Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why do we need oxygen to breathe? Why do we not fall off the Earth? All of these questions are ones most adults have been asked by a child; however, the answers we give never seem to be enough to satiate a child’s curiosity. Some children have another question forming on their lips before an answer is given to them, while other children have to let the answer roll around in their minds, absorbing each word carefully before they ask their next question. Regardless of their methods of questioning, children are naturally curious because the world is new to them. They haven’t figured out what interests them, scares them, disgusts them, excites them, and saddens them. Their questions help them to understand and investigate things that intrigue them, things they will likely find interesting for the remainder of their lives. According to Sherry Crow’s article “Researching Stuff Is the Best!”: Designing Assignments That Foster Intrinsic Motivation, these interests formed in early childhood are immensely important if backed and supported by an early education in information seeking. Using a child’s main interest(s) as the core material, an early education in information seeking can instill an understanding and appreciation for research that will be invaluable to them throughout their lives.
While conducting research for papers and projects is something all students do, it has become a part of school that students enjoy the least. Crow (2013) attributes students’ lack of interest in research to “stilted and irrelevant assignments” that are based not on a student’s interest, but on “their teachers’ curriculum goals” (p. 34). For students these goals include, taking a test, writing a research paper or putting together a project based on a single topic, in which all other students in the class are assigned. What happens when a student is not interested in the chosen topic? What motivates that student to research a topic that does not interest them? According to Crow, extrinsic motivation, i.e. receiving a good grade or a job well done sticker on their paper is all the motivation some teachers feel is necessary, however this is where the interest in conducting research starts to dissipate. Crow’s response to fixing the extrinsic motivator problem tied to a lack of interest in research is intrinsic motivation. This type of motivation comes from a student’s interest in the topic they are researching, in addition to the student having some sort of control over the chosen topic and assignment, which “[gives] them a feeling of empowerment and satisfaction in the task” (Crow, 2013, p. 35).
Intrinsic motivation is highly important for students as it allows students to engage on a deeper level with assignments. If students are genuinely interested in assignments they will, in turn, be not only willing to research assignments, but they will likely remember the information they gathered. In addition to engaging students’ interest with intrinsic motivation, it is also important to allow students the opportunity to choose how they present their information. Presentation can be in the form of a movie, research paper, or oral presentation, among other forms. Having a choice in the way information is presented may not appear to be much, but students who find movie presentations to be engaging, stimulating, and allowing them to use their creative side are able to make something meaningful, for both the audience and themselves, out of the information they gathered. This is the exact objective of teachers, and if it’s not it should be because too many students move forward to another class without retaining the information they learned in their former classes.
While I believe that students should have the ability to choose their style of presentation format, I also believe this could allow students to prevent using other formats they will need to understand and be able to use in the future, particularly in college. The ability to research and then turn that research into a well-formed and understandable paper is a skill that is needed, not only in college, but also in many professions. Perhaps a good alternative could be a choice of combining a research paper with an oral presentation or with a movie. This would ensure the basic knowledge and understanding of writing a research paper coupled with a creative outlet for the student. I experienced an assignment last semester that did just this. My class was given an assignment, which allowed us to choose almost any topic we wanted, as long as it dealt with science and political science, and write a research paper and then create a digital story – essentially a short movie – to present to our fellow students. This, of course, created a lot more work for the students, but for those of us who learn from a more hands-on approach, it was a fantastic assignment. As a student, I appreciated this assignment because I had a say over which topic I chose; I felt in control of the assignment, which lead to a more informative, better written, and interesting paper. Having to create a movie after writing the paper also allowed for creativity and the sense of personal control, but it also forced me to revisit my paper at least a dozen times. As teachers and students know, revisiting a research paper is a crucial step and allows for mistakes to be caught, ideas to be broadened, the formation of details, and the correction of punctuation and spelling.
Whether a student is an adult or a child, the connection of a student’s interest to an assignment is crucial. Beyond this, a student needs to have an interest in information seeking, which as Crow stated, starts in early childhood. Too many students are scared of researching information when the topic does not interest them. An introduction of combined assignments, such as the research paper and movie assignment I experienced, can be a good alternative. Students will then fulfill the teacher’s curriculum goal of writing a research paper on a given subject while also having a creative outlet in the assignment: a movie, oral presentation, artwork, etc. The world changes frequently and as it does we must learn new information; the ability to do this begins with an interest in information seeking and the ability to feel connected to the information, which must begin when children are in early childhood.
Crow, S. R. (2013). “Researching stuff is the best!”: Designing assignments that foster intrinsic motivation. Teacher Librarian, 41(1), 34-41.