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How to Assess Student Research & Study Skills

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Today's teachers are tasked with ensuring that students know how to study and conduct research. This lesson will provide you with some ideas about how to assess your students' ability to ask questions, evaluate resources, and take good notes.

Why Research and Study Skills?

Have you ever thought about what you can do to set your students up for a lifetime of learning? What, besides content, can you offer them that will help them succeed in future schooling and in life?

Meet Jeremy, who has thought a great deal about what he has to offer his students. Jeremy is a fourth grade teacher who has become increasingly convinced that the most important thing he can offer is a solid beginning in two things:

  1. Research skills, or skills they can use to help them pursue their own line of inquiry, and
  2. Study skills, or strategies for learning and remembering new knowledge and skills.

Jeremy understands that while content is important, it is the capacity to study and to do research that will lead his students to become effective, motivated, and self-extending learners. Research and study skills are essential for success in school and in the workforce. Part of good teaching is always assessment, or thoughtful evaluation that can then inform instruction.

Jeremy sets about considering what it means to assess students' skills at research and study. He finds ways of assessing their ability to ask good questions, find and evaluate resources, and take good notes.

Assessing the Ability to Ask Good Questions

The first aspect of good research and good study skills is the ability to ask good questions. In research, a solid, interesting, open-ended and answerable question directs a student's project. The ability to inquire leads to the ability to hypothesize and investigate.

In study, the ability to ask good questions leads to the ability to anticipate test questions and discern what is most important in a body of knowledge. For instance, students who have been studying the water cycle might ask why the water cycle works or what the first step is in the cycle.

Jeremy assesses his students' ability to ask questions by presenting them with a little information and then asking them to brainstorm everything they want to know about that topic. Some students are able to fill their page with questions, while others are stumped with how to begin. This assessment gives Jeremy good instructional information about which students need the most guidance in terms of accessing their own curiosity, structuring a question, and taking intellectual risks.

Assessing the Ability to Find and Evaluate Resources

Jeremy knows, though, that asking questions can be just the tip of the iceberg. He brings his students to the school library to assess their ability to find and evaluate resources that will help them study and do research. Jeremy takes observational notes of their awareness of how the library works, their willingness to move flexibly among books, magazines, and technology, and their savvy in terms of determining whether a source is credible.

Jeremy then devotes a separate class period to assessing their ability to work with the internet. He gives his students five websites on a topic of interest and asks them to complete a rubric evaluating the credibility, worthiness, and interest level of these sites. This assessment helps Jeremy direct future instruction by targeting students who are not yet critical readers of digital tools and by doing remedial work with students who are not able to navigate online spaces. It also shows him which students would benefit from an extra challenge in terms of finding answers to more complicated or open-ended questions with the internet as a resource.

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