Asking a student to go home and research on a topic taught in class is like taking her to the door of the library and asking her to go in and start researching for the assignment that you have set for her.
She may need to be guided to begin her search first by locating the library’s analogue or online catalogue, searching by name of author or book, by collection etc. Similarly, it is important to teach students how to search for resources online.
Students have to be taught research skills and not just expected to research and report. The strategy that always worked for me when initiating the students into research work was to organize a Skill Development Workshop spread over two days for all students and new teachers.
With sessions on
- Research and referencing
- Data collection and analysis
- Academic writing
- Academic honesty
What also can be added to this is
- Research planning
- Note taking skills
- Reflection writing
But first things first
For junior and middle school students it would serve you well to have the Safe Search on on google, bing, and U-Tube. It may not be a fool proof system but it is the first line of defense for protecting students from encountering adult sites, videos with violent content etc.
How about safe sites
Instead of encouraging students to start with google as their first step, perhaps directing them to sites that you would like them to refer to would be a better idea. Teachers can create a pre-screened repository of sites identified for them containing material relevant to their field of research that year for them to search for the information that they are looking.
Learning skills of curating, summarizing, paraphrasing and footnoting could very well be the starting point for teaching research and referencing skills to students.
Furthermore, teachers of junior school could also restrict their students to safe-sites that have been identified for them. Safe-sites have age appropriate filters and curated content that could be a good starting point. Some safe sites that teachers could use with students are:
How do you start?
Encourage students to first understand what they are wanting to search. If they are working on an assignment or are searching for literature data to support their experimental data in a science report, they should create a story board on a chart paper or use post-its to put down what they would like to research and the key terms they would use to refine their search. Writing down their plan and identifying the specific research that they need to engage in will keep them on clearly specified targets saving time.
The next step is to teach them how to refine their search. How to use operatives to filter the results. It is a skill that must be taught before students begin with online search. Students need to build their search toolkit for efficient and focused search. You can read about this and also complete a course with Google Search Education yourself and get your students to register for the same. In fact, the site also has search literacy lesson plans that can be used by parents and teachers alike. You can read more about these here and more on the infographic given below here.
Is this site credible?
Once the students have understood how to begin with their search, it is important they know the difference between credible information, opinions and advertisements. They must try and cross check information on a couple of more sites. To compare two sites it is easy if they are open on the same browser side by side. To do that, right clicking on the link and select ‘open link in new tab’. This way they can easily navigate between sites.
I am adding here this checklist for checking the authenticity of a site that I happened to come across fairly recently. It is helpful and can easily be adjusted to suit the age of the student.
Acknowledging the sources is a critical step that students need to be cognizant of. Understanding and practicing academic honesty must start from junior school with layers of complexity added as they move up through school. Kathy Schrock’s document is another valuable resource that teachers of junior school can use to teach students referencing skills.
Students in high school can bookmark the sites that they have referred to for their research, they can create an excel file to list the name of site, key words of the info taken and date they accessed their site for creating their bibliography. Students can use Citation Generator or easybib.com to help them with creating citations later.
Skill building starts in school. Understanding and committing to values of fairness and responsibility is critical for a successful academic life.
It is never too early to understand that.