Now I am not sure how to describe in any small modicum of space the journey I have been on in the last six years as an educator, or how messed up our school culture has become due to lack of attention, but I will say that some of this post is about coming back to what I know is right after a long road down a path that was very misguided. So, some of the learning this week has been about getting back to roots… and giving students wings.
It is the “research paper unit.”
It is an obligatory part of the 9th grade curriculum.
Only this time the other teachers and I looked at each other, and without words, knew we could not do it the same way as it has been done in the past. The final product will not be the same ole “research paper.”
So, we let all of the students pick their own topic. We let them decide from where to procure their research. And we let the entire process define the teachable moments.
And we have *finally* had good amounts of failure. And I say this enthusiastically. By taking away the “step-by-step how to write a research paper” lock-step, we allowed for stumbles. Students have made wrong turns when researching. Students have formed guided questions that lacked enough direction for adequate research. I could go on and on. It’s these failures and trip-ups that have given way to significant positive growth. Über cognizant of my role as a facilitator for quality research, quality inquiry and idea development, I am not going to answer the “just-give-me-the-answer” questions for them. And it’s working. They are getting better all the time.
We, my colleagues and I, know we have done the right thing shifting away from the assumed rote curriculum because the students are getting “involved.” Their brains are hurting. They are coming to us for questions, clarification… They are pushing (and at times begging) for us just to give them the right answer, as the current school culture has them trained to do… But we are not. Will not. The learning processes happening are just too good. And our students are in turn revising their thought processes, finding a way, making strides.
The unit is affording genuine conversations on topics to which students are drawn. The research practices opened up conversations on digital literacy, informational literacy, and time management. The students are learning more than just “the research paper.” The end product is simply a by-product of a thoughtful learning experience. Next week, the plan is to develop a creative way to present or promote their research; it may be an application, a digital story/documentary, a photo essay, etc. etc.
The “research paper unit,” one of the historically most dreaded units in 9th grade English. It’s not known to be adventurous like the Odyssey, or suspenseful like “Most Dangerous Game,” or creative like writing a personal narrative. It just was one of those things that has to be done. But this time around it’s different. A some-kind-of-wonderful different.