Teacher Tip: An Easy Way to Create Sheltered Research and Argument Projects

Sheltered ResearchDuring this time of year, the research paper dominates the English department in my school.  We slog through the sometimes painful and sometimes engaging process of finding credible sources, creating a documented argument, and using MLA format.   I wrote about teaching research papers in this earlier post if you want to know more. Today I want to share a quick tip for creating sheltered research and argument papers without a ton of background work for the teacher. By sheltered research, I just mean that teachers provide the sources for students to synthesize as opposed to students being open to all possible sources. I find that these assignments are ideal for preparing students to do longer, more independent and scholarly research papers later.

Benefits of Sheltered Research: 

  • The teacher controls the type of sources used, which can help students avoid the pitfalls of inappropriate sources.  They must learn about the pitfalls later, but hopefully after they have the confidence to use reliable sources.
  • The research timeline can go much faster when students are given the sources so teachers can fit research in even with other priorities and testing schedules.
  • It is easier to track down plagiarism and misreading when the teacher is familiar with the sources.
  • MLA citation teaching can be more directly guided when the teacher knows exactly what type of sources students will be citing.

Goals of the Assignment: 

  • Students will read professional sources on a given topic.
  • Students will develop a thesis and argument on a topic.
  • Students will synthesize a given number of sources to support their argument.  (I usually say that they must use 3 sources, but that number can vary.)
  • Students will properly quote, paraphrase, and cite sources.

Finding Resources: 

You can take the time to look up articles and print them for students or link them to your website, but I would like to draw your attention to an easier way that may work for you. Many newspapers create online collections around topics, which offer a wealth of contexts and perspectives.  Using them also helps keep the research current without the teacher redoing work every year or so.  Here are some links to topics that may intrigue students:

Students look through the headlines and select articles to read and use.  The nice thing about using a newspaper database is that students have a variety of articles to spin their paper without the significant limitation that results in 30+ identical papers.  Depending on the population you serve, you may need to find newspapers that are more relevant or acceptable to your area.  More scholarly articles can be found in library databases, of course, but I find that newspaper articles are much more accessible to students early in the process of learning.

What do you think? Would you use these resources?  How do you find research to provide to students without spending hours planning?

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The Plagiarism Problem

Today we are sharing this great infographic from health informatics at The University of Illinois, Chicago to continue our discussion about the importance of teaching students about plagiarism.  Below is a creative lesson plan idea for helping students to connect meaningfully to the idea of academic integrity.  UIC_Plagiarism_InfographicThis infographic offers information and suggestions for stemming this growing issue.  We want to give a big thank you to The University of Illinois at Chicago for bringing it to our attention!  I also wanted to share a creative idea for helping students connect meaningfully with this crime that they often think of as victimless.  I’ve known a few English teachers to do a variation of this assignment and I think it could be adapted to work at many grade levels.  Here is the gist of the assignment:

1. Assign a creative assignment that can be presented in a 60 second class presentation.  (For example: creative writing or research with a visual aid)

2. Have students present their projects to the class so everyone gets a good idea of the quality of each student’s work.

3. Post assignments up around the room.

4. Give students post it notes and ask them to write their name on them.

5. Have students walk around and vote for the best projects by placing their post it notes on their favorite.

6. Cross out the original names on the projects and tell students that their grades will be based on the project that they selected and not on the work that they actually completed.

Inevitably, there will be projects that were completed with mindless haste and others that were created with care and critical thinking.  There will probably be a few students who didn’t do the assignment at all and will get credit. Students who put time and effort into their project will likely be outraged at the idea that others will get credit for their work.  With the face of outrage real in their peers, the students who are getting the undue credit will likely feel the pangs of guilt.  This is the perfect moment for a discussion of plagiarism that will hopefully stick with many students for a long time.

What do you think of this idea?  Do you or your colleagues do something similar? What have the reactions been like?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

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Anchor Papers: A Journey Toward Better Student Papers

 

Using Anchor PapersI’ve recently had an ah-ha moment about teaching writing at all levels using anchor papers.  Anchor papers are basically a set of papers that each represent the characteristics of a particular grade range. For example, given a writing prompt about Native American mythology, I could have a set of anchor papers in which 1-2 papers are solid As, 1-2 papers are solid Bs, 1-2 papers are solid Cs, 1-2 papers are solid Ds, and 1-2 papers are Fs.  When we are finished with our literature unit on Native American mythology, I can have students write on the prompt with a clear rubric.  When the papers are complete, I can give students the unmarked anchor papers to categorize and grade based on the rubric.  After we have discussed which papers received which grades and for what reasons, students can self-assess their own papers with clarity. Then I could use a similar rubric with the next paper on Puritan literature, allowing students to self-assess without anchor papers before they turn it in for my grading.

Anchor paper strategies are common in the test prep world, but I think they can be just as helpful in our regular curriculum.  I teach  juniors, so at the beginning of the year, we do the Score Write activity from college board and I have seen a marked improvement in their SAT essay style writing as a result of the anchor paper technique.  Preparing anchor papers for ourselves can be a daunting task, but I think the long-term results will be well worth it.  Below I am sharing reasons to try anchor papers and tips for preparing them.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to use anchor papers:

  • Anchor papers elevate the concept of modeling. Instead of just modeling unattainable perfection, anchor papers help students at all levels see the range of essay skills.
  • Anchor papers show that there is more than one way to achieve a rhetorical purpose. Showing students papers from a variety of writers with multiple perspectives, helps students see that good writing comes in many forms and realize that their unique voice is valuable.
  • Anchor papers clarify the directions. Anchor papers can help students grasp MLA, paragraph formatting, and other directions and help students pay closer attention to the rubric.
  • Anchor papers develop metacognition skills. Metacognition and self-assessment are incredibly important skills for students to learn. Anchor papers force students to pay attention to the way that they think about the topic and the rubric without just throwing something on paper and letting the teacher sort it out.

Tips for Preparing to Use Anchor Papers:

  • Embrace the process. It may take you a year to gather anchor papers to be used next year.  You may have to dig through old portfolios.  Don’t pressure yourself to have it all together  immediately.  Make a goal and stick with it to see long-term results.
  • Consider getting permission and taking names off papers. Personally, I like to get permission from previous students before I use their paper as a model or anchor and even with permission I take their name off to avoid any awkwardness from current students who know previous students.
  • Creating a range is important. I’ve heard arguments for showing only the top papers, but I think that students learn a lot from seeing what doesn’t work in addition to what does.
  • Set up an atmosphere of respect.  Be sure to have a game plan to preface the anchor paper grading activity, so that students know how to grade on the rubric with objective, appropriate language.
  • Authenticity is best. I don’t know if any teacher in the world has time to write 5-10 anchor papers for a prompt, but even if you do have that kind of time and energy, I think authentic papers will work better.

What do you think?   Need more resources for teaching writing?  Check out Essay Architect!

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