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!
I have a student teacher this semester; I thought she was incredibly lucky because our English department remapped the curriculum and created all new quarterly units, so I had no expectations, no this-is-how-I-have-always-taught-it-so-you-will-teach-it-my-way. Fortunately, she has been up to that … Continue reading
Our English department created new quarterly units for this school year (trying, of course, to align them with CCSS). For 4th quarter freshmen, we decided to merge the previous nonfiction unit with a new independent reading unit that also emphasizes research. My student teacher created a set of activities based on what has been taught throughout the school year; the students are required to complete two activities each week (and no activity may be repeated), in addition to a weekly writing assignment that includes a researched article to connect to the reading. All of the books are self-selected; the only requirement was that the book be narrative nonfiction. The book must be completed within the four-week period; if a student finishes early, he/she must choose a second narrative nonfiction book to read for the remaining time.
What has amazed me this week–the first of the four weeks–is that the students sit and read for 35 minutes every day! The first 10-minutes of class are spent on housekeeping and DOL’s. The plan for the remaining time is for the students to complete one of the two weekly activities, meet with the teacher to discuss the book, and to read. And they are reading! I really wasn’t sure how successful the you-will-read-silently-every-day assignment would be. These are freshmen, 14- and 15-year olds. They are sweet but squirrelly, yet most of them are choosing to sit in their institutionally uncomfortable desks (I allow them to sit or lie on the floor) to read. Today I asked the assistant principal for permission to take a reading “field trip” once per week to allow the students a more comfortable place to read–the auditorium, the baseball bleachers, and the front lawn. Provided we have good weather (which is not a guarantee), we will venture out of the classroom to sit elsewhere once per week (and let others see us read).
I have tried some independent reading or modified lit circles in the past, but with not much success. I assumed that the students would not use the time wisely, and they lived up to (or down to) my expectations. But this unit is much more organized, and we spent two weeks modeling the activities, research, and theme with short nonfiction works. It is also possible that it may work better with freshmen because they have had similar reading assignments in middle school (most of my prior attempts were with juniors). Maybe narrative nonfiction is just challenging enough to keep their interest. And, maybe this time next week, they will be hanging from the ceiling again (I hope not).
I wanted to share because this new unit has been a success so far–and I am really proud of my students for sitting and reading! Even if they don’t complete all of the assignments, as long as they are reading–especially narrative nonfiction–I hope this positive experience stays with them for a long time. It may not be a major success, but it is definitely a highlight of my school year.