Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Research Papers

I went to public school and remember writing lots of what we called 'reports' starting around fifth grade. The odd thing is that I don't remember being taught HOW to do the research and construct the report. We were taught how to do a proper bibliography (just for books, nobody had internet back then!) and how to use the library's card catalog (in the big file drawers full of typed cards on paper - no such thing as doing a search using the library's online catalog!), and I have a vague memory of having to make an outline. But that is all I remember. I don't remember getting much more than that, even in high school when we had to write term papers in English and Social Studies classes! I suspect that I didn't ever write much of an outline for those high school papers. Maybe my memory has some big holes in it (and given my extra-curricular behaviors during high school, this would not surprise me), but when I consider that I have to wonder - 1) how did I get good grades on those papers most of the time, without REALLY knowing what I was doing?? 2) how on earth am I going to teach my own kids to write good papers when I have no recollection of being taught how to do it??

So I was very excited to find the guide Research in Increments by Susan Kemmerer at Schoolhouse Publishing. I had already purchased Caution: Writing in this Book Might Be Fun (both editions) which I thought would be very useful in helping the kids with creative writing, and Research in Increments looked to be a great resource to guide students through the process of writing well-researched and well-constructed research papers. The workbook itself guides the student through an entire paper step-by-step, over a period of about two months.   Although the book cover states it is appropriate for all grade levels, clearly this is not meant for early elementary students! In my opinion, it would be most useful at about a Grade 7 or Grade 8 level using the workbook as a complete step-by-step guide, and in the high school grades as a refresher and guideline through the steps through a successful paper.

That being said, I have just given research assignments to Landon (Grade 6) and Kennady (Grade 4) and referred them to some basic steps in the book to help them. I plan on assigning one or two "term papers" to Landon starting next year, in which I will expect him to follow the book pretty much from beginning to end. I also have referred Spencer (Grade 10) to specific pages in the book as guidelines for some of his writing assignments, and will continue to do so.

Since Kennady is younger, her assignment was shorter and completed with more help from me - so hers is actually COMPLETE at this time. Landon is still writing his final draft. Here is how we worked through the assignment, and then I will share Kennady's finished work in a separate post!

1) The assignment: choose an animal native and peculiar to some part of Asia. and write a short report telling about it. Kennady chose the snow leopard, and Landon chose the sloth bear.

2) Gather information: since our timeframe for this assignment was rather short, I expected information to be gathered using only the internet. I insisted that they use the Index Card Method of gathering notes, as explained in the book in Lesson 3 (p 17ff). When researching on the internet, it's very easy to just copy and paste the sections of a webpage that are relevant into a document and then use that to write the paper. Easy, but very tempting to shortcut and wind up plagiarizing. Young students may not understand that, especially how it is still plagiarizing if they change a couple of words in the sentence! It is a lot harder to plagiarize when handwriting notes, and in bullet lists or short sentence fragments on an index card. Kennady and I looked up several websites and jotted down information on notecards. We shared the responsibility for the writing - mostly we read aloud from the websites, then she would either write down the information herself, or she would dictate to me what to write. We wrote on each card the title of website we used.

3) Sort the information and make an outline: We classified the information we had gathered into three basic groups - what the snow leopard looks like; where it lives; how it behaves. Those became the three supporting paragraphs. Under each main heading we subdivided a little more. Kennady was able to figure almost all of this out by herself, with just a little guidance in the form of leading questions from me. She had just finished learning about outlining in Language Arts, which really helped! Her outline looked like this:
I. Introduction

II. What They Look Like

A. Fur

B. Tail and Paws

C. Size

III. Behavior

A. Active at dawn and dusk

B. Territory

C. Hunting and eating

D. Families

1. Mating season

2. Cubs

IV. Range

A. Mountains

B. Countries

C. They are endangered

V. Conclusion

After completing the outline, we went back and coded the notes on the cards with the outline section each belonged in. So for example, on the notecard where we wrote down all the countries in which snow leopards are found, we jotted down IV-B beside that. Once every item had been coded this way, we were ready to start the rough draft.

4) Rough draft: I had Kennady dictate the rough draft and I wrote it down for her. This provided a shortcut for her because she did not have to worry about spelling or punctuation, all she had to do was look at all the notes we had coded II-A and then tell me in her words what she had learned about a snow leopard's fur. As she finished each section of the outline, she could check off the notes with those codes and set aside notecards as she finished with them. Again, she was able to do this almost completely on her own, with my help on wording only when she was truly stuck. I also had her tell why she had decided on the snow leopard for her report (that became the introduction) and what she thought was important for people to remember about snow leopards (that became the conclusion). After we finished the rough draft, we read it through together and did a little editing so that not every sentence started with "The snow leopard..." and that type of thing.

5) Final copy: Kennady used my written copy of her dictation to type her own final copy. I helped her edit for typos and make sure she had all the capitals and punctuation in the right places.  See it here.

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This Blog Needs A Title… » Blog Archive » Snow Leopards – by Kennady, Grade 4 said...

[...] this report was written by Kennady, with a little help from Mom, as described in this post. [...]

Giggly Girls said...

Awesome! Thanks for the tips. Mack's getting ready to write a report on penguins.

kympossible said...

I'd love to see her report when it's done!

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