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It's that time again when teachers across America take out their MLA Handbooks, their endless supplies of index cards and sources and assign the infamous research paper. In response, students groan and complain and many try to get out of the assignment but in the end the research paper "stands" and the student is the one shaking their head with the knowing that once again the teacher has won. While I've always required a research paper in all of my classes, with the implementation of the Common Core Standards, it's now clear that students across disciplines must complete research in their classes.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
Usually during the first week of March I assign the infamous research paper to all of my classes, despite grade level. Each grade level's paper is different in length and requirements but the main point is that students have to prove to me that they can research a topic and write an compelling argument based on their research. However, the problem is that many times this is the first time students are being asked to sustain a research project over a specific topic and then be expected to write a lengthy (between 5-10 page) analysis of their findings. To compound the problem, many of the students I teach are several grade levels behind academically and struggle with anything that requires for them to read and write at a high level of comprehension.
So over the last 12 years I've developed a system that allows all of my students to not only go through the process of completing a research paper, but holds them accountable through the process. Check out these four tips:
1.Organization is key. I used to give kids a big research packet full of xeroxed knowledge but I quickly that most students lost their papers within 24 hours of having received them. So instead of wasting hundreds of papers (20 page research packet with 150 students) on one assignment, I use resources like Live Binders or Teacherweb to put the assignment on the internet for students. Some students opt to print off their papers while others use the digital copy. As I go over the assignment, I always print off a class set of papers for students who need a digital version as the assignment is covered.
Having all of my papers in one central location allows me to hold students accountable when a form is lost or misplaced. I encourage students to refer back to the website throughout the entire project so that they eventually understand that it's crucial for them to not only have the information but to read it for clarity.
Click here for tip #2.