Mar 26, 2013

Keywords and Main Idea

Main idea is a big deal.  It is the essential message of a text or other communication.  We talk about the main idea whenever we are trying to distill our complex information needs into simple key terms (keywords) that another person or computer will understand.  Throughout the school year we have been carefully selecting keywords that are connected to our search needs. Keywords are a central part of the lessons on library catalog use, subscription databases, and search engines. Main idea is a central part of how we share great reads with one another, something students are encouraged to do on a regular basis.

Despite this regular practice, I notice that many students still struggle with identifying keywords when developing a search strategy. This problem extends beyond the simple search for resources and continues throughout the research process. During a recent activity, many students:
  • struggled to identify the keywords in a question
  • found interesting information that is irrelevant to the target question
  • added ideas that don't exist in the source text when taking notes
  • wrote a response that didn't answer the question, often including irrelevant facts from the source text or sharing information they learned previously

Don't get me wrong... building on previous knowledge is a fantastic, amazing, beautiful thing.  However, when engaged in the information gathering stage of research it is imperative to focus on what the text is saying, not what we think it should be saying. Our personal biases can lead us down paths of confirming what we already believe, all the while missing new ideas, which are the reason for research.

After talking with several teachers about my concerns I find that I am not alone in this struggle.  Following are some of the strategies and resources appropriate for use with both elementary and middle school students:
* GTSD: Files downloaded to M:\share\Media Center\mainidea_keywords