Once I experienced the Guided Inquiry Design (GID) process with the National History Day (NHD) project, and witnessed the students’ engagement and excitement for research, I knew I had to replicate that process in my other writing classes. I’m going to describe a writing project I routinely used in a very technical course with time at a premium.
My class that continually proved complicated for research instruction was my Senior Composition Honors class. The class was designed to be extremely practical for students. It was unique in that the goals of the class included preparing students for college writing and/or occupational writing, while also granting technical college credit in composition. It was a diverse group of students, to say the least. Students wrote various essays, created functional resumes, applied for scholarships, and completed their college applications. My job was to introduce them to as many different types of writing as might be found in their future endeavors. And…to make things more complicated, I only had a semester in which to do it.
As you might imagine, finding time for realistic research was nearly impossible. Anyone who has taught a research project in a large class knows that it takes a significant amount of time. Before using GID, research projects took a minimum of 6-8 weeks. Often, they would stretch on well past that constraint. Much time was wasted and keeping students on task was a constant battle.
Enter GID in Senior Composition Honors…
The key to making this work in a condensed time period is access to high-quality, vetted digital resources. I first used this process with SIRS Knowledge Source Pros-and-Cons, but later switched to Gale Opposing Viewpoints. Recently, EBSCO and others have developed similar resources.
The first major benefit of the digital resources is the topic list. Each of the resources I mentioned supplies a list of topics. Every topic includes possible research questions and example thesis statements. At first glance, this may seem counter-intuitive to the GID process, but after a closer examination, it becomes clear that what is actually provided for students is the ability to reduce the time needed to open the GID process, immerse themselves in the topic and explore on a limited basis. I wouldn’t recommend this process for a truly authentic research experience, but it is priceless as a model.
We started the process be scanning the general list of topics. Students were free to choose any topic that they might have found interesting. Then, they explored the provided resources, which include current, vetted sources. I found that this whole exploring process can be done in as little as a single class period. Depending on time available, students can have multiple classes to fully invest in the topic of choice. Exploring is limited to the list of resources provided by the database.
At this point, students simply needed to gather the information that would assist in the writing of the final paper. I spent a class period showing them how to find key ideas from an article, and then students had the opportunity to examine their own articles to find significant details. After only a few days, they had enough material to write their first content section. As they wrote, they learned to properly cite their sources, which is also scaffolded by the digital resource of choice. As they used a fact, they added it to their works cited page, and they cited parenthetically, all of which is laid out for them within the resource.
Closing out the GID process, students finished creating their papers. This is really about the process; being a micro-research paper, I generally asked for 3-5 pages with a minimum of 3 subtopics. After a week, or at max, 2, students were done writing.
Because the research process is so controlled, if students give 5 minute presentations, in a class of 30, you can still do 5 – 9 presentations in a 50-minute class. Even if you only did 5, everyone can present in just over a week. Knowing they will have to present helps motivate students to complete the project and take it seriously. Even the limited choice in topics provides enough interest to provoke inquiry.
Finally, in my class, the evaluation focused on the process. The objective was to give students an understanding of the process, and how they could use it in a larger research project. Therefore, the process should get as much weight as the content in the final project grade.
In the end, this GID project provided a significant, structured micro-research experience in a time-crunched class. Students were able to experience the entire research process in just a few weeks’ time.