Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Take 5--Rethinking the Position Paper

English teachers talk about how we have to reteach students formating of papers, thesis statements, topic and concluding sentences, and various other writing standards. We are frustrated at this lack of transference from one year to the next; I feel it is because students don't "own" this knowledge. They perform for a particular teacher and then, forget it until the next teacher has his/her own hoops for them to jump through.

Thinking about next semester and teaching the position paper, I decided that I want to engage students in a writing process that hopefully is more memorable. Here's what I'm thinking. I ordered 2 Karen Hesse books, Out of the Dust and Witness. One is about the Dust Bowl and its destruction and the other about the Ku Klux Klan infiltrating a small Vermont community and the repercussions from it. Both are written in free verse (poetry format), which I think will be interesting for students, but also are beautifully written. I am going to have them research why the Dust Bowl ocurred and why catastropic dust storms still ocurr. There are other various environmental issues they could research as well as how people deal with and persevere after such devastation (New Orleans, Thailand, China, etc.). With Witness, students could research why violence takes place and why hate groups still exist today.

But, what is more engaging I think over all of this is an often untapped resource: senior citizens. They lived through these historical times, watched our country evolve, etc. and have a wealth of information to offer. I am going to visit several nursing homes to see if there is one that would be willing to have my students come interview some folks. I will have to work on this idea, but I think it could work well.

We'll see. If nothing else, it energizes my teaching for next semester, so that teaching the position paper is not hum-drum, gotta do-it, but risk-taking and engaging.


At 1:26 PM, Blogger Crosby said...

This is a great idea! Some of the history teachers - like Brad - do this for WWII. You should probably talk to him about how he assigns work like this.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I like this idea as well. If you pursue the senior citizen visits - and if you want to make this a really big project - consider a video (documentary-like) or audio (podcast)project. This would be a much larger undertaking, so you may not want to take the time, but I think the students could do some amazing things with it.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Hatak said...

I like the sound of this also. I would like to do more reading in science outside of the text but I have a difficult time finding things for the students. A lot of science writing assumes that the students already have the background information when they actully do not.

I am always amazed with the level of thought that some students put into large projects. (Especially if the bar is set high to start with.)


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