Case Study: A Meaningful 21st Century Research Project

Today on the podcast, I’m so happy to welcome Jane Wisdom, a creative teacher from Illinois bringing a wealth of experience (and, I just have to say it, wisdom), to our show. She’s going to walk us through her students’ recent success with a research project that led into an Instagram-style carousel post.

This project does one of my favorite things, combines the verbal and the visual, the two sides of communication that BOTH play such a huge role in sharing information today. Ready to find out how to put this engaging social media twist onto a standard research project for yourself? Let’s dive in!

You can listen in to episode 163 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Meet Jane Wisdom

Just to give you a little bit of background, Jane teaches in the Chicago area at a diverse school with about two thousand students. She’s been in the game since 1984, with an M.A. in English, National Board Certification, an Administrative Degree, and a focus on teaching composition throughout her career.

She wants students to leave her comp classes feeling empowered to share their voice in meaningful ways. As she says, “Students feel like they have something to say, instead of being forced to say something, and leave with a sense of voice and a sense of confidence about how to express themselves that way.” #Goals for us all, right? I love this.

Setting up the Project

If you listened to episode 136, “Creative Real-World Research Projects in ELA,” then you know I shared the idea of teaching a research project through a social media carousel back then. Jane decided to run with this project idea, shaping it to suit the needs of her students.

She started by sharing persuasive examples of research carousels on Instagram, helping students see clear models of how to boil down research and then use a clear argument to reach their specific audience using the facts in combination with imagery.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, the Instagram carousel is a panel slideshow of information mixed with visuals. It functions for students as an engaging way to present the most important concepts from their research with an authentic audience in mind.

Jane soon discovered that kids really ran with the concept of the carousel. She laid out the requirements for them, including a specific number of sources and a strong focus on making an argument. She carefully designed a rubric to reflect all the necessary skills for her students (more on that in a minute).

Check out this Example of a Student’s Research Carousel

Here’s an example from one of Jane’s students about fast fashion. You can quickly see how the structure works. The first slide is like a thesis statement or an introduction to the topic before the thesis. The following slides show pictures and information/statistics, moving persuasively and quickly through why the big idea matters. Each slide must be engaging enough to keep people swiping on Instagram, while also persuading the audience in the direction of the thesis.

The Results

Jane found that since students weren’t intimidated by the format of the project, they were more comfortable with the research process.

Many chose other teens as an audience, again increasing their comfort level with how to format and structure their research into an effective argumentative research carousel.

Overall, Jane felt they gained the skills she wanted them to – they chose information carefully, staying on topic with the audience in mind more than they would normally in a longer paper.

Take a look at several more students’ inspiring work in this Google slideshow.

The Rubric

Jane is particularly interested in designing effective rubrics that serve as important tools for her students. She was inspired years ago by Jennifer Gonzalez’s article, “Meet the Single Point Rubric.”

For Jane, the rubrics are for the kids, not for the teacher – she wants rubrics to be a tool that kids can really read and understand, focusing on things they’ve talked about in class and avoiding overarching expectations that haven’t yet been taught specifically.

She asks herself: What am I looking for in an acceptable project? What are the skills I’m teaching them that need to show up very clearly in that final product?

She has pared her rubrics down a lot over the years, finding that kids get overwhelmed by dense rubrics. And she has started linking to the resources she’s shared with kids along the way, which she finds makes a big impact. Kids can review and look back whenever they need to. With Jane’s rubrics, students understand EXACTLY what is expected.

Take a look at Jane’s rubric for the research carousel.

Jane’s Advice

As you set up your project, focus on the specific skills you want, and keep them limited and specific. Give feedback along the way, guiding your students in choosing credible sources.

Save plenty of time for the project. Jane’s class worked on it for five or six block classes. Incorporate models, introducing skills, workshop time, and conferencing.

Be prepared for the possibility that kids might not have been on Instagram and might not be familiar with square carousels. That’s OK! That’s what models are for. Similarly, some kids may have very little background with the artistic element of the project – no one has to be Picasso, but teach some basic design elements to help kids achieve the baseline of what you want. For example, guide them to have a balance of text and images, text that is easy to read, reasonable fonts and colors that are not overwhelming, etc.

Canva is an easy way to create a carousel. If you have your students work inside Canva, you can share this tutorial video I originally designed for The Lighthouse that Jane shared with her students.

Your Turn!

OK, time to try it! Next time you want to get students practicing their research and argument skills, try adding in this 21st century twist to your project. You can come back here to see Jane’s examples and rubric, use the Canva tutorial, and even, if you wish, grab the full carousel project as I have laid it out from TPT or The Lighthouse.

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