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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 – com–pre–hend 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.
Concept map strategies are also useful in organizing the information students find.
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.
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