Here is another piece from my revision of The Indispensable Librarian. (Last week was very productive, thank you.) Your comments are welcome.
Elements of projects that motivate
Consider this scenario:
Ms Lu’s seventh grade health class must meet a state standard dealing with “preventable diseases.” Traditionally, she had asked her students to read a chapter in their textbook, held some classroom discussions, and required the students to write a short paper on a disease she assigned to each individual. There was a multiple-choice test at the end of the unit. Ms Lu always felt the students didn’t pay much attention to this important topic and quickly forgot anything they’d learned.
This year, at the urging of Mr. Ojampa, the librarian, Ms Lu decided to try a different strategy. Students:
- Surveyed their families to determine if there are any hereditary illnesses in their family and listed them.
- In small groups formed by family illness, the students worked with both Ms Lu and Mr. Ojampa to answer this question: “What are the best ways of reducing my chances of developing this disease?” Students had to use at least one print resource, one website, and one interview with a local health professional as part of their research. Mr. Ojampa introduced students to the new health subscription database and showed students how to access it from home using a link from the library website.
- Using checklists they and the librarian created as a guide, the students developed an oral presentation supported with a slideshow that helped communicate the supported answer to their question. The use of multi-media in the slideshow was worth extra-credit.
- Students gave the presentation to the class and posted their slideshow on a website that could be accessed and commented on publically.
- Teams did an assessment of the other teams’ presentations and did a self-assessment of their own slideshow using the checklists.
At the end of the unit, Ms Lu and Mr. Ojampa reviewed each project and their own efforts. They both agreed that students were concerned about both the quality of the information they used and the quality of their slideshow. Ms Lu felt she needed to improve the presentation rubric and figure out how to share the projects online in a less time-consuming way. Mr. Ojampa’s short survey of students after the conclusion of the project told him that the students found the new database useful in completing the assignment and were likely to use it again.
While an information/technology literacy curriculum is essential, its success will depend on the quality of the individual projects that support it. Good projects don’t just happen. They have some common elements that tend to group themselves into three categories:
Assignments that matter to the student:
- Motivational research projects have clarity of purpose and expectations. Students working on a project about a disease to which their family is prone, they could learn ways to avoid or mitigate its effect on their own lives. Ms Lu made sure the students knew that the purpose of the unit was not just learning about diseases, but also knowing how to evaluate information sources would be a skill useful to them for the rest of their lives. The checklists of expected quality criteria were given at the beginning of the assignments along with a timeline for completion. Students knew exactly what Ms Lu and Mr. Ojampa expected them to do.
- Motivational research projects give students choices. If the purpose of the assignment is to teach a basic understanding (that certain diseases can be avoided) or a set of skills (how communicate effectively using a slideshow), it doesn’t make any difference what the specific disease might be. Dig down and look at the core concepts that research assignments are trying to teach, and let the students pick a specific subject that interests them.
- Motivational research projects are relevant to the student’s life.For our students, osteoporosis or diabetes or heart disease are conditions only suffered by people who may be impossibly old (over 30). But by asking her students to interview their families, the teacher added real faces and lives to these diseases. The stories resonate with those doing the interviewing. So many times we ask our students to research important topics – environmental issues, historical issues, social issues - but fail to help them make the vital connection of why the findings are important to the people in town in which they live. Strive for projects that are relevant because they are timely, local, or personal.
- Motivational research projects stress higher level thinking skills and creativity. Think how different the results of a project that asks for a creative solution to a problem are from a paper that simply asks an “about” question. (List ten facts “about” strokes.) Find ways to move up Bloom’s taxonomy from the recall level to analysis, evaluation, and creativity. (“What are the three most important things a person can do to prevent having a stroke? Justify your rankings.)
- Motivational research projects answer genuine questions. At the beginning of the project, most students didn’t know their family’s medical history. They didn’t always know that some illness can be prevented. Ms Lu and Mr. Ojampa probably didn’t know these things either. Genuine questions are ones to which the teacher or library does not have a pre-conceived answer. Unfortunately, adults rarely ask questions to which they do not believe they already know the answer. Good projects try to answer only genuine questions.
Tomorrow: Activities that involve the researcher.