We have just started a new inquiry unit with Language Arts teacher Sarah Rust and her students in 12 British Literature/Composition; although the course is identified as a senior level course, most of the students are juniors due to the nature of the IB curriculum. We wanted to give students an opportunity to go deep with a research project and have opportunities to develop their own research questions and target processes and skills they identified as areas of personal need. We’re using Stripling’s Model of Inquiry as our framework while pulling in the affective aspects of Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process model. After surveying students on their topics of interest, we also asked them to identify information literacy and technology skills they felt confident about as well as areas of need (see 2nd period and see 3rd period). We then decided to ask students the following questions:
- What is a good research project?
- What does/what can it look like?
- What qualities does/should a good research project have?
These questions are seemingly simple, but reading the students’ responses reminds me of the complexity of prior experiences, perceptions, and connotations associated with words like “good” and “research”. I love that reading students’ responses forces me to rethink my own perceptions and criterion for identifying quality research projects and how I conceptualize research, especially when I think of it more broadly as information seeking behavior in a variety of contexts—K-12 school, real-world, the workplace, and academia.
Sarah collected the responses from our students this past Friday via index cards, and I then compiled them over the weekend. You can read our students’ responses here in this Google doc; I’ve also enclosed a visualization in this post of their responses. A few initial reactions of patterns I noticed in their responses:
- While many students referenced a traditional paper, an overwhelming number of students indicated that images and multimedia were essential to a “good” research project.
- Most students felt that research projects should be more than a traditional paper and that multimedia formats like Prezi and videos were valid and in some cases, superior, forms of a “text.”
- Some students stressed quality and quantity of facts while others felt that a person’s insights and understandings were equally, if not more so, important.
- The influence of the Schaffer Writing Program that has been in place here for a few years at NHS was reflected in the references to CDs (concrete details) and CMs (commentaries).
- Several students felt the topic should be interesting and of importance to both the writer and the reader of the project/paper.
- Quite a few students stressed the importance of organization while others mentioned citations and appropriate references to reliable sources although a few shared they wanted more freedom to use alternative sources of information that might be traditional “authoritative” sources.
- Several students discussed the importance of “depth” in the quality and scope of the project.
I can’t help but wonder what we might glean if we start inquiry units or initial research projects with questions like these to see where our students are and their perceptions. I also believe this type of exercise can be a springboard in engaging students in the process of instructional design, including the design and criterion for formative and summative assessments; it can also be a conversation starter about how context might determine our responses and how we define “good” in different information seeking tasks and settings.
How might your students define research and what counts as a “good” or effective research project? Your teachers? Your administrators? I’d love to hear from you if you have posed these sorts of questions in your learning community.