I spent the weekend revisiting some of my favorite mentors on the art of teaching writing: Nanci Atwell, Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher. Thank goodness the many, many post-it notes are still in place; so it did not take me long to find the gems that made for the perfect writers’ workshop while I was still in the classroom. A post earlier this week by Miguel at Around the Corner was a the impetus for revisiting my collection:
“In fact, blogging isn’t a medium for sharing what you’ve learned, but writing your way into understanding, or as Toby Fulwiler (Teaching with Writing) writes, a way of bringing order to chaos. To deny students the opportunity, and what Nanci Atwell refers to as the TIME and OWNERSHIP of their ideas, is incredibly problematic.”
This morning I read through Carolyn Foote’s Desparately Seeking Engagement post in which she mentions another hero from my past, Ken Macrorie, whose iSearch approach to research-based writing is structured to help emerging writers find a life’s passion to research and write about. Since this is the time of year many seniors in my district are expected to crank out a “senior project,” I want to thank Carolyn for her insightful list:
1. Give students time to consider their interests. How many of us could “generate” a topic when approaching it completely cold. The bells rings–okay, pick your topic.
2. Consider having students, as I mentioned above, write about things that interest them or collect information for weeks or months prior to the assignment.
3. As you move through your curriculum, have students keep a “research idea” log as things in the curriculum pique their interest.
4. Consider conducting research across an entire semester or year. Two of our teachers are trying this this year–having students gradually collect articles of interest, compare Wikipedia with other sources, use delicious or furl to bookmark items, keep their eyes out for news stories on their topics and so on. (Interestingly, this was partially driven by the fact that our main library will be closed in the spring when they will be writing their paper, but it’s been very very effective educationally.)
5. Consider completely rethinking the “research project.” Tell students they will write a research paper sometime during the year when it feels right to them. Scaffold everyone at the beginning with assistance on logistics, but let students “strike when the iron is hot.” (I know we are dealing with high school students, but….they might enjoy having this flexibility and spontaneity).
6. Have students establish a blog or use a class bulletin board online as a way to explore topics, ask others for help and work collaboratively. (What would have happened for the student above if the teacher had said–well, if you want to do this topic, and if you and the other student agree, how about the two of you working collaboratively on your research and your paper? And then supported that with sharing web 2.0 tools that would have assisted them?)
7. Consider how writing a blog entry or several blog entries is like writing a research paper–where you explore, document and share your investigations and passions. Could a “blog” be a research paper and be even more meaningful because it’s published?
8. Consider making the process more open-ended for students. Every researcher does not end up with the same product in “real life.” Why can’t the product grow organically out of the topic and student’s process? Some students may want to create a video to inform others, while others may want to write a blog, and yet others may want to create a slide show and present their information to their peers. Empower students to make those choices.
9. If you are a classroom teacher, then realize that your librarian is and wants to be a real partner with you in research(and your tech coordinator may as well!) Most school librarians have teaching degrees(in some states, this is required) and most have taught. (and many were English teachers!) Your librarian sees research in action every day, sees the problems students are having, sees where help is needed and wants to collaborate with you and plan with you. Seek them out and don’t feel like you are bothering them or inconveniencing them. (And librarians, don’t ever make teachers feel like they are inconveniencing you!)
But whatever you do–think about how to engage your students passionately in their research. Think about how to make it authentic for students. Rethink how you were taught the “research paper” and rethink how you teach it. Throw out the old “box” and see what happens, because your students will benefit tremendously in the end. And imagine “grading” research papers where every student was so engaged and passionate about their writing and their topic that they transcended the form. Wouldn’t that make the process worth it for everyone? It could even become the spark that leads a student on a life-changing path as they learn to shape their own learning.”
And my last resource and inspiration for writing comes from 9 year old Adora Svitak on Teacher Tube.