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Incentivising Education

2008
It was our weekly English department meeting. The morale in our school was not so great so the principal attended our meeting and began with a talk about teamwork.
A few days prior to this my journalism class was discussing what to include in the next issue of the school newspaper.
“How about we talk about the Science bribes?” our editor-in-chief said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
She proceeded to tell me that students were brought to the auditorium during their Science classes and were given basically a pyramid of prizes for doing their best on the state Science test. This was the year the Florida Science Tests were going to count towards our school grade, but had no consequence for the students. What would be their motivation to do well?
The students showed me a copy of the Science prizes. If you scored 10% over last year’s score you would receive free prom tickets, 20% over a free yearbook and prom tickets, etc…
I was the yearbook sponsor and was never told about this.
So, during the department meeting, after the inspiring speech about teamwork when the principal asked if we had any thoughts I asked the department if they knew about the prizes for the Science tests. They did not.
Here we (and the Math department) had been responsible for the school grade almost entirely at this point, responsible for getting the bonus money that was distributed to all teachers and employees. Now, Science was instituting an incentive package for our students.
“Well,” our principal said, “this is what the Science department came up with. If the English department wants to create something similar I am all ears.”
Immediately, and much to my dismay, colleagues started talking about what we could offer to raise their motivation—extra credit, semester exam grades, special parties.
“No, no, no. We’re missing the point here. Do we really want to give I-pods to students who score the best?”
“Ooooh..I-pods, write that down.”
The bell rang and it was time to go to class, but soon after the emails started—“we could offer…., or we could give…”
I was beyond disheartened.

And this problem had not gone away. It has only gotten worse.
In my opinion, this is why these incentives are wrong…
1. In MANY standardized tests, the tests are poorly designed or scored. In other words we don’t believe for the most part that they measure real learning. See my report on the FCAT Writing scores and you will know this is true. I worked at a school that gave pizza parties to kids who scored a 6 on their writing. Two of those 14 papers were almost incomprehensible. But guess what? We didn’t see those papers until October of the following year, long after those two students enjoyed the incentives and worse—mistakenly considered themselves accomplished.
2. Our incentives are targeted primarily for improving on standardized tests. Why don’t we offer incentives for every achievement in the classroom? Why? Because the high stake tests affects school grades which affect US. And because we would never be able to afford incentives for everything they do in class. So even though we most often BELIEVE and REINFORCE to our students that these tests are only ONE measurement of their ability, and we tout in public how much we disapprove of these tests, we put huge emphasis on it. We are making it high stakes, too. It’s a bit hypocritical.
Instead of putting our efforts toward screaming about the tests –for instance a Science test that counts against us but has no bearing on a student so why would they care about taking it—we teach them how to play the game. Their scores come in great so what’s the problem some will say. Meanwhile, other schools don’t offer these incentives, kids don’t take the test or don’t take it seriously and we see that school’s low scores and shake our heads disapprovingly.
3. What are we teaching our kids? The most common argument I hear—even from my Area Superintendent at the time—is that this is the way our world works now. “In the real world employees are given incentives to reach a goal; this is not much different.”
But it is.
First of all, this quote was told to me in 2008 before we dipped into major recession. Do you think jobs today are offering incredible incentives? Having a job is the incentive. Just like in school, having an education to get a job, should be the incentive.
Ask teachers if they think students today feel more “entitled” than ever before and I think you will find they would most likely say yes. Do we have any shared blame in that? Even extra credit (for another post another day) is abused for this purpose.
Education’s goal is to make the world a BETTER place. We are here to help our students prepare for that outside world. Do we really believe that every task they face that will be difficult will come with extrinsic incentives?
Or do we want to instill in our students that education is the reward? For teachers, this is a much harder goal to reach, but when kids believe it, isn’t that the intrinsic value we find most rewarding?

Would love to know what you think. I feel I am in the minority here.

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Wheel Reinventors

All around the country thousands of teachers and educational leaders are doing the same thing this summer: working on teams to create materials, guides, plans for implementing Common Core within their curriculum. By August districts will be posting their creations on their websites then distributing them during pre-planning.

This is part of the crazy inefficiency of our educational system and part of our misuse of the talented educators within our system. We have so many people doing the same thing. It is a constant reinvention of the wheel because the communication links between districts, between states is in disarray.

Even worse, we often dismiss this teacher work in place of programs we purchase. We have enormous economic waste and have yet to truly rethink the spending in our schools. Don’t be fooled by claims of low budgets. Start looking into the numbers at your school or district. Where do they spend money? Specifically, look at the curriculum materials. What programs have your districts invested in? How much is spent annually on materials and programs that could just as easily be created or gathered better by teachers.

When I hear teachers complain, “we don’t have any textbooks,” I think “good.” Especially when it comes to English teachers, a textbook is nothing more than an anthology with guides telling a teacher how to teach. We could supply twice the content of anthologies and invest in teaching teachers how to teach with ANY text.

Instead we spend billions of dollars each year on companies that market and sell programs and texts to our schools when we could be creating this content, collaborating on it, and sharing with others. I-pad learning has become more popular so the salesmen respond with selling apps and textbooks for the I-Pad.

It’s an I-PAD—use it to create the apps or to find and collect your own resources. Better yet, ask the students to do it.
This is real world learning.

I wonder how long it takes for an educational paradigm shift to happen. When will we take full advantage of our technology and open resources? The materials that are available for FREE are endless, and honestly, in many cases they are much better than those texts we pay $80 a piece for. Imagine a school of 1,000 students each with an $80 textbook. Could we not find a better use for that $80,000?

But we spend money on programs for the simple fact that…why? The authors have PhD behind their names? The textbooks supply us with the most current, significant choices? The programs are based on research? And how has that been working for the past decade? Since we can’t renew the book every year, they are even outdated within a year.

More often than not we purchase because of quick fixes and slick salesmen. Pearson is a Fortune 500 company making millions of dollars every year in the name of public education.

The past five years has seen a massive boom in the resources and tools available for FREE to the public and specifically to schools. We need to take advantage of them. Not only is this a financial and efficiency issue, it is an educational one as well. We need to educate our students on how to find reliable information. We pay enormous bills for media center databases and want the students using them in our media centers for research. What happens when they go to college and they don’t use those same databases? What happens in work and personal lives when they want to research? They have to know how to use the internet wisely.

We need to get on board with this now. Kahn Academy did great work getting the public to pay attention to the value of Open Educational Resources. Higher learning is also paying attention. Take a look at this course—Writing About Literature—from MIT—yes MIT. All their courses are now posted for open access. And even though this is the college level course offered at MIT during Fall of 2010, take a look at the resources within the course. Look at the lessons. This is material we could easily adapt in our high school classes. I would have even used a lot of this with my lower level students—just would have used different texts.

Other sites like Flat World Knowledge  is collaborating with experts to create textbooks that are available online for free or reduced printed prices to make textbooks more accessible to everyone.

Of course, places like Yale, Harvard, MIT aren’t providing degrees or credits with their OER (Open Educational Resources) but there is a consensus brewing that learning is learning. I wonder how long it will be until we have a new wave of what we consider “educated” and “experts.”

Our investments should be directed towards the best educators creating and combining resources, sharing and collaborating on an on-going basis. Communication among districts and states must improve. And we need to stop spending money on STUFF.

At some point we will realize that teachers are the best tool in our classroom.

 

UPDATE 7/17– This in the Washington Post today.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/u-va-takes-major-step-in-online-education/2012/07/16/gJQAF3YOqW_story.html

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FCAT Writing Scores Explained

So with all the media attention surrounding last month’s emergency DOE session to lower the passing rate on the Florida FCAT writing test, it was time to sit down and really explain what it is that is so bothersome with this writing test. This video is long and detailed but you can see why scores come back the way they do–you can get a better understanding of why teachers don’t like them, and hopefully you can see how high stakes testing can change things for the worse.

Let me know what you think.
http://www.authorstream.com/player.swf?fb=0&nb=1&ap=0&c=#dfdfdf&pl=as&p=1449450_634756335876537322

 

 

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My Essay (intentionally lame title) Or “On why FCAT Writing Scores Tanked”

You can download the PDF here:  MY essay on the FCAT WRITING

And come back next week for the REAL reasons… Let me know what you think. 🙂

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Writing Situation: Your state’s writing scores have fallen and lots of people are trying to determine why.

Think about what you believe is the main reason(s) for this.

Now write to persuade the public to agree with your reasons.

 

Dear public,

Imagine being told one day, that instead of writing from left to right on paper, you have to write from right to left. Wouldn’t that be difficult?  Well, 84% of Florida 10th grade students were writing above grade level in 2011 but that number took a nosedive to 34%[1] in 2012, causing the state to call an emergency meeting and change the passing rate from a 4 to a 3.[2]  There are several reasons people say this has happened. Some people say the state has raised the bar too high too quickly. Some think that our students are getting dumber. Other people say that teachers are to blame.[3]

First[4], some people say that the state has raised the bar too high in too short of a time. They say this because when it comes to conventions of grammar and spelling, “the scoring of this element in the past has been applied with leniency.” It was also scored this year with “increased attention to the quality of details, requiring use of relevant, logical, and plausible support, rather than contrived statistical claims or unsubstantiated generalities.”[5]  When students suddenly have to worry about things like spelling and grammar, or making sense, that’s hard.  You can’t expect change overnight. Students should not be held accountable for what they have always done. [6]

In addition, some think that our students are getting dumber. For example, Maggie Meyer has been teaching for 42 years and says that each year the kids get dumber.[7] “They just get dumber,” she said.  More students take remedial classes every year and the highest enrolled classes on any college campus these days are remedial Math, Writing, and Reading. The University of Central Florida had a remedial writing enrollment of 22% a decade ago, up to 94% this year.[8] Kids just aren’t as smart as they used to be.

Finally, other people say that teachers are to blame. Take my teachers for example. Every year we write essays like these, to some dumb prompt that they give us. They said we had to because the school wanted to make sure their students would get high scores on the state test. They said all the trainings and our textbooks focused on this model. They said that thesis statements must be in the first paragraph with the three points as a blueprint for the paper, and the last paragraph should restate the thesis. They said that we have to use transition words because that is what the state would look for. They told us not to worry about our spelling as much—mostly our organization. They told us to support what we said with details—even make them up and sometimes they gave us ones to use—said the state wouldn’t care. They showed us papers that the state had given them and that was how we were supposed to write. Then, one day, they wanted us to be what they called “real writers” and move past this “formula” model but it was just too hard. That is why teachers are to blame. [9]

I mean, I’m not a writer. [10]

In conclusion, people believe there are many reasons for the drop in scores. Some think the state raised the bar, some think the kids are dumber, and some think teachers are to blame.[11] I think all three are good reasons. What do you think?

Sincerely,

Tamara as-a-student Doehring [12]

 


[1] This number is completely made up.

[2] This sentence does not have a logical connection to the first two.

[3] The author realizes that her paragraph is 7 sentences long instead of the standard 4-6. In the author’s defense, one of the sentences is a fragment.

[4] Note transition taken from a “list of transitions” chart – page 48 in a textbook*

    *even though footnotes should not have footnotes, just wanted to point out that the author does not really have a reference or textbook

[5] Author notes these are quotations from a legitimate source but since the author only uses random, made-up statistics, the actual information of where she received this is not important. Instead, readers should applaud her ability to support her point with details.

[6] The author has more to say here but the time limits require she move on. Plus she has reached 6 sentences in this paragraph.

[7] Maggie Meyer is a made-up name so if someone by this name reads this, the author extends  an apology

[8] Impressive statistic.  No offense intended to University of Central Florida or student body.

[9] Author notes and apologizes for sentence structure not varying and for this paragraph being too many sentences.

[10] Oops. Sorry to make this a six paragraph essay but this final point really felt it had to be made. Author apologizes and gladly accepts a lower score for the first sentence of a paragraph not followed by support.

[11] High quality restated thesis

[12] Since the author did not have enough time or space to complete her thought on this topic, please come back next week when she shares her thoughts in more detail.

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To Teach or Not To Teach (Shakespeare in 45 minute classes with limited resources and time with readers who need work in a huge range of everyday skills)

Shakespeare makes me a hypocrite.

I’m a big believer (and a big talker) in focusing on independent reading with choice rather than whole class reading of classic literature. Ishakespeare believe that with our limited time in the classrooms today and with the ever-increasing skills to cover (media literacy, nonfiction analysis), classic literature falls to a lower level on the priority list.

My claims: use short stories and poetry  to teach literary skills. They cover everything you need to cover in literary skills and they are more efficient for your time. Then let them choose their own books–for higher engagement, differentiation, and choice–and follow them individually for those skills.

For this opinion I often receive raised eyebrows, crossed arms scorn,  as well as the occasional death threat.  English teachers love their literature. But I always hold to this opinion and even more so now that I am back in the classroom and see such need for choice and engagement.

And then spring comes and so does Shakespeare.

Now, back in the classroom, I am asking myself what I am going to do. When I am really honest with myself it is my desire to teach them Shakespeare, to PROVE the worth of this centuries old text. I want them to feel the accomplishment of understanding and better yet, appreciating, this language. And yet, I wonder if it is worth all that time. I am still undecided though I’m leaning heavy on the bard.

So alas, to appease my own guilt I share this dilemma here today and I ask the English Teacher’s Friend colleagues for your thoughts on this…

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What they lack the most–Listening and Speaking

I am now entering my third week back in the classroom after having been out for three years.

Not a whole lot has changed.  Still have the same kind of kids and the same kind of issues.

But the one thing I am noticing is that my students’ listening and speaking skills are actually worse than their reading and writing skills. Maybe I just wasn’t as aware of this before but I can see there is a lot of work to be done in that area. It is taking our time away from the reading and writing.

I think we might confuse behaving with listening –definitely not the same. And as I like to have lots of sharing and discussions, I can clearly see that very few people are actually listening and taking in what others say. They are mostly waiting for their moment to talk, rather than respond.

I have been trying out some new techniques–I give a large index card each day (they keep the same one all week)–and throughout the class period I ask them to write certain things on them. I collect as they walk out. Then I can check off who is actively listening. I also use the cards as an informal assessment. At the end of class I ask them to write something on the card about what we have learned.

I will be trying out some new methods and will share those next week. In the meantime, I would love to hear what techniques you have for getting students to listen to one another and respond appropriately. Please share your ideas by commenting below or email me so I can include them in the newsletter next week.

Have a great week.

Tamara

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Black History Month and the Achievement Gap

Beautiful book.

As I am sure you are aware, February marks the start of Black History Month.  Students across the country will learn about Rosa Parks, read Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech, and will organize local celebrations. I hope I do not come across as cynical, but much like last week’s celebration of “Literacy Week” in Florida, it seems a no-brainer that this is something that should be a part of our everyday classroom environment.

Despite the perceived success of our nation’s students via standardized testing, one key demographic is not keeping pace–minorities, primarily Hispanic and black males. This Achievement Gap has garnered plenty of national attention but we must look at this “gap” beyond the standardized test scores.

There is much more that must be done beyond the classroom walls to fix the problem. Poverty and prejudice might be beyond our direct control, but they are not beyond our teaching. One month to celebrate the contributions and the history of a huge portion of our students seems barely enough.

One of the initiatives of the nonprofit, The English Teacher’s Friend, is to implement a new program called NAS (Not A Statistic) intended to focus on black males for reasons beyond the Achievement Gap, including educating students and teachers about the startling statistics of highly disproportional incarceration rates, as well as a focus on local black history that is often glossed over in our curriculum and communities.

Florida statute 1003.42 Requires instruction in “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society.”

Although we likely cover enough black history to meet the requirement in our history classes and during Black History Month, we are certainly not designating many courses of study for students to truly immerse in their own history.

I was born, raised, and taught school in Brevard County, Florida. Our County complex is called the Harry Moore Center. But it wasn’t until several years ago, on my own searching, that I found out who Harry Moore was. Harry and his wife Harriette were civil rights activists-he a member and organizer for the NAACP. They were responsible for huge increases in African American voter registration across Central Florida and both were honored educators who were fired for their political activity. They made a huge impact in the Civil Rights movement before it became an official movement. Harry investigated every publicized lynching in Florida and was likely murdered because of once such investigation–the Groveland Massacre.

Harry and Harriette Moore were killed on Christmas Day, 1951. A bomb was placed under the floors of their home directly under their bed. Harry died on the way to the hospital and Harriette died nine days later.

Since I learned about the Moore’s I have been curious to know how many students  and adults are aware of their story. I have been asking my new classes which consist of mostly minority students, if they know who Harry Moore is? I often ask adults, too. I am rarely met with someone familiar with this local connection to our National history. We live 30 miles from where the Moore’s house once stood.

This prompted me to research more Florida history in relation to African Americans and there are so many stories that our students do not know-that I did not know. This is what I love about being an educator-the constant learning and discovering. If you don’t take advantage of getting paid to learn, to discover with your students, you are missing a valuable enrichment for your life, a nice fringe benefit.

Our NAS program is designed to work with the students to discover, uncover, and enrich their understanding of the local history. Through this relevant curriculum and targeted demographics we hope to engage students with more relevant curriculum. Out of the 10-15 admitted to the program, we hope for a minimum of 3-4 to become leaders and organizers of a group to continue to share these stories and statistics through workshops and presentations at schools, conferences, and in the community.

Please follow the blog as we detail the making of this program. Through the combined efforts of students and teachers working together for a common goal, we hope to create a program that can be replicated throughout the state, and maybe elsewhere in the country.

In the meantime, I will be sharing what I can with the students I have in class right now. I will start with a checklist to see where their background knowledge stands. Visit these sites for more materials you can work into Black History month and hopefully March – January too.

Read more about Harry and Harriette Moore.

Separate is Not Equal: Brown Vs. Board: This site includes lots of resources and lessons to teach an entire unit on the inequality of education. This is a key topic to address at a time when many students find education a burden.

History.Com list of resourcesfor Black History Month.

Another interesting read: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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The First Step: Fall in love with Language

My first week back in the classroom was a blast. Although exhausted, I am also rejuvenated. More than I ever I see the need for what we do at The English Teacher’s Friend.  During my first 4 days of teaching I attended (or presented) 5 meetings. Most meetings, as you all know, are a bit of a time waster. The intentions are always good but when one is constantly in meetings, there is no time to implement the things you discuss in the meeting.

I continuously hear this complaint from teachers–never enough time.

In these meetings we talk about how to improve student learning–how to show better scores on the next assessment (which also takes time away from teaching).

What I don’t understand is how we –and I say WE as in the greater WE in the US–cannot see the most obvious. Students have to be engaged. Who thinks these struggling students are truly interested in the strategies we teach them? Langauge Arts is just that–the art of language. We have to start with letting THEM discover the art of language. How?

Share poetry every day–without analysis, without picking apart the pieces, just sharing and letting it sink in.  Today I will share this poem with my students and when it is over I will give them a prompt: digital living –go. I will write with them in a student seat, not at my desk.  We won’t grade it. We will share. We will highlight words or lines that resonate. Then move on. Spoken Word poetry is incredibly powerful with students (and adults) and provides that “in” to the world of language. Don’t devalue the time spent on it. 

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Read excerpts of books about real events they haven’t known about. Build their background knowledge without KWL charts or pre-assessed quizzes. Share your passion for reading. Offer a page for them to check out your books.

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Give examples often of how language is a living thing, always evolving (some would say devolving) The popular words kids would know–like those in the new today . Occupy used to mean “the naughty”–as in to “occupy a woman.” These interesting facts on The Hot Word on dictionary.com. Talk about how words and cliches derived their meaning.

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Ask them what they want to learn about. Make a list. Find material that relates. Have them bring in articles of interest. We have that luxury in our classes that other subject areas do not. We can pull the content we want. Ours is skills based–primarily. So use that to your advantage by asking them what they want to know.

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Provide writing prompts that are truly prompts–a little something to get them thinking, get them started, but then allow for them to express their own topic. Don’t grade everything they write. Give them more opportunity for brainstorming and revision.  When students listen, have them share words or phrases that stand out, words they connect with.

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Too often we say we don’t have time for these things–to share poetry everyday, write open prompts everyday. I understand. Coming into this class at semester time and trying to get them ready for the “big test” in jsut a few months is daunting and I have wondered if I am doing these kids a disservice by not focusing solely on the testing-style questions.

I guess you have to ask yourself some things about that. First, they have been doing the testing cycle for a decade now. Has it worked? How many times have they  not passed? How far behind are they?

It is easier to justify these more creative and student-driven decisions when the other option hasn’t really been working. Some say we cannot afford the time to try it. I say the student cannot afford for us not to.

Students love quotes and I admit I do too. Fortune Cookie papers line my desk. This one is taped to my computer monitor: Your Present Plans Are Going To Succeed.

But this is the quote I think of the most when I think about my teaching philosophy:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

How do you get kids to LONG for language?

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Back to class…

Teaching is a continual learning process. If you aren’t learning you aren’t teaching. 

I head back into the classroom today after being out of it for the past three years. Last year I was a writing coach part time at this school so I guess that counts for something, but this is a full time teaching gig. Over the break this same school lost a teacher who had all 10th grade students–students who have yet to pass our state test. With The English Teacher’s Friend taking about 60 hours a week, I really am going to have to walk the walk of all my talk about efficiency, more so than I practiced years ago.

But I’m excited. And ready.

It is 4:30 am and I barely slept last night in anxious anticipation of my first day of school. Remember that feeling we all get at the start of the year? The possibilities that lie ahead. The changes you will make. The influences you will have. By now many of you have probably gone way past that feeling and have moved into survival mode. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could harness that first-day-of-school feeling?

As I work with these students I will share my experiences on this blog.  The administration at this school is extremely supportive and they are aware and understand my role with The English Teacher’s Friend. I will still be visiting schools I have contracted with. I will still be working dilligently to help teachers across the country and I am more determined than ever to make this nonprofit a positive change agent.

Over the break I was able to hire a half dozen teachers / former teachers who want to be involved. The dedicated board members are actively assisting as well.  I hope you follow us and share with us.

I am so disheartened as I hear teachers all across the country say they are throwing in the towel. When you dread waking up and going to work, things have to change. Despite all the nonsense surrouding educaton today, this profession is too important and the kids matter too much for us to not be proactive for change.

Wish me luck.  🙂

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Looking Foward to Research…

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.   –Benjamin Franklin

Every year you see them.

They move through the halls like zombies carrying stacks of papers and a jug of coffee. Often they are mumbling incoherently, something about “I taught them this…” or “If I read one more…”  You see these crazed beings for a few weeks each year and even though you might typically have lunch with them, during these weeks they barely leave their cave-room and instead, lurk in shadows over mounds of papers. I am talking about the English teacher, of course, in the midst of grading the “dreaded” research paper.

For some reason, this annual torture seems a necessary part of our profession—a rotten part of the job we hope to make better every year, but find ourselves disappointed when once again, these young people don’t grasp the concept of what it means to research.

This is also where we fail time and time again by not adapting to the change in research methodology to meet the needs of today’s students. The research process has changed rapidly in the past decade and we have not entirely caught up in our classrooms. As those tortured teachers can tell you, many students are primarily taught research as a unit, for a single paper, often done in the 11th grade.

A few decades ago this might have been fine when the only way one could do research was to use the resources at the local library. The goal was different then, also. It was designed to teach the research process for students entering college where they would be expected to write formal research papers. Our world outside of academia did not require a lot of knowledge for research skills. The general population could rely on select elite who were in charge of providing us with information and we generally trusted those sources.

But today’s world involves an increasing demand for reading between the lines. As we encounter an endless supply of information, the need to evaluate and synthesize that text is vital. Bias in media is rampant and we can no longer rely on every news station to provide clear, impartial information.  And our students are struggling.

Understanding reliable sources versus unreliable ones is an ever-increasingly difficult task. This is not just a result of the internet. This is a result of the accessibility of information—from text messages to cable television to vanity presses. We also have an environment where copyright infringement treads into murky waters and we need to do better at guiding our students.

Research skills—validating sources, understanding copyright, synthesizing text—do not need to be taught as a sole unit for a research paper. Our classrooms should be models of skills they need in the real world. With our ever-increasing demands on curriculum, we need to find inventive ways of efficiently teaching a number of skills at once. We can provide more engaging ways to learn the process year round while also incorporating other components of the curriculum such as technology, media skills, and writing in other genres.

I am always looking for ways to make the best use of a teacher’s time by combining skills, activities, and standards.  In the Modern Research Model, that is precisely what happens.

Instead of a final paper, the students write a blog or create a magazine based on their interests.

These two models are presented in lessons designed to cover a day or two over 12-14 weeks so that the research process becomes and integral part of your curriculum. You can pretty easily adapt these lessons to be more or less rigorous and more or less time-consuming. In this collection, I tried to find a middle balance and have created it with the 9th grade student in mind. This collection is arranged in three parts.

Part one is the BLOG model. Students will create a blog on a topic of their interest. Lessons will add a new component to the blog each week that not only address a different aspect of research, but also teach technology (hyperlinks and importing media), and a new writing genre (informational or personal essay).

Part two is the MAGAZINE model. The magazine will incorporate concepts such as multiple genres (editorial, personal essay, how to, etc.) as well as technology (design-based) and research skills each week. The final product is a publishable magazine to share with other students.

Part three includes resources to use with both models. Online resources, tutorials, and samples are designed to provide additional assistance.

Worried you might not be techno-savvy enough to pull a project off like this? No worries. This collection will walk you through all the steps you need. In the blog project, you will create a blog prior to the students, so you can predict and share any kinks in the process. Also, this is an important characteristic of this generation. They are not afraid of technology and will find ways to make it work. When you hand over the reins, they will often surprise with collaboration and dedication. Let the students teach you. The future of education includes teachers as mentors and learners, working side by side with students, not in front of the room as disseminators of knowledge. Use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to hand some teaching to them.

If you still want to do the formal research paper, you are in a much better starting place after having done one of these models since much of the research, writing, synthesizing and organizing are already done.  In each option, students will write approximately 3,000 words total on a single subject.

The most important aspect of this model is it creates engagement. Students are not writing for the sole purpose of a grade for you. They are researching and writing to share it with others. This matters for this generation and it will matter in the effort they put forth.

Make use of this text and please let me know (Tamara@EnglishTeachersFriend.com) what you think. I would love to hear about your successes and suggestions for improvement. As things change, I am sure this book will too.

Research Sites Worth Saving

FactCheck provides free resources for educators to find relevant research intended to cut through the spin and propaganda of local media. An education component on FactCheck called FactCheckEd provides a full year’s worth of lessons adaptable for middle and high school. This site is a go-to site during this next year as they take a close look at political ads, claims, and candidates.

ProCon is on one of my favorite sites as they provide both sides of a topic.  Search through 40+ controversial issues and see the collection of information they provide (with citations) for evidence supporting both sides of an argument.  This is a great way for students to find topics of interest and have the resources right at their fingertips.

Noodle Tools. Teachers that spend classroom time teaching how to create a works cited, or require note cards, are really wasting much of their time. Students today will work mostly electronically and often articles and information contains the citations already. Sites such as this will walk students through the process and create the works cited for them.

Wikipedia. Some people are still anti-Wikipedia for research. Wikipedia is not going away and what we want to teach students is that Wikipedia can be a great place to start—and the great thing about it—the citations listed at the bottom.  This is a necessary element in Wikipedia and will help researchers find information.

English Teacher’s Friend Delicious Account (Student Research Tag)  Delicious is a social bookmarking site. Click on the link above and you will find all of the above resources and more. As I add more sites that are helpful for student research I simply add them to this Delicious tag. Check back in or follow this Delicious account to see updated links.

The Online Writing Lab (the OWL) at Purdue University is excellent and might be the only resource you need. Covers all things research related.

Internet Public Library  is an online reference site, the IPL organizes websites into subjects as well as provides links to e-texts, magazines, and newspapers.

The Learning Network (NY Times Education Blog) provides lessons and resources for teachers using current news.

 

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