How to Help Middle School Students Develop College-Ready Research Skills

The goal of middle level educators is to get — and keep — students on a college track. So, why allow them to develop habits, including research habits, that do not serve the college readiness goal?

There is a clear trend among professors of American colleges to strictly limit the use of Wikipedia among students. Professors at numerous colleges including Penn State, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, and the list is growing, enforce a “Look But Don’t Cite” Wikipedia policy. Middlebury College in Vermont, has banned Wikipedia altogether. For a variety of reasons, many of which are supported by Wikipedia itself, Wikipedia is not considered a citable source for a college paper.

Wikipedia is often the first stop for middle grades student researchers. Unfortunately, for many, it is also the last stop. While Wikipedia is an excellent place for jump-starting research, or for checking basic facts, it is, at best, a tertiary source. When middle and high school, students are permitted to cite Wikipedia they develop a habit or practice that does not serve the college readiness goal.

In the interest of college readiness, follow a “Look But Don’t Cite” Wikipedia policy mirroring what will be expected of students in college. Ironically, one of the chief complaints among college students who’d had their Wikipedia rights curtailed was “a lack of other sources.” To help students adjust to this policy, enlist the help of your school librarian to educate students about other cite worthy sources. What are they? Where and how can they be found? Your librarian can help them to understand that sources are everywhere! Books, magazine and newspaper articles, diaries, journals, memoirs, photographs, images, maps, letters, speeches, government documents, recordings, and interviews.

Don’t let your students develop research habits that do not serve their college goal!

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