We now resume our Big Picture discussion of ways to use argument and evidence. Remember, Step 5 was “Generate your own questions that warrant research and debate.” In Step 6, we move dramatically further down this road: “Generate your own questions, then research and build arguments supported with evidence and explanation.”
The good news is that you can look back at Step 5 for tips on how to teach students to generate questions. However, the rest of Step 6 is going to require A LOT more scaffolding. For example, what does it mean to “research”? Are we talking about Googling everything? Can students conduct interviews? (meaning both: Do you expect them to? and Do they know how?) Will they be expected to find books on the subject? Does your school have a library? Do your students know how to USE a library? If you want them to rely on Internet research, do they know how to search effectively for information, and what do they know about the bias and reliability of what they might find? Do they know how and why to cite sources? Do they know what plagiarism is, why it’s such a problem, and how to avoid it?… etc. So you can see that the notion of “research” raises a whole host of questions. Check out the TLC “Research Paper Guide” page for support as you dive into research writing with your students.
Once students FIND resources, they have to know how to pull useful, relevant information out of them. Ironically, SKIMMING is a skill we often overlook. We assume students can pull out key words and key ideas. We need to teach them how to do that. My advice is to start small, pulling information out of paragraphs, then essays, then chapters. You’ll want to remind students of the lessons learned when we practiced finding RELEVANT evidence for arguments. And students need to know how to use text features such as headings, the table of contents, the bibliography, and the index.
We also need to teach students how to collect and organize evidence, to synthesize information to build arguments. Again, I recommend starting small, with multiple short documents. In other words, teach them the DBQ (Document-Based Question) approach. Check out the TLC “History Writing: DBQ Essays” page. DBQs are not just for history teachers. In fact, I like to think of them as research papers with training wheels. Teachers provide the materials, so students don’t have to do the research, but they do have to do everything else associated with research writing. One advantage to practicing this approach is that using common materials makes it easier to conduct whole-class mini-lessons on the needed skills.
Although this brief entry doesn’t capture all of the complexity of supporting students in research writing, it’s a start. We’ll dig into various aspects of the process more in future posts.
*This entry is adapted from The Literacy Cookbook, which is available for pre-order HERE.