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How Do We Teach Our Students to Effectively Compile Their Research?

When I was a senior in high school, I was assigned a thesis research project regarding an author.  I chose Oscar Wilde because The Picture of Dorian Gray was an amazing novel with several layers.  My teacher had us compile our research on index cards.  One fact per note card.  While it made the outline and essay writing processes very easy, it was a waste of paper.  I used over 100 index cards.  In college, my teachers didn’t care how we compiled or gathered our research.  They just assessed our final paper or project.  So, I wasn’t exposed to more than one method of compiling my notes and research.  What’s the best way to put research together?

In the sixth grade, we teach the students several different ways to compile their research and notes.  We want to expose them to various methods so that they can choose the one that works best for them when they move on in their academic careers.  We’ve introduced the students to the bubble mapping method employed by the computer program Inspiration.  Many of our boys liked the mind mapping method for putting their research together.  It also makes the transfer to an outline super easy with one click.  We’ve also had our students use the bullet style format for taking notes.  This method makes use of synthesizing information.  Over the course of the year we will introduce a few more different ways in which the students can compile notes and research.  Towards the end of the year, we will complete a few projects or activities that will allow the students choice in the method used to take notes.  This will offer students the chance to try out their favorite style of notetaking.

In Humanities class, we are in the midst of a great research project.  We are walking the students through the research process step by step so that they are prepared for future research projects later in their schooling.  The focus for this project is the process.  During each step, the students document their process.  What did they do?  How did they do it?  Was it useful?  Which source provided the most information?  What did they do when they ran out of research or found a faulty source?  In one document they have compiled their process starting with brainstorming and going all the way to the research phase.  As the students extract important facts and research from their various sources, they are typing their paraphrased notes into that same document using the bullet style format.  This way they focus on the key ingredients and not quantity.

While students are struggling with recording their process along the way, a few students are organizing the document in a way that makes sense to them.  Although we do want our students to own their learning and make responsible choices, if their way of recording their process is confusing to us as their teachers, is it an effective method?  My co-teacher and I chatted about that today and realized that right now, the focus is on gathering information and not a final, cohesive product.  Our goal next week is to meet with each student and conference with them about their document and its organization.  We will provide them feedback on their process and then give them a few more class periods to work and revise their process document before we formally grade it.  We’re hopeful, that this will help those few students who seem to be crafting a chaotic piece.  We also hope that these conferences will give us the chance to correct any falsities the students have about researching and the process involved.  We want to prepare these students for next year and beyond.  To do that, we need to be sure they know how to complete certain tasks well.  This is one way we can do that.

Is one method of gathering notes or research better than another?  Who knows, but what I do know is that choice is important.  We want our students to understand that there is always more than one way to solve a problem or complete a task.  Notetaking is one of those tasks.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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