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Research PapersOur district is struggling with the research project.  While it has...

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted February 17, 2008 at 7:01 PM via web

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Research Papers

Our district is struggling with the research project.  While it has been part of the English curriculum forever, some members of our department are trying to get the Social Studies people to tackle it instead.  I think research is a valuable part of the Language Arts program and that writing research papers will prepare students for college.  The debate has included those who think that literary papers are not research driven, research is more for Science or Social Studies than for English, or that colleges do not assign research papers anymore. 

I have kids research the myths and legends of a chosen culture, and then select a hero who seems to embody the values and/or beliefs of that culture.  No student may research the same society so that we can get a better picture of humans around the world.  The goal is to promote understanding among people.  I think it's a worthwhile research project, but members of our verticle team disagree.

What do you do for research projects?  What methods do you use for teaching research?  What's your opinion about keeping research in the Language Arts?  And can you give some feedback about my research project?

Thanks!

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted February 17, 2008 at 9:24 PM (Answer #2)

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I think your research project sounds really beneficial and interesting for both teacher and students, and is definitely something I'd like to try to put into one of my classes.

Research is important, regardless of what field the kids are studying.  Learning early that there are billions of other ideas out there, and billions of people who have written scads of great things (and also some garbage, of course, and they need to learn to be able to sift through that, too), is critical to kids who somehow think that they are the end-all, be-all of civilization.  Now, I know that sounds harsh, but let's be honest.  A lot of adolescents think that they know everything (I remember because I was one of those), and the sooner they have to research other ideas and opinions and learn to write about those, not just to say, "I BELIEVE...", the better off they're going to be when they hit college.

Yes, there is a time and a place to allow them to write their own opinions.  But overall, when they hit college they are going to need to be able to defend those opinions with solid facts...which they need to know how to obtain through research.

I think it would be detrimental to any English department to eliminate research papers and projects from the curriculum.

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mrerick | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted February 17, 2008 at 9:50 PM (Answer #3)

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You HAVE to have research papers in an English classroom.  If for no other reason, then do it because we HAD to!!

In all honesty, I like the idea of using research papers to teach kids the difference between writing and formal writing.  I allow a large amount of flexibility in the "correctness" area when students are writing persuasive, response, etc. papers.  Research allows me to draw a line in the sand between every day language and formal, professional language.  Of course, there are also the benefits of learning the difference between credible and non-credible sources (I'm looking at you, Wikipedia!), among others, but I think just writing style alone should be enough to keep research included.

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clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted February 17, 2008 at 10:19 PM (Answer #4)

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I'm with Erik on this one too, you have to have research projects- you just have to. I love it because it's so cross curricular and so many standards can be incorporated, plus students get to learn something that's almost entirely self directed. Not to mention one very important fact- they will have to do them if they plan on attending college, so it's beneficial to them now to learn how to be good writers in high school, because no one will show them in college- it's expected. No offense to history teachers, but generally (generally, I'm not trying to step on toes) they aren't the best at the mechanics of grammar and writing so they probably aren't the best to be teaching formatting papers, citing sources, and constructing good transitions and theses. You've got to share this conversation with your department so that they can see that across the country other English teachers believe this is a valuable piece to keep in their department. I know it's a lot of work on the part of the teacher, but it's too important to hand off. I relied so heavily on what I learned from writing those when I was in college and I was so thankful that my teacher did a somewhat decent job teaching me the mechanics and formatting.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 17, 2008 at 11:25 PM (Answer #5)

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My district requires a research paper on any social issue in 11th grade English. The state has changed the standards to require a research paper in all four years of English.

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 18, 2008 at 5:12 AM (Answer #6)

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Research papers - a topic that is near, if not dear, to me.  I'm currently in the midst of grading 81 of them.  Juniors at my school are required, by the school board, to write a research paper.  Many years ago, this was the job of the history department, but for the reasons mentioned previously, the responsibilty has come to the English department.  I believe that learning how to write formal papers and how to conduct research is vital.  Students must learn how to read, comprehend, summarize, paraphrase, and cite sources.  My only problem with the assignment is the grading of it.  It is a massive grading job, by far, the most time-consuming part of my job in the course of a school year.  Does anyone have any suggestions that might make the grading less time-consuming?

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 18, 2008 at 6:00 AM (Answer #7)

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Ours is called the Senior Project.  They are to choose a career interest or a hobby they have always been interested in, but never had time to pursue.  In either venue, they are not to already be experts in the area.

The project has four components:  the 6-8 page research paper which takes us approximately one month to research and write, the portfolio of letters of intent, daily logs of time spent and mentor hours, among other things, the product which is an extension of the research project, and the presentation to a committee about the entire process and what you learned overall in the process.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted February 18, 2008 at 6:58 AM (Answer #8)

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Please don't abandon research papers in high school!  I get so many students at the Fresh/Soph level that think English/Lit papers are all about their own interpretation of the work.  They need to know that many, many others have thought about the text and what those critics and other experts have said.  Literature is a conversation.  I love the following analogy and hope that some of you might find it useful too: 

Imagine that you enter a parlor.  You come late.  When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about.  In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before.  You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.  Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending up on the quality of your ally’s assistance.  However, the discussion is interminable.  The hour grows late, you must depart.  And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

 

--  Rhetoric:  Concepts, Definitions,  Boundaries by William A. Covino & David A. Jolliffe

 

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted February 18, 2008 at 8:21 AM (Answer #9)

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Our sophomores choose an American author as the topic for their research paper. (English II is American lit.) In the first semester, they read at least two novels by the author or a specific number of plays or poems--I've forgotten the number--to familiarize themselves with his/her writing. Then they formulate a thesis that will give them direction as they embark on research in the second semester. And yes, they have to turn in notecards, rough and final outlines, and rough drafts before they submit their final draft, usually in March. 

My AP English Lit students must include critical sources for their papers written outside of class; these are virtually mini-research papers of the kind I recall writing in college. Now that they have access to so many critical sources online (we subscribe to JSTOR, for instance, the motherlode of journals), research is much easier for them than it ever was for me!

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted February 18, 2008 at 8:37 AM (Answer #10)

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Response to #7:  We also have the Senior Project... oh, let me correct that.. HAD the Senior Project!  That, too, is going out the window because kids aren't motivated to do them well.  So intead of revamping the project (which is exactly what you described), it's being dumped.  The districts spent tens of thousands to get this off the ground five years ago only to let it go because kids don't LIKE it!  I teach Senior Summer School, and most of the kids are there because they didn't complete the project and so failed English.  They think they just get a six week extension to finish... what they don't realize is that they stilll have to do the project, but they also have to do what I am teaching for the summer (Gothc Lit). 

Sooo... not only is our department trying to dump the research paper, it's getting rid of the major component for English 12.  And I have to stand back and scratch my head while people think I'm non-conforming when I don't agree with this!  HELLO!  Isn't this what we are paid to do?? Aren't we supposed to teach kids to write and get them ready for college??

Sorry if this seems to sound like venting... but I guess it is because it's so frustrating!!

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted February 18, 2008 at 7:48 PM (Answer #11)

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Response to #7:  We also have the Senior Project... oh, let me correct that.. HAD the Senior Project!  That, too, is going out the window because kids aren't motivated to do them well.  So intead of revamping the project (which is exactly what you described), it's being dumped.  The districts spent tens of thousands to get this off the ground five years ago only to let it go because kids don't LIKE it!  I teach Senior Summer School, and most of the kids are there because they didn't complete the project and so failed English.  They think they just get a six week extension to finish... what they don't realize is that they stilll have to do the project, but they also have to do what I am teaching for the summer (Gothc Lit). 

Sooo... not only is our department trying to dump the research paper, it's getting rid of the major component for English 12.  And I have to stand back and scratch my head while people think I'm non-conforming when I don't agree with this!  HELLO!  Isn't this what we are paid to do?? Aren't we supposed to teach kids to write and get them ready for college??

Sorry if this seems to sound like venting... but I guess it is because it's so frustrating!!

Oh my goodness...I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I read your post.  And don't feel bad about venting - I think this is the perfect group to do that in as we all have frustrations and weirdnesses that we have to deal with.  And in a weird way, I love it because I know that I'm interacting with some amazingly dedicated teachers who simply have common sense ideas as to how to help these kids.

I just forwarded your post and Jamie's to my principal - Last year she was convinced by one of our teachers that the kids needed more creative writing, and I was told (as English Dept. Chair) that what he was doing was fine.  These kids graduated without ever writing a research paper in their 11th or 12th grade years.  I had finally had enough so I started contacting English professors that remembered me from my college days, and I asked them what they thought.  All of them said what Jamie said in her post - you have to teach kids to write research papers and to be able to support their opinions with fact and previous research.  After that I was given 100% control over my department and was able to enforce what needed to be done so we could graduate kids with a clear-conscience. (Now I think I'm venting...sorry!!)

I'm grateful to have more evidence as to the importance of this concept to show to my principal, but I just wish there was a way to get through to your administration.

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slauritzen | High School Teacher | Honors

Posted October 28, 2008 at 2:26 PM (Answer #12)

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There actually appears to be two different threads here: one is research and the other is literary analysis/criticism. Both of them by the way belong in the English classroom. I wish I had more time in my Sr. English class to devote to literary analysis/criticism from a research level. I do think this is a very important skill to find what others have said about any pieces of literature. As to straight research writing, most have covered why it must be taught. Students must be able to support their opinions with facts. In a world where plagiarism happens everywhere, we need to show students how to avoid it. An employee "stealing" someone's ideas in a meeting, a political candidate "stealing" someone else's words, or (my most recent favorite) a commercial that says Langston Hughes' poem "A Dream Deferred" word for word without ever giving any credit or recognition. Part of researching is teaching students to be outraged by those who do not give credit to the originals who said/did it first. Additionally, teachers from other departments, quite honestly are not qualified to grade papers looking for grammar, MLA documentation. Although many will do an excellent job, I doubt they were taught how to improve writing. They are welcome to assign additional essays and should, but the English teaching will never escape grading essays.
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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 28, 2008 at 2:50 PM (Answer #13)

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Response to #7:  We also have the Senior Project... oh, let me correct that.. HAD the Senior Project!  That, too, is going out the window because kids aren't motivated to do them well.  So intead of revamping the project (which is exactly what you described), it's being dumped.  The districts spent tens of thousands to get this off the ground five years ago only to let it go because kids don't LIKE it!  I teach Senior Summer School, and most of the kids are there because they didn't complete the project and so failed English.  They think they just get a six week extension to finish... what they don't realize is that they stilll have to do the project, but they also have to do what I am teaching for the summer (Gothc Lit). 

Sooo... not only is our department trying to dump the research paper, it's getting rid of the major component for English 12.  And I have to stand back and scratch my head while people think I'm non-conforming when I don't agree with this!  HELLO!  Isn't this what we are paid to do?? Aren't we supposed to teach kids to write and get them ready for college??

Sorry if this seems to sound like venting... but I guess it is because it's so frustrating!!

Was it the kids complaining, or did one too many mamas raise a fuss? I can't believe how accommodating we're becoming to laziness. Can you believe that we had a mother call and complain that the reading list for AP English had too many required books? And we have dual enrollment English for 12th graders; the take Freshman Comp. as high school seniors and get college credit. A parent actually called the dean of the college we're partnered with to complain that the teacher was too demanding!!! What do they expect?

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted October 28, 2008 at 4:08 PM (Answer #14)

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Oh my goodness...what is extremely scary is the fact that some schools would drop doing research papers in English classes (certain ones).  This is very disturbing because I end up having to teach these students how to do a research essay, which I should not have to do "from scratch."  ACK!

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ladyvols1 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 29, 2008 at 1:15 AM (Answer #15)

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I do a research project in Resource English.  I usually pick a poem and a song and then have the student's research the author's similarites and differences.  I saw this in a movies several years ago.  I think it was "Dangerous Minds."  The poem in the movie was Dylan Thomas vs Bob Dylan.  "Do Not go Gently compared to "Mr. Tamborine Man."  Often it is hard to find a popular song and a good classic poem, but I usually use some of the songs from the 70's.  I put the students in pairs for the research, since they are resource students.

I strongly believe that every student in the high school setting should do research.  They will have to get jobs someday and how well they do will depend on how well they use the resources at their disposal.  I think being able to research for a paper is a teaching tool toward that end.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:27 AM (Answer #16)

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For research projects I normally study two novels of a similar genre (gothic or bildungsroman for example) with my Grade 12 students. Then they have to pick one of those and pick another novel of the same genre which they have to do a compare/contrast on, focussing on contextual factors and researching into the genre as a whole. Seems to work pretty well, though I like your idea, amethystrose.

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asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:31 AM (Answer #17)

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For our traditional senior research papers, I partner with the Econ and Government teachers. The students pick some topic related to Econ or Government (and this was pretty flexible) and preferably related to the major/line of work the student intends to pursue.  It had to be a topic that could be argued.  6-8 pages for the paper.

This worked quite well this year, as the social studies teachers were able to help with content/research a lot.  The students received grades in both courses.  I graded them and the social studies teachers graded them and the students received grades in both courses. 

The students also did an 8-10 minute formal presentation in my class.  Next year they'll present to both me and the social studies teachers. 

I had a student tell me that she was glad I was teaching her how to do research, do MLA, and write the paper, because her boyfriend was currently in a freshman comp at a local college and he didn't know how to write a research paper.  The teacher who I replaced said that kids come back every year and thank her for making them do the research paper.

This paper is written second semester and the students do most of the work on their own time.  First semester, I had them write a paper on any topic related to British history because we were reading Brit Lit.  I didn't love that paper, but I used it to teach them to write a research paper.

The only thing that worries me is that I feel I shouldn't be teaching seniors how to write a research paper at all. I think by senior year, they should have mastered how to write a research paper.  At my previous schools, I taught 7th and 8th graders how to write research papers.  I think every grade level from 7th grade up needs to write a research paper every year. 

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asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:36 AM (Answer #18)

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One poster also asked about grading.  I should have also mentioned that a good rubric can make a world of difference when grading!  

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jacaldwell | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 27, 2011 at 9:51 AM (Answer #19)

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I am doing a research paper on Tillie Olsen "I Stand Here Ironing" Where should I begin?

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jfaraday | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:33 AM (Answer #20)

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My school got rid of the senior research paper, starting with my class, and I'm really upset about it. For the last four years, they've been telling us that we would get to write a really invovled research paper on anything we wanted. Instead, at the last second, they decided that since not enough kids were doing it (and therefore failing that marking peroid) they should just throw it out the window. They replaced it with a group project. We are assigned political topics and put into groups and we have to debate it in front of the administrators and our parents. (Well, other kids' parents--there's no way my parents would come.)

 

So instead of writing a really fun, invovled research paper on something we actually care about, we have to do another BS assignment that we have to pull together at the last second. Once again, my school screws over the kids who actually want to learn something just so that the kids who don't care can pass anyway.

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