Research as a Superpower


I learned to research when I joined my high school debate team. In retrospect, I was lucky to have been primed for the task by a family that was fanatic about the riches of public libraries and teachers who encouraged me to read to my heart’s content. But, the rigorous practice of seeking out as many sources as I could find (before the Internet, mind you), comparing them to each other (and to my opponents’ work), and synthesizing their content into something more than the parts really took root in me through competitive debate. 

I continued to debate through college, and ever since then I’ve found that the ability to research – really research, seeking out all the possible angles and citations and drawing the most defensible conclusion – has been a kind of superpower that’s helped me immeasurably in the many decades since I first stepped foot into the ninth-grade debate room. 

Now, research isn’t that easy to teach. It can feel overwhelming to educators, especially in a world drowning in facts, “facts,” and everything in between. One key is to help students tune into the intrinsic motivation and curiosity that they all possess. Once students realize that the textbook (for example) doesn’t have all the answers, and that they might be able to correct the record, they are on a path to discovery. 

Research skills don’t have to start with building a bibliography. In fact, they start with developing the skills of critical investigation. When students look at a text, they might ask questions such as: Who is included? Who isn’t? Why might the authors have made these decisions?  

The five topics that CARE Executive Director Maureen Costello introduced in her recent post aren’t just for educators – they can also be a gateway for students to critically evaluate their own textbook, looking at specific areas. To use these inquiry questions with students, it may be useful to scaffold the work a little bit by attaching “look for” suggestions to each question. So, for example, when examining texts for their coverage of European colonization, students who start with the first question (Does the resource [d]iscuss Indigenous people and societies as they existed before European arrival?) will benefit from supplementary questions such as: 

  • How does the resource describe non-European lands? Does it use the language “New World?” What does that imply? Does it describe lands as “empty” or “unsettled?” Why do you think it says this? 
  • How does the text describe the motivations of European colonizers? Does it say that they were interested in “discovery,” profit, or some combination of motives? How do these characterizations influence your thinking? 

As students build their ability to read for inclusion and exclusion, they will become more interested in finding other resources to answer the questions they generate. And, you’ll be taking one more step forward toward building a hunger for research in your own classroom.  

On a personal note: I’m thrilled to join the CARE team in this new position for many reasons, but one is that it’s bringing me back to my roots in applied research. I’m not planning on getting in too many debates these days (though I welcome them).

Mostly, I’m hoping to use my work (and, occasionally, this space) to share insights from new research relevant to CARE’s work and practitioners – always with actionable takeaways for you. 

See you in the library! 

When students look at a text, they might ask questions such as: Who is included? Who isn’t? Why might the authors have made these decisions?