Students are being assigned research reports as early as first and second grade. I think this is an exciting practice however the nature of the assignments are weak. Most are "Go Find Out About" types of assignments. This site and page advocates that This early group requires a research process that will help form the building blocks for assignments in Middle School and beyond.
Research is truly a life-long skill and it is important to teach a process that caters to your young students. The term, “Information Literacy” has been around for some time. There are lots of forward thinking folks out there creating processes and resources for teachers. Our hopes are that students will internalize an Internet research process that goes way beyond the “go find out about” assignments of yesteryear. Processes like The Big6 (www.big6.com) by Mike Eisenberg & Bob Berkowitz and The Research Cycle (questioning.org/rcycle.html) by Jamie McKenzie are very important tools. Our friends at CTAP4 have also created a great set of resources and processes that are laid out for you at www.ctap4.org/infolit.
The problem is that all of these proposed processes seem to be geared toward middle and high school students. I have found that teachers are assigning research reports as early as the second grade. So what research processes are we teaching to our early elementary students? What are the basic foundations of information literacy? Research in this area shows that there is very little out there to help elementary teachers prepare our kids for this vital life skill.
So how about a process for guided research projects for the K-3 students? I suggest these steps:
do they know?
2. Fill in the Gaps
3. Establish a Desired Understanding
4. Where, What and Who can help us?
5. Explain Assignment and begin Guided Research
6. Discuss Findings, Organize Info, Produce and Share Product
7. What Did They Learn?
Let’s illustrate this proposed process with a typical example from 2nd grade. If we assign a report on arctic animals, in the first step, “What do they know?” we can ask students what they know about the animals’ diet, their living environment, and their climate. We might also ask them to build a compare and contrast chart looking at their world compared with the world of arctic animals.
Step 2 requires us to “Fill in the Gaps.” Many of our students come without the background knowledge, so we need to bring out picture books and other resources. This is where we might integrate a streaming video of Polar Bears and other arctic animals, images from the Web and maybe even a field trip.
Step 3 is where we define what we want to learn about. Here we want to arrive at an “essential question” that the research is centered on. Students should even contribute and come to a question such as, “How do animals live and survive in the cold parts of the world?” There is a lot of focus on basing research assignments around important questions. This is an important step that is often left out. See www.questioning.org.
Step 4 is where we get the kids thinking about how we can answer this question. In other words, Where, What and Who can help us? What resources do we have available? Will we automatically just go to the Web or is our librarian a good source? Are there experts available? We will also want to take this opportunity to teach students the first steps of Web searching. What are our keywords? What types of Web sites might help?
Step 5 finally brings us to the assignment. We wait until now to introduce the requirements, expectations and even the rubric. Students are so naturally inquisitive at this age that they won’t even realize that there is an assignment involved. Giving the assignment at this stage now frames the requirements and allows them to start gathering and processing information.
Step 6 entails discussing, organizing, and sharing what students have found. This may be a whole class process or small group. Students will need to discuss their findings and develop ways to organize the gathered information. Programs like Kidspiration or paper-based graphic organizers will allow them to group and categorize. Based on the assignment, they may also be required to create a write-up and present their findings and conclusions. Most importantly, they will need to answer their essential question.
Finally in Step 7, we assess what students have learned. This is done in so many ways that I don’t need to elaborate here.
If you have any thoughts or have implemented this method in the classroom, I would love to hear from you.
Contra Costa County Office of Education
Pleasant Hill, CA