I’m such a research nerd. It’s one of my favorite things to do with kids.
Sure, it’s great for their reading skills and an excellent way to hone their ability to write, but more so, teaching research is an excellent way to ignite individual passions, teach students how to construct their own knowledge, and take charge of their own learning experience.
Today, however, my students began rather reluctantly. I started to explain the research process with excitement, but they weren’t quite biting. Sure, it probably didn’t help that it was the first week back from Thanksgiving Break and that the stench of tryptophan still meandered through their blood, making them weary and seemingly disengaged from school.
I sat down on the floor, making them shake and kick their legs while I talked.
“We’re going to do three things today,” I told them.
Their legs reluctantly fluttered on the floor, but I could tell they were starting to wake up.
“First, we’re going to go over the research process,” I said.
They continued to move about, some of the older children even looking at the other “olders” with apathetic eyerolls.
“Then, we’ll channel our background knowledge and ask some questions to start our research,” I continued.
Legs began to stop moving on the floor.
“Oh, keep moving!” I exclaimed. “And then finally, we’ll set some deadlines for our research projects.”
I began to explain the research process organizer I had created, and eventually dug into the first phase of research, which I explained to them as a mixture of channeling background knowledge, asking questions, and making observations. It wasn’t soon before long that I had most of them on my side, ready to question and dig in to a good research project. After all, they could research pretty much anything, and that’s usually more than enough buy-in for most students.
However, there’s one thing you have to know about my class. I have several students that are concerned with being “right,” and in research, that certainly is not a productive way of being. And so, as we began this process of channeling background knowledge, asking questions, and remembering our observations from before break, I encountered a few obstacles.
“I already know the answer to that,” one student retorted.
“Great, so write down that background knowledge and add it to the board!” I replied enthusiastically.
It wasn’t long, though, before it happened again.
“Well, I don’t want to research that,” a similar voice resounded again from the crowd.
I was starting to feel a little stuck. Of course, I wasn’t assuming that the student simply didn’t want to participate. All students want to be seen, felt, and heard in their classrooms, but this student had a clear cognitive and social barrier around research, most likely due to the fact that it required taking a risk and admitting a lack of knowledge. But taking a risk and admitting a lack of knowledge is an essential skill to being a researcher, and I needed the student to know that. Yes, I could have sat down and had a conversation with the students about how fun it was to be a researcher, and I could have even showered her with attention and let her know how much I cared about her interests. But my students already know I care. So what did I do instead?
I ignored her.
Now, yes, that may sound a little harsh, but sometimes feeding into a student’s negative remarks only reinforces the behavior. It only gives them the attention they want, so instead of continuing to play into it, I instead expressed my gratitude and enthusiasm towards the students who were, in fact, taking risks and admitting that they did not know everything they wanted to know about a certain topic. I smiled exuberantly and erupted in happiness at the unique questions other students were providing. I even wrote more questions based off of what my students were posting to the board.
And much to my surprise, or lack thereof, by the end of the questioning session, I saw three red Post-it notes…
Three red post-it notes…
…from the student who pretended to know everything…
…and wanted to research nothing.
Above all else, I think that student learned today that our classroom values wrong answers, that they exist in a place where they are safe no matter what, and that our classroom values the unknown, for the unknown is the only place where we can truly dig in and go through the process of discovery.
It’s the only place we can actually learn.