Pre-Search and Mindmapping to Narrow a Topic Focus

mindmapping17

In my last post, I shared how we were moving deeper with our second round of more targeted pre-search after students had narrowed topic choices to one from their work with the first phase of pre-search.  To help our students begin to make sense of the information they had collected during their second round of pre-search, Sarah and I introduced mindmapping to our two classes.   There were a couple of factors that influenced this decision:

Getting Started and What We Did

mindmapping19

We introduced the concept of mindmapping by defining what it was, discussing ways we could use utilize it, looking at examples, and then offering three approaches to give students a starting point.  We gave them the choice of using one of our approaches, mashing and mixing up those options to make it their own, or mapping in an original that made sense to them.  We encouraged them to go deeply back into their annotations and KWL notes as they looked at their work both horizontally and vertically through the mindmapping processes.  We provided them oversized blue sticky notes although a few students selected a larger version of the easel-sized Post-It Notes.  In addition, we provided a small tub full of different colored Sharpies, and Sarah provided a jumbo box of Crayola markers.  We also gave students many choices in sizes of smaller sticky notes they could use if they wanted to identify patterns they were saying or to incorporate into the mindmap as an organizational tool for smaller bits of information.

Note:  In hindsight, I would introduce Evernote to students as a tool for organizing or capturing their work on the Post-it notes and purchase the sticky note types recommended by Evernote so that students could later easily search their handwritten notes (also see these recommended oversized Post-It notes that would be perfect for this activity).  Evernote would be a perfect way to help students archive and organize these types of notes, and it would be a great medium for students to take advantage of our district’s new BYOD policies this year.

Students spent roughly 3.5 days working on their maps.  We were struck by how intensely they worked and how focused they were in class on drafting their mindmaps as well as the diversity in the ways they organized their ideas.  While some students worked alone, most chose to partner with a research/inquiry buddy as they composed their mindmaps.

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At the end of each day, we asked students to hang their works in progress in the windows of our rotunda area for safekeeping; these maps, though, quickly became a conversation piece in the library as well as a form of art!   The mindmap gallery is something I highly recommend if you have wall or window space to do it.  We were a bit awestruck that nearly every student came in on the second and third days and grabbed their mindmaps with no prompting before immediately settling into their work.

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Sharing Our Thinking Aloud in Small and Large Groups

The next step in our process upon completing our mindmaps was to have students pair up and interview each other about their mindmaps.  We asked students to share with each other:

  • how they approached their mindmap
  • how the mindmapping process helped them hone in on their topics
  • how the mindmapping process helped them think more deeply and/or differently about their topic
  • what was clearer to the student about their topic after completing the mindmapping process
  • patterns or themes that might have emerged through the mindmapping process
  • gaps or missing pieces of information/questions still lingering after the mindmapping process

We provided the students a handout to help them take notes about their responses, but after seeing how our 2nd period students were stymied from verbal conversation by having this handout during the interviewing piece of the activity, we waited until after they had to time to discuss before giving it to students with our 3rd period class.  Once students finishing interviewing each other and recording their responses, we asked them to look at the topic triangle/funnel on that same handout and to to share/discuss/record how they had narrowed their topic through the mindmapping process. This part of the activity took roughly 25 or so minutes.

We then moved to large group share with each pair of students coming up to the Verb easel board, hanging their mindmaps, and sharing their responses from the pair-share interviews with the entire class.  This part of the activity served a couple of purposes:

  • We wanted students to hear each other’s thinking and processes aloud so that they could hopefully gain insights from each other and to see the diversity in the way they approached the task and how the mindmapping was helping them toward a more focused topic for further research.
  • It was an opportunity for Sarah and I to constructively pose questions about the ideas they were sharing and “conference” aloud with the students as part of our efforts to confirm they were heading on the right track or to “nudge” their thinking if they were still a bit unfocused or too broad with their topics.  Students could also ask questions of those speaking or to offer suggestions.  Most students were very comfortable with this aspect of the group share, but we did find there were those who were pushed out of their comfort zone since many of their previous “research” experiences were somewhat superficial and did not require them to really focus a self-selected topic.  While it is a challenging endeavor, we know that students building resilience in developing a topic is an academic skill they will need for future academic experiences.  We will continue to follow-up with individual or small group conferences over the next week with those who still needed some help in further focusing their topic.
  • We like giving them opportunities to speak in front of their peers–these experiences are gentle “rehearsals” that help them warm-up for larger presentations.

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This large group share took about a class period’s worth of time over two days.   I hope to have a follow-up blog post to this one up tomorrow or Monday with some student feedback/interview with their reflections on these processes and activities.

In the meantime, I want to share just  a few things Sarah and I have observed in this extended inquiry unit so far in recent days and that we’re contemplating:

  • As energizing as inquiry-based work is for some students, it can be frustrating or even threatening to other students because this approach disrupts the traditional ways of academic success and learning in our test driven culture (I know, you’ve heard me say this multiple times in the past!).   Finding the balance between gently pushing students and honoring that discomfort as you try to help students work through it is not always easy, especially when their frustration may even manifest itself in negative behaviors toward you as an instructor or even toward fellow students.
  • We’ve both been thinking more intentionally about assessment and struggling with the realities of grade-driven school experiences that impact both teachers and students.   Helping students keep their eye on what they are learning, encouraging them to risks as learners, and asking them to have faith in you during this process can all be challenging tasks, but we believe they are all worth our efforts to help our students.  I’ll also write more about formative assessment related to their annotating skills and KWL charts in an upcoming post to share dilemmas of assessing this kind of “process” work in a way that is true to the spirit of our inquiry unit as well as what we have learned in looking at these pieces of work.
  • It is an absolute joy to work with another teacher in this way—I have learned so much from Sarah over these last few weeks and so admire how well she knows her students and how that factors into the way she not only responds to them and interacts with them but how those insights inform the way we shape and tweak our learning activities to meet them at their points of need as learners and individuals.  I also love that I’m learning from the students and genuinely appreciate the opportunity to have extended time with them in this unit.

As part of our efforts to give them some strategies for narrowing their topics or to look at their topics through different lenses or perspectives, we utilized a strategy from my friend and colleague Heather Hersey, a school librarian in Seattle.  I’ll discuss this strategy and how it led to one final activity in this progression of learning experiences for helping students narrow a topic in my next blog post.  Overall, we are very pleased with the incorporation of mindmapping into the inquiry process—so much in fact that students will actually be incorporating them into their multigenre projects they’ll be creating soon (yes, a blog post forthcoming on that, too).  We hope you’ll continue to follow our journey of learning through our LibGuide where our Tweets, photos, resources, videos, and previous blog posts are all housed.

What strategies are you using to help students narrow their topics and take an inquiry stance on learning?  I would love to hear from anyone who is using mindmapping or other techniques to help students focus their topics and their pre-search in an organic and authentic way!

Pre-Searching Round Two: Moving Toward a More Specific Topic for Research and Inquiry

presearch round 2students

After introducing students to some basics of information evaluation, we began our second phase of pre-searching on Monday, October 6.   Our learning targets included (based on our district content area standards and the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner):

  • I can use prior background knowledge as context for new learning.
  • I can find, evaluate, and select appropriate sources to answer questions.
  • I can read widely and fluently to make connections with self, the world, and previous reading.
  • I can use my library time wisely to think deeply on my work and stay on task.

We began the conversation by discussing how this next-round of pre-search was going to be a little more strategic and structured since our first phase had given us a topic commitment and now it was time to start “cropping” the big picture to narrow our topic (hat tip to Pegasus Librarian for this wonderful metaphor and to my friend Kristin Fontichiaro for pointing me to it).

We then introduced our structures , steps, and resources for helping us go more deeply into our pre-search to help us read and reflect more intentionally while evaluating our information sources.

pre-search round 2 directions

 

We required students to print or create a hard copy of any information sources they were using so that they could highlight and annotate the text.  We then took time to discuss strategies for annotating informational text and how annotations help us think more deeply and purposefully about a text.  We drew heavily from reading and literacy expert Cris Tovani to create this handy “help” sheet on annotating texts for our students:

Annotating Text Strategies

We then shared with the students how the text annotations would be the bridge to our modified KWL for pre-search and how this reflective thinking, while time intensive for the present, would be essential and instrumental to building our existing knowledge of the topic so that we could hone in on a more specific focus.

On the backside of the hard copy of this chart was the information source evaluation checklist we had worked with the previous week in our research/inquiry circles.   We explained how we would use the CRAAP test and our assessment tool to evaluate the information source.  Once students had read and annotated an article, completed a KWL for that article, and completed the information evaluation assessment tool for that article, we asked them to staple that together as a “packet” and then add the information source to their EasyBib working bibliography.  We ended with a short EasyBib refresher and pointed students to specific tutorial videos we’ve created for a variety of resources.  

tempcheckWe then turned the students loose, and they began immersing themselves in the work.  Over the next few days, the primary role for Sarah, Jennifer, and me as instructors was to facilitate; most of our efforts were spent answering 1:1 questions and individual conferencing to help students keep moving forward or adjust their searching.   After doing a “temperature check” on Friday, October 10, we realized students needed one more additional day for searching, reading, annotating, and doing their metacognitive work with the KWL and information evaluation tool. This was an opportunity for students to wrap up their work while others took advantage of the extra day to get some additional  intensive and extended 1:1 help—most requests were related to search terms and techniques.  For these students, the personalized help was beneficial in moving them from a place where they felt stuck to discovering new sources.

The content in these pre-search “packets” will be the fodder for helping us move forward with the next step in narrowing topics:  mindmapping. We formally started this process of mindmapping today, and I’ll be writing more about that soon as well as the assessments and self-assessments we’re designing to think about where we are in our learning before moving forward into our next phase of inquiry!

Follow our journey:

Hashtag:  #rustyq

Our LibGuide

Blog post 1:  Inquiring with Students: What Do or Can “Good” Research Projects Look Like?

Blog post 2:  Beginning Our Research and Inquiry Experiences with Pre-Searching

Blog post 3:  Sticky Notes as Formative Assessment for Information Literacy Instruction: Coding Student Responses

Blog post 4:  Collaborative Information Source Evaluation: Research/Inquiry Circles and the CRAAP Test

Collaborative Information Source Evaluation: Research/Inquiry Circles and the CRAAP Test

info evaluation activity collage

Last week, students completed the gentle entry-level phase of pre-search (see the end of this post for more detailed reflections); teacher Sarah Rust and I felt it would be helpful to introduce information and source evaluation skills to our students before moving forward into the next round of pre-searching.    We grouped students into collaborative “research” or “inquiry” circles based on their initial topic interests.  We plan to use these research circles as a medium for workshopping with small groups as we move deeper into research and inquiry; these groups will also help us move into collaborative learning experiences.

On Thursday, October 2, we grouped students and then introduced them to the CRAAP test with this terrific video from the Academy of Art University; while this structure for evaluating information originally was designed for online resources, we discussed how it was important to evaluate ALL forms of information, including ones traditionally considered authoritative.    We talked about the messiness of information evaluation and context  of authority using the framework of the CRRAP method. Using the recent Secret Service security breaches as our research topic, students then were asked collaboratively look at seven different information sources we posted on our project LibGuide and to work together to evaluate each information source using the CRAAP test as their guide.   We asked them to use this checklist to guide their assessment and to tally their scores for each source.  Students worked together all period and for about the first quarter of class on Friday, October 3.

After students finished up their assessments on Friday, we instructed each group then posted their score on a dry-erase board on our Verb easel; we labeled each whiteboard with a sticker for the source so that the “parking lots” for their scores would be easy to post.

Each group then came up to the easel and shared/defended their assessments of each source.

As they did this, I took rough notes about how each group scored sources and notes of any comments or reasoning they shared.  You can see my notes below:

Sarah, Jennifer, and I were fascinated by the students’ responses.  Just a few things some students/groups noticed:

  • Databases may be great, but if they are only providing background information and not answering one’s research question, the content there may not always be the best fit.  We were impressed they made this distinction.
  • One group commented that they would like to know if the journalists for the Washington Post article had previously written about problems with the Secret Service security issues or if this was their first effort on writing about that topic.  Again, we were happily surprised they were this discerning in their evaluation.
  • Several groups noted that just because a source was government publication, it was not necessarily credible since they might be interested in putting a certain spin on the value and integrity of the Secret Service; this level of questioning could be a reflection of previous instruction elsewhere that values interrogating all sources, but we also wondered if that stance might also be a reflection (at least, in part) of the politically conservative nature of the community.
  • Discussions emerged about different news publications and outlets and how their reputation to lean left or right might impact the objectivity of the articles or news videos.
  • Several students indicated they would like GALE to include more information about the authors of reference articles in databases like Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
  • Scores were pretty consistent from group to group within specific class periods and across both class sections.

We were incredibly happy with the way students engaged with each other and the assessment task as groups.  Our goal was for them to have an opportunity to debate and wrestle with their evaluation of each source within their groups and to share that thinking out loud with the larger class; this approach accomplished that outcome.  I definitely would introduce information evaluation in this way again, and this springboard activity seemed to fit a wide range of prior experiences with these concepts.  As we’ve engaged in pre-search “phase 2″ this week, we’ve incorporated this CRAAP framework into their metagcognitive learning activites.  I’ll share more about those processes in a new blog post next week.

Follow our journey:

Hashtag:  #rustyq

Our LibGuide

Blog post 1:  Inquiring with Students: What Do or Can “Good” Research Projects Look Like?

Blog post 2:  Beginning Our Research and Inquiry Experiences with Pre-Searching

Blog post 3:  Sticky Notes as Formative Assessment for Information Literacy Instruction: Coding Student Responses

Sticky Notes as Formative Assessment for Information Literacy Instruction: Coding Student Responses

Yesterday I blogged about our pre-searching activities and the use of sticky notes for some gentle formative assessment.  Today I want to share how I went about coding the student responses not only to get a sense of students’ thinking during the two days of pre-searching, but to also use the data as a baseline of sorts in hopefully looking a broad collection of their work as we try to track their trajectory of growth and progress through this extended research unit.

Coding Information Sources

I began by removing the sticky notes for each period from the whiteboards and affixing them to large post-it notes and labeling each grouping by period and response type.  The next challenge was to think of categories for coding the student responses.  The “information sources used” was the easiest starting point, so I began there.

Coding "Information Sources Used" Sticky Notes from Days 1 and 2 of PreSearch, 3rd Period #rustyq

I listed all the information sources from the LibGuide for the project and then tallied responses.  I wound up adding Google as another category since some students indicated they had used this search engine.  Here are the results by period:

2nd period Rust Sources Used Sticky Note Data PreSearch October 2014

 

3rd  period Rust Sources Used Sticky Note Data PreSearch October 2014

In both classes, it appears Gale Opposing Viewpoints was a starting point for the majority of students; Gale Science in Context was next in popularity.  2nd period seemed to like SweetSearch and self-selected information sources while 3rd period leaned more heavily toward Academic Search Complete.

When we look at the updated topics roster (while taking into account the intiial list of topics they had generated), the numbers are not too surprising.  I know that many of them will benefit from some guidance into specific databases and search tools that will align with their topic choices as we move deeper into the project, but I’m not terribly surprised by what I see from the first two days of the risk free pre-search time to just hone down an interest area for one broad topic.  This data, though, does suggest to me that there may be sources unfamiliar to students or they have used minimally in the past (as do the results from the information literacy skills needs survey we did via index cards with Ms. Rust a few weeks ago).

Questions

My categories for coding the questions students generated included:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • How or Why?
  • Topic Clarification
  • Question about the research or the assignment
  • Other (other types of questions i.e. Is Finland’s educational system superior to the United States?)
  • None

2nd period posed 15 “how/why” questions and 11 questions that fell under “other”; there were four “who” questions and 6 “what” questions; three students did not note any questions.  3rd period generated questions that primarily fell under “what” (4), “how/why” (4), research/assignment questions (6), or “other” (6); five students did not generate any questions.  Clearly, there is a stark contrast between the two classes in the types of questions they generated.  This data may indicate that 3rd period may need more guided help in engaging more deeply with their articles OR strategies for generating questions.

Discoveries and Insights

For this group of sticky note responses, I created these coding categories:

  • Fact or concrete detail
  • Concept/Conceptual
  • Question
  • Reflection
  • Commentary/Opinion/Reaction

Once I began taking a pass through the student responses, I realized I need four additional categories:

  • Topic Ideas
  • Sources
  • None
  • Other

Second period students primarily recorded facts or concrete details for their notes; however, several used this space to think through additional topic ideas; the pattern was nearly identical in 3rd period.  I was not surprised by these findings since students spent only two days doing light pre-search and I knew in advance that getting enough information to eliminate some topic areas of interest would be where many would expend their time and energy.

Final Thoughts

The pre-search activity and days were designed to help students rule out some topics and have time to explore those of interest and our sticky note method of formative assessment was one we felt would give us feedback without imposing a structure that would be time-consuming for students since we really wanted them to channel their energies into reading and learning more about their topic lists.  While some of the data I coded was not surprising, I was really struck by the differences in the types of questions they generated.  Right now I don’t know if this means one class might need more help in generating questions from informational texts or if perhaps they were approaching the reading and activity in a different way that didn’t lend itself to composing lots of questions at that early juncture in time.

If you are incorporating pre-search as part of the connecting cycle of inquiry, what kinds of formative assessments do you use?  If you code student responses, how do you approach that process, and how do you use that data to inform your instructional design?   I find this kind of work interesting—I am looking forward to seeing if any of these gray areas or perceived gaps come to light as we move further into our research unit this month.

Beginning Our Research and Inquiry Experiences with Pre-Searching

Day 1 PreSearch:  Exploring and Sharing Our Questions, Discoveries, and Information Sources

We formally began our first steps into our fall research experience with Ms. Rust’s 12 British Literature/Composition Honors students by giving them  a few days to pre-search their initial lists of topics of interests.    We introduced the research guide and took a few minutes to discuss the purpose of pre-searching and to encourage them to exhaust as many of the databases and search engines in the guide; we also told students they could explore information sources they knew would be meaningful (example: Sports Illustrated website for the essay on LeBron James returning to Cleveland).  We stressed that this was a risk-free period of time to just explore and learn more about the topics of interest in an informal way that did not involve notes or citations.    As students came in, they picked up three different colors of sticky notes; we instructed students to label the blue sticky note as the placeholder for questions that might arise from their readings; the bright yellow sticky note as the space for making notes of discoveries, insights, or new information; and the pink sticky notes as a place to track the information sources they were sampling and exploring.

As expected, there was a range of responses from those who fully immersed themselves in the opportunity and thrived to those who were stuck even thinking of a topic or not feeling enthusiastic about the initial list they had generated.   Sarah Rust (teacher), Jennifer Lund (librarian), and I essentially acted as “coaches” who encouraged and provided feedback to students wherever they fell on the the spectrum; we also tried to help nudge those who were stuck in neutral by doing 1:1 conferencing and sharing strategies to help them either discover a topic that mattered to them or to unpack some areas of interest to connect to a concrete topic.  After the first day, Sarah reflected on what we observed:

I was surprised at how hesitant some students are with all of the freedom of inquiry. I think they are so used to the previous confines of research that they’re timid/baffled/weirded-out that we’re giving them the onus of topic selection and they have time to actually think, refine, change, explore topics. Oh the freedom!!!

At the end of the first day, we asked students to share their sticky notes on our Verb whiteboards and easel that served as a “parking lot” for their work.

sarah rust pre-searching and sticky notes

We used these sticky notes as a gentle formative assessment to see where students were at the end of both days of pre-search and as a medium for helping students engage in metacognition without imposing too formal of a structure on them at this early stage of connecting in Stripling’s Model of Inquiry.  We are very pleased with this method of collecting feedback and getting kids to be reflective without over-structuring the activity and interfering with the exploration focus.

At the end of the second day, we asked students to complete this survey for homework.  This assignment was designed to help us see where they were with broad topic selection and to refine our initial groupings for inquiry-research circles that we’ll be utilizing for collaborative activities we have planned for this research unit.

How are you approaching pre-searching in units of inquiry and research with your students?  What does it look like in your learning community, and what strategies have you tried that have been successful?

Related Posts:

Inquiring with Students:  What Do or Can “Good” Research Projects Look Like?, September 29, 2014