Putting an End to Topical Research

I just finished reading the February issue of From Now On, an online educational technology journal.  The editor, Jamie McKenzie, is a champion of creating learning experiences that move beyond the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and challenge our students to think critically.In this month’s issue, “Putting an End to Topical Research,” McKenzie calls for educators to stop giving research assignments that merely ask students to collect information.  What are “topical research” assignments?  McKenzie provides this vivid description:

“First students scoop. Then they smush. It is a school ritual that serves students poorly and accomplishes little of worth.  Note the article “Smushing is Simply Low Grade Synthesis” at http://fno.org/apr05/smushing.html.  If we keep assigning topics, students will drive their earth moving equipment through the information landfill, pleased by the height and depth of the piles.”

How do we create research assignments that don’t ask students to merely “scoop” and “smush”?   As your media specialist, I want to challenge you to think about the research assignments your students have done this year.  Are they “scoop and smush”, or are your research assignments asking students to think critically?  How do we as educators create research questions that require our students to be engaged researchers? I believe there are two pathways to meeting the challenge of creating critical research assignments.  First, we must find ways to create convert “topical” questions into higher level research questions.  Jamie McKenzie calls these “essential” research questions that force students to interpret, synthesize, and analzye.   One technique that McKenzie suggests is “The Great Question Press” ; you can read more about this great questioning strategy at http://fno.org/feb04/questionpress.html.   I believe the second way to meet this challenge is for increased collaboration between the media center and classroom teachers.  While collaboration may seem initially like more work, the front-end planning I can do with you can help us to create meaningful and thoughtful research tasks that will challenge our students to move beyond the “copy, paste, and regurgitate” mode. 

As your media specialist, I want to be your teaching partner and support your efforts to create higher level research projects.  Take a few minutes to read McKenzie’s current article at http://fno.org/feb07/topic.html and let me know what you think about his ideas!  

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