January 22, 2013

(Re)Searching High and Low (Part 2 of 4)

In last week’s blog, we discussed how to approach long-term projects and papers. Undeniably, one of the most challenging aspects of these multifaceted assignments is the research. Particularly for students who have executive function issues or who struggle with organization, gathering information can prove quite daunting, so getting off on the right foot with a positive research experience is key to producing a successful project or paper.

As we mentioned in the previous blog, the first step is to gather appropriate research materials. This assumes that the topic has already been assigned or decided upon, so it is important to make sure that your child is not only sure of what s/he will be researching but also that s/he is excited about and invested in his/her topic. This will make the gathering of research materials much more focused and productive and will help keep your child motivated throughout the process.

In order to find age-appropriate materials, employ the “five finger rule,” even for older students. What this entails is actually looking at the resource – be it a book or an Internet source – and having your child read the first few pages or sentences. If s/he comes across more than five unfamiliar words, this resource is likely to be beyond his/her reading level and thus should probably be eschewed in favor of other materials that won’t necessitate constant adult intervention to merely comprehend the information contained within.

The other factor that is important to consider in selecting materials for a research paper or project is their applicability to the actual topic. To discover whether or not a book or website will provide pertinent information requires a bit more work than merely looking at the first few pages or sentences. Online, your child can use the “find” feature on his/her computer (Command + F on a Mac; Cntrl + F on a PC) to search for the topic of his/her assignment in the document being vetted. For example, if your child is doing a paper on Medicine in Ancient Greece, search for the term “Medicine” within an article on “Ancient Greece” and then read the sentences and sections where that term appears. If this doesn’t generate enough resource material, have your child make up a list of related terms; for the “Medicine in Ancient Greece” example, this might include the names of famous Greeks (Hippocrates, Aeschylus and Aristotle, for example), as well as words such as “cures,” “treatments,” “diseases,” etc.

If your child is using a traditional book source, a variation on this approach can be applied. Again using the “Medicine in Ancient Greece” topic, have your child look through the Tables of Contents of books that have titles related to Ancient Greece or the Ancient World. If s/he is lucky, there will be a whole chapter (or more!) on Medicine and/or on the aforementioned famous Greeks associated with medicine. If searching Tables of Content doesn’t provide enough resources, turn to the indexes of these books and search for the aforementioned Greek physicians and the terms associated with ancient medicine.

Another wonderful source for finding appropriate materials is the librarian at your child’s school or in your town library. These helpful folks have likely been assisting students for a few years with research projects on the exact topic your child is also investigating. Your librarian is probably aware of which sources have a wealth of information, which ones may contain rare nuggets of facts you would not find elsewhere, where there are books with illustrations that can be utilized (along with their captions) to enhance textual information – and which books are going to be a dead end. Encourage your child to discuss his/her topic with the librarian(s) him/herself as much as is appropriate for your child, rather than doing all the legwork for him/her. This will help increase his/her sense of confidence and mastery, as well as helping your child build a good relationship with someone who is likely to be a positive resource in the future, as well.

Keep in mind that your child’s Engaging Minds tutor can also work with him/her during his/her session to find appropriate research materials. Once your child has resources in place, the process of taking notes on the material can begin, and we can help with that as well. We will cover this aspect of the research process, and how to organize those notes to produce an outline, in our next blog.

Doing a research paper/project is a very involved and time-consuming process, but with your support and encouragement and your child’s investment and excitement it can be a wonderful opportunity for your child to become a true expert on the topic s/he is researching!