A few years back, I was standing in the front of my class, delivering the news. Not good news, not bad news; just the news. The grim reality that writing is the future they are all condemned to face. "Kids these days..." I can't relate to their inability, their fear, in writing. I love writing. They don't. Enough said.
One kid in the back row said to me, "What do you know? You're just a government teacher."
(Biting back my pride.)
"More than you think, my dear."
But I realize, I know more... but these kids at 18 have very limited, if any, experience in researching, note taking, thesis synthesis, planning, and execution. Let alone all the bells and whistles that come along with MLA/APA et. al. (Although most of them can cheat their way through noodletools or easybib or even the newest Office Suite.
So, I've worked through some cardinal rules to writing for my kids... and come up with a lot of scaffolded resources.
1. Research does NOT mean Google. I assume that since these kids are fully digital that they are awesome at research. Not so fast. What they are awesome at is inputting a few key words and picking up the first (paid advertised) hit that shows up. I tell my kids this is like dancing with the first girl you see at the dance. Don't get greedy. You don't know what you are missing. Instead, I lead them to resources not only through our school's library database, but some extra, online nuggets as well. In order to get my kids to focus on what a good resource may be, we do annotated bibliographies.
2. When all else fails, go to Wikipedia. OMG. I just broke a cardinal rule. I know it. So let me explain. Wikipedia is great for bailing out kids who are flailing in their research. For instance, if they have a niche topic like community impacts of illegal immigration, a Google search will be pretty crappy. I direct kids to not only wikipedia illegal immigration, but to look up special interest groups that might support or refute illegal immigration. Where do they find this? In the footnotes... and the links that take you to other resources. I myself have found great special interest groups or general online resources for use in the classroom. I do tell my kids that if they EVER cite Wikipedia, prepare to be laughed at and failed.
3. Take notes. Seriously, write out your notes. If online textbooks are any guide, kids are not as digital as we think they are. Tactile learning and being able to spread out ideas is still a valuable learning and writing tool. So, I assign notecards in assignments. To reinforce the awesomeness of notecards, I assign companion outlines with specific questions to be answered. They write those questions down at the top of the notecard with just the answer from that source in their notes. That way, when kids sit down to write, they can sort their notecards by the questions in the outline and plug away.
4. Outlines are a kid's best friend. I know, most kids don't do outlines unless it is required. (Including the me, when I was a student.) But forcing kids to create an outline alleviates writer's block. I create the outline for them, because I find that they don't know how to do this yet. If I had vertical intergration of a writing curriculum, I would have this done in tenth or eleventh grade, and have the kids create their own outline. Ho hum.
5. Sit down and write, but do so backwards. Um, just follow me. When we have finished the outline, (including our lovely thesis statement) it's time to get busy. Kids still complain of writer's block... and I can see it. Either they repeat themselves, claiming that their topic is super important and you need to sit and listen (yawn.) or they tell you what they are about to tell you. (zzz.) So, I tell kids to jump down to the next paragraph. Get moving in your argument... finish it all the way through to just before the conclusion... and THEN go back and write your introduction and conclusion. This way they make sure their thesis, intro, and outro are all on the same page, so to speak.
For more inspiration with writing, and specific writing and research units, visit my shop. I have fun stuff to share.
When I am not g'ing it up, I am tackling the bigger problem... writing skills. Maybe my kids will write well enough to work at C-Span studios. Maybe.