Observations from the Trenches: Multigenre Research Paper

As most of you know, not only am I a high school librarian by day, but I also still teach 10th and 11th English courses by night for our district evening school during the regular academic school year.  I should probably take more time to write about my observations on students’ information literacy skills and perceptions about research (and perhaps I will during 2008-09), but as many of you can relate, it is hard to find time to stop, reflect, and then actually blog about what is happening “out there” because time seemingly just gets way so quickly.

Today marks the beginning of Week 2 of our three week summer school session.  While many express shock and skepticism about the feasibility of trying to do a 90 day course in 15 days, we do meet four and a half hours per course—the economy of time forces both teachers and students to focus on what really matters! 

On Friday, we began our multigenre research project in my afternoon 10B Literature/Composition course.  This type of research paper can incorporate traditional elements of the “written” research paper (and mine does), but it also calls upon students to interpret and represent key learnings and findings of their research in creative and alternate genres.  For more information, see my links at http://del.icio.us/creekview_hs_library/multigenre .

At first, most students seemed a bit dazed and confused.  What is multigenre?  What are learning artifacts?  You want me to do what?  Present information I’ve learned in an alternative way?  Think?  Huh?  Many vocalized these questions, and for those who didn’t….I only had to look at their faces to read their thoughts!  After we had reviewed the assignment, though, and the students had an opportunity to look at real projects/papers and examples, several began getting excited and were already brainstorming ideas.  My 10A students probably have a slight advantage because we are incorporating a few multigenre elements into our short story project and our Georgia Peach Book project.  I am hopeful the little gurgles and spurts of enthusiasm I saw in some of my students Friday afternoon will become a full blown “gush” this week as we essentially spend about two and half hours in the library each day this week.

One young man looked dismayed and sad during our class break after we had reviewed the assignment and discussed the project.  When I asked him what was wrong, he cried, “I can write a paper no problem and give you the facts, but interpret the information….that is going to be hard!”  I asked him what seemed difficult or challenging about the multigenre artifacts because in my mind, those are the creative and exciting parts of the project. 

With dismay he sputtered, “Because I will have to think and really show what I have learned“!

With a wry smile on my face, I replied, “That is exactly the purpose of this research!”

I thought his response was very telling about what our “NCLB” generation kids are used to doing in the classroom and what they have been trained to do:  regurgitate information and move on.  No synthesis, no analysis, no evaluation of information—just “learn” it and “cover it” for a test.  Of course, we as librarians have seen how the emphasis on standardized testing has killed inquiry and research in our media centers, so his comments were not really surprising.  However, they are troublesome just the same.

I will be interested to see how he and the rest of his classmates evaluate this project in about eight days from now.  In the past, I have done this project as a literature based project, and while students at first looked like deer in the headlights, nearly all became excited and engaged in what they were doing; projects pulling in multigenre elements have gotten high marks from my students in the last two years, but this is the first time I have made the entire research project a multigenre paper.  They are doing topics all over the map, and I honestly can’t wait to see what they do with this….stay tuned!

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