[We continue to develop what we learned last November at our 2019 convention, “Creating Opportunities: Leadership to Ignite Movements and Momentum,” with follow-up from the session presented by Mr. Jeff and Mrs. Shari Krapels.]
After presenting our session “Rethinking the Research Process” at CEL, we were pleasantly surprised at a turnout that was larger than we anticipated, but more importantly at the many follow-up conversations we had with other attendees afterward. In years past, when we’ve thought about potential CEL presentations, we’ve gravitated toward ideas that we’ve been excited about in our own classrooms, or toward problems we’ve tried to solve, with the hopes that some of our participants would also be considering these same ideas. CEL 2019, though, revealed to us just how much of a felt need there seems to be when it comes to rethinking the research process.
What was very clear to us is that many middle and high school ELA teachers are frustrated by the traditional literary research assignment; it often takes a long time, it’s not always the most authentic assessment, and because so many of our students do not major in Literature, they may never be asked to write one again after high school. That said, many of our conversations during the session and afterwards throughout the conference continued to circle back to our session’s original premise: it’s important that students learn how to research, but that research can take many forms (while still adhering to most state standards).
What also came up in our conversations, both before and after CEL, is that research continues to be part of our lives after leaving the classroom. We conduct professional research to be sure, but much more often research enters our daily lives in the hunt for new recipes, developing an understanding of a political candidate’s platform, trying to find out where we know that actor’s face from, or (mild spoilers for the newest season of The Crown ahead!) whether or not the British government really believed they had a spy occupying the office of Prime Minister. We need to prepare our students to do the kind of serious research that their professional lives may include, but we also need to prepare them to do the kind of research that will enrich their day to day lives and help them to be responsible citizens.
The good news is that the standards really are on our side. In looking at some of the Common Core’s standards for research in the 11-12th grades, you’ll notice that the phrases “self-generated questions” and “solve a problem” feature prominently. Another standard asks that students use “advanced searches effectively.” Nowhere is a specific form of research assignment or type of source named. We believe this gives teachers the wiggle room necessary to help students research meaningfully in the same authentic ways that real people tend to research.
NCTE provides additional support in their position statements on both teaching writing and literacy. When we define writing broadly, as NCTE does, it becomes clear that the research paper is not the only way to have students present their research findings. And when we consider the questions NCTE raises when defining literacy, it becomes clear that we are called to do more than simply have students write research papers.
In our presentation at CEL 2019 (the slides for which you can access here) we discussed a few ways that teachers can rethink the research that they ask students to do. We pointed out to attendees that even on a show like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, an incredible amount of research goes into presenting a short comedic, yet highly informative segment (Note: the video clip in our presentation from Last Week Tonight is probably more appropriate for adults than for your students). In teaching our students that research is about action—that we’re supposed to do something with our research— we can refocus their purposes in formulating a research question in the first place.
By expanding our conceptions of what student research looks like, it’s likely that for many of our students, they will research meaningfully for the first time.
Shari Krapels is a high school English teacher and newspaper advisor in northern New Jersey. She is also a member of a county wide group of teachers and administrators working together to develop best practices in assessment for students in addition to being an alum of ASCD’s Emerging Leaders program.
Jeff Krapels is a high school English and journalism teacher in northern New Jersey. He is the chair of his school professional development committee, the co-chair of his district’s regional professional learning board, and a technology coach in his building. Outside of his home district, Jeff is a member of NJCTE, NCTE and CEL, and he presents at conferences at both the state and national level. He also writes about education topics for sites like Edutopia and at his personal blog 3greatideas.wordpress.com.