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