Teaching students how to research is hard, really hard

The last two weeks I’ve been trying my hardest to help my year 9 Game On class learn how to research. I must admit, I’m not the best researcher in the world (I totally suck with google – Boolean has me beat!) but I do have my head around the basics, enough to have completed half of my Masters of Education. If you’ve read some of my posts about my gaming class, you’ll know that their first project is a research project about an aspect of video games that fascinates them. You can read their project here. Basically they need to research their topic, write a research report about it and then convert this information into an engaging YouTube video for an online audience. Sounds straight-forward… until I complicated things by trying to get my students to research like researchers and not like high school students.

Why did I not want them to research like high school students? Well, cos I didn’t want a copy and paste project that infringed all sorts of copyright laws when put up on YouTube. (Disclaimer: this still may be what happens cos I suck so much at teaching research skills.) Anyway, I got carried away searching the web (like a high school kid) looking for stuff someone else had created about researching (which then probably infringes on their intellectual property, oh the irony) and basically I found myself at a teacher happy place where I had heaps of resources that I thought were awesome and would be heaps useful for my students. Then what I did was, I modified them to work for the project my students are doing, and shared them with my students via edmodo. In the end I had a word document of 11 pages and a PPT of 16 slides that students could use as a scaffold for their research. Instead of just saying, ‘Off you go and research!’, I gave them a list of required source types and scaffolds for how to write up their findings from each source. I also created a scaffold for their video game analysis. What I asked of them was this: 2 x web sources, 2 x video sources, 2 x print sources, 2 x video game analyses and 1 x original research (interview, survey, observation). To me, it seemed perfectly achievable. Somehow along the way I seemed to forget that these are 14 year olds who chose this elective because they like video games. I mean, really, what was I thinking?

To make matters worse (yes, worse) I didn’t give them an example of a completed scaffold (duh) and I didn’t really explain how to reference in text… cos that’s what the scaffold required (e.g. ‘According to —- in —-‘. So, really these kids had a massive document in front of them and just over 5 lessons to fill it in. Add to that, I suggested they use ‘google scholar’ to find print texts – eek! So there I was telling 14 year olds to read academic articles about zombies and voice actors or the representation of gender in video games. One student complained loudly to me, ‘Miss, this is way above us, we can’t even read the words. It’s too hard!’ What was my witty response? ‘Well, young man, now is your chance to improve your vocabulary.’ Yeah, I know, I wanna punch myself in the face as well. I was, however, stoked to see them generating surveys and interview questions about their topics, and using their peers as their subjects. Of course, I haven’t actually taught them what to do with the data when they collect – I just don’t think I can go there with them, it’s too mean. They’ll work it out on their own, right?

Last Friday my students were required to submit their literature review – yeah, that’s right, I’m such a wanker that I had my students call their research summaries ‘literature reviews’ – and I’m pretty sure less than 70% of them actually managed to submit it. I’m unsure about the quality of the work I will find in the ones that did get turned in. Ultimately, however, I’m proud of my students for their resilience – they just kept on trying to learn how to get it right. They knew the work set for them was really, really hard and probably well above them. In fact, it probably killed their fascination with their chosen video game – oops. I do hope that next week, when they get to write up their responses to their research questions (and their sub-questions) in their own words, that they draw upon at least one or two of their sources to support their ideas. I hope that they love the creative process – making their YouTube videos – more than the critical inquiry process of researching their topic. I’m pretty keen to see what they produce, in fact.

So, this post is really just me trying to articulate the difficulty I had with teaching students how to research. It also will serve as a reminder for me of what not to do next semester when I run this same project again with a new bunch of year 9 students. I’ll learn from my mistakes, right?

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7 thoughts on “Teaching students how to research is hard, really hard

  1. I feel your pain Bianca. Teaching students how to research a topic is difficult at the university level too, and that is with a group of students who have willingly entered into the practice of ‘scholarship’!
    If I could offer two pieces of advice from my own high school teaching practice, they would be:
    – read up and/or use resources relating to ‘Inquiry Based Learning’ – this approach aligns well with research project work and you can probably steal scaffolding strategies from History teachers (who love Inquiry Based Learning like we love Project Based Learning!)
    – choose a ‘difficult’ article and read it together as a class, in a way that lets you model annotation for them i.e. “this is an interesting point, so everyone highlight it”. Sounds time consuming, but often worth it.

    I reckon you’re right to call their summaries ‘literature reviews’ and other stuff like that. It surely will give students the feeling of working on compositions that are recognisable in the adult world. And I thought your scaffolding sheets were amazing! I know you are being harsh on yourself on purpose to do a rigorous reflection, but there are some winning strategies here – trust your judgement and just plug the holes as they come up, I say 🙂

  2. We ran a Big6 research skills (AKA information literacy) campaign across a Sydney high school. All KLAs supported it. It was led by the librarian and reinforced in our Pastoral/study skill lessons. It took a whole school effort to move the dial and we only saw significant results after a year or two, Process, process, not just content. Required student time, so sages had to ditch lectures. I think it would have been uphill to achieve the results if it was only carried by a couple of teachers in a unit here or there. I’m currently working with high school students on movie and lit reviews. Once again, process, process. I find that social media curation and mashup tools draw them in a lot more in their research and writing than Word or PowerPoint uploads. Here’s a student research example: http://yhk.li/sdlhi

  3. Pingback: Reflection #8: Bianca Hewes and Teaching students how to research is hard, really hard | All Things English!

  4. Hi, I found your blog via your SCIS article last year as part of required reading for a Master of Teacher Librarianship. Love your ideas on learning spaces and metaphors. Just wondering if your school Teacher Librarian can collaborate with your students to help with instilling research and info literacy skills? Have you collaborated with the TL in general or specific PBL? I look forward to following your blog, it’s brimming with insights and, for want of a better word, totally *awesome* stuff!

  5. Pingback: What fascinates you the most about video games? | Bianca Hewes

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