Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Becoming a researcher



This post is part 2 of two parts focused on the 2012 PEW report on teens and research.
Part 1 is Teens and Research

How good are teen's research skills?

The 2012 PEW report on Teens and research found that teachers rated students as either good or fair when it comes to specific research skills. The specific skills are listed and rated in the graphic below. Click on it to enlarge it.
  1. Ability to use appropriate and effective search terms and queries
  2. Understand how online results are generated
  3. Ability to use multiple sources to effectively support an argument
  4. Ability to assess the quality and accuracy of information they find online
  5. Patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find
  6. Ability to recognise bias in online content
The report then states that :
  • 71% of the surveyed teachers spend class time discussing how to conduct online research (1) (that means that 29% of the surveyed teachers do not teach these skills)
  • 57% spend class time improving student research skills  (1) (43% do not explicitly teach these skills)
  • 35% spend class time teaching how search results are generated (2)  (65% do not teach these skills)
  • 80% of the surveyed teachers say they spend class time teaching students about assessing reliability of online information, (4) (20% do not teach these skills)
I would also hope that the students are taught about bias, and how multiple sources are required to support an argument. 

My comment and question is ... if students do not learn these research skills in class time when they actually need to know and when the learning is most relevant to their learning needs, when will they learn the skills? It seems that teachers seem reluctant to use up 'class time' to teach these skills, when at the end of the student's schooling, the skills are what they will take with them more than the content.

In the book "Making Thinking Visible" by Ron Ritchhart et al, they talk about types of thinking and suggest a few types of thinking that aid in understanding or learning....
  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanation and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart of the information and forming conclusions
  7. Wondering and asking questions
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things
  9. Identifying patterns and making generalisations
  10. Generating possibilities and alternatives
  11. Evaluating evidence, arguments and actions
  12. Formulating plans and monitoring actions
  13. Identifying claims assumptions and bias
  14. Clarifying priorities, conditions, & what is known
(Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p.11, 13,14) 

The highlighted sentences are types of thinking that directly correlates with the 6 types of research skills the students are rated on in the PEW report. 

The IB framework and curriculum have introduced the Approaches to Learning across all four programmes, with Research Skills being one of the 5 main categories, along with communication, self management, thinking and social skills. 

The 6 research skills in the PEW report, and the 6 highlighted types of thinking above, would be a good start to begin a plan for teaching what research skills are across the year groups.

We need to be going beyond teaching 'how to research' and move to 'being a researcher' and adopting the traits of a researcher.

What are the traits of a researcher?

A good researcher:
  • manifests thirst for new information.
  • has an open mind, by looking for different perspectives
  • has a keen sense of awareness about the world, community & themselves. 
  • likes to reflect or think about the things he encounters and asks questions.
  • is able to express their ideas & arguments based on their findings and thinking. 
  • applies a systematic approach in assessing situations.

(from Simply Educate for more practical information on research see the Practical Approaches to ATL Skills web page)

Someone 'doing research' is usually doing it for a specific purpose with an end in mind such as finding enough information to complete an assignment task.

How can we help students to develop the traits and types of thinking to become a researcher?

Researchers tend to evolve through investigating and researching something they are deeply interested in, something they are so bothered to learn about, they want to know everything. For anyone who has had contact with young boys, you will be aware they are fascinated by dinosaurs and will want to know everything about them. They are deeply passionate about this topic, and will go to extensive lengths to know more, to be able to pronounce the names correctly, know what they ate, why they became extinct, and will be able to dazzle any adult with any  information about dinosaurs. These children are researchers - they are not just doing research.

We need to plan the units and assessment tasks in a way that the students want to know more just because they are interested, not just because it leads to a good mark. Authentic Inquiry unit planning allows this to happen. When students become researchers, they will learn how to do research effectively as their limited skills will hinder their learning and they will thirst for more efficient ways to learn more.

Being a researcher is a mindset with a wide skill set to support it.


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