Teaching The Research Paper

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Plagiarism, the use of random facts, disorganization of the paper, and student apathy topped the list of problems.

I believe in the importance of teaching research, but my experience has led me to this conclusion: teachers of younger secondary students need to break away from the traditional research paper and turn to alternatives to engage students in the process while teaching research skills.

Suddenly a news report I remembered hearing during the time the Wall actually fell came to mind, and I decided to use it as the basis for my story.

The report told of an East Berlin woman who made it a point to cross the Wall to meet the West Berlin baker she had seen set up his shop every day from her apartment window for the past twenty-three years.

Other teachers ask students to write family histories as a way of understanding the nature and methods of historical research, or nudge them to supplement their research with costume, dance, photographs, art, and film.

All these and similar efforts share with Heckenlaible's Living History the likelihood that students will be much more prone to engage with their research and writing and much less prone to cut, paste, and plagiarize from other sources.Even with careful instruction and clear models, only a handful of students prove to be effective at giving credit to their sources, at incorporating borrowed information in their papers seamlessly, and at incorporating their own thoughts or drawing conclusions based on their research.During the summer of 2004, I attended the Dakota Writing Project (DWP) Summer Institute, held in Vermillion, South Dakota.It was here that another fellow, Mike Larson, introduced me to his alternative to the traditional research paper.For this project, which Larson called The Living History, his students combined research and history to create a written description of a historical event as if they (their narrators) had taken some part in or witnessed the event as it happened.I do not think I am alone when I admit to fellow English teachers that I do not look forward to teaching the research paper to my freshman high school students.Each year I taught the required research unit, which has included the I-Search as well as the traditional research paper, I was frustrated with the outcome.Our task was to compare and pool our resources, allowing us to add additional information others had found to our own research.Then each of us was asked to take the information and embed it into a first-person narrative of someone who had lived through our particular event.The paper was to be written in first person and approached from the perspective of the character, real or imagined, recalling the event in the past tense.One restriction was that the character could not be a major player in the event.


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