I was having a conversation with a friend last night, and he was discussing his current difficulties with getting his colleagues to meet deadlines, abide by the directions in his emails, and follow through with responsibilities.  He noted specific meetings where members would arrive exceedingly past the start time, and certain projects in which his colleagues used little to no tact or rationale in their decision making process.  While he was talking, I could not even begin to grasp what this must feel like to have a group of people that you are in charge of who don’t follow directions or follow through with individual responsibilities.

Then I replied sarcastically, “Yes, it must be terrible to deal with adults who are like that. Try 25 ten-year olds.”

We Sign Up for This

All kidding aside, this is what we, as teachers, sign up for.  Personally, I am happy to help teach my kids how to meet deadlines and be responsible.  After all, we are working with little people, all of whom not only need to learn the curriculum, but who also need to learn responsibility, time management, and problem-solving.  Of course, this is not easy to teach, and we cannot possibly expect them to function at the level of a professional adult.  Although, according to my friend, this functionality does not seem to be that high.

My learners are still in the concrete-operational stage of development.  In essence, they are beginning to think abstractly and learn to logically work through things, but still require these “concrete” supports that help them find structure in the problem solving strategy.

The newly adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for a great deal of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, especially when it comes to reading and writing.  Students are being expected to read, research, write, and synthesize information at a much higher level than their predecessors.  In fact, many learning targets we’ve experienced this year, as a class, entail knowledge and skills I was not privy to until late junior high or even high school.

This year, I truly wanted to provide an opportunity for independent research within a general area of study, but I’ve always found it nauseating due to the varying number of topics.  It is difficult to cater lessons to a group of children who are all researching different topics using a variety resources, because they are going to encounter different problems along the way. Of course, we usually begin by pulling a book cart with books related to the topic, but some children’s research takes them down a road that the book cart has not covered.  Then, they use Google and find nothing but incomprehensible sources that do nothing but add frustration to their minds.

Anchor Chart: The 5 Ts of Research

I wanted them to be able to use the library to do this without being overwhelmed, but in order to do this, I knew I needed some sort of structure or process to help them problem solve.  After a great deal of thought, and after about a week of avoiding teaching this, I finally created the 5 Ts of Research, so that they could find the resource they needed within a large database of books, such as a library, while still thinking critically and problem solving.  I was apprehensive, at first, to use this approach, due to the fact that I was unsure of its success, but it has proven to be very successful.  By following the process below, my learners have found structure within a complex process, to help the narrow their focus to relevant and specific facts while researching.

The 5 Ts of Research 

Topic – First, the kids need to be reminded of their topic. While this sounds intuitive to an adult, for a concrete-operational child who is easily distracted by the many books in the library, it is very effective to take a moment for that child to remind himself of the one- to two-word topic that he or she is researching.  You’d be surprised how many children should be researching tropical reptiles but find themselves in the desert mammals section.

Title – Next, they need to find titles that relate to the topic.  This can be done by typing their topic into the electronic database in the library, or even using the Dewey Decimal System to find an appropriate section.  I’ve found that even typing their topic into a database will lead them to that Dewey section, anyway, giving them myriad choices for selection.

Table of Contents – After finding a title that might suit their topic, they may use the Table of Contents in order to find a section that might help them with their research. This is also an excellent way to embed non-fiction text features into the curriculum in a meaningful manner.

Text Features – After they’ve found the section that will best suit them, they can begin the “skim and scan” process by using text features such as headings, captions, and photos to guide them towards an even smaller section that help them to answer their research question.

Text – Finally, it’s time to read!  Then, they are able to read a focused section of text, instead of thumbing through an entire book.

Of course, there are many factors in this.  They may reach a certain step in the process and find the book is unsuitable, and that is okay!  While this, once again, may seem rather intuitive to you and I, having a structure process posted, modeling, giving guided practice, and then independent practice, has really helped to ground this abstract process in something more concrete.

Find the Fact Game

My students now look forward to research, especially a game I’ve created called “Find the Fact” that helps them apply these skills.  Luckily for me, my learners have P.E. immediately before visiting the LRC.  During that time, I go to the library, pull a random non-fiction book of the shelf, and find an arbitrary fact.  Then, I post this fact on the whiteboard in the form of a declarative sentence.  Students enter the room, knowing they are going to be playing “Find the Fact,” and they immediately begin going through the process of the 5 Ts.

Not only am I amazed by how quickly they are able to locate the fact, but also by the fact that many of these facts are found in the several different books, with nuances.  In some cases, I’ve been able to do an impromptu lessons on synthesizing information, due to the variety of sources and supporting facts for my chosen fact.  This is also a great way to preview content of upcoming units. I once chose a fact related to regions of the United States to “prime” their brains for it.

In essence, grounding research in a structured process and taking them through the gradual release has been very beneficial in my classroom.  Now, not only am I confident that they have focused research papers, but they are truly able to locate these things independently.  And that is a skill they will take with them for the rest of their lives.

Please comment and follow!  I’d love to hear more ideas and discuss more approaches with you!

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