As we continue to move forward in an ever-changing society, learning to find valid and reliable information is crucial. Being an elementary school teacher, it can seem overwhelming or impossible to accomplish the task of teaching students how to research safely and effectively. For the last few weeks student research has been at the front of my mind. How can I teach my students to research when it’s something I am not always comfortable with myself? Knowing there is so much information out there vetted and unvetted makes this become a daunting task. To start my journey, I considered ISTE student standard 3. I focused mainly on two indicators:
3a Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
3b students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility, and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
I started my research by looking for ways teachers have taught research to their students. I came across an article from Carnegie Mellon University titled Students don’t know how to do research. The title immediately grabbed my attention because that is also how I feel. It was comforting to know that my classroom is not the only place where this is a challenge. As I continued reading I found that this was mostly talking about older students, but I found most of what was there could easily be applied to an elementary setting. Thankfully, they also provided some strategies we can use to help students learn to research. The first one seemed so obvious, yet something I haven’t had my students do before. It talks about giving students a pre-assessment of their research skills. This would look different in every classroom. In my own classroom, a pretest with the purpose to find out if students can distinguish “fake news” from factual information would be very useful. Creating a pretest like this is on my to do list.
Another strategy that was shared was partnering with the library. Of course, our school has a library, but this made me think of the possibilities of partnering with our local library. They already come into our classrooms every year to tell our students about reading programs they have, why not build a stronger relationship by showing students libraries are still useful places to go for information and not just for books? We also strive to have community outreach and connections at our school, and this seems like an idea that would mesh really well with my own goals.
The next resource I found was specifically geared toward elementary students. A line that stood out to me said “elementary school is when kids first begin to learn how to learn” (np.). Of course, we should be teaching them how to research in elementary school. They continued to give five ways teachers can help improve these skills in students:
- Define the task – talk with your students about exactly what they should be looking for and how to get results.
- Discover key words – teach students what keywords are and how to use them to find information they’re looking for
- Use appropriate tools – try using appropriate search engines for the kids, such as Sweet Search
- Teach about source hierarchy and evaluation – go through examples of source types with students and how to determine what information is best
- Take notes and compile information – teach them how to record the most important information and how to cite their sources
Fundamental Skills Students Need
From the article I mentioned above, I was directed to more links like what I found. From here I found an article titled “Web Research Skills: Teaching Your Students the Fundamentals”. Now you may have gathered that I love lists with ideas on how to help students. This article did not disappoint. What I really focused on was where they share basics students need to search successfully. They listed:
- Good listening skills – idea that students are more used to oral/spoken information than written
- Lack of focus – their attention is pulled in many directions and it can be hard to focus
- Lack of familiarity – students may not realize there are databases that can help them with academic searches
- Poor writing skills – lacking ability to transfer what was researched into writing
Looking at this list I realized that these are areas where I am already battling with my students and trying to help them improve. The good teaching strategies that are already happening require students to focus, critically think and write things down; these can all be connected with research, making the project of teaching them how to research less daunting. The article continues with a list of how to help students develop research skills, which I will not copy down but you can go look for yourself. They are straightforward and something teachers of all ages can incorporate into their classrooms.
Lists of what to do are great. Articles that support the need to teach students effective and safe research are great. Finding tools you can use to do this with is even better. In my searching, I have found some digital tools that can be used in the education setting to help students with their research. Not all of these tools need to be used to teach students research, but they’re a great place to start for ideas.
No downloads needed here. Type Sweet Search into your search bar, and you will be taken to the website. This is a search engine designed for students. It uses google to search vetted and “whitelisted” websites. Drawback – there are still sponsored/ad websites so it will still be important to teach students about the purposes of websites.
My school district has PebbleGo so it is already set up for us. It is a kid-friendly database for younger students. I think it would be best for primary grades. It is set up in categories, and provides simple/straightforward information to students. The only drawbacks I found was it is limited on the information it has and is a paid program.
We also have PebbleGo Next, which is designed for more intermediate grades. I would recommend for 4th-5th. Again, the information is clear and straightforward to students. It also includes a way to cite information which is great practice for kids. The drawback again is that it is limited in information and is a paid program.
I have not used this one with my students yet, but if you are looking for a place for students to supplement classroom instruction and to give students a chance to practice personalized learning, this is the place. It is free. Drawback for me was that I could not link my google classroom that is already set up.
This is like EasyBib, but a little more user friendly for younger students, and is free. It will keep track of all citations for you in your browser so students do not need to go back and forth. Teachers will need to teach students how to tweak auto-generated citations.
Teaching research to students is something that we must do. We live in a world where information is readily available but not always accurate. There are many resources out there that can be used to help during the process and even more tools that have been designed to help teachers and students.
Common Sense Media. (2014, September 24th). Research and Citation Tools for Students.Common Sense Education. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/research-and-citation-tools-for-students
Feature image retrieved from Flat vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com
Hertz, Mary Beth. (2012, January 13th). Doing Internet Research at the Elementary Level. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/elementary-research-mary-beth-hertz
ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Jones, Chris, and Gregor Kennedy. (2011, June 12th). Stepping beyond the Paradigm Wars: Pluralist Methods for Research in Learning Technology. Research in Learning Technology, vol. 19, 2011. Retrieved from https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/727/951
The Room 241 Team. (2013, April 25th). Five Ways to Teach Research Skills to Elementary School Children. Concordia University-Portland. Retrieved from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/five-ways-to-teach-research-skills-to-elementary-school-children/
The Room 241 Team. (2013, May 20th). Teaching Students Fundamental Web Research Skills. Concordia University-Portland. Retrieved from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/research-skills-teaching-your-students-the-fundamentals/
University, Carnegie Mellon. Explore Strategies – Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved fromhttps://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/strat-cantresearch/cantresearch-01.html