Building a Community of Researchers: What does good research look like in schools?

A topic Mark and I have been focused on a lot the past few months is that of research. Specifically helping students to become researchers. Both coming from a humanities background has perhaps played a significant role in why we see this as important.  The skills you need to succeed in those disciplines (formulating questions, collecting data, assessing its validity, summarising and analysing) are all key research skills. We’ve also seen the rise of the fake news phenomenon – and its impact on children we work with.  So how do help students to be media and digitally literate researchers? 

This is the subject of a workshop we’ll run in a couple of weeks at the IB Global Conference 2019 in Abu Dhabi.  

Our work towards this has taken us down 2 different paths;

  1. Delving into the IB ATL Skills for Research and helping break these down into a progression for teachers
  2. Developing a strategy for building a community of researchers in classes throughout our school 

Whilst I’m not going to write out our entire conference notes here (lucky you!) I did want to begin to share some glimpses into our work, ahead of the presentation.  Then once it’s done we’ll share our ideas and resources online too. 

One of the first questions we asked was this: 

What does good research look like? 

Whilst there were the anticipated differences across grades/subjects it was interesting to note that there were also some strong similarities such as:

  • Asking good questions
  • Finding information/data
  • Drawing conclusions 

By facilitating both teachers and students to think about this question we open the doors to some great conversations about what research is, who decides if it is ‘good’, what ‘good’ looks like and how our students themselves are researchers in their contexts.  

Some of these questions can be scary for us as adults, as ‘experts’ – and interestingly remind me of a recent Twitter discussion about power in Mathematics and whether we should teach students to question who gets to decide if an answer is correct. I think the same can be said of teaching them about research – do we only teach our children to believe that peer evaluated work is ‘good’? That’s not what most of us read on a daily basis… so are there other forms of research? How are these valued? 

I’m not proposing a clear answer – I don’t think there is one.  But in an age of questioning the reliability/truth/validity of news I wonder if teaching our children to question the research skills and strengths behind information might give them an approach to discerning what they are reading/hearing? 

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