Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inquiry and Writing

Another summary as I work my way through assigned Abydos Learning Trainee program readings

Source: Carroll, Joyce Armstrong and Edward E. Wilson. Chapter 12. 305-325 Plus Appendices D and E. Acts of Teaching, 2nd Edition. New Hampshire: Heinemann/Teachers Idea Press, 2008

Inquiry is poorly taught in schools as research assignments. Instead, encouraging students to engage in personal inquiry can result in extensive pieces of writing that address “traditional research’s” intended purpose--engaging information in human context, where inquiry and writing processes have blended together into compelling narratives that enthrall readers. The traditional, term-plodding research paper has failed to accomplish its primary aim of accurately helping students do research within a field of inquiry and discipline, while the shorter, swifter documented essay achieves it time and again.

Covering Research
The authors explore how teachers have covered research in schools. Often, inquiry or research is not formally addressed except as a task to which students resort to plagiarizing content. Narrow research assignment tasks result in closed, inflexible attitudes about writing, inhibiting students’ ability to use writing as a learning tool, crippling their growth as child researchers, as writers. Instead, the goal is to “nurture” students’ affection for and attraction to discovery, recognizing that the point of inquiry is not the destination but the journey.

Inquiry is a Process
The authors highlight the perception of inquiry-based learning as an “approach to instruction that centers on the research process.” Inquiry can be achieved through writing since writing itself is a recursive process.The authors share the inquiry schemata, which draws upon previous knowledge and experiences/observations that help one select a research topic, involve taking notes about hypothesis, prediction, and question development. The process continues with investigation marked by prewriting (e.g. find, think, evaluate, read, talk), the construction of a thesis statement that kicks off the writing. The writing involves connecting to previous knowledge, experiences, organizing data, drawing conclusions and eventual publication.

Data is gathered within a careful context of time and place, described by careful observation and accurate description. That said, in lieu of a research project, the authors suggest smaller projects and shorter papers. These may include: a) The TV Model following the model of news shows like 60 Minutes; b) Documented Essays; c) Multigenre papers. The idea behind these projects is to help them internalize the “rightness” of giving credit, helping students move from reflexive mode to extensive.

In fact, the authors challenge the idea of removing first person from a research piece--research vs I-Search. They point out that “Practices that promote this type of writing [using one instead of I] are bound to produce perfectly bland papers, contested papers, hostility, and reluctance to or avoidance of inquiry.” Crafting compelling narratives enable students to enliven the research they are engaged in.

In this appendix to Carroll and Wilson’s book, Richard L. Larson shares that the term “research paper” misleads students about the activities of both research and writing. He distinguishes between the misleading term and the activity of research, which takes a wide variety of forms. The reasons for the term being mislead include that 1) Students get the idea that research involves the use of a library to the exclusion of other locales; and, 2) The context for research has to be within a discipline, not necessarily an English classroom, because such work follows distinctive assumptions and patterns of inquiry.

In this appendix, Joyce Armstrong Carroll introduces readers to the documented essay. This is an essay that involves research writing that “includes a limited number of research sources, providing full documentation parenthetically within the text.” The benefits of this type of essay for research include 1) Quick grading that allows for more than one research project in a term; 2) Usage of a variety of research sources by essay; 3) Shorter than a term paper; 4) Contains fewer sources; and 5) Clearly and effectively organized. Carroll shares an insight that students who write many essays with spurts of documentations actually do more, higher quality, authentic research.

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