A Model That Works for
Carolyn R. Johnson
Arizona State University
Here is a typical research
Prepare a 10-page paper
on the topic 'X' using at least five different sources of information.
Use MLA style, double spacing, one inch margins, and put your footnotes
at the end of the report with the bibliography. (This is usually followed
by a brief lecture on plagiarism).
Faculty and librarians have
not paid enough attention to the important part of research assignments,
namely, how to evaluate, synthesize, and organize the information from
"five different sources" into an original, logical, and cohesive report.
Students either figure out how to do this on their own, or they never really
understand how to synthesize and interpret information from their own unique
points of view. Consequently, very few students actually enjoy doing research,
and many are tempted to plagiarize the work of others.
In this session students work
with information that they analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and organize,
working alone and in small groups. They practice strategies for synthesizing
and organizing information that can be adapted for other situations (e.g.,
drawing consensus in group discussions, synthesizing information for group
reports, finding trends of thought after a "brainstorm" session). The methods
used in this model can also be used to synthesize other kinds of information:
drawing consensus in group discussions; finding trends of thought after
a brainstorm session; and synthesizing information for group reports.
To practice using a new model
for synthesizing, and organizing information
The participants, as "students," are seated
in groups. Each has a packet of materials for the session. The instructor
introduces the sessionís objectives and demonstrates skills that will be
used later in the groups. The students work individually and in groups
using the skills practiced earlier to evaluate, synthesize, and organize
information. Group sharing, a conclusion by the instructor, and individual
evaluations of the exercise conclude the session.
TEACHERS AND FACULTY
who are looking for practical ways to teach critical thinking skills,
and/or looking for ways to integrate timely, real-world information (from
the Internet, newspapers, magazines, etc.) into their classes, and/or looking
for ways to take some of the dread out of research reports. No experience
in cooperative learning is needed, just a willingness to be "the guide
on the side."
LIBRARIANS who are looking for practical
ways to teach critical thinking skills, and/or looking for ways to integrate
varied information sources (from the Internet, newspapers, magazines, etc.)
into their library instruction classes, and/or how to show students what
itís like to work with timely, interesting, relevant information, then
how to find it. No prior experience with cooperative learning is needed,
just a willingness to let students discover for themselves.
BENEFITS OF THE
The model uses higher order thinking skills,
critical thinking (analyzing, evaluating, organizing, synthesizing). Class
stays awake, attentive while using higher order thinking skills.
The model requires no teaching or lecturing,
just directing and guiding teams and individuals.
A variety of learning styles, including kinesthetic,
visual, and verbal, is featured. Students can explore learning styles
that "boost" their predominate learning style.
Students use and evaluate information from
different sources (statistics, scholarly journals, reference books, Internet),
"try them out," and get a sense of their content.
Students become aware of useful library information
resources, and compare these to "The Web."
Using handouts instead of actual library materials
assures everyone is on the same page, has the same input of information
(control). Differing interpretations (highlighting, clustering, naming,
sequence) lends variety.
Highlighting and making Post-Its causes students
to read the article twice. Students highlight articles as they first
read them. As they reread the highlights to make Post-It notes, students
realize that some highlighted items are not central to the main ideas of
the article, or after reading the whole article they have a different perspective
or a better understanding of the main ideas.
Note-taking experience with "Post-It" sized
notes, using 3-5 words, causes students to be selective in what they extract
from the article to share with others in the exercise.
Post-It sized notes force students to convey
thoughts in as few words as possibleó"word economy". The Post-It
notes respresent "stories." Students explain the stories to others
in their group, as needed, while they work through the clustering process.
During this time students are processing concepts and ideas rather than
the authors' words.
The clustering method causes students to process
the concepts and issues instead of merely paraphrasing the authorís words.
Post-Its can be arranged in any order, not
just a traditional outline or list.
The color of the Post-It identifies the source
of information or the person who contributed the information, in case there
is a need for clarification.
Including the page number on the Post-It makes
it easy to correctly cite the source of the concept or data.
Students share their conceptual understanding
by discussing their notes rather than passages from the original text.
Differences among group results show there
is no one "right" way to extract information and synthesize it.
Differences among group results show that
variety is okay--there is less need to have perfect wording of the perfect
source, which lessens anxiety and temptation to plagiarize.
The model can be varied to suit classroom
setting, resources, size of group, and their level of experience.
Evaluation using Post-Its at the end of the
exercise provides a quick means of measuring its effectiveness and identifying
areas for improvement.
If students participate in "expert" group
discussions of those who all read the same article:
Faster learners become group leaders, and
teach others what they have learned, but are challenged to learn from others
in the group.
Slower learners are pulled into expert groups
for tutoring, then contribute to teamwork.