August 9, 2007

It Takes a Team to Build Skills

A few days ago I was thinking about throwing caution to the wind by spending time teaching the secondary language arts skills of researching and speaking at the beginning of the year, although these skills aren't addressed in my curriculum until later in the year and it's going to put a burden on me because of the testing requirements.

Jennie offered her excellent idea of using more oral response in her classroom and asked if perhaps the social studies and science teachers could do projects. Ms. Whatsit asked what my team thought. For this post, this focus on just the research part, as it is the most difficult and time consuming to tackle. Of course, in this day and age, and in my technology-rich school, we are talking mostly Internet research.

Each class has at least one big project a quarter: math, science, foreign language, and English. I think the semester-long health class even does a few projects. The social studies teacher also does one big project a quarter, but she constantly has students doing smaller projects, which she simply calls assignments. The students don't think of them as that, though, as they usually take a few days to a two weeks to complete.

During team meetings, the poor quality of projects and assignments we receive has come up a few times. I know it might sound like an issue of students not understanding what is expected of them, but I'd say that everyone is clear with instructions and rubrics. However, we expect that the students know how and where to gather good information, and I think there's a gap there. Earlier this summer I met with most of the people on my team, and we decided that introducing research skills earlier in the year will raise the bar for the students, and in turn they produce higher quality work.

As I said in my previous post, the responsibility falls mostly on my shoulders to teach the skills. Just like reading and writing, isn't it? So, do you think the other teachers on my team have any problem with me going the extra mile to prepare the students to be better researchers? No way! Knock yourself out, HappyChyck!

The more I think about it, the more I feel alone. If I better prepare the students, what are the other teachers going to do to support me and the students? Will they continue to allow students to use Wikipedia as their best source? Will they continue to accept work without source documentation? Will they at least ask for a bibliography? Will they familiarize themselves and introduce students to excellent subject-specific sources?

Some of the teachers on my team are right there with me. They direct students to quality sources. They require source documentation. They are vigilant against cut and copy plagiarism. They are fighting the good fight!

Other teachers squirmed in their chairs as they admit their lack of knowledge on research skills and available sources--even those our own library has. Their nervous chuckles can't hide the fact they have no idea how to teach students to format a bibliography page. On the surface they seem on board, but I can tell by their glazed looks that it's all on me. One of them even said something to the effect that she didn't have time for all of this.

All of this? Grrrrrr. I established a Wikispaces for our team to use. Talk about time! I certainly hope that the other teachers on my team use their own spaces (which we all set up together) with their students, but even if they don't, I have established a research wiki for everyone to use as a reference--students and teachers. Did I do this because I know so much more they they do? Although, at this point it seems I might... NO! Seriously, I am insecure in my knowledge of smart resources for the students to use. Researching today is a lot more complicated than it was when I was learning to research. So much information--but is it the best and is it valid? I shared my information and techniques with my colleagues. I invite them to share theirs with me. I even invite the students to share, too. We're all invited to navigate this vast territory together. As a team.

I believe my team is in support of teaching students smart research skills right away so students can use those skills throughout the year. The more I think about it, the more I think my colleagues don't realize they must play an important role in applying the skills. We need to have another talk. They told me what skills the students need. I'll tell them what part they can play developing those skills.

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