Research: A Learning EXPERIENCE For a Student

Guest Author: Cheryl Stepp
4th Grade Language Arts & Social Studies Teacher |Lemm Elementary

I have the same story as thousands of other teachers across the state. I’m a fourth grade teacher whose class is filled with a beautiful mixture of GT students, on grade students, and students with challenges. Even with so many combinations of genius, I still have one frustrating issue I face year after year — getting ALL my students to do a quality research project to the best of their ability.

Right before Christmas break, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 Texas Association for the Gifted & Talented (TAGT) Conference here in Houston, and I saw research clarity! Judy O’Neal, Advanced Academics Director at Cosenza & Associates, LLC, explained that many teachers are frustrated with research projects just like me. She went on to clarify that teachers don’t spend enough time teaching the process of research. After all, how can we expect our students to produce a sophisticated product if we don’t teach them how to research for a sophisticated product?

O’Neal shares that a sophisticated product…

  • is based on strong guiding questions.
  • is interesting to the audience and makes the listener think.
  • has information that is collected from reliable primary and secondary sources.
  • has content that includes elements of depth and complexity.
  • has a researcher that knows their research and can talk about it using the language.

I expected O’Neal to say that the student research is step one and the presentation is step two. To my surprise, that wasn’t the case. O’Neal went into depth and explained that all research projects, including the Texas Performance Standard Project (TPSP) for gifted students, have 2 phases. Teachers tend to skip, or rush through, the first step so that the students can get to their own research! The phases for classroom research are: Phase 1 — Learning experiences for the student; and Phase 2 — Students complete independent research.

Since Phase 1 is the component that tends to be overlooked, O’Neal shared the following key points to consider:

  1. Phase 1 is the research process that YOU, student and teacher, do together. It will be teacher led so that you can have mini lessons throughout on “how-to” complete research tasks.
  2. Use the opportunity to teach students the research process by modeling research with a simple, teacher selected topic such as “cats” or “school rules” or ideas from the content being studied in class.
  3. Discuss and compare the different primary and secondary resources out there that can be used for research (not just Google). Use research links with your class so that they can see how to use them during their research.
  4. Explain how important it is to learn and use the vocabulary associated with the topic (and use this opportunity to throw in some other vocabulary that goes beyond our TEKS)
  5. Learn how to delve deeper into what they are researching by developing guiding questions that can lead to complexity within the content.
  6. SPEND TIME ON THIS PHASE! Remember that all of these skills need to be taught — often more than once!
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