What Gifted Youth Need
Never has there been a more important time to be teaching critical research skills, or content analysis. And while gifted students often bring a strong sense of curiosity and a thirst for knowledge to the classroom, their enthusiasm for knowledge can sometimes get in the way of the time-consuming process that rigorous research requires.
For example, we all are susceptible to confirmation bias—an argument fallacy in which one tends to believe sources that agree with our own opinions. Given the overwhelming nature of information in our online world, we all have a tendency to believe the familiar. Seeking out different sources of information can be daunting and time-consuming. Students who have grown up with Google searches, uncritical acceptance of search engines as neutral, reliable sources may be unfamiliar with inherent biases in many search algorithms.1
In addition to determining source credibility, however, students also need to understand the role that their own biases and assumptions play in their research. Among the argument fallacies that can interfere with rigorous research is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency people have to seek out opinions and perspectives which are similar to and reinforce their own. At a time in which it often feels as though we are drowning in information, we can help our students increase awareness and provide methods so our students will seek out and sort through a variety of perspectives.
How do you teach critical research? Share with us below!
Model: What Is Content Analysis?
Content analysis is a common assignment in research methodology courses, especially in the social sciences. Most of these assignments draw on some version of the methodology first laid out in the 1974 study “Sex role stereotyping in children’s television programs,” which analyzed ten different children’s television programs for the ways in which gender stereotypes were presented. In a content analysis, a researcher looks at a set of data, “codes” it for particular elements under consideration, and then tabulates the data results.
Why a Listicle?
Listicles have become an established genre of online writing. In the midst of constant online information overload, their tempting, “clickbaity” headlines offer a way of organizing information in manageable, comprehensible lists. Journalist Steven Poole is among many who have discussed the ways in which the listicle “seductive because it promises upfront to condense any subject into a manageable number of discrete facts or at least factoids.” And while the jury is still out on whether reading listicles is hurting or hindering our reading comprehension, having students conduct research and create their own listicles provides a dimension of “real world” writing to their work which can encourage additional engagement with their work. This differentiation by student interest and the change to practice the role of web author works well with gifted students, as does allowing them to dive deeply into an area of interest.
The Listicle Assignment: How It Works
An additional element of engagement comes from a “real-world” dimension. Adapting the “GRASPS” model of assignment design attributed to Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.2 I give my students the following assignment prompt:
- Your Role and Situation and Audience: You create content for a popular lifestyle, pop culture, or other themed website. You have been tasked with creating a “listicle”-style article about the “top five” themes, trends, gifts, looks–or other aspects that you might identify–in this category. (Here’s a great “listicle about listicles” to get you started.)
- Your Assignment, Audience, and the Standards for Success: You must review at least five issues of magazines relevant to your topic. You may decide to focus only on articles, only on advertisements, only on a certain kind of article, or a combination of these.
- Study the audience for these magazines and generate a list of audience descriptors (adjectives and nouns) and a list of audience interests and needs.
- The restriction for the magazines are the following:
- They must meet the CRAAP Test. (There are an abundance of resources for teaching students strategies for determining the credibility of sources—many of which are based on the so-called “CRAP” (or “CRAAP”) test, developed by librarians to provide some best practices for library research.)
- They must be written by authors or organizations that differ in perspective.
- They should have publication dates near each other–don’t compare magazines that are years apart, for example.
- Your Process: You may need to skim a bit to come up with a research question, but you should start your real coding with a broad research question and theme. Here are some examples:
- Looking at recent issues of Southern Living, I might ask, What are trends in southern tourism? I might then look at both ads for tourism and travel as well as articles written about travel and tourism.
- In coding, I’d likely tag locations, kinds of tourism (for example: holiday-themed, amusement park, beach, historical tours). ]
- My listicle might end up being something like, “Top Five Beach Getaways in the South.” Or it might be, “The Five Best Vacations for History Buffs.”
- Your Product:
- Your final listicle should include a paragraph for each element, which includes references to the magazine articles you’ve read.
- It’s up to you to decide how you provide citations for your information–hyperlinks? Footnotes? List of works consulted? (Teachers, it’s up to you to decide what works best for your purpose and audience. I assume you will follow any departmental, school, and/or district guidelines for citation, while also keeping in mind any digital citizenship agreements or academic honesty guides.
- Your listicle should have some conscious visual design to it. Use Canva, Thinglink, your favorite meme or giphy, or other visuals to illustrate your findings.
In the face-to-face classroom, I provide a wide variety of recent magazines for students to use. I also use several colors of small sticky notes for them to use for “coding,” or tagging the different topics related to their research question, with color-coding for the different topics. While I explain that it’s likely they have a hunch what the answer to their research question is, I emphasize how important it is that they tag everything related to their topic, whether it fits in with their hunch or not. I also encourage them not to over-think their tagging—if it seems to fit, go ahead and affix the sticky note.
In the online classroom, I suggest kid-friendly sites such as History, National Geographic (or National Geographic Kids) , or Smithsonian (or Smithsonian Kids). For coding, there are a variety of both low- and -high tech strategies you might use:
- Print out the articles you’re reading, and use sticky notes as described above.
- As you read online, keep a running list of “tags” as you read on a piece of paper, and then count up them as described above.
- Or, for a more high-tech solution, there are a number of online annotation tools such as Diigo that allow you to annotate webpages as though they are hard copies.
Once they’ve gone through five magazines (or websites), students then count up the number of each color of sticky note and come up with the “top five” themes or topics related to their question. They then create their own listicle, complete with a catchy title and visually effective design.
Tackling Bias in Content Analysis
This task can help students recognize their own biases and assumptions going into research that they might not be aware of in more traditional, library-based research projects. First, ensure that there is a wide range of magazines on different topics. For example, for sports-themed research, I’d include general interest magazines such as Sports Illustrated as well as more focused magazines such as Yoga Journal and Runner’s World. It’s important to have students doing some of the coding in class, so that instructors can review and offer suggestions if they see students overlooking elements which may not fit their assumptions.
As students are tabulating their research, you might encourage them to “drill down” in their numbers to see how the numbers differ from magazine to magazine, or even over time. Giving students experience in playing with data can give them a new sense of awareness of how data can be manipulated in its presentation.3 In addition, it’s important to have students reflect on how their own assumptions and biases were at play in coding data.
The Importance of Metacognitive Reflection
As with most writing assignments, one of the most important parts of the assignment is the post-assignment reflection. In either a written assignment or a class discussion, ask students to reflect upon their research and writing processes. Questions they should consider include:
- What were the biggest challenges of the assignment? Was it difficult to come up with a complex research question? Was it difficult to come up with coding categories?
- What did you discover when applying the CRAAP Test to your sources? When applying the rule of finding varying perspectives?
- What were your expectations going into the assignment? How did youactually complete the work? How do you account for the differences between expectation and reality?
- What was surprising about the assignment?
- If you were to complete the assignment again, what would you do differently? What lessons learned from this assignment will you take with you for future assignments?
Such reflective work is often where some of the most important learning happens. I also ask students how this experience will affect how they approach reading online. Now that they are familiar with concepts such as confirmation bias and clickbait headlines, will that change how they read online?
2 – “GRASPS” is an acronym which stands for Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Product/Performance/Purpose, and Standards for Success. First formulated in their 2005 book Understanding by Design (Assn. for Supervision & Curriculum Development; 2nd Expanded edition), the “GRASPS” model provides an invaluable heuristic for creating assignments which mimic “real-world” situations and give students a clear understanding of their own role in their classwork. See also https://jaymctighe.com/downloads/GRASPS-Design-sheets.pdf