My students have a research paper assignment. In short, they have to come up with a real question and then do research to try to answer it. The question has to be real for them; it can't be something they already know the answer (or their answer) to.
It doesn't seem like that hard an idea to grasp, does it?
We started in on this a couple weeks ago, so they had time to brainstorm ideas and start working on finding appropriate resources.
I gave students feedback on a journal about their question and such last week, and warned the students who didn't seem to actually have questions that I didn't think they actually had questions.
This week, I'm conferencing with them.
My first conference was with a student who'd planned on writing about how to live a healthy lifestyle. I'd warned her last week that I didn't think that was a real research question, because she probably already knows how to live a healthy lifestyle.
So she came in this morning. She admitted that she hadn't done any research yet, but she had an outline for her paper.
How can you outline your paper if you haven't done any research UNLESS you already think you know the answer?
She looked at me suspiciously. And didn't quite believe that I didn't think it was good to have an outline before she started researching.
I think I got her to ask a more specific question, one that's related, but that she doesn't already know the answer to. She's uncomfortable with that. It's much easier to write a paper if you already know the answer, of course. But she can do an excellent research paper and learn something in the process if she really goes after answering her question. I have my fingers crossed.
I also have a fairly full day of conferences. I hope this is the only one who doesn't actually have a real question yet.