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« Are you speaking where people are listening? | Main | BFTP: Why do research? »

Where to start improving research assignments?

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.


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Reader Comments (3)

I'm a big fan of Ban Those Bird Units and Designing Research Projects... One way I've gotten teacher buy-in is to present the project re-design as a way to plagiarism-proof the assignment. How can the project be re-designed so that it is interesting to the students and doesn't call for a possible cut-paste report as the product? What kind of product can the students create that shows they've researched and learned the facts but are presenting them in a creative way? Some of our teachers call this type of project a "multi-genre project" because the students can choose from a variety of formats for their presentations -- videos, songs, poetry, day-in-the-life of essays, artwork, position papers, etc. Now we're working in web 2.0 options too. Another strategy we use is to have the students choose what to do from a RAFT exercise - they choose their Role, Audience, Format and Task.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheri Dobbs

I am a high school English teacher and I am currently in grad school to become a librarian. The buy in for these types of projects is not a problem for me, but in my state (TN) there is a standard in every grade 6-12 that states the students will write an extended research paper. I give my students choice in their topics and try to make sure they are engaged, but I don't have the leeway to change the product. Any suggestions?

Oh, and did I mention that the standard is written verbatim for all 7 of those grades! So, in our state, 6th grade students are required to do the same thing as 12th grade students. Crazy.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAbby

Great suggestions, Cheri. Thanks!


Hi Abby,

I'd have to see the assignments, but there HAS to be some wiggle-room somewhere and still meet the spirit and letter of the law.


March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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