Train Your Students to Think Like Researchers

While reading Katrina Schwartz’s article titled “How Helping Students to Ask Better Questions Can Transform Classrooms,” I was struck by the line “many older students have forgotten how to ask their own questions about the world, afraid that if they wonder they will be wrong.” When do kids lose the curiosity that drives them to ask so many questions as children? Why are they so afraid of being wrong? How do we inspire older students to take risks, ask bold questions, and seek their own answers?

These are questions every educator should be asking. As Schwartz points out, “good questioning may be the most basic tenet of lifelong learning and independent thinking.” The Right Question Institute published a resource on the Question Formulation Technique™ that teachers can access if they want to learn how to support their students in generating questions to drive research and learning.

Once students learn a clear strategy to develop questions, they must become researchers able to find answers. In most classrooms, the closest students get to research is using the Google Search engine, but that is only one strategy for gathering information. As a doctoral student in the middle of what feels like endless research, I believe it is valuable to teach students to extend their data collection beyond an online search.

Before students begin conducting research, they should ask themselves, “What type of information am I looking for?” Do they want to collect data in the form of numbers to understand the extent of a problem? Are they trying to explore why something happens or understand a behavior? The answers to these questions will inform the types of research techniques they will employ.

Too often students rely entirely on someone else’s research, data, and analysis. They do not feel empowered to collect and analyze their own data. However, if we want our students to think like researchers, we need to provide them with the tools necessary to conduct real research. Gathering their own data to complement online research has the following benefits:

  • It actively engages them in the research process as collectors of data.
  • It requires that they learn how to leverage tools beyond a simple Google search to understand a problem, issue, or phenomenon.
  • It demands critical thinking and analytical skills.
  • It develops technical skills (e.g., learn to use an online survey tool) and soft skills (e.g., practice interview skills).
  • It increases interest in the topic and investment in the quality of the report, infographic, or presentation on findings.

Thanks to technology and the internet, it is easier than ever for students to collect their own data. Students can:

  • Design surveys Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or Zoho.
  • Use voice memos or another audio recording app to capture data collected in interviews.
  • Skype, Google Hangout, or Zoom with people who may not be able to meet face-to-face for an interview.
  • Record video during observations.
  • Connect with experts via social media.

If students learn how to generate questions and conduct research to answer those questions, they are more likely to take that researcher mindset into the world and continue learning long after they have left our classrooms.

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Playlists: A Path to Personalizing Learning

One reason I am such a big advocate for blended learning is that using the various models allow me to spend more time on the aspects of my job that I enjoy and feel are most valuable for students. I don’t want to waste precious class time talking at my students. I want to sit next to them and coach them as they develop skills and apply new information. I want to provide real-time feedback and conference with students about their progress. I want to engage in side-by-side assessments so students understand where they are excelling and where they need to spend time practicing to improve their skills. Using playlists is one strategy that allows me to accomplish all of these goals!

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

When I design a playlist, I always start with a template. I include all of the activities that I believe MOST students will benefit from then I customize individual playlists to ensure that students who need additional scaffolding receive it and those who are ready for next challenge get it.

My playlists mix the following elements:

  • Screencasts
  • Offline activities
  • Video explanations and instruction
  • Online quizzes
  • Personalized skill practice with online resources
  • Pair practice
  • Peer-evaluation
  • Self-evaluation
  • Side-by-side assessments
  • Conferencing

Playlists pull together a mix of activities designed to build specific skills. Students control the pace of their learning and teachers can customize individual learning paths with the playlist model.

An entire class can work on a playlist simultaneously, or they can be the focus of one station in a station rotation lesson. As students work on a playlist, the teacher must be available at a “help desk” to work directly with students who hit a “stop sign.” These short conferencing sessions allow the teacher to partner with students to ensure each child is getting the support, scaffolding, instruction, and practice he/she needs to develop.

Click here to view my argumentative writing template. It will give you an idea of how I lay out the activities. You are welcome to make a copy and customize it to use with your students.

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16 Gmail Hacks to Boost Your Productivity

In a blog titled “6 Shifts to Maximize Productivity and Happiness,” I encouraged teachers to designate specific windows of time during their day to check and respond to email. I found it draining to check my email continuously throughout the day, and the incoming messages distracted me from my other work. Even though I follow this practice in my own life, I still have a ton of emails waiting for me each time I log into Gmail. It turns out that there is a lot of functionality built right into our Gmail accounts that can help us manage our emails more efficiently.

I stumbled onto the infographic below published by GetVoip titled “Gmail Hacks & Tricks to Boost Productivity” and wanted to share it. It describes many of the Gmail features designed to save you time!

If you have additional tips that can help educators manage the unending tide of emails you receive, please share them here!

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