Middle School Students Hone Research Skills Across the Curriculum
Mrs. Angela Finn, Ravenscroft’s Library and Information Services Department Chair and Middle School Library Media Specialist, collaborates with middle school teachers to create meaningful and authentic learning opportunities that foster research and inquiry skills across the curriculum. Through scaffolding and differentiation, Mrs. Finn is able to build upon student’s prior knowledge and research skills to ensure each student leaves the middle school with the skills of research and inquiry required for Upper School and beyond.
To learn more about the research process at Ravenscroft, we spoke with Mrs. Finn to hear what methods she has used with middle school students.
In what ways do you teach research skills in the middle school?
Ravenscroft teaches research skills using the Big6 information literacy process, a systematic method allowing students to solve information needs or problems in six stages: task definition, information seeking, location and access, use of information, synthesis, and evaluation. Throughout each assignment or project, students are encouraged to delve into the research process, while gaining content knowledge that meets their academic teacher’s stated course objectives. This mission-aligned process fosters the development of information literacy skills and understandings, allowing students to find, process, and use information effectively. Additionally, theses skills reach beyond the classroom and into student’s daily navigation of the information that surrounds them.
How do you make research fun for students?
In order for research to be fun for students, they need to know why research is important and applicable to their daily lives, and understand how they will be able to apply information learned in a meaningful way. When I work with a group of students for the first time, I use real world scenarios, like determining what car I should buy, to introduce the Big6 steps. By taking this approach, student’s mental model of research is able to shift as they gain an awareness of how they will be able to use research and information literacy skills to solve problems every day.Additionally, in order to foster collaboration and discussion, I always try to allow students to work in small groups throughout specific steps of the research process. As students work together to create sample research questions, or engage in think/pair/share activities, they are able to have greater ownership in the activity, which makes the process less overwhelming.
What are some examples of research assignments that students have completed during the 2015-2016 school year?
History 6 – American Waves of Immigration Research Project: As the first research assignment for sixth grade students, our goal of this project was to chunk the six steps of the research process into manageable pieces. As students worked to answer the project’s guiding question of How have immigrants influenced the development of culture throughout United States history? we were intentional in creating learning opportunities that allowed students to understand how they can apply and transfer the skills learned through this process to other classes and to their lives outside of school. This was a key objective for the sixth grade team to ensure students gained an understanding and appreciation of the importance of research across the curriculum.
Science 7 – Disease Research Project: During this assignment, students worked to answer the project’s guiding question of Why is it important to know and understand diseases? Because students had prior exposure to the Big6, my focus was to enhance student’s note taking and synthesis. Through our notetaking work, students were able to gain an awareness of the impact of taking “bad notes” and understand the impact that a lack of detailed, specific notes could have on them in a real world situation. During the synthesis phase, Dr. Nunalee and Mrs. Ostendorff wanted to enhance student’s presentation skills and asked them to present their information like a mystery story where their peers had to guess what disease was being presented. Through this project, students demonstrated adaptability as they were charged to take the pieces of information they learned through their research and create a presentation that looked entirely different than simply stating the facts.
Language Arts 8 – Iqbal: The research in this project was done in different stages as students read Iqbal. At the start of the unit, we had concerns that students may not be able to fully relate to the childhood experiences of child labor that the protagonist shared throughout the novel. As a result, we allowed for discussion points to explore students’ perspectives of what childhood looked like to them and later exposed students to primary source images of experiences that Iqbal had in the novel. As students began to research, we focused on the human experience and the impact child labor has on an individual’s childhood. During the synthesis phase, students created a photo essay portraying their knowledge of child labor themes. The synthesis here required students to have a complete understanding of their subject matter, while also being asked to provide a visual portrayal of the book’s content and theme. Throughout this project, we were able to see student’s mental models of childhood shift, as the book brought to life the causes and consequences of child labor.
The most rewarding experience for me as Ravenscroft’s Middle School Librarian is to see the development of our program. In my role, I am able to see student’s growth in learning throughout their entire time at Ravenscroft, and it is so exciting when I can witness our students compose their own narratives of learning. Additionally, to see our faculty reach out to collaborate, co-teach and use the skills we teach the students, shows me that teachers are gaining confidence in their ability to apply the Big6 throughout their curriculum.
How has the School’s Lead From Here initiative contributed to your role at Ravenscroft?
Lead From Here has provided me with tools in developing my own personal leadership style, allowing me to enhance my relationships with colleagues and students. As I have worked to embody and model the core values of Lead From Here, I am able to effectively accelerate Ravenscroft’s mission across the institution in my roles as a teacher, colleague, and mentor. Additionally, after completing the Certified Lead Trainer program, I have a better understanding and awareness of ways in which I can embody the characteristics of effective facilitation as I work with students, parents, and colleagues.
Mrs. Finn holds a B.S. in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a M.L.S. from East Carolina University. While at East Carolina University, Mrs. Finn was recognized as ECU’s Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year, and presented at ECU’s Librarian to Librarian Networking Summit. Mrs. Finn has also presented at the North Carolina School Library Media Association’s (NCSLMA) Annual Conference, the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools’ (NCAIS) Annual Conference, and at the National Catholic Education Association’s (NCAE) Annual Conference. Since joining the Ravenscroft community in 2012, Mrs. Finn has been trained as a Lead From Here Certified Lead Trainer, and has served on the School’s Academic Committee, Accreditation Committee, and Global Education Task Force. Additionally, Mrs. Finn is a North Carolina Central District Representative for Battle of the Books and co-sponsors the Middle School Battle of the Book Team.
Image Citation: Eisenberg, Mike, and Bob Berkowitz. “Big 6 Poster.” The Big 6. Avon Middle High School Library. Web. 31 Jan. 2016 <http://library.avon.k12.ma.us/ahbig62.htm>.