Saturday, April 26, 2014

Evidence in Writing Pt 2

In a June post, I noted an idea learned through the KY Writing Project- helping students find relevant evidence for points in an informational or argumentative piece. I was able to practice that in my classroom when we began an informational unit where students would be researching to support their main points. Before I get into that, let me explain how I go about helping my 8 graders develop their ideas for a research paper.

 First, students must decide upon their thesis. This article will explain... is our basic format and for higher level students I encourage them to go beyond that, using many models as support.

 Once students have developed their thesis, they are to develop three topic sentences, one for each point.

 Finally, they write their rough draft with NO research. Since we use bullying or cyberbullying, I know students can achieve that and this is why I use bullying/cyberbullying as our research paper topic. (I tell students my aim is not to teach you about bullying/cyberbullying, but to teach you about the research process.) Having students write FIRST before research, means less chance of plagiarism and they can successfully find research to support what they have said.

 After all this has been accomplished (with formative assessment checks along the way), students begin the research process. Since they have their topic sentence ideas- and after we have had a lesson on search terms- students are focused on what should be located in regards to research, rather than gathering every thing they find and becoming overwhelmed with information. Students used Google docs- typed their topic sentences in and under each copied and pasted a chunk of research that fit, as well as the full citation. We used KY Virtual Library as our main source, supplemented with no more than two Internet sources.

  Here are some quotes from students about the process we took:
"When we put the research under the topic sentences I felt that it helped provide structure and point us in the right direction to find what we needed." EB
" It was a good idea to collect research under each topic sentence. It helped sort our research out into parts so you didn’t just copy and paste it randomly on the research page and then have trouble finding your research for each section. It helped organize, at least my research, greatly." AB
" I did like writing our topic sentences first before we actually started our drafts, because it was a good way for us to gather our thoughts and really narrowed down the amount of research we had to do." ZB
" I liked collecting research under each topic sentence because it kept my research organized and it made sure I had research in all areas." LH
 And finally this quote where a student recognizes that if you research first, you might end up with little of your own thoughts/ideas:

"I learned that in order to form a research paper that is in, mostly, your words you must first write a draft in your own words without research. I did not know this before, usually I would research first and then build my paper off of that, which for me is a mistake. This is because the paper just ended up being just research with a few sentences of my own word."LK

 I was able to share my Teaching Assistant experience for Ashford University, where students would get plagiarism charges after reports from Turnitin revealed that the majority of their paper was from other sources rather than their own thoughts and ideas. And that while cited correctly, research should support the writer's ideas, not the other way around.

 Now, I do explain to students that it is easy to write a draft off the top of your head with a topic they know, but that later in high school or college it may not be that easy. Either way, developing your thesis and topic sentence ideasfirst  can still guide you as you research. We also practice A.C.E.- In this case, A is the Answer or topic sentence idea, C is the Cited research as support and E should be your Explanation or discussion, which should make up the majority of the paragraph.
 Now, on to the introduction lesson that led up to all this! I knew that students would have to locate relevant evidence for topic sentence ideas so I located many articles about healthy eating and exercise. An easy place to start, as most students have been inundated with this information for several years. Together we brainstormed everything it took to be healthy and broke them down together on chart paper into main ideas. From there we formulated topic sentences.

 The next day students entered to find desks in groups of 4 and manilla envelopes in the center with sentence strips and markers.

I placed the chart paper around the room- each sporting one topic sentence we developed from the day before. Students were to each pick one topic sentence and find an article that related to it, extracting a 'chunk of research' as support. One student placed each article out before the group- and each member had to decide which article would fit their selected topic sentence. They had to read (and we all know they skim it,  but that was dealt with soon after) and find relevant support.

They were to write their research chunk on the sentence strip and place it under the appropriate topic sentence.

 Things went well the first couple classes, but I felt it was too easy, and that students were not really reading, they were skimming,  so during my planning, I located several decoy articles. Ones that were related to exercise and diet, but not specific to the topic sentences themselves. I was surprised to find that in each class, at least one or two students gravitated to the decoy articles and were trying to use them as evidence. This offered an opportunity to discuss with them- HOW does this support the topic sentence idea?  As they began to verbalize how,  they soon realized it did not fit at all. This provided a short mini-lesson to the entire class- since all had seen those articles- to discuss why they did not fit our topic sentence ideas. I also asked them to be cognizant of the processes they were taking in determining the value of a particular source as support.

 Once students placed their research chunk under each topic sentence, we discussed paragraphing, relevant support and use of sources for support. Most importantly it gave them a glimpse of what research was like when facing multiple sources from which to extract research, some more valuable than others.

 Students did a gallery walk to view all evidence placed under the topic sentences, and they placed a check on the ones they felt were the strongest support for each topic sentence idea. We later discussed why some evidence was stronger than others. Some students also tried to use the ellipsis in their research chunks and this provided a good language usage lesson on successful use of the ellipsis.

 We also reflected on the question: "What process did you take to determine which article would be most helpful in supporting the topic sentence you selected?" Student answers were revealing. Some noted reading photos and captions, titles and subtitles while others read through carefully and of course some skimmed.This was an opportunity to discuss strategies good readers/researchers use to locate and find useful information.  In subsequent classes, we went back to this idea, discussing how a researcher can read the short blurbs under sites listed from a Google Search  or the short summary for articles found on KY Virtual Library. That rather than clicking on every thing found- one should pause to examine what they have found before plunging in and possibly wasting time and energy.

While it may seem like a no-brainer for middle school students to find relevant evidence, it is not. The decoy articles themselves proved that to me, as did other writing they did earlier in the year where they needed to extract support from the text they were reading.  This exercise provided many stop-and-reflect moments for my students, affording quick mini-lessons as well as a practice session for what they were about to embark upon- research for the first time.

This activity could easily be modified where the text - literature- a short story, poem, etc. could be the focus and the teacher selects a 'topic sentence idea' such as a character trait for the main character or an inference the teacher wants the students to see. This can become a close reading exercise in action.
Another idea is to see character change throughout a story- on chart paper place the  headings:
The character at the beginning
The character at the end
and have students place evidence from the text that portrays the character at these stages of the story.

The possibilities are numerous for such an activity and while it could be done on paper, individually, it gives those Kinesthetic and Logical students chances to shine as well! It also provided a model for how my students would be organizing their own research- under each topic sentence idea. Finally, you can check out my other blog posts- one in particular where students use to post relevant evidence, and this technology tool could easily be used in the above lesson as well.