The I-Search Process

I attended Writing a Paper Using the I-Search Process by Bethany Shull and Mary Fish. The I-Search inquiry based format allows students to write a research using guidelines to create first person “I” rather than the classic research format. The I-Search Report is adapted from Education Department Center “The I-Search Unit” and based on Ken Macrorie’s The I-Search Paper: revised Edition of Searching Writing (1984). One of the benefits of writing the research paper and the process allows the students to be open and honest about using the internet and the sources they will eventually site. Another cool thing is that it challenges the student to write a higher order essential question rather than “Who is my favorite baseball team?” which could be easily answered using the classic version of research, however, with the I-Search form the inquiry is more focused on the process of how students got to their answers. Students write about the research process and chronicle all the steps involved in order to answer their essential questions. The student will record what they learned and what this means to them as a researcher. The five sections of the I-Search Report include:

  1. My Question: What I Already Knew, and What I Wanted to Know
  2. My Search Process: The Story of My Search
  3. What I Learned: My Findings and Conclusions
  4. What This Means to Me: Growth as a Researcher
  5. References

The week before attending EARCOS, I had just wrapped up a research report with my grade 6-8 students. Students were assigned to follow the classic format, including using note cards to write their questions and answers, writing a rough outline, the opening paragraph with thesis statement, et cetera. To say the least, it was a chore for many of the students, especially the boys. I am looking forward to using the I-Search format because it should free students from the traditional form. And the chronicling of their research process using “I” statements should will allow them to “show” their thinking rather than me trying to guess if the writing is their work. To me, this is similar to asking students to show their work when solving math problems, which will allow the teacher to see the child’s process and not just the answer.

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About Brent Fullerton

An international educator who strives to enhance learning.
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4 Responses to The I-Search Process

  1. Avatar of Kao Kao says:

    I also attended the I-Search session. I understand that I-Search is useful for the Social Studies and English, and that means I can apply the process in my Japanese near native speakers’ course.

    Use of the word I, help students talk about their research processes, rather than teachers thinking where the students got the ideas from. I was very excited to start I-Search in my Japanese course.

    Although I was excited, what I worried the most was whether or not the students can come up with good question. It is because my students in the particular course are not really bilingual. They often do not have good language skills, as well as critical thinking skills. However, from what I have read in your post, I realized that I could be wrong. Even if they decided their topics to be very simple and easy to answer, if I-Search is used, they will soon realize the topics are not good, as they can find the answer straight away, and cannot write about the research process in depth.

    At the beginning, I am planning to talk about good I-Search topics and perhaps give them various topics, including good and bad samples, without telling them which is which. However, I was still worried about choosing the topic of their interest. Your post truly changed my way of thinking. It is great to have online colleagues!

  2. Kim Cofino says:

    I am really interested in the concept of Visible Thinking – and generally getting students to show their thinking in as many ways as possible. I like the idea of bringing that element to research as well, especially because by writing from the first person, they’re getting much more of a chance to reflect on what they’re learning rather than just recording facts. I’ll be interested to hear how this works in your class when you try it.

  3. Avatar of Mary Fish Mary Fish says:

    Thanks for coming to our session Brent! I am glad to hear that you were able to glean some useful information from our presentation. I like how you likened the I-search to asking the students to show their work in Math class. I like this analogy, because first of all, I love analogies, and secondly, as an English and Social Studies teacher, I often find it hard to see the process behind the final product when my students produce work. One thing I try to do is get my students to use pen and have them cross out their errors, rather than use whiteout, which hides the process (and frankly, makes a big mess in the hands of eleven year olds). If students use pen sans whiteout, it makes it easier for me to see how they are getting from point A to point B and where they may be having problems.

    Kim, I was intrigued by your mention of Visible Thinking. I clicked on the site and what I read was fascinating. I especially liked the Core Thinking Routine called “What Makes You Say That?”. I might try to use this in my classroom, as I am always pushing my students to “explain” their answers and “justify” their opinions with evidence. In my classroom, it is called “the because phrase”.

    Brent, like Kim, I would love to hear how you are able to use the I-search in your class and what you think of it. Can we link to this blog post to our wiki –

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