Research Clarity

Hillier, Matthew. Wallace and Gromit. Flickr.
Hillier, Matthew. Wallace and Gromit. Flickr.

This morning we administered PARCC’s ELA Unit 2 Test to 6th grade students. The Unit is entitled “Research Simulation”; the term is used to introduce the test to students and if similar to the practice test, possibly in some of the activities/questions which follow.

PARCC’S use of the term research is causing me once again to question, both how we define the term, and how we commonly use it. No matter one’s definition, it is common practice to use the term research to describe the search process: going somewhere (the internet etc) to find information which meets an information need. Similar to the way we use the expression “Google it”.

If students follow our lead, and define “research” based on the way we most often use the term, its use by PARCC will serve to confuse them. PARCC is not asking students to search for information, in fact, they are providing it for them.

Research is a reiterative learning and thinking process, which requires: asking questions, making connections, searching for and evaluating information, constructing new meaning, expressing learning and continued reflection. See Inquiry, the School Librarian and Common Core Standards . Search and the skills necessary to do so effectively is only part of the process. See also, The Difference Between Search and Inquiry

With the understanding that research is a process, PARCC is not inaccurate in their use of the term; students are being asked to utilize skills which are vital to the research process, however they are not the skills associated with search. In this unit, PARCC is actually emphasizing the Construct (Synthesis) and Express parts of the research process. Students are asked to synthesize and make meaning from the information they are given. When asked to Construct an essay, article etc, they are organizing their thoughts, choosing pertinent points, finding the best evidence to support their arguments, clarifying their reasoning etc., in order to Express their understanding through writing.

Here’s the good part- there’s a solution for fixing this confusion! Teacher librarians are experts when it comes to Inquiry. They instruct students in the use of an inquiry process; necessary for scaffolding research, mastering information literacy skills and transferring learning. If your school has a certified teacher-librarian, take advantage of what she can teach your students; don’t let her expertise go to waste!

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