We have devised a 12-step process for teaching students how to produce quality enrichment projects. This process, which has been applied in classroom and resource room settings, has evolved over several decades and countless activities. Two comments can be made on the steps themselves. First, they do not have to be followed in the order given. Second, some can be eliminated if students can accomplish the learning objectives in other ways.
1. Assess, Find, or Create Student Interests
Students should select topics in which they have an intense interest. In some cases, teachers may have to spark an interest by introducing new fields of study or extending the regular curriculum; the Interest-A-Lyzer and scheduled speakers can also motivate students to pursue interests.
2. Conduct Interviews to Determine Interest Strength
Teachers should try to ascertain, through face-to-face interviews, how deeply committed students are to their interests. For example, if a youngster likes journalism and wants to produce a school newspaper, the student might be asked these questions:
- How long have you been interested in journalism?
- What sources have you contacted to learn more about the subject?
- Have you ever tried to publish a class or neighborhood newspaper? Why or why not?
- Have your ever visited your local newspaper?
- Do you know anyone else interested in this topic?
- If I can help you find either books or people to talk to about your project, do you think it might give you some good ideas?
- How did you become involved in journalism?
Posing these questions will reveal if the student has seriously considered the amount of time independent study entails, and how to go about producing a unique product.
3. Help Students Find a Question or Questions to Research
Most educators have little difficulty recognizing “families” of interest: scientific, historical, literary, mathematical, musical, athletic. Problems arise, however, in fine tuning a broad area, and defining a specific interest as a research question. The majority of teachers are not experienced in asking the questions about some fields of study. Yet, this part of the process is critical. How it is handled will determine whether a student starts on this work. Given that, teachers can help students secure the “how to” books or resource people that routinely probe these important questions. Students who want to ask the appropriate questions about problem focusing in anthropology, for instance, must begin by looking at the query techniques anthropologists apply.
4. Formulate a Written Plan
Once students have brainstormed a question, they should draft a written plan for researching it. Many teachers employ contracts with students. Others prefer journals or logs, and still others use the Management Plan
to organize ideas and develop time lines.
5. Work with Students to Locate Resources
For advanced content and methodological aid, teachers should direct students toward “how-to” books, as well as biographies and autobiographies, periodicals, atlases, letters, surveys, films, phone calls and personal interviews. Librarians and media specialists should also steer students to sources beyond references encyclopedic.
6. Provide Methodological Assistance
In this step, the emphasis shifts from learning about topics, to learning how one gathers, categorizes, analyzes, and evaluates data. The teacher’s role, then, is to show students how to identify and obtain the resources that explain how to properly investigate their topics. Guidance at this phase almost guarantees that students will be first-hand investigators rather than reporters. Clearly, the caliber of instruction students receive here will differentiate their projects from those of their peers.
7. Help Students Choose a Question
Students can often decide, at this point, which question or area they want to research. In addition, many begin to investigate their topics.
8. Offer Managerial Help
Managerial assistance means that we help students secure the information they need. Teachers can set up interviews with public officials, gain access to laboratories or computer centers, transport youngsters to college libraries, and help distribute questionnaires or other printed pieces. At this stage, the student emerges as the leader and expert, while the educator assumes a more supportive role.
9. Identify Final Products and Audiences
A sense of audience is integral to students’ concern for quality and commitment to their tasks. With that in mind, teachers should lead students to appropriate audiences and outlets for their work. Teachers should also stress the impact creative efforts can have. Students should be aware that a job well done can bring more than individual expression and personal satisfaction; it benefits others by changing how they think or feel, or enhancing the quality of life in other, more tangible ways.
10. Offer Encouragement, Praise, and Constructive Criticism
Almost every endeavor can be improved through revision, rewriting or closer attention to detail. Teachers must convey this fact to students, as they review the youngsters’ projects with a sharp, yet sensitive eye. For their part, students should feel that the teacher’s greatest concern is helping them achieve excellence, and that constructive feedback is vital to the process.
11. Escalate the Process
Oftentimes, bright students resort to simple or unimaginative research methods because they have not been taught more advanced ones. Educators can change this by guiding students to do high level work. Teachers, media specialists, and librarians can assist students in phrasing their questions, designing research, gathering and analyzing data in an unbiased way, drawing conclusions, and communicating their results and make this more challenging process for high potential students.
Students always want to know how they’re being “graded.” However, we strongly discourage the formal grading of independent projects, since no letter grade, number or percent can accurately reflect the knowledge, creativity, and commitment students develop during their individual study. Feedback for students can be sought from professionals in the field, adult mentors, or intended audiences.
Nonetheless, evaluation and feedback do promote growth, and should be used. The ideal process is a two-way street: it actively involves students and familiarizes them with the evaluative procedures. To help students appraise their own work, we suggest a short questionnaire, such as the one below:
- How did you feel about working on the project?
- What did you learn through your study?
- Were you satisfied with the final product? In what ways?
- How were you helped with your project?
- Do you think you might like to undertake another project in the future? Do you have any ideas what that project would be like?
The replacement activities given in the next section are available and/or suggested at various web sites and are organized by content area.
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