on a mid-research pause, reflect, share, and go…

Sometimes, as the saying goes, “It’s better to lucky then good.” This is a story about one of those times–a research and information literacy experience that was totally planned and developed by non-library faculty that further our program’s information instruction goals.

Who Teaches Research? – In a PK-12 school with a rather large student population, I have come to realize that as librarians here, our mission is to be sure that sound research and information literacy skills are being taught in our curriculum, but the librarians cannot, and indeed SHOULD NOT,  solely be the ones delivering all of that instruction. Everyone needs to teach research!

The IB Extended Essay (In my head, also known as #ResearchArmageddon… LOL) –  Students here at Mid-Pacific can elect to earn a full International Baccalaureate Diploma over the course of their junior and senior years. One of the core requirements of the IB Diploma program is that students must complete a 4000 word research paper on a topic of their choice. In the fall of junior year, students are paired with a faculty mentor. Students research and write through the remainder of their junior and into the fall of their senior year. Completed IB Extended Essays are submitted to the IB in the spring of students’ senior years. Faculty mentors guide and coach students through the research and writing process, but the IBEE is largely a student-driven independent study experience.

Bring on the Extended Essay Cafe – Although the Extended Essay is intended to be a student-driven, independent study experience, the IB understands that these are still 16-year old human beings–many who are writing a research paper of this extent for the very first time. The IB, therefore, encourages schools to offer an “Extended Essay Cafe” experience. Coordinated by our school’s awesome overall IB coordinator, Kym Roley, and our amazing Extended Essay Coordinator, Jessica Hanthorn, students gathered in the school seminar room along with a history teacher, the head of our science department, the head of the Mid-Pacific School of the Arts, and me. Each student prepared a 7-slide presentation as a snapshot of the state of their Extended Essay research at this moment in time.

  • Slide 1: Introduction
  • Slide 2: Research Question
  • Slide 3: Background
  • Slide 4: Chapter Headings/Working Outline 
  • Slide 5: Detail 
  • Slide 6: Problems and Solutions 
  • Slide 7: Bibliography

The Experience – Students were each given 10 minutes to introduce us to their topics and walk us through their process. What an amazing process it turned out to be! As I listened to my kids, I literally thought, “I wish every jaded adult who writes about today’s youth and their lack of passion could be here to see what I get to see and to hear what I get to hear because what I see and what I hear is passion!”

G. talked extensively, and with great passion, about the the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Feedback from our faculty panel was that it was clear to anyone in the room that G. has a deep love for her subject, but that she easily has an 8000+ word essay on her hands–if not the makings of the start of a book. She was directed back to the IB Film: Subject-specific guide, and someone suggested that she might consider a single element of film-making in the 3 Miyazaki films she discussed or that she might consider looking at a single film rather than 3.

Click here to view JKs full IBEE Cafe slideshow

J. shared his interest in the the way that technology has impacted his learning experience as a student at Mid-Pacific. He spent a substantial amount of his time explaining the struggle he has had narrowing his topic. The panel suggested that one possible way to narrow the topic might be to focus on the effect that a particular app or type of app such as an online calendar or a “to do” app like Google Keep has on student learning. Another suggestion was for him to consider focusing on a narrower age group such as early elementary or middle school students. J. also expressed his belief that he was not finding a lot of “statistical” data about technology and learning so the suggestion was made that he seek information about the difference between quantitative and qualitative assessment data as he begins digging more deeply into scholarly sources for his research.

It was wonderful to see that our students were willing to be open minded to the panel’s suggestions, but that they also felt comfortable pushing back on suggestions as well! What could be better than students feeling ownership about how THEY want to shape their work? Almost across the board, when students pulled up their in-progress works consulted lists, they did not yet have many scholarly works in place so that was a frequent refrain. Given that their research is just now coming together lack of scholarly sources was not a surprise at all, but it was a nice opportunity to remind students that, that was what IB readers would expect to see.

The Benefits – To my mind, having students create and share an artifact that reflected their research accomplished a number of things:

  • Because they had to have something to present to an audience, some of the kids who have been frozen by indecision were forced to make some tough decisions and start moving forward.
  • Students who were frozen in place by the evils of learned-procrastination were forced to develop a plan of action that got them off the starting line.
  • Presenting to a live audience helped students come to the their own realization that their topics were too big for 4000 words.
  • Students who got overly enthused about the experimental design aspect of their science topics received guidance that refocused their work around that fact that they are, indeed, writing an ESSAY–the experimental design, while appropriate for an internal assessment is not the goal here.
  • Students who had DEEPLY back burnered the Extended Essay got to see how much progress some of their peers had made.
  • Students who had made progress, but who were feeling anxiety about being “in the weeds” learned that they were doing fine.

The Steal-worthiness and Making It Scale – I think we all understand how important reflection is to the learning experience. Too often in our instructional design, however, we ask students to reflect on their process and their learning at the END of a project. I love the fact that our Extended Essay Cafe allowed students to pause and reflect mid-way through their project which allows them to make changes that will improve the experience RIGHT NOW on THIS PROJECT rather than making adjustments to their research process on a hypothetical project sometime in the future. This kind of mid-research / mid-project reflection would have served 16-year old me far better than a reflection that came at the end.

While I do not think that it is realistic for us to replicate the Extended Essay Cafe experience fully for all of our projects, as a school that has invested heavily in the project-based learning process I see many opportunities for us to build smaller scale mid-research “pause and reflect” opportunities into our project design for students.

I’m looking forward to seeing if we can make this a reality in our students’ project experiences going forward.

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