In the past, I taught the traditional research paper with several goals for my students. They learned how to find sources, determine their credibility, compile them, and report their findings. These are clearly all good skills; however, after conducting research in grad schools, I found this basic approach to be lacking the meat of what actually conducting research means.
Sure, they were finding information and learning to compile it, but that’s basically all they were doing. They didn’t have any stake in the topic. That’s why I devised a plan to make the research experience more meaningful. I also wanted to teach them that writing a report on a topic was only the beginning of the research project. The success of this new-and-improved project was more than I’d hoped for! In this blog post, I’m going to share how and why to teach your student to conduct scholarly research.
The Benefits for Teaching Scholarly Research Skills
Benefit 1: It’s Doable
There are many reasons to up the ante for this project. For one, it’s completely doable for any secondary grade level. With a little tweaking of topics and objectives, any student can benefit from this process.
Benefit 2: It Teaches that Research Is Rigorous
Next, I find this important because we often hear people throwing around the research, but not actually conducting research. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Do your own research” in the past year? More than we count, right? While there is nothing wrong with doing your own research, I question if most people, especially our students, have experience to know what academic, scholarly research actually entails. Just reading on a topic isn’t doing research. It’s reading. Reading is one small step in scholarly research, but it’s by no means the end of the process. Actually, it’s just the very, very beginning. On the other hand, research requires us to become experts on a topic through a sustained plan that follows protocols, such as the ones I’ve identified as my big goals for this project.
- Explore a relevant topic of their choice through research
- Report on their findings using a formal research writing style
- Propose their own research project to contribute to the research on the topic
- Collect data based on their chosen research method
- Report their findings
As you can see, this project is much more than reading. It’s also much more than reading and reporting, where most traditional research papers stop. Instead, this project teaches students a valuable lesson in today’s world: real research requires rigor.
Benefit 3: Buy-In Is Better
So, instead of just reporting on a topic, they are now contributing to the topic by conducting their own research. Therefore another benefit of this project is that it makes the buy-in to the project much more personal and successful. They’re not just reading about a topic and reporting their findings to submit for a grade. Instead, they’re doing it to learn about the topic, so they can conduct their own research.
Benefit 4: It Makes Cross-Curricular Connections
Finally, this project is a great way to make cross-curricular connections. In science courses, students often conduct experiments and write up lab reports. Therefore, this research project supports those methods. It’s also a great way to prepare students who are going to be writing in STEM courses at the post-secondary level.
Step 1 Choose the Topic
For this project, I suggest giving choice on their topic. Because buy-in is so important for a sustained research project, giving them a choice on something they’re interested in will go a long way.
Some students won’t have any idea where to begin, so it can be helpful to give parameters. I like to think of it as an umbrella. At the top is a general theme or idea, and then students can choose a topic they’re interested in within that umbrella. For my project, the overarching theme was education. Therefore, they had to pick a topic in education. Some examples are digital literacy, 1:1 learning, standardized testing, and dress codes.
Students have some working knowledge of these topics because they likely are impacted by topics in education. Also, these topics are evolving now, which makes it easier to find up-to-date research.
This is one reason I choose topics in education versus topics in literature. I’d much rather students writing literary analysis essays than research on literary topics.
Step 2: Write a Research Question
Next up, students should write a research question. What are they trying to discover? This step is vital because it teaches them that they’re answers will be guided by the data they collect, not their own personal biases.
Step 3: Teach Students Research Methods
Students don’t have to be scientists to learn research methods. In fact, there are many ways to collect data, including conducting an interview, holding a focus group, providing a survey, or collecting field notes through observations. One of the best parts of choosing education as a topic is that students can use their peers to collect data because their peers are likely experiencing the topics. This type of research is mostly qualitative data, but it works really well for secondary students.
Step 4: Write a Report of Research
This step is usually the beginning and the end of the traditional research project. They’ll need to explore their research topic from all angles in an objective way. Therefore, they’ll find credible resources and report what the research says. In scholarly research, this step is writing a review of literature, but it’s the same principles as writing a report.
In addition, since the purpose of this topic requires students to conduct up-to-date research on a topic in education, they use APA citations. If you’re curious about which research style to use, I wrote a blog post about each style and when they should be used. You can read that here.
If you’re looking for an engaging, meaningful way to teach APA or MLA, grab my free APA and MLA Race resource below:
Step 5: Designing an Instrument
The next step requires students to create their instrument to collect data. This can be a survey, questions for an interview, or a plan for collecting field notes. Either way, you can help guide them through this process by showing them examples of non-leading questions, questions that are objective and don’t lead someone to make a specific answer.
Step 6: Collect Data
Now, for the fun part, students can collect data from their classmates or other school officials. Because they’re doing a topic in education, it’s easy for them to find populations that make sense for their topics.
Step 7: Find Themes
Once they’ve collected their data, they have what they need to report their findings. They’ll be looking for common themes in their data. And, they’ll be looking for similar themes from what they found and what was expressed in the research.
Step 8: Report Their Findings
One of my favorite parts of this process is learning students’ results. If you’re concerned about the length and time it takes to grade, there are several important factors. For one, you can grade parts as you go. For example, you can give a score for the report of research so that part is done before they report their findings.
Also, because most students are invested in these topics, they can present their findings to the group. This makes grading the results much easier.
I am always impressed by the creativity and passion students display for this project. It can be a very rewarding experience for both students and you!
If you’d like more information on how I facilitate this project, check out my Scholarly Research Project Workbook.
Finally, you may also want to check out my professional development course, Grade School. Grade School is the only program of its kind that shows you how to plan and deliver effective writing instruction, and how to do it better and do it faster!