Struggling with Research at the Middle School Level

When my students return from spring break next week they will be embarking on the research portion of the year. The past few weeks I have really struggled with the term “research paper”. Though I see the purpose of doing a research paper, I am not sure having my students turn in a 4-5 page “research paper” is best practice. To be more clear, I am thinking about my 7th grade classes.

My 8th graders, on the other hand, do a multi-genre research project which I absolutely love and I love their enthusiasm about the project. It also falls under the CCSS because one of the Common Core Standards is doing a “research project”. Please see my multi-genre project on Digital Is. The easy solution would be for my 7th graders to do the multi-genre project as well, but with different expectations. The reason I am not considering this option is because I do not want to grade over 110 projects that could include up to 6 pieces of writing. I wouldn’t sleep this spring if I decided to take this route.

Regardless of what direction I go in, I know that I am going to have an absorbant amount of paperwork and I am fine with knowing this, but having 5 classes doing a multi-genre research project could have the potential of me grading over 500 pieces of writing. WOW! What I really struggle with is knowing if I am going to reach students. In my district, if I don’t do some sort of research with my students, they will not see it again until 11th grade. Besides, I know that I have too. And it would seem with the CCSS, my colleagues at the high school level would have to as well. Why do we do a research paper anyways? I ofter wonder how dumb of a question that really is or do others have this thought too.

At our last department meeting I asked what is the value of a research paper and we had a really great conversation about how it isn’t the paper itself that is important for the students, but rather it is the process that the students go through. For example, students should know how to research effectively, they should know how to site sources and give credit where credit is due, and they need to be able to clearly convey what they learned from that research. So, my question is can I get students to show this without it being a 4-5 page “research paper”? Or is it in the best interest of the students to change my attack on this particular genre of writing. I am a huge advocate for technology being used in the classroom. Google Docs would be a start in the right direction. In addition, I am considering letting the students use cell phones to help with their research. I will explain what my thinking is on that in a later blog post.

So, I wonder, what are other middle school teachers doing in the realm of the research? What are others doing in their classroom? Are there other teachers out there that feel the same as I do? I would love to hear feedback and suggestions. More to come…


2 thoughts on “Struggling with Research at the Middle School Level

  1. Delia King

    Jeremy, I was thinking…. what if you had your students write/type a “brief” summary about what they are research along with their driving questions for their research on a wiki or a blog. Then have the rest of the students read and respond to their peers. As they are doing their own research, they might stumble on a resource for a classmate which they could share through the wiki or blog. Of course, this doesn’t solve the mountain of paper work that you will have being the ELA department for 7/8th grade, but it might help with the researching part of the project. If you and your colleagues think that the process is the important part of the research perhaps a reflection paper is the piece that you focus on in this project. Delia

  2. Jeremy –

    For about 10 years, my Social Studies teacher and I did digital children’s books for our research project. Kids worked in partners (teacher selected) researching a topic relevant to early American History, then they integrated their new knowledge into power-point picture “books”. The last day of class was spent reading/presenting the books to the class, and Tiffiny and I would mark the rubric as they presented. It’s an AMAZING way to wrap up the school year – the kids are busy and engaged right up to the finish line, and there isn’t much out of class grading for you to do. I know that with my current understandings of digital stories, we’d be moving away from power-point and towards video projects.

    I have since moved to a multi-genre project to wrap up my year, but do miss this one.

    I’ve included a link to the wiki page I used the last time I did this project – let me know if you’re interested in chatting about it more:)


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