Assessing and Scaffolding Research Skills

Research skills are an important facet of being a student in the digital world, and yet these skills are often assessed in very traditional ways. I often see the end product of a research task being assessed; such as students creating a newsletter, writing an essay or completing a presentation. Seldom do teachers try to assess the students ability to use key words, refine search results, make judgements on authenticity and eventually synthesis the results. Whilst they maybe hinted at in the final product the process of searching for information is poorly taught and even more poorly assessed.

As a Digital Literacy Coach, I have therefore been looking at ways of using technology to redefine how we might scaffold students in their research using ideas such as a Google Search Hints, Research Templates and Screen Recording tools to capture student thinking.

Google Search Hints:

Keywords are the keys to unlocking information on the internet and these help students clarify what they are looking for. In a Google Search a group of terms is called a search string. I encourage students to build a search one term at a time, just as you would add beads to a string.  Here are some basic examples of developing a search string. The key thing to notice is how the number of search results (webpages) found changes as you develop the search string.

Creating a search string that uses some combination of specific terms, a phrase search using quotations, a negative term, and even site operator can reduce the number of your search results from a few million to fewer than one hundred! It’s best to build one or two terms at a time, adding terms to your string as needed based on your results.

Some key ideas…

  1. Using the commands AND, OR between terms in the search box helps Google understand what you are looking for.
  2. Using parentheses around “two or more words” it will search for the exact phrase.
  3. If you use the ~ symbol and then a word it will search for similar terms. Try ~bike to find related terms such as bicycle, cycle.
  4. If you use dates in a search e.g. 2008..2011 with the dots it will search for results from within your designated timeframe.
  5. If you type this will focus your search to only websites that contain .gov in the website address. This can help filter information to information created by government which can sometimes be more trustworthy (but not always 🙂

Google Doc Research Templates:

A template is an easy way to scaffold students through the research process. I developed an example with help from our Grade 8 English teachers including Mandanna Daemi. The template covered the four main steps as follows. The template is available here if you wish to make a copy.

  1. Planning your Research Project
  2. Search Strategies and using Keywords
  3. Developing a Research Grid
  4. Creating a Bibliography

The two most valuable aspects are the key words and the research grid. The main idea is that each student creates a copy of this Google Doc and shares this back with their teacher. The teacher can therefore see and comment on the evolution. The research grid shown below is where the student collates the information. For each small question the student needs to find two different sources, and add the hyperlinks to the Google Doc. In the last column they need to summarise the main points into their own words. This table shows the research skills of comparing sources for authenticity and then helps the student phrase the ideas into their own words.

Screen Recording Tools:

This is a very easy and yet very effective way to see how the students research and to hear how they compare the authenticity of websites. I am a strong believer that students showcase their understanding more effectively and truthfully in the verbal format. With a simple Screen Recording using Quicktime Player you can see and hear student’s through processes. This could be written in an essay but there is something organic and powerful in the students videos, that describe their research process.

From – Grade 7 Student – UWCSEA Dover Campus

4 thoughts on “Assessing and Scaffolding Research Skills

  1. Elif Raskin says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I use the Google Search Posters in upper elementary classes in YIS, too. They are very effective and are valuable resources to have around the classrooms. I like the ‘Research Grid’ idea and Screencasting. Both methods seem great for recording the thought process and support making learning visible. Thank you for sharing!

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