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By Chia Suan Chong for EtonX | August 2019

The skill of conducting research is an extremely useful life skill that can help students gather and analyse information, build knowledge, think critically and exercise their mind. It is a skill that benefits students beyond their academic life and enables students to understand the world around them better.

The wealth of information available to us and the ease of accessing it via our phones or laptops may make research seem like a straightforward task. But the sheer volume of sources and the dangers of fake news and media misrepresentation require students to develop the right skills to find what they are looking for. By teaching students to plan their research and judiciously consider the information they get, students can become better decision makers and influencers who can convincingly put forward an argument whether at school or in the workforce.

You might not yet offer research skills training for students (if you do, you might want to consider the EtonX Research Skills course), but here are ten things that you can do in your day-to-day lessons that can foster better research skills.

1. Encourage curiosity

Curiosity is a strong desire to know things and is a powerful driver of learning. Curious students will naturally ask questions that demand answers.

This hunger for knowledge can see students stepping outside their comfort zone and learning about the unknown. It is also said that curious people are better listeners and are more open to listening to other people’s ideas and perspectives, and not just their own.

What you can do

So, encourage questions, allow time for exploration and help students to enjoy the journey, and not just the destination.

 

2. Prioritise learner autonomy

Instead of presenting students with information on a platter, have students find out for themselves and get them to draw their own conclusions.  This may take a lot more time than simply spoon-feeding them with information, but the process will teach students to think for themselves, especially if you consider the fact that a lot of the information we impart to students may no longer be accurate or relevant by the time they are in the workforce.

What you can do

So, the next time a student asks you a question, ask them one right back and have them find things out for themselves. The answer might just be a lot more memorable that way.

teacher asking student question in class

 

3. Vary the ways students find out about things

Do your students turn to Professor Google every time they need to find out about something? Do they tend to click on the top answers that their favourite search engine presents them with and be satisfied that they’ve done their research on the topic?

Find opportunities to show students why relying on the same research method and resource can produce skewed results. There are a plethora of publications, search engines, online search methods that can inform students about what’s been previously explored.

What you can do

Encourage students to find out about things via a range of resources, including ones they are less familiar with. Then get them to build upon this existing knowledge by applying it to their context, conducting surveys, experimenting, or speaking in detail to someone of interest.

 

4. Help students exercise focus and practise goal-setting

 While it might be more straightforward finding out about the circumference of the earth or how food is digested in the human body, larger questions might require a more extensive research plan.

When confronted by the complexity of the different stages needed to piece together information about a topic, students might feel lost and not know where to start. During the process of their research, they might encounter other interesting pieces of information that might distract them and get them sidetracked. Having a main goal and smaller goals along the way can help them to stay focused.

Use the SMART model when helping students to set goals.

Goals, whether big or small, should be:

 

Specific

Measureable

Achievable

Realistic

Time-bound

 

What you can do

In your day-to-day lessons, encourage your students to practise setting mini goals and encourage them to fulfill them one at a time. And if your students start to get a bit overwhelmed, guide them along each stage and help them to focus on the smaller parts.

setting goals using SMART acronym

 

5. Have students practise time management

Do your students constantly complain that they have no time? Do they often come to class without having done their homework? Bad time management skills can impact badly when managing projects and doing extensive research.

In addition to goal setting (see above), students can better manage their time by learning to plan and by eliminating time-wasters (How many times have you heard students say ‘I don’t know’ when you asked them how they’d spent their weekend?)

What you can do

Get students talking how they spend their time and ask them to draw a pie-chart or a table depicting how their time is being divided during the week. Have them commit to set deadlines and get students working in teams so that a delay by one individual will impact on the other team members.

It is only with practice can we eliminate those bad habits and work on improving our time management skills.

 

6. Help students with reading strategies

The idea of research often puts some people off because it suggests ploughing through reams of academic texts and trying to make sense of what’s been written.

But reading can be made easier once we understand that the strategies we employ in reading for research purposes should not be the same as the ones we use to read a novel.

To begin with, we are less likely to read each word on every page. We might skim the text for gist, or scan it for specific information. We might use it to build on our existing knowledge on the topic or look for emerging themes.

What you can do

The next time your students read in class, set them tasks that ask them to choose a reading strategy and that hone their skimming and scanning ability.

 

7. Have students experiment with different note-taking methods

Some students choose to highlight chunks of texts in different colours, some choose to summarise chapters that they’ve read, and others copy out only what is relevant to their research question.

Then there are Mind Maps, Sketch Notes, the Cornell Method, the outlining method, the charting method, etc. Whatever the method, a good note-taking strategy can help students better absorb the information and retrieve it when needed.

What you can do

Watch how your students take notes the next time you’re in class. See if you can persuade them to experiment with a different note-taking method.

student highlighting important research notes

 

8. Use every opportunity to foster critical thinking skills

When conducting research, students need to be able to identify credible sources, understand the differences between opinion and fact, analyse arguments, and know when they are being manipulated.

In other words, students need to be equipped with critical thinking skills.

What you can do

Find every opportunity for students to practise their critical thinking skills and get students to question the information they get on a day-to-day basis.

Read my previous article here to find out more about how we can help students implement the skills of critical thinking.

 

9. Cultivate self-awareness

As well as being aware of other people’s subjective opinions, it is important that we help students to also be aware of their own subjectivity. We are all brought up with a certain view of the world, along with certain biases.

In order to analyse information objectively, we need to help students reflect on their beliefs and attitudes and encourage them to open their minds to other perspectives and ways of looking at things.

What you can do

The next time your students share their opinions or feelings about a topic, ask questions and get them to expand on what they’ve said. Without being confrontational, help them to cultivate an awareness of the foundations upon which they filter the information they receive.

 

10. Offer opportunities for students to share their findings

You’ve got your students to ask questions and they’ve found some answers. What do they then do with the answers?

Perhaps they share it with their group members or they write it up in a report that only their teacher gets to read. Either way, the long journey seems to end in an anti-climatic fashion with the assumption that the learning achieved from having done the research is enough to satisfy the students.

Giving students the space and platform to present their research and share their findings can be crucial to sustaining the motivation for future research projects. It also gives others the chance of benefitting from the student’s hard work and might inspire them them to do the same.

What you can do

The next time students come back with answers, consider having them present it in front of the class, share it with the school, record a podcast or write it up for a class blog or a school newsletter. If the extent of the research they’ve done is proportionate to the audience who benefit from those findings, the students are going to be more likely to embark on future research projects.

student presenting to peers

There are multiple research skills that can be practised through encouraging students to take on different stages of research in your classroom. And by spotting these opportunities for practice, you’ll be helping your students develop some essential life skills that will enhance their ability to answer those questions that life might throw at them.

If you deem research skills to be of importance to your students, you might also consider getting them to dedicate some time to a course focusing specifically on Research Skills, like this one by EtonX.

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