Last month, I wrote a post called "Taking Risks for 21st Century Research Skills." This week, I am sharing ideas for integrating research skills into your Common Core curriculum. The Common Core State Standards are asking students to develop the capacity to build knowledge by researching and responding analytically to literature and informational texts (p. 81). When students research, they are reading challenging texts independently, identifying textual details related to their topic, and pulling information from multiple sources. It is challenging, and yes, we hit a few bumps in the road, but it is also rewarding. One of my students who had admitted to being out of her comfort zone came to me this week, saying, "I learned so much doing this project. Thank you!"
I unpacked the CCSS to create a list of skills that I needed to teach my students. The research outcomes I identified in the CCSS include:
Below is a list of the mini lessons that I taught during my research project:
Shorter research projects support students in acquiring the research skills necessary for longer projects while building much-needed background knowledge. The topics are inspired by informational or literary texts. Most of my research projects are born from articles in magazines and newspapers, or from local concerns. Others, exploring historical periods, historical people, other cultures, or authors, are inspired by literature. Sometimes, they are student inquiries; other times they are teacher directed. Whenever possible, I give students the opportunity to present their information, taking a share-the-wealth approach.
When students are reading literature, they should be asking questions as they read. For instance, when my students read the Grimm Brothers’ version of Cinderella, they often wonder why the magical element is a hazel tree and not a fairy godmother. I tell them to research the hazel tree and find out. Their research reveals that the hazel tree is a symbol of wisdom and inspiration. This additional knowledge results in a deeper understanding of the fairy tale and encourages analytical, inquisitive thinking.
Informational texts provide the perfect opportunity for college and career exploration. When I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up, many shrug their shoulders, and if they have a goal, they cannot tell you the college requirements. According to the University of California, Berkeley, “The average student who enters college with a declared major changes it three to five times. On the other hand, the average student who enters college with an undeclared major changes only one to two times.” This suggests that students need additional exposure to career options. The Common Core asks that teachers better prepare students for making these decisions.
Researching careers related to topics that engage students presents possibilities they never knew existed. For example, my students learned about Virgin Galactic, a company planning to launch commercial space travel next year. They are looking for a design engineer with a BA in engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, or a related field. Until we read this article and looked for career opportunities with the company, my students had never considered a career in space travel.
When reading a Storyworks article about the Burmese python, an invasive species in the Everglades, we learned that there are career opportunities for environmental scientists, biologists, and licensed hunters, who are trying to eradicate Burmese pythons and preserve the ecosystem. For the student who struggles with sitting at a desk, the idea of tracking invasive species in the Everglades is a fascinating career.
Reading historical literature opens many opportunities for engaging students in research before reading. Often, information on the setting (country and culture) and historical period provides the background necessary for understanding character motivation. Before reading Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, we research medieval culture. The research helps my 6th graders understand the role of women in medieval society and the feudal system, both of which create conflicts for the protagonist, a young girl being forced to marry a man three times her age because he is of her social class and offers the largest dowry. The following books will inspire research to build background knowledge:
Informational articles serve as a catalyst for research. My students were so engaged in invasive species after reading an article in Storyworks magazine that I decided to tap into this interest and have them research invasive species and create a Web site that informs the public of ecological threats to many of our ecosystems. I will share this collaborative project with you in the near future. Other ideas to launch an extensive research project include:
Students can work in groups researching debate topics. The International Debate Education Association offers many engaging topics. This information can lead to verbal or written debates.
For more on teaching your students research skills, see the Scholastic articles "Building Research Skills, Grades 4–8" and "The Six Online Research Skills Your Students Need." Discover how Kindle can be an effective research tool in the Classroom Solutions blog post "Using Amazon’s Kindle for Classroom Research" by Jeremy Rinkel. Finally, Scholastic's Research Starters site, created in conjunction with Grolier online, and Writing Workshop: Research Paper offer resources for both teachers and students.