getting started on the research task
This term, both my senior ancient history classes embark on a research task. One class will investigate the Persian Wars, the other, funerary practices. Both these classes have completed research tasks before and they know what to expect in terms of rigour. Despite this, I know that some of them will be slow to make a start on the task, despair when they can't find any material (yeah, right!) or lack the patience associated with an extended investigation.
So, how do I help them avoid these pitfalls?
- Presenting the research task is the key. If I'm upbeat and excited about he opportunities that the task offers the students, then they will be! I always start with the whys - why are they analysing this time period, this culture or this theme? What are the relevant links to the modern world - what has changed and what has not? This usually generates some discussion as students look for links, ask questions, debate ideas and grapple to rapidly fill their knowledge gap. Before they know it, they are invested in the task - hooked!
- But not every student falls for that trick! Some are genuinely reticent about such long tasks. I inevitably get the following questions: What topic would you choose? Which one has the most information? Which one is the easiest? For some, the panic starts immediately and these questions are simply ways of looking for a quick and easy result. These students are the ones who might take a little longer to achieve lift off. What are the strategies here?
- After many years of trial and error - coax and force- I have come to rely on the relationships I have built with my students. I try to convince them before they start that they will find a path through the task, they will find interest and they will find motivation - just start! I acknowledge their concerns and worries, assure them that I have not created an impossible task and encourage them to start!
- And the best start is to give them the time to browse predetermined internet sites and read suitable journals such as Minerva and Archaeology Magazine. I keep all back copies of these magazines in the classroom. They are my go-to resources in all research task emergencies. (Recently, I have even allowed them to browse certain facebook pages -see previous post about student and teacher resources). There is nothing easier than flicking through a magazine/browsing a website/watching a short video - it's a mini journey of discovery all on its own!
- I do admit, there is usually some resistance to the reading approach because it is time consuming and does not produce immediate results: "I have to read all of this?" Revist dot point 3 and 4. Keep encouraging. Keep steering them to useful sites. Hang in there!
- Let's consider the hidden benefits of this early stage of research - even with the reticence! Students are reading the type of academic writing they are ultimately being asked to produce; they are engaging with historical evidence; they are developing the discipline of patience, they are learning new things with every word, image and sound. Pleasingly, they are truly joyous when they find something that kick starts their own investigations. "OMG! I just found the best information!"
- Your best ally during these tasks are the students themselves. Students who achieve success in finding material are the best motivators for other students. Great advice is given about what websites can be useful, what books and magazines gave them a start. Encouraging words are spoken to continue the search: "If I can find something, so can you - keep looking!" Harness the enthusiasm and excitement of these students and unleash them upon the rest of your class!
Research tasks are the core business of the history classroom. Extended investigations allow students to explore their favorite civilisation/culture and come to new understandings about the ancient and the modern world. As teachers, we just need to put them on the path, give them a little push, correct the navigation here and there, then watch them speed to their destinations. Happy researching!