Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners through the language of instruction

This article talks about the insights gathered (through a Visible Thinking Routine) from Grade 2 – 5 English learners when they expressed their struggles conducting research in their homeroom.   

 These reflections unearthed how language can be a barrier and how teachers can collaboratively play a role in bridging these gaps for learners, for them to overcome these challenges with simple research strategies. 

Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instruction

By Lamiya Bharmal 

I was curious to know if teachers’ thinking is visible to students and if students’ thinking is visible to teachers and this was the catalyst for my research.

The PYP Approaches to learning, focuses on skills that students can develop to help them “learn how to learn”. One of the skills is Research skills and this connects with the subject I teach – Information Literacy.  

Passionate about teaching and learning, I enrolled for a Making Thinking Visible course. I gained some fresh insight on how to develop my students’ research skills. I was curious to know if teachers’ thinking is visible to students and if students’ thinking is visible to teachers and this was the catalyst for my research.  

This article talks about the insights gathered when Grade 2 – 5 students reflected on the challenges they face when assigned research tasks. Students’ voices unearthed how we as teachers can collaboratively play a role in bridging some gaps with simple strategies to support all learners when they are seeking information. 

We can support EAL (English as an additional language) students in different ways. Learners are comfortable when paired to complete tasks using Google translate to research in their home language and to then present their findings with simplified expectations.  

Generating teacher responsesI used a Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate Visible Thinking routine. I first ‘Generated’ a response from teachers to gather their expectations based on how their learners research.  

This served as a provocation to ‘Generate’ a response from all the students to express what their struggles and challenges were. Their responses were documented on sticky notes. 

Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instructionApproaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instruction

It surprised me that ALL students had struggles and that ALL were able to express their struggles. Their notes just showed the support that each student required from us and how. 

When seeking permission from students to read their notes aloud, I initially experienced resistance from some EAL students and from the ‘not so confident’ students when having inhibitions and reservations of disclosing their struggles. Through modeling the expectation of respect when reading aloud from the few confident students who gave permission to share their work, the other EAL and ‘not so confident’ students realised the impact this could have on their learning and that they were not the only ones who had struggles/challenges. This turnaround in resistance was an “aha” moment for me. 

Having ‘Generated’ a response from students I now ‘Sorted’ these into groups. This was valuable in moving their learning forward through creating a culture of learning for ALL students and in how they could support one another as many had common struggles. 

Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instruction

While sorting their struggles, the role that language plays when conducting any research became evident.

While sorting their struggles, the role that language plays when conducting any research became evident. It hinges on how students access and interpret information. This was validated as the teachers echoed the same notion. 

We then ‘Connected’ with learners’ homeroom unit of inquiry to extend and ‘Elaborate’ on simple strategies we could apply.  

Some simple strategies that we brainstormed and suggested -  

When looking for information and even for images In a search, include words such as the following after the search term, ‘for kids/primary children/junior/easy/beginners/simple/basic or a specific age 8-9, at the end after the search term. The results are more child friendly. 

Ask an adult for meanings, look for meanings through the dictionary/phonetic dictionary, when you right click on the word you can explore its meaning or alternatively look for synonyms to help you find the word that fits best.  

Read or watch video clips not once but twice, and reread or re-watch a couple more times if necessary. 

To read the words you come across the first time – sound it out, decode/break the word into parts before you pronounce/sound the whole word, for example  comprehend for comprehend.  

Choose a quiet space or what works best for you, read aloud or read a bit slowly.   

Pay careful attention to what you use as a keyword, and the correct spelling.  

Change the way you use a keyword search by reframing the question differently.  

Reframe questions by using synonyms/different words. 

Skim and scan – use a highlighter when you come across important relevant information.  

Next to encourage students to empathise with how language impacts the way we access information, I made a word using shapes instead of letters – a triangle represented C, a square represented A and a circle represented T, alphabet. Students were then asked to read this. 

Students were perplexed and reflected on how difficult reading in another language is, and this helped them to empathise with the EAL learners. Finding representations and translating information for EAL learners now made more sense to them. 

Feedback by teachers included “Are students able to synthesize information when conducting research from various sources?”  

Here I wanted students to know the meaning of the word synthesize. To simplify this, I first asked 5 students about the places they visited during their holidays. These 5 students represented 5 different websites. I later asked one student to create a report when combining all that he gathered through these 5 students (5 websites). When this report was read aloud the 5 students then pointed out if their peer had forgotten to include the most important information or misinterpreted the information. This way each student was able to comprehend the concept of synthesizing. 

Research skills can be learned and taught and improved as we practice and are developed as learners advance in age and in their levels of understanding.

To conclude we brainstormed solutions for each of their struggles. We looked at possible strategies and steps to keep in mind when gathering information.

First step – Keyword strategies in the search box to include exactly what you are looking for with better spellings which will give better results. 

Second step  taking notes of the information found  

Third step – Paraphrasing and Synthesising when making meaning from the information. 

Fourth step – Citing where the information came from.

Concept map strategies are also useful in organizing the information students find.

 Students identified a strategy and reflected on how the implementation acted as a solution to resolve their individual struggles. Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instructionApproaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instruction 

It was great to see students taking ownership of the way they could get better at information gathering research. 

Research skills can be learned and taught and improved as we practice and are developed as learners advance in age and in their levels of understanding. By focusing on language and its connection to information gathering, we can enhance students’ ‘Learning how to learn’ to improve research skills. 

Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners new to the language of instruction

Lamiya Bharmal has been a PYP Librarian and Information Literacy teacher working at Stonehill International School in Bangalore, India for 8 years. She has taught in IB PYP schools and national curriculum schools since 2001 and has been a homeroom teacher and primary librarian for an equal number of years. As the PYP emphasizes student voice, choice, ownership, reflection and research skills, she aims to equip learners to research independently and take ownership of their learning

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23 Responses to Approaches to learning: supporting research skills among learners through the language of instruction

  1. Parimala B Janardhan 7 March 2021 at 4:00 am #

    Ms Lamia, I liked your process of identifying shortfall and expressing them on a sticknote.

    I obeserve two things, number one identifying their own weakness and voiceout which helps the child to overcome their fear and secondly it’s a wonderful literacy activity on it’s own.

  2. Anil Mane 7 March 2021 at 12:03 pm #

    A well articulated article by Ms. Lamiya. This is so true to allow students to take ownership of research. At the same time not to forget our responsibility of mentoring and guiding them to explore different possibilities to unpack through research their own chosen topic. The exemplars are good reference for teachers and librarians for collaboration on multiple aspect of research along with ATL skills. Appreciate Ms. Lamiya sharing her absolutely empirical experience and best practice. Thanks for a very informative and useful article.

    • Lamiya 8 March 2021 at 4:46 pm #

      Thank you Anil for your feedback

  3. Mina 8 March 2021 at 7:29 am #

    Lamiya,
    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with this amazing research which gives a very clear explanation of how we can encourage and inspire children carry our research at a very early age.
    I particularly resonated with the part about children’s struggle and how your tackled it using thinking strategies.
    Good learning for both students and teachers.
    Mina

    • Lamiya 8 March 2021 at 4:49 pm #

      Thank you Mina, I appreciate your feedback

      • Sharayu 9 March 2021 at 2:34 am #

        Dear Lamiya, an interesting read, the mindset of children has been well looked into.
        Thanks for the tips, it will help us even when we try to build these skills in the Early Years class.
        Well done

        • Lamiya 9 March 2021 at 4:40 pm #

          Dear Sharayu,
          Thank you for your feedback. I think the Making Thinking Visible PD really helped me to gain this fresh insight

    • Sharayu 9 March 2021 at 2:24 am #

      Dear Lamiya, A nicely written article that addresses the ATLs in a specific way. Interesting to read the thought process of the children.
      The tips are well appreciated, thanks for sharing.
      Keep up the good work
      Regards Sharayu

      • Lamiya 9 March 2021 at 4:41 pm #

        Thank you Sharayu for your feedback

  4. Lamiya 8 March 2021 at 4:42 pm #

    Thanks Parimala for this feedback. Yes this shortfall was experienced by ALL students. As the article suggests there is a connection of language being a barrier for students to research better.

  5. Heeru Bhojwani 9 March 2021 at 3:42 am #

    Lamiya, yes, you are right; focusing on connection with language and other transdisciplinary concepts and ideas are important.

    Information gathering, evaluating resources, inferencing, and providing evidence with writing are skills that need to be practised when interacting with complex information as students grow each year.

    • Lamiya 10 March 2021 at 2:18 am #

      Dear Heeru,

      Thank you for your feedback. Yes language is important in gathering information and we need to provide learners with linguistic tools with which to learn as we are all language teachers as well.

  6. Vicki Richardson PYP Teacher 9 March 2021 at 5:06 am #

    I like how you used the sticky notes and were able to match struggles with solutions. It was a cool way to map out strategies. I like to use sticky notes as a writing technique for plot structure and character development so the same “sticky” technique for organizing thoughts gets reinforced in different subjects and can become a habit for those students who connect with that technique.

    • Lamiya 9 March 2021 at 4:37 pm #

      Dear Vicki,
      Thank you for your feedback. This was a whole circle complete for students to be able to come up with strategies to match their struggles.

    • Lamiya 10 March 2021 at 2:25 am #

      Thanks Vicki for your feedback.
      This was a whole circle complete for students to be able to come up with strategies to match their struggles. It served its purpose when students were able to reflect and to match this thus taking ownership as part of their learning.

    • Lamiya 10 March 2021 at 4:55 pm #

      Thanks Vicki for your feedback.
      A circle complete for students to be able to come up with strategies to match their struggles. It served its purpose when students were able to reflect and to match this, thus taking ownership of their learning.

  7. Vinita Kamat 9 March 2021 at 12:23 pm #

    Hello Ms.Lamiya,
    Awesome blog post. Lot of insights on the struggles the students face while researching. After reading your article, I wondered if it is only the EAL students who struggle or do all the students have some kind of struggle which might not be visible to the teacher. Thank you for this thought provoking blog post that made me think how best, we as educators can empower the student’s learning and research.

    • Lamiya 10 March 2021 at 2:22 am #

      Thanks Vinita for your feedback,
      In reply to your question – ALL students were facing struggles not only EAL which is why many times you will come across ALL written in capital letters

  8. Sapna Reddy 14 March 2021 at 9:12 am #

    Very lucid and insightful writing. I like the way you have brought out the the often ignored link between language competency and it’s consequent impact on effective research skills. On another level you could write an entire article that focuses on this critical aspect

    • Lamiya 18 March 2021 at 3:55 pm #

      Thank you Sapna for your encouraging words.

  9. Sheryl Ramsey 22 March 2021 at 7:06 pm #

    Excellent article Lamiya. You have given students a voice into the many ways they struggle with research. Once those struggles were identified you helped the students overcome their issues and gave them creative solutions. Very helpful article.

  10. Lamiya Bharmal 9 May 2021 at 1:48 pm #

    Thank you Sheryl for this valuable feedback, especially when it comes from someone who has been witness to this process.

  11. NAMRATA 15 May 2021 at 11:17 pm #

    I am a beginner in IB PYP. Reading this article gave me a good insight upon how ti build research skills in our learners. Moreover, I found that the pointers will help me to remember when I am actually implementing it in my classroom.

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