Picture this: It’s May, and the temperature outside far exceeds what it should for this time of year (which seems to happen every year, but I digress). Your classroom is packed, too. You have 30 students crammed into groups of six, just to make all of your desks fit. They are eighth graders. They’ve been studying the World War II and the Holocaust, and you’ve just told them they’re going to write a research paper.
So. They. Begin. To. Sweat.
If you are a middle school teacher, then you can fully appreciate this scenario.
My sincerest apologies if you are reading this over lunch.
This was my reality, though. For nearly a decade, I spent every May dragging my students through the research and information writing process. We learned how to seek and synthesize our sources. We learned how to cite them, too. We learned how to plan and organize and draft our papers. We revised. We cleaned up our copy with careful editing. Then, we used our new expertise to be of real influence in the world.
Yeah, surrrrrrrrrre we did.
Okay, well, not so much.
But we made a valiant effort to accomplish every single one of these things together, and those experiences taught all of us much. I’ve also learned quite a bit by helping other teachers support research and information writing in their own classrooms over the last fifteen years or so.
This has taught me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For instance, today’s writers have the ability to rapidly influence real audiences. Print isn’t boss any longer, either. Writers use different mediums and modalities to teach and move people, and this makes doing so far more possible for a greater number of kids. This is exciting stuff. But if you’re a teacher, then you know this, too: Many of the problems that new writers face as they move through the process are very much the same as they’ve always been.
And we’re much more successful when we frame every problem in a way that actually makes it the solution.
These are the things that I’ve been reflecting on in my most recent #FiveMinuteFix videos:
- Where do writers find great ideas for information writing?
- How do they craft beginnings that really welcome readers into their work?
- How might they practice organization by embracing rather than resisting the incoherence that is a natural part of research and synthesis?
- And–say it with me now brothers and sisters–HOW DO WE HELP THEM PARAPHRASE? One thought: Let them begin by copying the author word for word.
- Finally, if we know that writing is bigger than print and that in fact, print tends to live on the design room floor in real writing workshops and studios, how might we do a better job of inviting kids to create stuff that real people really want to consume?
If you’ve caught them one by one as I’ve dropped them into my Facebook group each morning, then perhaps you have some new thoughts of your own to share. I’d love to talk with you more. This is a conversation, not a presentation. As you watched, what came to mind? What are you wondering? What ideas can you contribute to our collective learning? Leave a comment here or even better–a post there. You can find me on Twitter, too. I’d love to hear from you.