No time? Suggestions for condensing the research process
There may be many reasons for condensing the research process. Your curriculum might not allow enough time, your resources might be limited, your student's reading or research skills might be limited, etc. If the students learn that there is a systematic process that includes generating questions, gathering and obtaining information from reliable sources, drawing conclusions and organizing information, they will have an excellent start on becoming information literate. Even if you choose only to practice discrete skills such as reading and summarizing main ideas in your class—just as dribbling exercises help one learn to be successful at the game of basketball—remind students how the pieces you work on fit into the whole. Practicing any part of the information literacy game will move them forward to becoming champions!
Step 1: Question
- Choose a topic and then provide background information on the topic in class. Try to select a topic with an element of choice or controversy so that the resulting conclusions are meaningful for the students.
- Generate a questions or a selection of questions in class. Generate questions that have unique answers. Remember that explaining why someone prefers a cat to a dog as a pet generates a lot more interest than an explanation "about cats", which almost invites wholesale plagiarism from standard reference sources.
- Continue through the Step 2 process of asking students to gather information from a variety of locations and formats or condense the next step as suggested below.
- Provide the students with articles, websites and/or video/audio recordings that offer a
range of ideas and views on the topic. Ask them to read (view, listen) the sources
and draw their conclusions. Consider reading, (listening, viewing) as an in class activity.
- Consider your question and then choose one information tool. The goal is to provide in-depth instruction
in how to use one search tool, but to also model selection and evaluation of resources to answer a
question. Possible tools include:
- Search engines: explain how search engines rank results and demonstrate advanced search features. Practice choosing and refining keywords. Guide students through selecting reliable resources. End the project with an annotated bibliography where students explain why they choose the sites. Or, have students continue to read the selected items and draw their own conclusions.
Library catalogs: search for materials to create a list of items that might answer the question. Begin with the school library and progress to the public library and then (if time) to local academic libraries. As a final product, have students create an annotated bibliography of library resources they would retrieve if actually completing the assignment. In the annotation, the student explains why they choose a book or other resource.
As part of this project, you might want to point out that academic libraries use a different classification system than school and public libraries. Most academic libraries use the Library of Congress system based on the letters of the alphabet, which are subdivided by numbers.
Note: Pre-search your school library catalog to ensure that there are materials on your topic. Or, ask your library media specialist to provide you with a list of relevant materials. Consider bringing the books and/or other resources to class. Pass the books around. Display electronic books, play parts of videos. Ask the students if the books and resources that would help them answer their question? End the project by having students write a paragraph or bullet points explaining why their selections would be useful or why they would have to search again to find items to answer their question.
- Online database: choose a database relevant to the topic. Introduce the product to students, and then demonstrate how to search the database and use its special features. End the project with an annotated bibliography, asking students to explain why they chose the articles, or you can go on to obtain the articles, distribute them to the class and have students proceed with reading the articles and drawing their own conclusions.
- If you have chosen to have students continue to read web sites or articles selecting, consider using a simple note-taking process. Use a highlighter to select main ideas and facts. Consider modeling this process for students—it is time well spent!
To focus attention only on the process of drawing conclusions, condense Step 1 by providing background information and generate a question as a class. As a class, find sources that provide a spectrum of understanding on a topic. Read, (view, listen) together and then generate a conclusion or conclusions that students can select to present as essays, oral presentations or videos. If time is very short, end the project by identifying a thesis statement and listing the main points. Identify support facts. End the project here with each student writing an outline or have students continue to write individual essays or create oral presentations or videos.
Condense any part of the project suggested above.
Consider the creation of group presentations or videos. Assign each group a section of the outline to develop into slides or video segments.
Composing an essay as a group might be a challenge, but if you have multiple research projects where students work in groups, each member could take turns drafting the text, with others serving as revisers and editors. These roles could be reversed in subsequent projects, so that each student would have a chance to play each role. The class could create a newsletter on a topic or issue, with various articles and points of view included.
Evaluate the project no matter how you have chosen to condense each step. Explain and continually remind students how the condensed project fits in a complete research process. One day they will want to be able to carry out the full process, beginning with their own question, considering all types of resources in the information landscape, drawing their own conclusions and communicating their message to a selected audience. Help students to make the connection to how real life decisions are made.
Evaluate as a group activity, either in small groups or as class. Remember to evaluate the process as well as the final product. Impress upon them the importance of the self-evaluation as part of the learning process. Model this for your students.