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…


Reading and the Common Core

For the past two weeks I have been really diving into the Common Core Standards.  As I have mentioned before my school adopted the Common Core starting this year.  I have to say I am greatful for this because it really gives my colleagues and I a chance to really get organized and put them into place for the future.  Those of you that are teaching the Common Core know that they are challenging.  I don’t know about you, but I love a challenge.

I have really been focused lately on the reading standards.  More specifically the texts suggested that “illustrate the complexity, quality, and Range of Student Reading” for grades 6-8.  Below are just a few examples of suggested literature (stories, dramas, poetry) reading the Common Core gives in case you haven’t seen them.

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
  • The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
  • Dragonwings by Laurence Yep
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

Now, all of these deserve some recoginition, but I have some general concerns and questions about the suggested literature list posted by the Common Core. Even though there seems to be a focus on classics here and the the suggested literature for high school, my biggest concern is that not of these texts reflect any work done by current or more recent authors.  The most recent work was done by Mildred Taylor and that was published in 1976.  Currently my 7th graders are reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and I am getting positive feedback from them for the most part.  The othe titles on here I feel are not that attractive to middle level readers.  As most poeple know, I am a huge advocate for boy’s literacy and I assure you Little Women will not go over to well with middle school boys.  I remember grabbing this book off the shelf in my middle school library as a 7th grader.  I read the first 60 pages and took it back.  It was not for me.  Now, I know as teachers we are NOT required to teach these literature pieces, but I feel like I am put into a tough spot as a teacher not to choose them.  Being part of a small district, I know it will be tough as a language arts committee to approach our district improvement team and ask for sets of these novels.  That is an expendature that is not on the docket yet.  So I have 4 questions:

  1.  What literature can I choose if these titles that are suggested are unattractive? 
  2.  How do I look at what literature I am teaching now in class and decide is it perplexing and challenging enough to meet the standards?
  3. Do I have to completely redo my curriculum and units I am doing in class now to implement those types of texts that are more challenging?
  4. How does a district divide up the literature and suggested informational texts between grades 6-8?

I am not saying these are difficult questions to answer, but what I am saying is perhaps there could have been a list of books that could more closely connect with students today. Less classics, more modern selections.  Who picked these suggested texts anyway? I know there has to be complex, modern texts available that can do the same things that the suggested texts can do.  On another note, I feel as if we are on a spinning wheel of curriculum where we have to implement, yet again, a new curriculum and try to figure out how it fits into our classrooms.

I will continue to do research and figure out what are some options that are available and I am ready for any feedback anybody hasn for me and others.