I got asked this question at a workshop I was doing last week. We were discussing research and relevance and HOTS and creativity and technology and other good stuff when a librarian asked:
But the assignments that are in the curriculum and that the teacher wants to do are very traditional. How do we get around that?
Not an uncommon question and I don't have a sure-fire answer. But something librarians should try would be to work with individual students to improve individual research assignments. Some ideas for kids who seem to be struggling:
- Ask the student what things they are interested in and then find a way to synthesize that into the required topic. (I have to write about WWII, but my interest is in video games. Topic: How historically accurate are the top selling video games set in WWII?
- Help make the topic local. (I have to write a paper about an animal. What animals do you see in your own backyard that look interesting?)
- Help make the topic personal. (I have to write about a disease. Does your family have any health problems that might be hereditary you might research.)
- Find a way to encorporated technology. (Why don't you try embed original video in a wiki/GoogleDoc/webpage as a part of your final project?)
David (Ban Those Bird Units) Loertscher and I (Designing Research Projects Students - and Teachers - Love) have both written about improving the quality of research. I think we librarians KNOW what we can do improve the quality of the assignments. The question is - how do we get teacher buy-in?
Start with individuals and then talk to the teacher about what you did AFTER the assignment has been turned in. Students you helped should have been more successful. Suggest that next assignment, you might work with the whole class using these strategies when everyone is getting started.
It's just so crazy it just might work.
Positive subversion - we need to practice more of it.