We have all the information we need at our fingertips, right?
Well, sort of. Thanks to the internet, there’s plenty of information out there. But students still need to be taught how to use that information responsibly.
My high school sophomores write a research paper using MLA endnote citation, and it’s not their first. Our high school requires an acceptably written research paper each year, and our students move on well prepared. It’s not an easy task for students or teachers — lots of grading, as you can imagine.
How do you successfully teach research techniques? Here are some suggestions:
1. Consider your students’ level and ability. Ours is a unit school (PK – 12), and research techniques are introduced in the lower school. Don’t expect students to know it all, obviously. Consider this a building block project; raise the bar a bit every year.
2. Break the project down into bite-sized bits, and communicate the schedule clearly.
3. Communicate your source expectations clearly and early. If using internet sources, teach students how to discern between the good and the bad.
4. Check student work each step of the project so you can catch big problems while they can be more easily fixed. It’s a lot easier for a student to fix source problems early than it is when the weight of typing the entire paper is on his shoulders.
5. Be flexible but consistent. Flexible with those of differing abilities and those with less exposure to this kind of project. Consistent with deadlines, especially with those familiar to the project. If you start moving deadlines around, it’s harder for the students and the teacher.
6. Talk about the problem of plagiarism, and take it seriously. CBS News did a great story on the subject, and Youtube has a number of good videos you can show your students. Watch and pick one that will speak to them.
7. Be sure your students understand documentation at the appropriate level – or they’ll find themselves plagiarizing. Show them how to give credit where credit is due. Choose the method that will work best for you and your students and give them examples. There are many websites that show examples and some that even put the information into citation form for you, but choose one for your students so they can be sure they’re following your instructions.
8. Reward them on the day the paper is due! A research paper is a lot of work. Your students will have learned a valuable skill and worked hard, so bake some them brownies!
No matter what field they enter, all our students will have to handle information. They’ll have to discern between credible and bogus sources, and as people of character, they should all know how to give credit where credit is due.
What about you? Do your students undertake a research project? Share some of your suggestions with us.