Review of I-Search

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Tim Taylor

Indiana University in Bloomington

The I-Search chapter, written by Ahram Choi, Stuti Garg, and Margaret Kilroy from the University of Georgia, thoroughly illustrates the details and processes for creating, facilitating, and planning for an I-Search assignment. I-Search is, very simply, an alternative to the traditional research assignment because it encompasses the many processes for answering developed questions about a topic that is decided on by the students directly (inquiry), which makes the entire process more relevant to students because it is based on what interests them directly (student based), and it provides details for metacognitive processes of each student. More over, I-Search is the story of the search rather than the summary of answers found in traditional research papers (Choi, Garg, & Kilroy 2006).

Key Points

  • The authors define I-Search as an approach that utilizes student interests to build a personal understanding of the research process and to encourage more vivid student writings (Joyce & Tallman, 2006).
  • They also note that when using I-Search, students are employed as collaborative partners and the teacher takes the role of the facilitator in their learning.
    • Because most students are not familiar with creating higher-order questions, teachers provide scaffolding through conferencing with students to help them develop reflective thinking skills.
  • Teachers and media specialists play a crucial role as facilitators in the I-Search process. The consistently monitor the progressions of students, provide resources for student discovery, and critique the final products created by the students themselves.
  • 6 C’s of motivation are closely followed in I-Search (i.e., Choice, Challenge, Control, Collaboration, Constructing meaning, and Consequences). All six terms imply some type of learner centeredness to the instructional methods used; i.e., the learner has some choice in the I-Search process as well as control over it. In addition, students are challenged by the inquiry aspects of I-Search wherein students not only performs independent searches for the desired information, but collaborates with others, constructs meaning related to information found and discussed, and hopefully discovers many positive consequences or outcomes. Each of the six aspects combined, create a rich motivational learning experience.
    • Students’ own choices lead the research within the context of the curriculum content, which helps increase motivation as indicated by the Six C’s of motivation.
  • There are four major steps:
    • Choose a topic / Generate the I-Search question
    • Develop a search plan / Gather information
    • Use information
    • Develop a final product
  • Throughout the I-Search process, students reflect on the information they encounter and make decisions about how to proceed based upon their reflections. This combination encourages the development of metacognitive skills because the students are required to reflect deeply as they analyze the information they uncover and make decisions about its validity.
  • The challenge is to maintain an open learning environment, research methods, and the research questions themselves, while staying within the confines of the curriculum content.
  • Much more planning time is required of both the teacher and the school media specialist with this student-centered approach in order to compile a comprehensive assortment of resource materials.


Before addressing some of my concerns, I want to point out several strong aspects of this chapter. First of all, the title, I-Search, is highly appropriate, hence the reason it is the highlighted topic for this chapter. The authors make detailed and accurate statements throughout the chapter, coupled with pieces of information and literature that is research derived and supported. The “Joey” scenario was well organized and provided a great introduction to what constitutes an I-Search assignment. I did find that the scenario was the main emphasis initially, but was designed in such a way that allowed examples to be pulled latter on in the text when needed to help explain a definition or theory presented. Also, even though the section highlighting the I-Search processes was a bit long, I liked how it detailed each step and provided examples and/or suggestions on how to get the desired results from each step.

The authors addressed the ideas and facts in a very relevant and systematic way. The layout for the chapter allows the reader to understand, step by step, what it means to successfully utilize I-Search in the classroom. The chapter started off with a scenario detailing a “real world” example for using I-Search. Once the scenario was described and specific topics highlighted, the chapter then begins to define I-Search.

The Features section of this chapter benefits the reader by presenting the correlations between the different roles vital to ensuring a successful I-Search project (i.e., student vs. teacher, teacher vs. media specialist, etc.), how different tools within I-Search help facilitate different skills within the students completing an I-Search assignment (i.e., critical and reflective thinking skills), and how the Six C’s motivate the students.

The Process section, although lengthy, provides great insight to successfully implement an I-Search type activity in a classroom setting.

I also believe that the authors provide credible support materials and evidence throughout the chapter. They make connections between the different sections by utilizing the scenario and plugging in pieces from it to help facilitate an idea or fact presented in the different sections that follow. The “Challenges to I-Search” section is strong as well. Although it is a brief section, the authors do well as to recognize its short-comings (i.e., curriculum limitations and time/resource intensive), but they also provide ways to alleviate by recognizing extensive planning is vital to its success and to couple it with other engaging activities as to align it with the curriculum.


Within this particular chapter, there are also several areas of concern or perhaps weaknesses. Although the assessment section was brief but detailed, I thought it could have provided alternative assessments students could use when employing I-Search. The scenario section provided the assessment process for “Joey,” but I believe future readers would benefit if provided with different examples various students could employ when using I-Search, in general. For example, would a PowerPoint presentation be more beneficial than a brochure, or vice versa. Being able to provide more assessment options for the reader would better enable them to visualize the different final projects students could utilize to convey their discovery processes and conclusions.

The “Challenges to I-Search” section has some weaknesses as well. The authors state that this is a challenge in rural areas because they lack both the human and technological means to employ a successful I-Search activity. The authors do not provide the reader with various ways to circumnavigate the lack of useful resources in a rural environment. Such insights would be beneficial for people who happened to in the aforementioned conditions and would better allow them to employ this method. The authors might at least speculate some options, no matter how bold or conservative.


I believe that after reviewing I-Search it can be integrated into many different classroom disciplines. Although the scenario provided was for a science class because it had students detail student derived topics pertaining to ecosystems, it could very easily be implemented in, but not limited to, an English, Math, or Social Studies classroom. This could allow for self-discovery in certain subjects students are less motivated to learn about.

From the information provided in the I-Search chapter, I do believe it could help alleviate some issues faced by students and teachers alike. As highlighted in the chapter itself, a students’ motivation is fostered within this type of activity because it allows the students to focus on a subject or idea that is relevant or interesting to them. I believe that by making it student centered, that creates within the students a sense of responsibility for finding out what they want to know and how they have come to certain conclusions or understandings, as opposed to covering a topic given by the teacher because they need to “just” cover a topic as to appease the curriculum. This, in turn, helps the teacher to promote critical thinking skills and intrinsic types of instruction that allow the students to understand a topic more deeply and engage in higher order activities.

Although I have not used the exact I-Search methods in my classrooms, I do recall providing my students with a few different projects that had I-Search type methods integrated. I taught middle school social studies and I had my students complete numerous research projects in class. Some of the methods that I employed are similar to I-Search in the following ways: (1) students were given a broad topic in which they had to choose their own sub-topic by creating a web map at to pick their sub-topic from the web map, (2) students were then encouraged to create the K-W-L charts to get the critical thinking gears rolling as to address their strengths and weaknesses about their particular topics, (3) after these charts were made, students then designed research questions pertaining to the lack of knowledge they expressed on the “W” portion (“What they want to learn”) of their chart and from peer discussions, (4) students then utilized primary and secondary sources, the World Wide Web, library books, interviews, etc. as a means to complete their research to answer their inquiries, (5) and students then had a choice of what authentic assessments they wanted to use. For example, I had many of my students complete PowerPoint presentations, shoe box diagrams, collages, and/or T.V. commercials as a means of a final project.


The I-Search chapter has lent a greater understanding of how to employ this method of instruction and activity in my future classrooms. Understanding that it is student centered and inquiry based, how it promotes motivation, develops a sense of self-regulation within students and their acquisition of knowledge, how is promotes greater critical and reflective thinking in students, and provides for authentic assessment is vital to developing and ensuring a successful I-Search activity within a classroom. This chapter provided numerous key points, clear steps, and assorted strengths and weaknesses when implementing these I-Search ideas.