This is the first in a series of posts looking at ways to integrate research in a way that values teacher time for content.
“I know how to research. I can use Google.”
“I know where I found the picture: Google Images.”
“I read it on the internet. It’s legit.”
Chances are you’ve heard something similar to one or all of the statements above from a student during classroom research time. As educators, we know there is so much more to research, yet we still fight the “research = google” battle. Not only are there multiple sources of information, but researching as a skill requires the ability to annotate, organize, evaluate, and cite sources. Where to start?
Fortunately, Common Core ELA standards are packed with research standards integrated into ELA writing standards. They increase in complexity by grade, but the research in writing standards view from the top is summarized by the following standards:
Even if you’re not an ELA teacher, these ELA standards translate to other content areas. Some areas, such as History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, have their own Common Core State Standards as well.
Even though the skill of researching is vital for our students, it can still feel like just one more thing, especially in classes filled to the brim with content standards. There is always a quest for balance in teaching content and skills we know our students need. The best way to balance the two is by teaching skills in tandem with the content. More than time, teaching research skills as part of the curriculum primarily requires two things: intention and accountability. Time can be found. We take the time to teach students how to use a new tech tool. We take time to teach students how to navigate new online portals. We make the time to teach students essential organization and time management skills. We need to be intentional and accountable in teaching and supporting research and information literacy skills.
The following are six ways I’ve used intention and accountability to make time for research. If you need support in implementation reach out to your school librarian to help!
1.Teach and Promote Basic Search Operators
Intentional: Search operators are words and symbols you can add to your search to help limit search results to those more likely to give you information you want. For example, if you type “site:corelaboratewa.org + research” into a Google search you are telling the search engine you want to search for the word “research” on the website corelaboratewa.org. You can use this technique anytime you want to search by just domans, too! An example might be “site:.gov + ‘Civil War’” to get sites about the Civil War, but only from .gov websites. Here are some examples of search operators that I’ve found especially beneficial in the classroom:
Accountable: Often we see projects where students have to find information from “reliable sources” or even more specifically, from .edu or .gov websites without clearly showing them how to find these sources. When we teach students these skills we are setting them up for future success researching on their own.
Time required: Spend 10-15 minutes at the beginning of the year when students are first going online and reinforce throughout the year.
2.Promote Copyright-Free Images
Intentional: Just because an image appears on the internet does not mean it is part of the public domain or falls under the category of fair use. It’s important as teachers that we share with students how to find copyright-free images and how to give credit to the creators of those images (also #3 below). Here are a few examples of websites you can visit to find high quality, copyright-free images: Unsplash, Pexels, Creative Commons Search, Pixabay, Burst by Shopify, Gratisography, Library of Congress Online
Accountable: Students need to be reminded often to cite images. Not only is it the legal thing to do, but it also gives recognition to the artist and helps others find the image. Remember that even if you do get an image from one of the sites above, you still need to leave a citation. It’s important as teachers that we also model appropriate image use. Figure 2, below, shows an example of citing an image.
Time required: Spend 10 minutes introducing students to some of these sites the next time you are requiring students to find images as part of a project or lesson. I could also see this as a beginning of the year activity. Teachers could have students find pictures that describe themselves to help them learn more about their students.
Intentional: Take the time to make sure students know how to create a citation. With so much information found online, sites like EasyBib, Citation Machine, and BibMe make citing our sources so much easier. I always remind students that sites like EasyBib are great, but they aren’t magic. Show students how to fill out a complete citation from the information they have about the article or website.
Accountable: Too often we only require citations for large projects. However, keeping students accountable throughout the year is important. Add it to your rubric, but look for it anytime students are being asked to find information online. We can create good habits by asking them where they found their information. Requiring citations establishes positive norms for students in the future as they move through high school, college, and beyond. Having evidence to defend your arguments is only part of the battle. Students need to show where they found the evidence and give credit to those who created the original work.
Time required: Most of the time needed for this is in the reinforcement. A short activity or lesson with your librarian can be a great way to start the conversation and help you sharpen your skills in holding students accountable.
4.Evaluate Websites – often
Intentional: We show students websites all the time. We have them go to websites. They assume the information is reliable because the teacher is sharing the source. Have you ever asked yourself how you know a website is reliable or explained to your students how you know it’s reliable? Below is a checklist (Figure 3) I created based off of a method developed by Alan November in his book “Web Literacy for Educators.” There are other similar acronyms to help evaluate information, but I find this simple acronym works well for websites. Using a checklist like this to get students started also helps students improve their ability to explain why a source is reliable.
Accountable: We’ve seen a rise in fake news and sites on the web. Teachers need to model using reliable sources and the more we have students practice the better their own skills will become. One way of holding students accountable is shown in #6 below.
Time required: Students need time to practice, but the more they are exposed to it the more natural it will become to them.
5.Evaluate Current Event Reporting
Intentional: Teaching current events as a part of the curriculum is a valuable way to draw real-world connections to your content. Helping students understand bias and perspective in reporting is just as important. Use a site like allsides.com to see how issues are presented from different sides of the political and social spectrum.
Accountable: Whether it’s ELA, History, STEM, or another subject area, finding ways to connect your class to the world around them makes the learning more relevant for students.
Time required: This could be a daily, weekly, monthly check-in depending on your class structure.
6.Provide a Space for Student Research
Intentional: We want our students to research. Give them a space to do it. This may be a place in student notebooks, a document in Google Classroom, or a page in your OneNote class notebook. Regardless of the tool, think about where you can provide a space for students to track research throughout the year.
Accountable: This is a big part of the accountability piece for the tips above. Giving students a space to track and organize their research will also give you a chance to check and hold them accountable and provide feedback.
Time required: It takes almost no time to create this space.
When you have students organize, think about what information is going to help them and help you. As an example, connecting to #1 above, sometimes I want students to explain how they found information by telling me which search operators they used. This table gives me a space to tie it all together. I can assess not only what they found, but how they found it, and how they know it’s reliable. You may also want to add a column for students to keep track of the citation!
Try one. Try them all. What else can you do to improve the research and information literacy skills of your students to prepare them for future success?