Oh yes! My PLN friend, Denise Krebs, reflected on her students’ research skills in her blog post “A Need for Researchers Workshop,” just as my NSD colleagues did the same.
Even with our structured science project with Gooru Learning (goorulearning.org), our students needed help with search terms and relevance, “chewing” and “digesting,” a metaphor created by Denise:
We didn’t realize how hampered our students are in truly understanding and applying information. perhaps because of our focus on “What reading objective are you teaching / learning today?” Understanding requires more. We have frequent “Walk Throughs,” to gather information about our teaching as part of our WIIN participation. Part of the Walk Through includes posting our objectives, which the students should be able to explain.
As I reflect on the process, and look at the objective suggestions, I understand where I need to head. The results show that we are moving up in teaching “higher order thinking skills,” which is a good thing, and suggests where we plan to develop more teaching strategies. It seems by focusing on posting the “objectives,” our lessons may have been limited, and projects that require and enhance critical thinking skills slid to the background as we focused on our required Grade Level Expectation objectives.
Students in my class did focus on the suggested strategies of “Nonlinguistic Representations; Identifying Similarities and Differences; Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers; Summarizing and Note Taking,” and drawing conclusions, making generalizations, and identifying cause and effect. We even developed an “ABC” format for answering questions, which I have written about here. On classroom-based evidence, students demonstrated the skills taught, skills that will help them with understanding ideas and concepts during a research project. However, on practice “standardized tests,” with only “standardized” teacher instruction, students fell back into their usual and general answers to questions, without re-reading or looking up the answers.
Because the students could choose their own topics, and because the science teacher and I were guiding the students with organizers, feedback, and conferences, we looked forward to student work that analyzed ideas and demonstrated understanding of their chosen concepts.
Of course, in independent projects, learning isn’t linear and tangents are allowed, but to stay focused on “the question” for research requires skills (especially “digestion” and “nourishment” as Denise has described.) Our students were learning about the world and were amazed at the concepts they had chosen. Their conversations among themselves were invigorating and questioning. The dialogue as such demonstrated an awakening of taste buds that caused them to wonder further. It was obvious they were building background knowledge each day, background in the concepts that interested each of them. But in sharing, most only “nibbled” and “spit” out facts without digesting the information and nourishing their understanding. To be fair, their work was interrupted by testing and other requirements, and we learned just how much students background knowledge in science needed kindling. Our project actually became a one of building background knowledge, and their sharing showed their new basic understanding; next year we can dig deeper.
My favorite summaries which shows the students’ understanding are these:
Two slides from, “How to Make a Speaker” (animated in presentation)
As you can see, the students did learn, and the information in Gooru Learning is geared for 5-8 and 8-12th grades. Most students could explain their topic to us orally, and with time could have done more with explaining their understanding in writing. But the “more” we need, is through frequent time with reading, research, and reflection. The required objectives will be covered and taught, but the students will “do” the objectives in real research, not just to answer questions for meeting one objective.
Project/Problem Based Learning demands critical thinking skills, and requires the “lesser” skills in order to solve the project or problem. It’s the way I used to teach when I had a self-contained class. I started Pinterest Board on PBL earlier in the year and I follow the work at Edutopia. When asked to “post” objectives, the daily directives take over, and the projects slither away to make way for basic questions.
The science teacher and I now know that we need to combine our expertise and time for more project time in science and language arts. If we are to teach students to think critically and creatively we must spend more time on projects.
Our students need to: Connect, Contribute, Collaborate, Consider, Communicate, Create, Curate…
Connect: able to connect with relevant information and people
Contribute: able to add relevance
Collaborate: able to work and create together
Consider: able to analyze and synthesize ideas, organizing and transforming them into new understandings
Communicate: able to explain clearly
Create: able to share in new or remixed ways
Curate: able to document, organize, and annotate own and others’ work
Research requires careful consideration of ideas — to deeply understand and — to “Read like a detective, write like an investigative reporter,” as suggested in the Common Core State Standards. To consider is a research must.
So, we also will focus on higher order thinking objectives during research workshop next year with an emphasis on search, organization and collaboration, and making sense of the information:
Purposeful search: Using advanced search techniques to narrow the scope and raise the quality of information found on the web.
Effective organization and collaboration: Being able to organize all of this information into a comprehensive and growing library of personal knowledge.
Sharing and making sense of information: Sharing what we find and what we learn with the world, and using the knowledge of others to help us make more sense of it all.
We will entice the appetites of our students, present a feast from which they can choose their main dish, and guide them to digest the morsels of information to nourish their minds with new understandings from which they will present their own feasts for us to savor.
Here are some resources we will use to help students search:
Thanks again for to Denise Krebs for her inspiration. What search, organization, collaboration, and sense-making strategies and tools do you use to teach your students? Please add them to this Google
Teach Search Teach Research Presentation, and let’s build some lessons together.