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Be Careful What You Ask For, It Is Sometimes Exactly What You Get

Written by Writing for Change
January 20, 2013

Sometimes we make assumptions about what our students know and are able to do in the digital world. I made that assumption this past week as we began our research projects. We carefully crafted our topic lists, and are still crafting our research questions. I turned them loose after a brief lesson on how to search for information about your topic. I was more concerned about having them create the right search terms to get them to the sites that would be beneficial. That didn't turn out to be much of an issue. Everyone got to a site that had information on their topic, but then we came to a standstill. Now what do we do?


As I walked around I noticed students were doing primarily three different things, surfing the web for a site, staring blankly at a web page with not much of an idea of what to do next, or in some cases, students created a document and began copying and pasting information directly from the site.  At first, I became frustrated, of course they knew what to do, we have been summarizing articles and literature for months. I just told them, go take notes, and make sure you cite your source. So of course they go out and do exactly what I said. They highlight, and put it on a page with quotations and a webpage citation if I was lucky. But it was obvious by the student reactions that what was done in whole group on paper, did not translate to digital research. They were not taking the time to think. Well of course not, I haven't taken the time to explicitly teach or model it.  They needed more support.


This project is different, everyone has their own research question. Even if their blog topic is similar, everyone has their own focus on what they want to learn about. This is a much higher level task, and therefore I need to step back, re-evaluate, and scaffold if I want my students to be successful researchers. I reviewed my plans from thess past few months, and I realized I have not done any explicit instruction on the differences between quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing and when to use each skill. In working with one article with the focus on summarizing the main idea, they know what to do. When asking them to select their own article for their own purpose, that is where the application of these skills we have been working on fell short.


So, I have created a week long review lesson on how to summarize, quote and paraphrase. I have posted the lesson at the end of this post using Slideshare. At the end of the powerpoint I listed all the sources I have visited to create this lesson. What a great teaching world we live in when we can access so many great ideas and lessons from teachers across the world. I think one of the greatest changes in my instructional planning is my use of internet resources. That is why I am having my students do their research project solely using digital sources. I truly believe that the majority of their research will be done this way as they move forward in their educational careers. Even their textbooks are beginning to show up on tablets, and their standardized tests will be done on computer in a few years. So  it is critical that they learn how to navigate this wealth of knowledge and most importantly learn how to cite what they use, and create their own imprint on the web. I want them to be creators of information, and not just the curators of the information of others. These lessons will again be taught and reviewed as the students read articles for their own research. Sometimes, you have to take a few steps back in order to move purposefully forward. 




Cross posted to Writing in my Hand