Students’ research

A fantastic question came up today on Montessori_online. How do we guide research? Children often drift from topic to topic. How do we get them to “complete” a research project.

Aleta Ledendecker has a brilliant way: to have a “Great Brain Fair” where children plan, research and upon completion, display their finds to their friends and family after a few weeks. A great way to motivate children. I most certainly want to look into that.

Sharon Caldwell, on the other hand, came up with some philosophical points that, I must say, make a lot of sense to me. I suddenly realised that often, I am uncomfortable with “making” a child complete a research topic. And yet, I wonder if children need more support than we realize? Perhaps what I should do then is continue to allow the children to spontaneously flit from topic to topic BUT give a separate lesson on how to complete a research project…. That will definitely require some creative thinking. More food for thought….

Below is Sharon’s post:

“This issue of “projects” and “finishing” is something that has interested me for a while – as I saw exactly the same thing in our school. To me it seems that we need to ask *why* we want children to do projects. This relates to
what do we mean by “finished”? I think there are a lot of factors and children may be picking topics for projects simply because they need to to projects – they weren’t really interested in the broader topic at all – or
the topic is too broad … lots of different factors, which may be different for different children. If the goal is to give the child the broadest possible spread of “seeds” for learning as Dr. Montessori describes in her
then we need to question what we mean by “finsihed”. The idea is to provide a deep interest and stimulate curiosity, not necessarily get a completed finished product — but that leads us back to the question of whether we see
learning as process or product. Learning as product does not fit well with the understanding of indirect preparation and planting seeds. A finished project, in a sense says “Been there, done that!” rather than I was
interested in horses, now I’m interested in Antarctica – but I can go back and find out more about any of them at any time.

So I am thinking of myself here – I move from topic to topic in reading and writing and probably only 20% of the articles I start writing end up completed – but the 80% uncompleted ones always feed into those that are completed.

So rather than “researching a project” I would say the idea should be to provide lots of opportunities for learning about different things in different ways, and supporting that learning in multiple ways. Learning how
to do a project may be one thing you can learn – maybe separately of the actual content? I remember when my son was learning how to do powerpoints – he designed his style first and then chose “spices” as the topic because it
went well with the style he had chosen! He wasn’t interested in the content at all. I’d posit that putting too much emphasis on getting finished products could limit the range of learning for some children. [Others may
enjoy doing short projects – others long projects – some may prefer a lot of grazing.] Are we wanting the same type of product from everyone?

Another thought is that, by asking children to commit to something we are asking them to know what they will be interested in before they really know what it is about. They don’t possibly know all the aspects of a topic – so
for example a child who wants to do a project on horses may actually want to learn to ride – starts the project and realises it is a poor substitute for what she wants and moves on to something else. I would, personally love to
visit Antarctica but have very little interest in reading about it. What I am trying to get to is that a real understanding of why children don’t like finishing projects (and will seldom do so unless there is some real
compulsion or force to make them) may be more useful in supporting learning than finding ways of achieving what looks to us adults a completed product.

Sharon”.

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