Friday, November 27, 2015

Why the Research Paper is not Working- Fister  and The Popularity of Formulaic Writing- Wiley

I enjoyed reading two very interesting articles this week. First, Fister clearly tries to make a case as to why we should abandon the research paper. Her points being: that there is a messiness with citation rules, that students do a great job finding sources but do not know how to evaluate those sources, that students simply "skim the surface" when looking for valuable support for their topic, and that it strips away original thought as students often abandon good topics because sources to substantiate their points are limited. All of her reasons feel true, yet I still find value in the work behind creating a research paper. I think it teaches kids to understand the importance of supporting their thoughts and arguments. It also shows the importance of searching for scholars and experts who can "back you up." The problem with "skimming the surface" sounds to me like laziness. Students need to be taught that they have to actually read sources fully and evaluate the information presented within the text.

Years ago, my school taught the research paper. We began with the "mini-paper" in sixth grade. This is where they were introduced to research and the process. Then in seventh grade they completed their first paper through an interdisciplinary collaboration between language arts and social studies. And by eighth grade they were to choose their own topics and fly on their own. I even helped create our Research Style Guide during summer PD. I felt that this was an important process and really helped the students for their entrance into high school. However, with Common Core take over, the research paper has been abandoned in our middle school language arts curriculum. I felt that teaching students of a younger age how to begin this process was beneficial and set them up for success when they reached higher grades.

Formulaic writing...I will admit as a sixth grade teacher that I am guilty of teaching my students the five-paragraph essay "formula." When coming over from the elementary schools, they often have never written formal essays before, or if they did they come with limited knowledge. However, within this "formula" my students are not taught to count sentences and I am not looking for proper ratios! They may be taught where a thesis sentence goes and that you begin with topic sentences, but what goes into those paragraphs are their ideas. They make decisions about what they are saying and how to say it. Needless to say, I was blown away by the Schaffer Model and it's formula that strips away true writing. I also couldn't believe that the article states that this model was designed for ninth and tenth graders! By the time kids reach those grades they should be long gone from following formulas.

Now I know that there are many struggling writers who need more support with organization, and a formula can often benefit those students. However, one size does not fit all. Are we supposed to teach this formula to our advanced students? Such a structure would hold them back. I like how Wiley states that we should use our formulaic writing ideas as strategies not as a structure.

He states that what is easy fro teachers is not necessarily good fro the students. This is so true.

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