When your teen has some free choice on what to study for their next investigation project, inquiry task or presentation, it's not just about picking a topic that they love or that sounds interesting.
There are three key considerations that will help them select a topic that means they can meet the requirements of the task and the demands of the marking criteria at the grade they're aiming to achieve.
Enter... the Triple A Topic Chooser system!
FREE RESOURCE LINK BELOW!
A way to reverse engineer their choice so they can complete the task with maximum success (and hopefully, enjoyment along the way).
You're listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast Episode 60 - How your teen can choose a great topic when they have an open choice in a research assignment, including a free resource download that I am going to share with you so that they select something that will help them get that assignment done in the smoothest, most effective way possible and allow them to achieve the grade or result that they want.
Hey VIPs! I hope you're doing really well. I hope your teen is getting off to a great start in semester 2. Today's topic is something that I've chosen because this is the sort of time when students are getting set some of those inquiry investigation style tasks, those larger research assignments. And very often students will come to coaching calls and ask me for help on what topic to choose or what to do their assignment on and so I wanted to share with you the system that I use with students to help them select something that will enable them to access the criteria that they need to in order to get the result that they are after. And that allows them to do it in the smoothest way without going round in circles having to restart when they're halfway through, realising that it's not really going to work or just agonising for ages over which topic to choose.
I think the biggest misconception here is that students think, and often parents think this as well, that we're supposed to pick something that we're just really interested in, that we're going to enjoy. Now that does sound like a great idea and I totally get it, after all, we're supposed to be, you know, enjoying our schooling, enjoying education, building up knowledge on things that we are going to hopefully take forwards in life in some way shape or form. However, let me tell you that topic that we thought we loved or that we're really into suddenly becomes extremely unenjoyable when it becomes a total nightmare to do the actual project or investigation on. So of course it is the dream when we can marry those two together and they have something that they are interested in that they are enjoying finding out about and it's also something that meets the demands of the task and the criteria, that is fantastic. But honestly, so often when I ask a student this, do you want to do something that you're interested in or do you want to do something that's going to enable you to get the task done in the best way possible and in the most efficient and effective way possible? Their answer is usually the latter and that's why I encourage students to pick something that allows them to meet the demands of the question and give the marker what they're looking for rather than just picking something that they think would be a fun or cool topic to study. And that is not to say that they can't enjoy researching and finding out about things that they are into. Just go and do that in their spare time. A bonus if it does coincide but consider that one of the aims of education, or at least I believe so, is to open our minds to new things or get us interested in things that we hadn't really thought about before.
I will tell you this actually happened for me as a teacher, not as a student, as a teacher. I once had to take a class for a history assignment and I will tell you, at the risk of all the history teachers out there hating me right now for this, I used to really dislike history as a student. I found it boring, I think to be honest it was probably more about the sorts of topics that we had to study back then and maybe the way it was delivered. I just really didn't enjoy history. I remember very little of what we were taught in history. It clearly wasn't that engaging to me personally and so I already wasn't particularly looking forward to going through this history assignment with the class. And the topic the students were studying in history that term, was gosh - I can't remember if it's World War One or World War Two, but it's about how animals were used in the war and I just remember thinking, oh gosh, this is going to be so dull. Surely students would rather be studying about the battles or the weapons or what have you? But actually, once we got into it, I got really into it. There were loads of really interesting examples and loads of things that I found out about that I had no idea about and I was totally wrong to have judged that topic of that assignment as boring.
I can't promise that that will be the same for your teen! That, like I said, is the dream. Where we actually really enjoy the topic that we're studying, and the investigation that we're doing and it is something that enables us to access or we go on to achieve the top criteria and the grades and the results that we want. And I know that this is important to both students and you as parents because so often I have the conversations around - oh my goodness, I'm worried for my teen, they are spending so long on these tasks, this is taking them ages. I have that conversation way more than I do the conversation of - oh I just wish they were enjoying their study more. So for me the two key aims here are for them to get the task done in the smoothest way without going round and round in circles or needing lots of restarts, or just taking forever on their research to find the information or the sources that they need and for them to achieve as many of the criteria at their target grade as possible. And yes, the bonus aim is that they actually enjoy or are interested in the topic that they are studying. And that really is the bonus because like I said, the opposite can easily happen. It might be a fun or interesting topic but a nightmare to actually make it into a solid high quality assignment.
The key here is to not mistake the topic as the most important factor when choosing what they're going to do that assignment on. It's not about what is going to be most interesting to your teen or even what they think is going to be most impressive to the teacher. And on that note, I will also say it's not about picking an unusual topic or something that hasn't been done before or that no one else in the class is doing. There are no marks for picking the most obscure topic. And if the teacher has given suggested topics, it's totally OK to use those. I have so many students saying to me, like Oh well they're the ones that were suggested so I think I should probably do something different. There are no bonus marks for picking the most original idea. Yes it might impress, or be interesting to the teacher, but remember that teacher still has to mark according to the mark scheme that goes with the task. So if your teen wants to get a good result and I know that you likely want them to be able to get it done in the smoothest and most efficient way, not slaving over that research for hours upon hours upon hours or going around in circles having to restart once they realise something isn't going to work. Or writing, this is a big one I see, twice the word count and then spending almost as long again having to cut it back down.
About six months ago now probably, I had a parent tell me that their daughter had spent a ridiculous number of hours researching for a project they got really, really into. I can't remember what the topic was now or what the subject was but the teacher had said when they marked it how impressive it was that they had done all of this research. But they still got a disappointing result. And the teacher wrote a comment about that like saying Oh my goodness you've done so much here this is so impressive but this is what the task really required you to do. Or, you haven't actually got much analysis here or whatever it was. It didn't meet the requirements of the task and the demands of the mark scheme and so the system that I'm going to share with you is going to help avoid having that happen to your teen.
To help students make more strategic decisions about the topics they choose in open choice tasks I created the AAA topic chooser. I have put that into a resource for you that you can go and get for free. It's on the podcast page for this episode which is at www.rocksolidstudy.com/60 and I will go through and outline what those three As of the AAA topic chooser are on this episode.
The first A is for your teen to choose something that they already have some knowledge of. Something they already have some idea about. Maybe they already have some research or information on it, they're already familiar with it. What this means is that they are not just guessing at what might work. Maybe it's already been suggested by the teacher as a potential example? And teachers are never going to give examples or suggestions that don't allow access to the top criteria or for all of the elements of the task to be accomplished. I will talk more about that in a moment but the first A is for them to already have some idea or knowledge around the topic so it is not just a total stab in the dark.
The second A is the availability of a variety of resources. The research, the data that they need. Another example I'll share with you is, years ago I had a student tell me on a coaching call that they were trying to choose between two topics for a psychology research investigation. I remember this one really vividly. She had spent ages deliberating and trying to choose and constantly switching between the two topics she had in mind. Her mum even told me that she had been in tears over this because it was just so stressful trying to choose the best or the right topic. And on the coaching call, which I actually have a clip of this particular part of the coaching call, I will link it in the show notes but I'll also put it in with the AAA topic chooser resource sheet. So if you go request that I'll also send you this clip. But on this coaching call as we discussed this decision she told me that yeah, one has plenty of information and the other doesn't. Like, I'm really just struggling to find some of the data or necessary research and sources to be able to get into that. So my answer to her, my advice to her, was very very direct, clear and straightforward. I just said don't make life hard for yourself. It's going to be incredibly difficult to complete the task, let alone meet some of the top criteria which she was aiming for, if we don't have the information or the data or the research available in order to do so. So if you go get that resource from the episode 60 podcast webpage I will send you the link to that actual conversation that we had in case that is useful and helpful. So that second A is the availability of information.
The third A is access to the top levels of marking criteria. Does the topic provide the opportunities to achieve the criteria at the grade or level that your teen is aiming for? And does it allow your teen to meet all of the actual requirements, what they have to do in the task? They basically need to reverse engineer everything. Now I talk a lot about reverse engineering things and this is a great example of how it can work. So have your teen look at what are they actually going to need to produce? What are they gonna need to do? And work backwards from that in order to help determine what is going to be a great topic to enable them to do those things. So don't pick the topic and then start to try to make it work. Start to try to complete each of those things. It might work but it might not. Instead, reverse engineer it. Look at what they're gonna need to produce, what they actually have to do and then pick the topic then enables them to do all of those things in the smoothest and highest quality way possible. I literally remember doing this on another coaching call. This was a student who had to do a science research project on a type of rock and they could pick any type of rock they wanted. So talk about an overwhelming selection of ideas or possibilities! But one of the requirements, as we went through the task sheet, was that they had to show how that rock has been used as a resource by humans. How it's been used for human gain. So I had that student use that as a guide when making their selection. They already had a few ideas about what rocks they thought they might do so I had them go away and look up each of those rocks to see if any of them had been used in some way for manufacturing or in technology or for some other use that meant that they would be able to complete that part of the task.
I would recommend literally having your teen write out all of the things that the task asks them to do and then list out their ideas for topics and just tick down the list if each topic will allow them to fulfil each of the to-do items for the task. And I have this step as part of the AAA topic chooser resource. So yes, it may require a little bit of initial research but honestly almost all research and inquiry tasks do require that and it's better to do that now and make a great choice, a smart a strategic choice, than just dive in and then later on when they're halfway through, realise that the topic they've chosen isn't really going to work.
I have seen that happen so often. And then the student is either trying to make it work, kind of fit the square peg in the round hole and is grasping at straws and it's just difficult and exhausting to make that happen. Or they have to start again and that is, of course, depressing and annoying and really time consuming, no matter how fun or interesting that topic was to start with. It has now become probably stressful 'cause they're trying to do everything last minute because it just wasn't a good match for the requirements of that task. So rather than having a totally blank canvas and totally free choice when trying to come up with an idea I recommend students use a system, a framework having something to work with to kind of hold topics up against. Almost like they're trying them on to see if they'll work. Don't have them just rely on guesswork or plucking ideas out of thin air that kind of sound good or interesting or fun. And if they do have a few ideas or topics in mind then using the AAA system will help them choose one. And if they find that a couple of the topics they have in mind do fit and tick all of those three A boxes then they can of course go on and choose the one they think they will just enjoy the most. That will totally work and is where things are just such a delight. So be sure to go grab the AAA topic chooser it's at www.rocksolidstudy.com/60 and like I said, I will include both of those coaching call excerpts, we record all of our group coaching calls, so I will include the discussion and the advice that I gave to those students on those coaching calls along with that resource.
I hope this has been helpful and I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. Here's to a huge amount of success for your teen in their research projects with less of the stress or time wasted along the way and I'll meet you back here next week for another episode of the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast.