I'm currently prepping my classes for another research unit, this one a blend of Memoir, Advocacy, and Speech Writing. After all, never in real life are genres categorized. They blend together; and the Common Core assessments to come recognize the desegregation of writing genres and the need for performance-based assessments.
I'm basing this blended unit on TED.com, and the plan is to host a middle school TED-esque conference, combining it with a book drive for our media center. So, in a series of posts, I am going to describe some key steps I'm using with my eighth graders in order to scaffold our way towards our TED conference. On my own website, you can learn about how students chose topics and you can download the worksheet that I used to guide them towards their choice.
In this post, I will describe how I introduced the concept of the project and the development of our student-created resource library, a tool that helps everyone to research more deeply. So follow me as I describe real-time writing in a real-world classroom. Hope this helps in your own possible blended genre unit.
The first thing I did was get the students familiar with the Persuasive/Memoir speech patterns that so many of the TED speeches possess. Many of the presentations, regardless of the length, whether they are 3 minutes or 23 minutes, tend to some share key common traits like:
- Background Information
- Call to Action
Even something as simple as Terry Moore's "How to Tie Your Shoes" has those elements. Coming in at 2:59, his short speech may teach us how to tie your shoes, but the overarching theme is much deeper than that. See if you can find it.
In order to model deeper discussion, I took up class time to watch the videos and lead conversations, but as of late, I've flipped the classroom a bit and posted the videos on my classroom website and had them comment on particular aspects of the speech. Their comments, I find, are much better now than had I merely posted them with no classroom modeling first.
From there, we selected our topics by developing problem statements over the course of a week.
Breaking the Google Homepage Habit
As students honed in on their topics, their research became easier. I took them into the computer lab for two days (our first time in the lab this year so far) and I gave them the first of many mini-lessons on researching wisely and safely. For one thing, I gave them some tips to break the Google homepage habit. I walked them through activities that focused on the following:
1. Metasearching using dogpile What I like about this is that on the page where your results are listed, it categorizes your results in ways that might behoove better research. If the student types in "global warming," then it asks if you would also like results that only focus on "causes of global warming," "effects of global warming," and so on.
2. Google Advanced Search Obviously, the more specific you search, the less work you have to do. Let Google do the work by spending just a little time creating parameters for your results.
3. Google Scholar This can be a little heady, but it has also led to some really interesting results.
4. Reading URLs What does a .org mean? .gov? .edu? What symbols may indicate personal sites? Reading the sentences of the URL is the first step in reliable searching online.
Anyway, it's just a start to get them going with a little structure and guidance. From there, they keep a running bibliography of the websites, articles, and multi-media presentations that may have been helpful while researching their topics.
The Student Created Resource Library
Now, here's where the student created resource library comes in. Clearly, taking them to the lab often is tough. We simply don't have the time, but what we do have now are lists and lists of bibliographies just waiting to be shared. I had my 36 students in first period each make a file with their topic on the cover. These all went on the wall. Inside are copies of their current bibliographies. They were assigned to come in with at least 6 sources, correctly cited (which counted for a quiz grade). When second period came in, those students with topics not represented on the wall filled out their own files and inserted their bibliographies, while those who saw their topics already posted inserted their bibliographies, adding to those provided by the students in first period.
By the time all of my students appeared, in one day, we had constructed a collaborative student-created resource library. For those higher-level kids looking for additional resources, we had 'em. For those lower level students still struggling to bring in a list of six resources, they now had access to a vetted list of resources on their topics. These files will be on our interactive bulletin board for the whole unit, and all students will have access to what lies within.
Of course, there are also ways to do this same activity online using social bookmarks like CiteUlike , Diigo , and Delicious. Stored online, students can share their resources with each other. A teacher can set up a classroom where students are able to view each other's bookmarks in much the same way as our file folders grant access to a certain level of transparent research.
Using social bookmarking sites is definitely a key skill for students to learn, but I find that while most students have access to computers these days (according to Pew Research 95 percent of all teens are online), that doesn't mean that they have access to collaborative tools. Also, as passionate as I am about educational technology, I do find that there are certain lessons we should be modeling still offline before taking it online. I think that by introducing my students to the concept of a student-created resource library in the classroom first, I will more likely be able to translate the intent of social bookmarking later in the school year. Besides, now I don't have to hear an excuse about not having found any research due to lack of connectivity. And ensuring that all students have the tools to participate is as important as exposing all students to the tools of their future.