Observations of an Honors History Course Post-Pandemic
The author is a rising senior at Rider University who has participated in both remote and in-person field placements during her time as an undergraduate. This article is derived from those experiences.
Throughout my experience in an honors high school United States history level two class I have learned that students are behind specifically in their research techniques. It is presented very clearly as I had the opportunity to move around the classroom while students were researching their civil rights unit. At the same time of these observations I had been developing my capstone project which is heavy research and found myself using my prior research knowledge to work with each student to ensure that their research skills grow.
Research skills are key to becoming informed about many aspects of history. Students need the skills to become a well-rounded citizen. In order for students to become strong advocates for themselves when it comes to their education as well as their rights to become strong civic advocates, they need to be provided with the proper skills to research. Many of the students I had worked with lacked the vocabulary that would typically be expected for an honors eleventh grade student. Their research and vocabulary deficits were similar to those of a ninth grader.
When observing this group of eleventh grade honors students there were notable deficiencies in regards to what was expected of students of this year and level of education. This group lacked vocabulary expected of an honors class and seemed to be more on par with that of a 9th to 10th grade level in my opinion. I also noted, during multiple sessions and assignments, that their ability to research, utilize and format information in a scholarly way less than what would be expected of an honors class of this level. During multiple assignments the students had trouble finding viable information to support admittedly simple topics and apply said information in a way that makes sense. Their ability to validate their points during the course of their assignments also lacked the strength that would be typical of an honors level.
Students were observed using social media, sources that are purely opinionated, and other sources generally regarded as being unscholarly. These students simply struggled to find relevant sources and the ability to put it together into a competent, cohesive piece of work.
When I had the opportunity, I would work with students one on one to teach them how to use sites like historical archives and focus on sites that were not commercial based or opinionated. I had been developing my own research project during this timeframe which prompted me to locate some amazing resources therefore my ability to research grew which further helped me to guide these students to grow as their own sources to further their knowledge.
My goal in drawing attention to this particular topic is that as educators we need to ensure no matter the circumstances that our students are aware of how to properly research. It is difficult for students to move on in higher levels of education without the basis of how to successfully research in order to providing credible evidence to support a claim. It is a disservice to our students when we as educators assume students are able to complete a task like this in full capacity. The state of these students suggests that there are many others throughout the country in the same situation. These students I worked with were very engaged in the classroom and only wished to succeed but when they are not provided with all the tools they need to complete their tasks they are left struggling. It can be hard to backtrack in what students need when they should have already been assessed for competency in research skills regarding the reliability of sources r. In some cases (like pandemic students are experiencing) they truly need that extra support especially now that these past two years have been virtual. Students had been left to figure out many of their assignments on their own due to virtual learning. This is something that is seen in a college setting. Therefore these students were left struggling in their formative years that would have needed hands-on guidance from an instructor. It is unfortunate that these students have been placed in such a situation.
Another reason this issue is so detrimental to these students is that they are closer to being a college student than a high school student which is where the requirements are higher and the pressure becomes heavier to be able to properly research and not plagiarize. Since these students are at a disadvantage not knowing how to successfully use sources to back up their views they are more likely to inadvertently plagiarize. This becomes a heavier issue when college is involved as many colleges will take strong measures to remove a student from their scholarships, credit, or dismissal if they discover they have plagiarized. Which all stems back to educating students as to how to cite, how to find credible sources and present an argument that is sound. These students are hurting without even realizing it since they have been done a disservice as a result of their pandemic learning experience.
My hope for this piece is to establish a call to action for educators to hone in on these skills even if we start younger than we would traditionally with research-based skills. Let’s band together and guide our students through their process of developing strong points with strong sources for evidence. They need to be able to locate sources that are credible on their own which is something that needs to be taught first and then expected later on in their education. Let’s ensure our students are confident in their research skills so that they do not face consequences later in life.