Written By: Mac-Z Zurawski
4th Installment in Community Teaching Series
As unemployment stagnates, the classrooms of America’s community centers are growing. The unemployed are trying to gain skills and networks by attending classes. These same people already know the job market is changing and will continue to in the future. Employment recruiters, even for non-skilled labor, want their new employees to have some kind of training or education. They want new hires to show motivation in education. Well, as a pre-cursor to attending college many of these hopeful hires will attend community classes. These classes range from ESL to create better communication to GED classes to horticulture. Each class offers new skills. Resume building isn’t the only result of these classes. Students in these neighborhood classes need to be introduced to research. Yes, research isn’t just for the graduate candidate. It is a skill that enables people to fine tune their ability to search information. A thesis is important but the average person needs answers to their questions. Where can I find a job? Where can I find practice tests for my GED class? Where can I find examples of business etiquette? What is Sigma six? The questions are endless but without the proper research skills many searches can lead to a dead end. Obstacles hamper hope which is fragile in these economic times. We, as community teachers, need to encompass research skills as part of our coursework in the classroom. Three main objectives to creating research in the community classrooms are: understanding and explaining metacognition, reading analysis and creation of research proposals.
Overturning the Community Syllabus
My first syllabus for my community class didn’t emphasis research. I felt that I would do the majority of researching articles and news stories. As time passed I realized my students wanted to start finding their own stories in relation to themselves. Metacognition allows learners to understand their own knowledge and skills in reference to their goals and critical thinking. Critical analysis of any and all information creates a stronger thought process and work force. As these community learners fill out job applications and create cover letters their critical thinking process expands. Create a syllabus which includes weekly or bi-weekly research on various topics within the classroom. Ask students to research articles and websites for answers to questions they may have.
Example: As my students starting to become more involved with the news stories in my “Current Events” class they wanted to find their own stories. I started by asking them to bring me references for news outlets they were looking into and what they were looking for. Every week we would decide on a topic that we would research outside of class to discuss the next week. I started out by giving them news outlets to find stories and they eventually started to find their own. They not only became more comfortable with their computing and internet skills but with deciphering information on the web.
Resources: Analysis of metacognition at http://education.purduecal.edu/Vockell/EdPsyBook/Edpsy7/edpsy7_meta.htm, research skills check list at http://www.scribd.com/doc/22046454/Research-Skills-Checklist, and http://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/research-rocks/.
New Books, New Ideas
Pushing the safety borders of our students whether in a college or community classroom is important. We expand student horizons and knowledge of themselves and the world. An easy means to introduce research are book reports/analysis. Require students to read a book that is connected to the class subject but not something they read. The analysis can include a structured format of research questions.
Example: In horticulture class students could read something on green initiatives, water reclamation or “The Road” by Cormack McCarthy or “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A novel or guide book can help students to investigate the many meanings of gardening to various people.
Five great questions to create a research based analysis of the book are:
How does this book influence your knowledge of the subject?
Name and describe five terms within the book related to the class subject.
Research one new technique of horticulture within the book.
Do you agree or disagree with the main concept of the book?
Would you recommend this book? Why?
Resources: Book report questions http://teacherweb.com/CA/Woodbury/Ehlert/book_report_questions.pdf, and reading comprehension http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/april2005/day/day.pdf. There are a plethora of book report tips on the net. Search for questions that may help your class.
Proposing the Future
A great way to introduce research skills is the creation of research proposals. These proposals are based on elements within the subject matter. As our adult students in the voluntary community classrooms are very busy these proposals can be simply structured. The best proposals will heighten our student’s research abilities in a simple and easy manner.
The introduction-includes reason why they want to research the said element of the subject. Restrict to half a page.
Hypothesis-explain their question. What are you looking for? What might you find?
Methodology-where are you going to look for the information? Why? Can you interview anyone that works or is involved in the subject matter?
Literature Review-must include 3 books and 10 articles. These articles can be from news outlets and journal databases (these databases now come free with library membership in major cities such as Chicago). Students should also include up to five websites they have reviewed concerning the subject.
Conclusion: Have the combined resources given insight into the subject?
Do you think if pursued your question would be answered? What have you learned from research?
This is a very simple formation for a proposal but it is only an introduction. This type of proposal should be pursued throughout the class in stages. A review on each stage should be given to answer questions and help form their questions. This may be very new to our students so patience is a virtue during the process.
Resources: proposal structures at http://owll.massey.ac.nz/assignment-types/research-proposal-structure.php, http://www.flinders.edu.au/slc_files/Documents/Brochures/research_proposal.pdf, and http://library.bcu.ac.uk/learner/writingguides/1.07.htm. The research proposals are best when based on the teacher’s knowledge and collaboration with student’s needs and abilities.
As we move into the 21st Century our students will be more prepared as leaders when they have the know how to answer. Simple structures create complex visions of success. Keep “bridging the gap between dreams and reality” for every student. The community classroom isn’t just a neighborhood meeting it s a start for tomorrow.
Please feel free to send any questions or concerns.