Monday, 12 August 2013

Research - "Where do I start?"

For those of us who remember going to the library, checking out the old Dewey card system to help find the book we needed for that assignment...only to go to the shelf and find it gone....we might be excused for thinking that today's students have it easy.

With so much information out there - and so accessible online - how easy can it be to find what you need in the comfort of your own home...on your laptop, right in front of you? Well, it seems many students are finding it increasingly difficult to isolate exactly what they need. There is simply too much information and many students are spending way too much time scrolling through hundreds of sites to find what they need - with many giving up before they have even put pen to paper!

There is definitely an art to effective and time-managed researching. It's all about developing the right techniques. Most assignments are anything but attractive to a student, and they will delay the inevitable start for as long as possible.

Research suggests that adolescents seek both challenge and relevance in learning. No question that much of the learning is challenging - but do kids see it as relevant? Unless the subject is an elective and, as such, a subject the student obviously has some interest in pursuing then, generally, the relevance appears to be minimal. "When am I ever going to need to know this?" or "What's the point in doing this stupid assignment?" are fairly typical student laments.

The next time your son or daughter starts to whinge about the 'stupidity' of an assignment, alert them to the fact that it's not just the content of the assignment (or the required research), but also the skill of completing the assignment that is of value. Remind them at some point in the future (might seem like a long way off) they will have a boss, who will ask them to complete a task within an allotted time. It may be a job at Maccas; it may be working in an office; it may be driving a delivery van - whatever the job, there will be a time frame. If they don't make a start on planning, breaking down the task into smaller tasks, committing time frames and getting the job done on time, someone else might be doing their job on Monday!

If our kids develop the skills of breaking an assignment down into manageable 'chunks', and then use clever and targeted research skills, they are more likely to complete a better assignment...and learn some valuable life skills along the way.

Think about the following tips to help refine your search when you are looking for the right information online:
  • Brainstorm what you know about the subject, or use specific words from the assignment to narrow your search
  • Mind map these words into sub-headings or 'cluster themes' to narrow the topic
  • Include an author's name if you are looking for a particular text
  • Be specific in your search
  • Use research reading skills such as skimming, scanning and SQ3R (Survey Question Read Recite Review)
  • Keep a running record of your sources for your bibliography
  • Don't do an assignment (or the research) all in one go! Attempting to complete an assignment in one sitting will more than likely lead to a poor result - your brain can't handle focusing on one activity for hours on end
The Assignment and Research Skills Handbook*  offers more details and tips on the reading research skills mentioned here; a structured approach gives students a better chance of completing an assignment that justifies their efforts  - and overcomes the issue of "Where do I start?"

*  see Media and Publications for availability

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About Author:

Angie Wilcock is a highly regarded expert and speaker on transitions in education. She works with teachers, parents and students across Australia.

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