When conducting student-led investigations in the field, the variety of questions, tools, and methods that students use can make summative assessment difficult for the instructor. Though debriefing the experience can be a great way to find evidence of student learning, there may be students who tend not to contribute in group discussions. Journal work, though comprehensive in some students, may be lacking in others. I have found that requiring my students to present their research to the rest of the group not only provides excellent evidence of learning, but also gives my students the opportunity to share their work, ask and answer questions of each other, and be applauded for their achievement.
Presentations allow students to take ownership of their work and feel proud of their achievement, while allowing them to learn from one another through sharing knowledge and asking questions. Often, I find that student presentations level the playing field, giving every student the opportunity to share, question, and think about one another’s work in a safe environment. Lastly, it provides an avenue for students to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of their investigation.
Here are a few tips for incorporating research presentations into your student-led investigations.
- Explain and Scaffold the experience.
Let students know at the beginning of the investigation that they will be presenting their research to the rest of the group once they are finished. This will entail two responsibilities: to present their work, and to listen and ask questions of their peers. Explain that this is an opportunity to share their hard work with one another, ask each other questions, and hear what their teammates have been working on. Address concerns on nervousness by giving a few guidelines. For example, I allow my students to present individually, in pairs, and occasionally in groups of three. Encourage them to be creative and fun in their presentations!
- Name the steps.
Be explicit about what you want your students to present. I require five components in my students’ presentations:
- Their question
- Their methods & tools
- Their results: data, what they found
- Their conclusion: what did they learn from their results?
- Next steps: what might have affected the accuracy or usefulness of their data, what they learned about using their tools/method, follow-up questions, etc.
These should align with the steps they are following to complete their investigation, and so can be modified based on the instructor’s style in facilitating investigations.
- Give students the opportunity to prepare.
Set aside a few minutes at the end of the investigation to give students time to prepare for their presentation. Encourage them to make their presentations unique! If some students are ready to present before others, instruct them to start thinking of good questions to ask their peers.
- Create a visual reminder.
List each component of the presentation on a whiteboard or butcher paper and place it where the presenters can easily reference it. If students lose their train of thought or freeze up, gently remind them what to say next, for example: “excellent question! What method did you use to begin answering it?” Some students will give the entire presentation without a hitch, while others might benefit from a more conversational presentation, with prompts from the instructor.
- Encourage questions.
One of the most fruitful and interesting aspects of these presentations are the questions students ask of one another. These can lead to excellent discussions, follow-up lessons or activities, and insight for the instructor on students’ thinking. Be explicit about when it is time for student questions, particularly if you prompt students during their presentations. Ask follow-up questions!
Student-led investigation presentations are versatile, fun, and interesting, and can be used in a variety of contexts. They are excellent summative assessment tools, great teambuilding exercises, and a way to challenge your students to think critically, support one another, and be supported in a different way.