Planning a Local Expedition Using the ALERT
ASK | LISTEN
| EXPLORE | REFLECT | TELL
The ALERT framework provides a way to stay oriented
through a research project. Research by its nature is open-ended and
somewhat loosely structured, so explorers need to keep re-evaluating their
mission as the process unfolds. Getting lost may be part of the process,
but so is remembering the goal and finding a way to get back on track.
ASK: Learners will look at introductory materials and
form a preliminary research question.
may be used that:
- present a puzzle;
- challenge a stereotype or conventional wisdom;
- present a contradiction;
- offer an insight (or aha! experience);
- promote empathy (through a human interest story);
- present a generalization or explanation against which different
generalizations or explanations can be compared later.
From the Library of Congress American
Several approaches might be taken to engage students with these primary
Learners might write their reactions to a document and these written
reactions might be compared among the whole class.
Learners might generate a list of questions triggered by the document,
leading to a discussion about which questions can be researched with
Learners might discuss the documents in the context of a contemporary
issue, using what they know about the contemporary issue to make
predictions about what they will find in the past. For example, if
learners begin with the wolf
bounty claim form, they might predict what organizations in the past
had positions on the state law creating a bounty, and what arguments these
organizations made to get the law passed.
LISTEN: With their preliminary question in mind, learners
will be directed to archives and exhibits where they can find and read primary and secondary sources that touch on their
question. After some reading, they may use the National History Standards
or the Montana Social Studies Standards
for guidance in
developing their preliminary question into a guiding research question.
EXPLORE: The exploration phase is concerned mainly with inquiry. Learners
can answer questions about the past by examining documents, they can generate and test hypotheses, and
they can form strategies for additional research.
Their research could
take them to various resources, including archival materials, but also visits to actual sites,
interviews with experts or persons with first-hand knowledge, readings in
secondary sources and textbooks, or examination of artifacts.
REFLECT: Reflection is most powerful as a learning strategy when it
focuses on anomalies. What is most surprising about what is being
discovered? What "facts" seem to contradict each other? What
insights about the past don't "fit" with the learner's existing
theories about the world?
Adolescent learners need to complicate their theories of the world.
Children learn "hot" and "cold" before they learn
"warm." Adolescents do much of their thinking with simple
polarities (freedom and slavery, war and peace, love and hate, good and
bad). Their most typical educational need is to explore the complex ways
people act and events unfold between such polarities. Events, facts, and
patterns that don't "fit" their existing theories of the world
are thus most valuable for further exploration.
Many teaching activities aimed at promoting reflection allow
learners merely to repeat viewpoints and conclusions they already hold.
Such activities may have limited educational value. Better
activities draw learners into considering how to understand actualities that
require more complex thinking.
It is not an exaggeration to say that reflection is the only effective
learning strategy. All the other activities gain their value from the
extent to which they provoke, support, and encourage reflection.
The final stage in a good research project is to tell the
story or the conclusions about what has been learned. In the telling, the
learner's understanding will be transformed. This telling can take many
forms: a traditional research paper, a digital exhibit, a visual display,
a radio show, a video, a public program, or a dramatic presentation.
The telling of the story should be understood as a gift of
scholarship to a larger community: the town or neighborhood of which the
learner is part or the community of researchers, including those in the
future. Research is service.
An important way of transforming our knowledge of the past
is simply to organize materials in a way that makes them more useful to
future researchers. Locating and organizing historical materials is
necessary work. Such tools as indexes to newspaper obituaries or digital
versions of cemetery records can be important scholarly work.
So can careful documentation, in photos, maps, and words
of existing sites.
Often, what a learner adds to the record that
is new is his or her interpretation of the past. The most important
learning outcome of a research project is for a learner to encounter new
information and have new experiences, and then to consider them in the
light of his or her personal experiences of the world, including intellectual and emotional beliefs about what matters. In other words, to
deepen the learners' personal understanding of the world and themselves.
approaches to this difficult work are possible. Here are two suggestions:
Write an interpretive essay about a document, providing some
historical context and an explanation of how the document supports or
challenges a commonly accepted conclusion. Put both a copy of the
document and the interpretive essay online.
Create a museum display about a historical topic (a person, event,
place). Select items to display and interpret based on the learner's
conclusions at the end of the study.
Note: It is generally easier to "reverse engineer"
such a teaching activity, beginning with the final products that are
sought, then working backwards. The last part of the planning may be to
find the right introductory document.