old habits, 6th grade embraces this type of  learning, they hunger to try things out and make a huge effort to get the work done, and even take on additional work outside of class time that wasn't required of them.

We are getting closer, 6th grade is the right grade to go full throttle with this, but wouldn't it have been even more powerful if the groundwork were already in place? There would be less direct teaching of research skills and more guided application. This should be an expectation in the 21st century. There are no acceptable excuses for not teaching students to be information literate and doing so not only from the middle years on but from an earlier age.

Here are some links to my favourite tools and resources for teaching these skills.

Diigo-Social bookmarking, annotations and more.
Twitter and Today's Meet-Microblogging Platforms for sharing succinct nuggets of information
EasyBib-for citing work.
21st Century Information Fluency- for teaching searching skills and website evaluation
May Favourite Hoax Sites-Buy Dehydrated Water, Dog Island, The Northwest Tree Ocotpus, and anything    You can find plenty more here and here to choose from.
The Big Six-Framework for teaching and learning research
BrainPop Online Sources(login required)
BrainPop Internet Search (login required)

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