Thursday, December 5, 2013

Are You Ready for Some Research?

The Expert Files
  Moving from Plagiarized to Synthesized

Planning and staging the research campaign.

               From studying the CCSS, it’s more than obvious to see why teachers need to be teaching and engaging students in research as early as Kindergarten. My reasoning for today’s blog is two-fold: 1) I am in the process of creating my Animal Experts’ unit to be sold on Teachers Pay Teachers so student research is on my mind, and 2) I know that at some point during winter break—after presents have been purchased, wrapped, unwrapped, and put away—teachers will earnestly begin thinking about the months ahead. 

               For many, you will carve out sacred pockets of time during winter break--finding long awaited and much deserved moments to devote yourself to some quality planning. There is something mysteriously powerful about stepping away (even if just for a few days) to then return and plunge yourself back into a teacher life.  From even the most brief mental and physical getaways, we rebound quickly.  Refreshed. With revitalized energy we have the ability to create dazzling lessons to brighten those dreary lack luster winter months ahead.

               As you begin to nurture and rekindle your teaching spirit later this month, I am betting and hoping you contemplate having your students engage in some classroom research. Perhaps, today's blog will help focus your thoughts in that direction. First, let's take a peek at those Reading and Writing Common Core standards (and portions of standards) which both support student research and make it a curricular non-negotiable at all grade levels.

Reading Anchor Standards
Key Ideas and Details
Common Core Standard 1:  Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Common Core Standard 2:  Determine central ideas of a text and summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Craft and Structure
Common Core Standard 4:  Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical meaning. 
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
Common Core 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
Common Core Standard 10:  Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Writing Anchor Standards
Texts Types and Purposes
Common Core Standard 2:  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Production and Distribution of Writing
Common Core Standard 4:  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Common Core Standard 5:  Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
Common Core Standard 6:  Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge
Common Core Standard 7:  Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
Common Core Standard 8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
Common Core Standard 9:  Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Range of Writing
Common Core Standard 10:  Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Our Animal Experts’ Project  

            Knowing there was a strong, recurrent research thread within the Common Core my teaching buddy, Dinah, and I embarked on a research project with her second graders during spring, 2013.  We sketched out a 3-4 week research unit, planning backwards from a culminating event of collaborative oral presentations. With no prior experience, we were excited and nervous to step outside our comfort zone. Step 1--fasten seat belts!

               Much more important than a final written product, an oral presentation, or a grand moment was our goal to create an engaging, authentic setting for students to think analytically about a topic of their own choosing. In order for them to write an informational report and begin to grow their expertise, students needed direct instruction on the how-to. They needed to know how to capture, sort through, categorize, and organize their information. Our bigger, much more idealistic goal was for the students to sprout and begin to grow their self efficacy, a legitimate empowerment earned from being labeled an “Expert.
      This was an excellent and wonderfully successful project. Was it perfect? Heck no! Through reflection and additional reading I now see shades of gray areas that could easily be finessed to improve and maximize the students’ learning experience. Some components were completely revamped. Student research projects are tricky. It's another one of those prickly basics such as analytic reading or writing a summary that many of us were regularly assigned to do but not necessarily instructed.  Armed with CCSS and all of our current collective wisdom we now know the buck stops with us. Right here. Right now. If we teach it they will learn. 

               Here is just a small taste, a sampling, of our research project to ignite your thinking and inspire you to consider a research project/report with your students. 
OUR DAY #1 - Defining Terms

Used Under Creative Commons
Students need to have a basic understanding of research. What it is and how important those questions really are? How you do it? Why you do it?

Used under Creative Commons

Students need to know what plagiarism is. How important it is NOT to do. How to avoid it AND what the consequences are if you do it.

Students need to have a conceptual understanding of being an expert. How does one become an expert-- in any field? It helps if you are very, very interested in the topic, but to be called an expert is no easy feat. It takes perseverance and lots of hard work.

Students Make Tough Decisions
Not Fair! I Only Get to Choose One?  
               With so many resources available I was lucky to find the Defenders.Org  website (thank you for the link, Kelly Villalobos). On this website viewers are able to scroll through an entire catalog of 80 animals. We went through the entire catalog in less than15 minutes. During this time, the students were able to see a picture of each animal, perhaps, learn a quick fact or two, and were also able to create an on-going list of those animals they might want to know more about. This was the beginning of 20 lessons that brought the students closer to becoming experts.  

               I thought I would share some pictures of our project along with some helpful tips to  jumpstart your thinking. The Animal Experts' Unit will be available through Teachers Pay Teachers within the next couple weeks--barring illness, power outages, or technology hiccups. In addition, my research projects and inquiry boards on Pinterest hold many treasures.

Researchers do lots and lots of reading.

SUCCESS TIP: The students need many books and other sources of information at their independent reading level. This is going to take some planning and time on your part. Don't forget to use your librarian's expertise. Give the librarian as much advance notice as possible.

Researchers search for details to answer their questions and take notes.

SUCCESS TIP: There are so many steps involved in research. As teachers, we must stay the course and remain vigilant of our students' progress. Note-taking needs to be modeled more than once. No drive-by instruction. Identify and stay focused on your ultimate goal which is insuring their success and students seeing themselves as experts.
Researchers use their notes to summarize the information learned.

SUCCESS TIP: The writing of the research can be laborious for some students. Don't let them continue too far without having read their work and providing feedback. Make it a personal goal to read every student's writing each day during this phase. After reading, pre-plan your teaching points. This is vital to expanding their writing skills and deepening students' understanding of how to transform notes into well written summaries.
Researchers organize their information in a way that makes sense.
SUCCESS TIP: Each student organizes in different ways. For this project the students created their Table of Contents after their writing. This seemed to help all of the students. A 2-pocket folder for each student saved the day. The students' work was kept safe and wrinkle free.

Researchers need to share their research and teach others.

SUCCESS TIP:  Having the students create collaborative murals within their research group was a perfect learning activity after they had completed their individual written reports. It served as the dessert after eating all of your vegetables. Not enough attention was paid to art. If the students had begun their investigation/research with a labeled drawing of their topic it might front-load and better support their learning and note-taking with them paying closer attention to details. Perhaps, it would have helped them when it came time to formulate genuine and meaty research questions.
Researchers make sure they can articulate their knowledge so others will understand.

SUCCESS TIP:  The students had limited experience with oral presentations. However, it was by far their favorite phase of the research project. When they learned they would be presenting to someone other than their classmates the bar was raised. Make sure you have a working video camera. The research presentations were absolutely precious.

               I hope to have whetted your appetite for tackling an extended research project with your students. If I were still in the classroom I would strive for at least one if not two extended research projects combined with many mini research-based inquiries during the school year. Beginning on the very first day of school I would launch a campaign for students to persevere, hang tough and to focus. These are the bricks and mortar for becoming an expert. 

               Once again, I express my thanks to Ed Ewing for his interview in my last blog. I knew you would find his story inspirational. Over 800 people visited Saturday Morning Coffee! Thank you so very much for paying us a visit. Please stay with us since there is so much more coming in the new year. I will post on Facebook when the research unit is for sale on TPT. Hopefully, very soon. For those of you facing severe weather I literally feel your pain here in Northern Arkansas. I am posting early this week thinking we might not have electricity much longer. 
What ever weather comes our way, I wish you a very Happy Saturday.


  1. I can't take all of the credit. I think Mary Borba pointed me to that site. I am so excited to know that you will be posting a lesson on TpT. I am starting an animal unit in ELD and will then be moving into more animal research in the spring, with science. I have been working on research writing ideas. I can't wait to see what you come up with.

  2. Yes, Mary Borba always deserves major credit. She remains one of my Turlock heroes. Defenders is a very usable site but I think the info is higher than independent level so it would make perfect, make that super perfect, guided reading material. I am glad you will be doing research with your class this spring. (That automatically sparks a very FUN, Collaborative) idea). But, I must maintan focus on getting this done and not get off on too many other roads. I think the unit should be very fun!! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. They always brighten my day. Take care. Cathe