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Using Research-Based Instructional Strategies
in Community Studies Projects

Evidence from clinical studies has converged with research findings in neuroscience and cognitive science to support the educational practices that are at the heart of community-centered teaching. Nine such practices are explained in Classroom Instruction that Works by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

The Nine Practices include:

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences
2.  Note Taking and Summarizing
3. Providing Recognition and Reinforcing Effort
4. Practice and Homework
5. Nonlinguistic Representations
6. Cooperative Learning
7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
8. Generating and Answering Questions
9. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences

The basis of thinking is to see how similar things are different and how different things are similar. As students compare and contrast the present with the past, they encounter repeated opportunities to analyze a broad range of information, to form analogies, and to compare and classify a broad range of phenomena. Our basic research question—What has changed and what has stayed the same?—stimulates and supports the most important thinking skills.

2. Note Taking and Summarizing

To take good notes, we need to focus our attention and discover what is important or essential and then put it in our own words. Note taking is a process of finding a structure in the information and of adding, deleting, and substituting

The more notes students take, the more they are likely to learn (although verbatim note-taking has relatively little value).

Students involved in community studies have opportunities to take notes from many sources in the field. They can take notes of interviews, of readings in primary and secondary documents, of observed processes at community events, of places ranging from grocery stores to sporting events, as well as of classroom discussions. More information on Note Taking.

When students are working together in teams on large research projects, they face many natural opportunities for summarizing their findings for other members of the group, both verbally and in writing, as they create a shared "data base" to keep the work progressing.

3. Providing Recognition and Reinforcing Effort

An integral part of community studies is that the work results in a gift of scholarship to the community. These gifts can take many forms that include public presentations to the community: heritage evenings in which students read papers, display exhibits, perform musical and dramatic presentations. Some groups have also created exhibits for local museums, created radio and television programs, created web sites and published books and magazines. Such work provides authentic recognition from the wider community beyond the school, as well as from peers.

Recognition is most effective when it is contingent upon reaching a clear standard. Many teachers link public exhibitions to rubrics that specify the standards that are sought. They monitor student preparation for such exhibitions, offering prompts and suggestions as well as chances to practice. Well-deserved praise, not only from the teacher but from others in the community, helps teach the importance of effort.

4. Practice and Homework

Many of the skills used the ALERT Process that forms the basis of community studies projects can be practiced and extended outside the classroom. For example, students can take detailed notes from texts, interviews and site visits and, if they have access to a computer, they can practice the presentation skills involved in creating web pages and slide presentations. Every effort should be made to make digital cameras, camcorders and audio recorders that are used in the projects available on a check out basis so students can practice outside school.

5. Nonlinguistic Representations

We store information both visually and linguistically. Students learn best when they have chances to use both forms to increase their understanding. Most community studies projects include visually rich materials, including photographs, artifacts, heirlooms, architecture, and historical sites.

Photography, map-making, exhibit design, and art work are central to many documentary projects as well as to the public presentations that culminate community studies projects. Many projects have incorporated artwork (making posters, quilts, and calendars) into such content areas as history, English, and geography. Gathering, interpreting and presenting information can often have visual components throughout the project.

6. Cooperative Learning

The core components that make cooperative learning a powerful instructional strategy include interdependence, both individual and group accountability, group reflection and discussion, working together face-to-face, and guided use of effective social skills. All these components have been effectively worked into team research projects.

Care should be taken to ensure that group members are given responsibilities for tasks they need to learn and not just for those they are already good at doing.

 When groups aim at using research done by several members to create a public exhibition, they need to think together about what the important story is, what information is most essential to that story, and what words and images best tell the story. This is a powerful way to teach for deeper understanding as well as to teach the higher writing skills.

7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback

Since community studies projects culminate in tangible products, scholarly gifts to the community, they are quite naturally organized around objectives that give student work direction. In forming and answering research questions, students participate in outline the objectives of their projects.

As work moves forward, teachers monitor progress and provide feedback. They often also assist in the creation of interim goals both for groups and individuals that need to be accomplished to create a successful final product and public exhibition. Students should be helped to form long-range goals and to coordinate them with the many more short-term goals needed to succeed. More information on Final Products.

8. Generating and Answering Questions

Students can be asked to predict what they will find before they engage in a research question. An essential part of the ALERT Process—the heart of it—is forming and refining guiding questions for research. More information on Questions.

9. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

Advance organizers are strategies to orient students to the work before them before the begin learning. They can take the form of introductory stories, graphic  images, discussions, or brief texts. The more analytical these tools are and the more they focus on what is important about the topic, the more successful they are.

Teachers have had students analyze 4 pages of a 1914 New York Times, identifying key topics and forming questions, before beginning extended research into the time period. They have asked students to create a small museum display interpreting one historical photograph before launching a unit on methods of community research.

Adapted from "Getting Acquainted with the Essential Nine," Curriculum Update, Winter 2002, Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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