The idea of 'research' is perhaps more often associated with secondary and university education but in today's world, it is important to begin teaching these skills to students during the primary years. An early start on developing research skills is the beginning of the journey to support students' later academic development through secondary and tertiary education and, indeed, throughout life.
It may be useful to begin with clarifying what is meant by research skills. Different sources will list different specific sets of skills, but broadly speaking, these can be summarised as:
- Searching for information
- Locating information
- Extracting relevant information
- Organising information
- Evaluating and analysing information
- Using and presenting relevant information
Being a critical researcher is particularly important when the sheer amount of information and information sources immediately available online are considered. In the past, research was limited to looking up an encyclopaedia or other trusted text on a subject which could generally be relied upon to be relevant and accurate. I have just done a search, for example, on 'how to teach research skills to elementary students' and within seconds have 92,200,000 results at my fingertips! With the current estimate that global knowledge doubles approximately every thirteen months, we live in a data driven age where the explosion of available information is unprecedented.
It is, therefore, essential to support students in becoming critical consumers of data and to be able to refine searches, sift efficiently through information, judge the quality websites, check accuracy and validity by reference to a range of sources and to analyse and select appropriately. This is best started in the primary years as students at this age are already consumers of the wealth of resources available online.
As well as equipping students to engage effectively and selectively with the volume of information readily available, research activities impact positively on many areas of learning and development. In the bigger picture, the changing nature of employment means that many people do not now have a single 'job for life' and may change roles or career focus many times. The skills of research are transferable and are, therefore, useful and essential to adapt to the life-long learning required.
As opposed to just 'knowing facts', being able to effectively engage with research helps students to become deeper thinkers. Higher order skills such as critical thinking and analysis develop as students read, review and analyse information. Higher order question skills also develop as students refine their focus of research and begin to evaluate information. By reading from various sources, students begin to synthesise data, make links and form a deeper understanding of the topic studied.
These skills, and access to information, can transform an area of study from a basic fact-driven task into a rich and interesting analytical topic, developing curious and eager learners. For example, if studying a historical person of note, a factual biography can become an insightful report on how their discoveries, inventions etc made a difference to our world and how our modern lives have been impacted as a result. Students can, therefore, also be encouraged to think carefully about how to shape their own, more engaging, and relevant, research questions.
This, in turn, requires that students develop and maintain a clear focus on the information they specifically require as they navigate the available data sources; the temptation to follow interesting but irrelevant links can be irresistible! Sticking to the point to fulfil the needs of a task or meet a deadline: a skill in itself!
Engaging with such an amount and variety of information and identifying and extracting what is relevant helps develop writing and communication skills. The skills of note-taking, for example, develops and handwritten notes help embed learning in longer term memory. In re-organising notes and making presentations of research in their own words, students must synthesise and have a deep understanding of the information and this cuts across the entire curriculum. This is particularly important as students have been known to simply 'cut and paste' articles which does nothing to advance their learning and, when questioned, sometimes cannot read nor actually have an understanding of the content.
Their presentations also lead students to consider their intended audience and how to best communicate information so that it is clear, has the appropriate level of detail, is easily understood and of interest to their reader. In doing so, cross curricular links may be made as written reports are integrated with graphs, diagrams, tables etc to illustrate certain information.
Finally, effective research skills help us to be independent learners, to grow and develop personally and be effective contributors to our world. We learn new things, we understand how the past has impacted on the present and we can, therefore, influence and direct our future.
Equally important, we can, of course, also be curious and read and learn just for the fun of engaging with the things that interest us!
TIPS FOR PARENTS
As a parent, there are some simple things you can do at home to help your child:
- Discuss the question to be researched and be clear about what is being asked. This is possibly the most important thing you can do given the amount of information that an internet search will generate. Deciding on key words for a search will help to find the most relevant articles but children need to develop the ability to scan these and decide on relevance. This can only come with clarity on the subject and lots of practice!
- Plan the main headings and sub-headings to begin to help sort note-taking into sections. This will help when it comes to structure the actual written work as well as focus the search. For example, if the question/main heading is 'What were houses like in Victorian Britain?', sub-headings may include 'a Victorian kitchen', 'the bathroom ', (which in turn may lead to sections on water and electricity).
- Encourage your child to read beyond the internet. Although it is often the easiest research source to access, articles can be time-consuming to read through and often not age-appropriate. Books are excellent research helpers!
- Engage your child in discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of internet research. In particular, discuss reliability, bias and also how to begin to distinguish between fact and opinion.
- Explain plagiarism to your child and avoid it!
Useful links for further readinghttps://education.nsw.gov.au/parents-and-carers/learning/english/help-your-child-develop-effective-research-skills-information-literacyhttps://www.shethepeople.tv/motherhood/learning-from-home-tips-students/https://www.theschoolrun.com/how-help-your-child-develop-research-skills