Civil Rights: Questions for Research

During the beginning stages of Project Based Learning (PBL), I had my students to brainstorm ideas of what it meant to have civil rights. It was interesting that they could only reference the Bill of Rights knowing that they had the right to bear arms and had the right of freedom of speech. After having the students to view Voices and Choices that defined and explained what civil rights were and how they could be infringed, I introduced the guiding question, “What can I learn about the past Civil Rights struggles to help resolve current issues that still exist today?” This question would drive the project, giving it purpose; it is what begins the inquiry process.

I then chose videos from the past civil rights movements on United Streaming and YouTube that involved women fighting for the right to vote, children being forced to work, racial segregation, and the disabled being denied equal access to public places.

Students formed questions that they were left with after viewing the videos, and they were instructed to record them in their reflection journals so that I could get an idea of how developed their questions were. At first, a lot of the questions were written in such a way that would only provide a “yes” or “no” answer or would not lead to further inquiry through research.  I wondered what would happen if I showed examples of good open-ended questions that would be excellent for research and would lead to further questions?  After giving feedback by sharing good examples of open-ended questions, the students learned how to revise their own questions. Daniel Callison, the Associate Professor and Director of School Library Media Education at Indiana University in Bloomington, stated, “Renovated and revised questions will give one important indication of the student’s progress through the information selection, analysis, and synthesis process.” It is further stated about the importance of “Looking for evidence that the questions evolve in detail and complexity that show they are driving their thoughts.” This article in School Library Media Activities Monthly shed light on the importance of recording information to show evidence of the progress of one’s thinking and questioning.

After learning how to analyze questions for detail and revise them accordingly, the students decided what aspect of civil rights that they wanted explore based on interest.  After making a decision, they completed a Thinking Routine: Think/Puzzle/Explore so that they could share what they know about the topic, what they wanted to learn about the topic, and what research would lead to information that would help answer their guiding question? The students divided their ideas according to what they knew and what they wanted to learn. Again, they focused their efforts on writing strong, detailed, and open-ended questions that would guide them in research and further their inquiry. Improvements were made and they spent two days exploring their new topic of interest, moving from the past to the present-day civil rights issues that they wanted to solve.

Before discussing what a good, open-ended question entailed, Some of the 5th grade questions were as follows:

  • Did men fight for their wives’ right to vote?
  • When did children go to school when they were working such long hours?
  • How old were kids when they started working?
  • After the Civil War when slavery was abolished, why would African Americans not have equal rights?
  • How many special schools were available for the disabled?
  • Are there any cures for the disabled?
  • Are all races guilty of discrimination?

Some of the above questions are not open-ended and would not lead to further inquiry. After discussing how to formulate a good question using specificity, I had the students to go back and revise their original questions. The students asked deeper, more thought-provoking questions that in some way involved overcoming the civil rights struggles. The following are some samples:

  • How do you amend or pass a law?
  • How can a house be made disability friendly?
  • In what ways could we use existing laws to fight sweatshops?

Why are women paid less than men when they are equally qualified? Why is this a global issue?

  • Why is child labor more of a problem in certain parts of the country than others?
  • How do we begin a non-profit organization to stop child labor?
  • Why are child labor laws not enforced when it concerns agriculture?
  • Why is racial profiling a concern among law enforcements?
  • Why is segregation a bigger issue than it was during the civil rights movement?

The students also deepened their thoughts and asked more critical thinking questions that couldn’t necessarily be researched, but had them looking at the world through a different lens.

  • If Rosa Parks hadn’t refused to give up her seat, how would that have affected the outcome of the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What would the world look like today if the African Americans had given up fighting for freedom?
  • How would disabled people live their lives if George H.W. Bush didn’t approve the ADA?
  • Why are small children of the early 1900’s doing work that grown men struggle with?
  • If women still couldn’t vote today, what would our country look like today?

Inquiry: Formulating Questions for Research