The Learning 2.0 School

Shifting Perceptions of Teaching and Learning in and out of the School Library

Integrating Writing & Research in The Literature Classroom

Posted by Michelle Torrise on August 18, 2011

I spent the summer doing a lot of research on “doing research,”  and I’m very excited about sharing my findings with teachers at my school.  I was fortunate to have had a conversation with one of our English teachers, Bob Pavliga, about integrating a rigorous research element into the new senior level course he is teaching this year.   We came up with some great ideas.

We talked about ways to connect texts to larger, essential questions that naturally allow for scaffolding research skills.  For example, identifying a central theme for each quarter and analyzing each reading through that lens.  Example themes in the format of an essential question might be,  “Excuse me, but exactly why do we study literature?”   Or, “Do authors shift/shape | reinvent/reinterpret culture?”  “If so, how?”   Or, “Will writing, as we know it, become extinct?”  And, “How would such an event change the way society functions on a global, local, and familial level?”  The latter would naturally lead into a very interesting creative writing assignment, actually.    Students would answer the same question for each reading (possibly posting their answers on a blog–which would allow for lessons on writing digitally),  referencing and citing sources would, of course, be a must.

We talked about asking students to connect texts to current, relevant topics, e.g., “What does today’s reading tell us about the nature of certain current events {insert specific people, places, or things}?”  Ryan Goble, an educational consultant contracted by our district, has shared many excellent resources with us that can be incorporated into these lessons.   I hope to work with him this year to catalog these resources for faster search and retrieval.

We talked about scaffolding research skills by assigning “mini research projects.”  Mini Research projects (like the Annotated Bibliography assignment that most of you did last year) are packed full of valuable lessons on writing essential questions, summarizing, evaluating sources, and citing sources.  Purdue University Library published a great list of  “Alternative Assignments” that are great for scaffolding research skills.

Finally, we talked about using bell ringers as a way to get students to develop habits of evaluating sources.   The basic lesson would be to find good and bad resources related to the day’s text/reading and share one source with students at the bell.  Next, ask students to reflect, e.g., “In what way is this resource related to our reading?”   “How would you describe the connection, e.g., provides fact, opinion, data, etc.?”  Throughout the discussion,  ask students to analyze resources for relevancy, appropriateness, detail, currency, authority, and bias.   Use a variety of sources, e.g., journal articles, media, primary sources (bring some artifacts in for variety), books (project them using a document camera), video/other media, interviews, etc.

In the process of my own research, I found a very unique online college level writing textbook titled Writing Spaces.  It’s an open source project, so it’s FREE!  You can use individual chapters as supplemental texts throughout the year, or use the entire text.  The chapters are essays written by various authors, so the format is more like a “Reader” than a textbook.     Each essay is clearly written and in PDF format for easy downloading.  I’m certain you will find some very valuable articles that relate to what you are teaching, especially at the Junior/Senior level.   Browse the database of chapters.

I look forward to working with our staff across all subjects this year in integrating research skills across the curriculum.

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