When I was in elementary school as a student, research reports were assigned very infrequently (because they were such a pain for all involved) and as often as not it was assumed students had research skills. It was not usually a correct assumption.
Used to be students researched using library books and textbooks, maybe a National Geographic or other magazines, and much of the time was used finding information and much less making sense out of what little information there was. Students were restricted in their topic choices because otherwise all the books on that topic were gone. Topics were also filtered through which letters of the alphabet they started with so that there would be enough encyclopedias available. So much time was taken just trying to find relevant information, and switching topics, that not enough time was spent learning how to deal with the information well and coherently. And like many of the Powerpoint presentations I’ve seen students give over the years, if you start asking questions it usually becomes apparent that not much was learned.
Research projects were almost always huge projects that we were given weeks to do. Therefore research was not practiced much … maybe a couple of times a year, if that. And yet looking for information and writing about it well is such an important skill, and in general I believe students are weak to very weak at it.
Experiencing 1:1 the last 3 years, one of my big takeaways has been that I was able to spend more time with my students on WHAT TO DO with the information they were finding and deciding which information was important and what it meant. Why? because having access to information is generally just not a problem. You don’t have to filter topics via the alphabet when students have the internet. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight I only wish I had learned that lesson earlier on, I think we could have gotten even better at putting things â€œin your own wordsâ€ and being discerning about the information we were looking at and deciding whether or not they should even be using this web page or book. Doing many short pieces gives students more of the practice they need and provides numerous teaching/learning opportunities. In addition students are reading and processing lots of non-fiction which is another bonus.
This is one way in which my teaching has been influenced by having access to 1:1 laptops. Our â€œReading to Learnâ€ mini projects this year were an offshoot of this experience. As I mentioned in my post about Reading to Learn, my experience with at risk students is that they often have so little background and schema for things that there just isn’t much they get excited about. Learning about spiders and volcanoes and more on their own really primed the pump and I saw students finally get excited about the prospect of researching something they wanted to know more about. They were reading to learn on their own. As simple a concept and project as this is, I see it as one of the most powerful. Students reading, learning and writing about that learning well. As I get to work with a new batch of 4th graders this fall, this will be an area of focus right away.
Learning is messy!