W.CCR.7 — that's the 7th College and Career Readiness anchor standard within the Writing strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA/Literacy — reads as follows:
Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
This standard is part of a trio of “Research to Build and Present Knowledge” anchor standards (W.CCR.7-9). Since the three are somewhat overlapping, I'm going to focus on the three aspects of W.CCR.7 that make it unique.
Varying project lengths
I like that W.CCR.7 affirms the value in both short and sustained research projects. (<-Click to Tweet)
Allowing for shorter research projects means more reps in the tasks of:
- understanding a research question,
- formulating an appropriate research strategy,
- assessing the reliability of sources,
- and integrating findings into a written demonstration of understanding.
My goal next year is for at least one extended research project during the entire year and at least one short research project per unit. This will allow me to explicitly teach and assess the skills listed above in a focused manner.
Focused research questions
The foundation of a rockin' research project is an engaging and focused question.
For example, I've been the knucklehead who assigns an open-ended research project with way too little guidance. I thought I was awesome — kids were going to get to research something that they were genuinely interested in. The problem was, without at least guiding them in the development of focused and intriguing research questions, I was the guy with a stack of papers “about” global warming or abortion or animal abuse.
Even when they choose their topics, research is boring if it doesn't answer an interesting and focused question.
Instead, they need focused questions. For the examples above:
- Choose several politicians or corporations and examine their responses to global warming. What trends can you draw from your research?
- Which “camps” call global warming a hoax, and which call it a reality? What evidence do these groups use to support their arguments?
- Give an overview of the spectrum of actions that pro-life and pro-choice groups have taken to advance their cause. In your opinion and based on your reading of the Constitution, which of these actions are acceptable in the United States of America?
- How have animal rights advocates affected the incidence of animal abuse cases? What factors might skew your findings?
Now, I probably wouldn't give any of these research prompts because they don't line up with the units I'm tasked with teaching. However, here are some research questions that I have used in the past or that I plan to use in the coming school year:
- For All Quiet on the Western Front: What impact does war have soldiers? Research a war from the 20th century, explain the war's causes and effects, and determine whether the impact on soldiers was worth the results of the war.
- For Things Fall Apart: Research and explain three of the African continent's greatest strengths and three of its greatest weaknesses. Based on your findings, what are key ways that people outside of Africa can help the continent to continue growing and recovering from centuries of ill-use?
- For a unit on East Asia: The North Korean political prisons are the longest running concentration camps in at least the last 100 years. Why does the world allow them to exist? Research one group that is working to bring them to an end.
Demonstrate newfound understandings
Finally, students need to demonstrate what they've learned in their research — this could be done in a single-paragraph or as a more sustained paper. It could be done in a meta fashion (e.g., an I-search narrative), an explanatory fashion, or an argumentative fashion.
Regardless of which mode of writing I chose to assign, I would ask some questions like this to promote reflection on the research project:
- What do you understand now that you didn't understand before starting your research?
- What challenges did you face during your research, and how did you deal with them?
What research questions have you had success with? What strategies do you use to make research assignments a joyful part of your class? Share in the comments section below.
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