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Research: Smaller tasks, more often

Brain research shows that permanent learning only takes place when research activities are assigned frequently enough that students can exercise and develop the essential skills of critical reading, writing, higher-order thinking, and presenting ideas and opinions with a purpose.

Brain research also shows that these activities must be related to student interests about their world and provide the opportunity for them to develop their own “reasoned opinions” based on researched facts and expert opinions. This desired learning is impossible to do for all students when schools depend on the “term paper” as their only research strategy.

A recent study of Social Studies teachers indicates that the age of the term paper is rapidly disappearing and being replaced by shorter and more frequent types of mini-research. Education Week – November 20, 2002.

We too often think of information problem-solving in the context of huge projects or term papers, when most of us in both our work and personal lives use information problem-solving skills everyday. How can we give our student’s everyday practice with information literacy skills? Some suggestions are below.

  1. Use the Internet to check the weather forecast and make a recommendation about dress for the next day.
  2. Search and report an interesting fact about the author of the next story being read by the class.
  3. Email students in another class to ask their opinions on a discussion topic.
  4. Recommend a movie or television show to watch the coming weekend.
  5. Find two science articles that relate to the current science unit. Evaluate the credibility of the sources of information.
  6. Locate a place from a current news headline on an online map resource like <>.
  7. Recommend a book to a classmate based on other books that classmate has read using the school’s library catalog or an Internet source.
  8. Update the class webpage with interesting facts from units studied and links to related information on the web.
  9. Estimate the number of calories and fat grams in the meal served in the cafeteria that day.
  10. Find a “quote of the day” on a specific topic and use a graphics program to illustrate and print it out. (from Everyday Problem-Solving, Sept 2002)

My sense is that most teachers could easily create a "information task of the day" type activitity - or the librarian could supply one to the entire school for the daily bulletin. We don't rely on big "reading" projects or "math" projects or "writing" projects to teach these essential skills. Why do we rely on big "research" projects to teach those essential skills?

Think small. Think more often. Think real life questions.


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Reader Comments (3)

This sounds like the perfect argument for student blogging or journal writing. I'm convinced that my blog, in all its erratic glory, will keep my brain cells charged for a few extra years!

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdiane

Little and often, a strategy I always recommend. Those are great suggestions, thanks. I'll definitely try more of that this coming school year. One cool thing we did this past year in my class was read a series of adventure books in which the main characters traveled the country. We plotted out their journey on Google maps which really engaged my students.

June 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

Agreed. Nice post and ideas. This reminds me of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Start small and break tasks down. Build the big report "bird by bird."

June 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrwentechaney

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