Monday, September 16, 2013

The Research Process: Now with More Detail!

Teaching the research process isn't anything new to me. Many of the classes I work with (especially those I work with in an embedded librarian capacity) request that "module" (which is what we call the lesson plans from the First-Year Core Seminar's recommended "menu" of sessions). When I most recently taught the research process session to one of my embedded Core Seminar I groups, however, I took a new approach (while building off of what we've previously used in our instruction). Why a new approach? Well, it came down to necessity. The class I was working with presented a few challenges:

  1. This semester was the first time the instructor had worked with first-year students, especially those outside her field of expertise.
  2. Within the student population there was a wide range of experience levels in regards to research, writing, and study skills.
  3. Usually the research process takes no longer than 20-30 minutes, with time to work at the end of class. This time, however, I had 1 hour and 20 minutes with the group, and was teaching in their classroom, not a computer lab.
  4. Even though I had only worked with this group of students once, I knew from visiting with the instructor, and from observing classroom behavior, that they would need a highly structured lesson in order to stay focused on the content. 

All of the steps below are included in more detail in the presentation (embedded at the end).

In order to further my understanding of the students' background knowledge and experience with research I began the class with some prewriting and reflection. I allowed them plenty of time to reflect and write, then had them partner up with someone next to them. Then I had them switch partners and talk to someone who was sitting across the room. This helped them realize the wide range of experience levels within their class, and it helped me learn more about the students as I wandered from group to group and listened. (I also had students turn in their papers so I could review them in more detail and discuss them with the course instructor.)

Then we discussed the steps of the research process and how to select or narrow your research topic. This is typically all I've done in the past, and then spent some time focusing on selecting a topic. Usually I have students brainstorm three possible topics and do some background searching to see how they want to explore that topic within the requirements of their paper or project. With this group I spent more time focusing on understanding the requirements of the paper (which had not been introduced or provided to the students before my class session), and study strategies/planning. With each required element for the paper, I also put a date next to it. I explained to the students that the dates listed were the class periods when we would discuss how to do each element, so if they didn't know what something was or were unsure how to go about completing a part of the assignment, that's okay! We're going to discuss it and learn how to do it on the dates listed.

I then provided them with a Research Progress Plan for them to write out on a calendar what they planned to do & when. Though it was only for this one project for this one class, I recommended they do this for all of their assignments and put the information in their planners. This way they could see when big deadlines are coming up for all of their classes and plan ahead in order to do well with all of them. After they took some time to plot out their action plan steps on their own, I showed them my detailed research plan and explained why I planned certain things at certain times. I think seeing the level of detail in my research plan helped the students understand that they are facing a new level of research and writing than what they have done in the past. Though we spent a lot of time focusing on study strategies rather than research strategies, I think it was something important we needed to cover in order for the students to have the foundation they need in order to be successful in their research.

In their reflective pieces they completed at the end of class I was encouraged that several students listed having a research plan as a new strategy they would use in their approach to the project. Others noted the research process as something that was new to them. Previously they had just picked a topic and started writing. I'm hoping that once they put their plan into action and follow the recommended steps of the research process they'll see that having this structure to help guide them helps make their research easier and helps them produce a better written product.

What is something new you've used in your classes that doesn't typically fall under your purview as an instruction librarian, but was something you knew the students needed anyway in order to be successful with the library concepts you were teaching?

This post originally appeared on the iLOVE blog, found here: