Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Research Remembered

Here's my article that posted over at Heart of the Matter Online today.

What do you personally remember about research from your high school years? Do you have good memories or bad memories of it? Now, what about your teenagers? What kind of research skills are you teaching them? Will they be prepared for college research?

Research, in my mind, has several components with one basic goal: getting the facts straight. Doing research can mean as little as double checking a date, as much as running a full-blown experiment, and all the in-between levels such as finding primary and secondary sources (both print and online), reading them, and documenting the findings.

When I was fourteen, my father completed his PhD. I remember being proud of how smart he was (and still is!), as well as proud of myself for helping him with some of the research and documentation for his dissertation. No online sources were available back then, and while he wrote his actual dissertation on a computer, he kept a large file box with note cards for the resources he accessed. I would file new cards in the proper spot and help him find the cards he needed. Although I realized how much research he completed back then by the time that it took away from our family, I appreciate the level and effort that it took more now that I am older.

Unfortunately, the high school that I attended placed a very low value on teaching research and writing skills. I think I had to write one essay during that whole four years. When I got to college, I was in for a shock! Every class I was in required multiple essays of varying lengths and differing levels of research. I learned properly about the research process in a basic-level English rhetoric class I took my first semester. The professor was engaging and understanding, which helped make me feel more comfortable with the research and writing processes. I still remember the very first blue-book exam that I took. It was in a social work (my major) class, which I enjoyed and understood, but I didn’t know what an essay exam would be like and was at a total loss when I read the prompts that I was expected to answer. Even more of a shock was the F that I received on it. While I was horrified, instead of turning me off to academia, it spurred me on to work harder to master taking essay exams and writing papers. I succeeded, because I later graduated summa cum laude.

Your children will thank you (perhaps not until they’ve graduated from college!) for teaching them effective research and essay writing skills.

Q4U: What's your best tip for teaching children about research skills? Please share it with the rest of us!