Each week on the 20-day blogging challenge, we are encouraged to share something new or something tried in the classroom. While an I-Search paper is not a new essay topic, it is new to my classroom. In the fall, the freshmen English teachers in our department met to plan the new second semester curriculum maps. We tweaked the previous nonfiction unit to meet the CCSS; the result is a 4-week independent reading unit in which the students choose a narrative nonfiction book to read accompanied by a series of weekly activities and a meeting each week with the teacher. Once the four weeks ended, the students presented a book talk to the class and are now conducting research to write an I-Search paper.
It is ironic that I have spent thirty-two weeks reminding the students to not use “I” in their writing, and now I am not only encouraging it, I am actually require that they use “I.” One student asked me today what would happen if I accidentally graded them down for using “I.” I assured him that I would not do that.
After three days, instruction-research-instruction, they finally seem a bit more confident in the requirements for sections 1 and 2. I think there were quite a few light-bulb moments in class today when I modeled my thought process while doing research similar to theirs. I had tried to model it on day one, but there was an overwhelming amount of information that day for my modeling to reach them.
We have limited their research to the 200 Argumentative Prompts listed on The New York Times Learning Network, plus any additional articles linked to those, ProCon.org, and the subscription databases (mostly Gale) available through our school. They have only had one day of research, so I haven’t had to encounter the question, “There is no information about my topic on any of these resources.” Some students did struggle with choosing a research topic, but I think they would have chosen a different narrative nonfiction book, rather than just choosing the skinniest one, if they had understood the related research component. Although I had mentioned research at the beginning of the unit, I will ask my students how to better explain it for next school year. I have a few students ask about changing their research topic because they couldn’t find information; I told them to include that as one of their section 2 paragraphs that deal with the search process.
Right now, I am confident that the students will be able to complete this assignment. Section one (background, introduction, and research topic/question) is due on Tuesday; section two (the search process narrative) is due at the end of the week. I will explain in detail how to complete sections 3 (compiling the research into a mini-essay) and 4 (reflection and conclusion) next week. I am crossing my fingers that those directions will make sense after having completed their research.
I will post a follow-up after the students complete their papers. I certainly hope we all feel like eating ice cream after they’re done!