The Stenhouse Blog

Rethinking How Students Do Research

Posted by admin on Dec 7, 2018 12:53:40 PM

Research doesn’t have to be a flat experience. If students ask the right questions that require investigation and critical thinking, research can spark passion and curiosity. It can be an exciting exploration into topics that lead to discovery.

“It should pop up into one’s thoughts at odd times of the night. It should prickle the intellect as a persistent itch prickles the skin. It should be a passion, a temporary obsession, page count unlimited. It should not be a pesky, tedious assignment.” –Cathy Fraser

In her new book, Love the Questions: Reclaiming Research with Curiosity and Passion, Cathy Fraser shows us how to lead students to think more critically about information through genuine inquiry. She argues that if students consider heftier questions while doing research for a project, they’re more likely to transform the information into something more meaningful. Here are some ideas to think about before assigning your next research project.

Espousing a Culture of Inquiry

Students have a hard time coming up with research questions. Fraser believes that by getting students to comply with the rules of citizenry in the school community, we’ve inadvertently squelched their natural curiosity. But Fraser believes that this trend can be reversed by opening the avenues to inquiry. “Real research leads to discovery. It begins with inquiry, but in order to form great research questions students must have a substantial amount of background knowledge,” (Fraser 2018).

Evolution of the Research Question

Coming up with a meaningful question can be difficult. Some questions may be too broad, and some questions are too surface level. Fraser suggests putting off developing research questions until students have read more about the subject. The more they know about a topic or person, the easier it will be for them to identify a problem or a question. “A student should experience something—even vicariously—before he can develop sufficient feelings of interest to invest his time in thinking more about a subject,” (Fraser 2018).

Making Connections: The Missing Piece

The piece that is missing from student research work is the prior knowledge they’ve gained throughout all of their years spent in the classroom absorbing content and other information. Fraser believes that we do not encourage students enough to draw on what they already know, to make connections to prior reading they’ve done, or even consider interests they pursue on their own time. “If we make connections for students even briefly on a regular basis, they will see that it’s a valuable exercise, and it make break down the dividers between disciplines. Everything is connected,” (Fraser 2018).

Preliminary Reading on a Topic

As part of their research, Fraser believes that it is important for students to read authoritative essays that express opposing viewpoints on their chosen topics. They may have an emotional response to the reading, which would lead to more questions. Ask the school librarian to help you track down articles, or essays can be found on subscription databases such as Gale and EBSCO Host.

To learn more about how to implement these ideas in the classroom, go to


Fraser, Cathy. 2018. Love the Questions: Reclaiming Research with Curiosity and Passion. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse

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