Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blogging Along with Formal Research

Whenever I tell my juniors they are about to begin writing a research paper, they all groan. Loudly. They know just as well as I do that research is difficult and tedious, and that they'll have to spend time learning or relearning MLA formatting and citation in order to write their boring, meticulous, dry position papers.

Over the years, I have tried various approaches to research, like linking their argument to a literary work, writing in the voice of an author they have researched, or researching their own family history. All of these have been an attempt to make the process less painful for us all, but where I have failed is that the topic chosen doesn't usually make up for the process, and part of the problem (in fact, it becomes more of a problem) is that a student may have a topic he feels passionately about, but must write the paper in an academic voice to suit the MLA gods.

I've been curious about blogging, but was too afraid to try it until I saw a wonderful presentation from Steve Fulton at our state's English conference in 2011. He had his middle school children research and write about anything they wanted, and encouraged them to explore different genre options and different voice options in their writing. It made me think that surely I can provide my students with an engaging writing experience to supplement, not replace, their academic research.

My 2011-2012 AP students became my guinea pigs, and we launched our research project. I told them they had to pick a topic that would 1) give them room to argue a position and 2) give them some means to comment on America's position globally. Right away they went for the popular topics, like world hunger or education, but soon, they started to understand that if they were going to also write casual or even funny blogs on their topics, they had better choose differently. Consequently, the topics became much more personal and interesting. One student discussed the Americanization of martial arts; another discussed how sports affect politics.

We then ventured into blogging. I helped students create and update blogs, and modeled the difference between "blogging language" and "formal paper language." The students were able to work out major points of argument in their blogs, then transfer their ideas to their research papers. Many students felt more confident in their arguments because they had first written the blogs, and several students commented that understanding how to change their voice to suit their mode of writing was the most beneficial lesson. All of my students thought this research process was made easier by using blogs, and I noticed how much better the papers were in terms of argument, choice or sources, and formatting.

I have links below to a few major blog sites, and I hope you'll give blogging a try. - you can create a blog and add your students as authors, then make the whole blog private. - you create a class and add students. They don't need an e-mail for this. - the largest education blogging site on the web.

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