Every year, I threaten to stop putting myself through this. As I have said before, let social studies or someone else teach the research paper. Let someone else slog through in-text citations. (“What? After every fact? There’s gonna be a ton of them.” Yes, I know.) Let someone else read another encyclopedia paper about the “History of…” Let someone else nitpick over the latest MLA format for the works cited list. Because, you know what? I don’t really care.

My thing is to try to get them to stop with the old putting it your own words thing, and to stop relying on one source so much. I want them to know how to take notes on what they read, and be able to explain what they’ve learned to someone else, coherently, ┬áin writing. My French teacher back in high school used to say that if you can’t explain it to someone else then you don’t really know it. I tend to agree. The kids can’t cope when I say this.

(Aside: Yes, I took French in high school…only because it was the only language, besides English and Gaelic, our nuns back at St. Mel’s knew. So our foreign language in 8th grade was French taught with a hard Irish accent. I figured I didn’t want to start from scratch with a new language in 9th grade.)

But, Jeeminy Crickets, this research thing is a struggle. Sara (over in the comments), I feel your pain. Every year. My cooperating teacher from my student teacher days used to call it fighting the good fight.

Last week we worked on a bit of note-taking and then turning notes back into writing. I had a brief article about bike-sharing programs as a alternative to personal automobiles. We worked on taking notes on the article and comparing their notes to the demo notes that I took on the same article.

Then I gave them just the notes and had them expand them into a paragraph or two. This way it’s almost impossible for the paper to NOT sound like them. This is how I try to get them to stop writing their paper directly from the source.

On last week’s test there was a section where I had them demo both ends of that process for me. I gave them one paragraph to take notes on, and then I gave them 4 or 5 bullet notes from a different part of the article, and had them write a paragraph from that. Since it was on the test, they were worried.

“Is that part going to count in the grade on the test?”

“Only if you don’t do it, or don’t try your best. What this is for me is a way of seeing which of you needs help with this, and which are ready to go off on your own. If I look at this, and I’m all, ‘Whoa what the?’ then I know that person will need some more help in the library. If it looks like you know what you’re doing, you will be able to work more independently. It’s more like a… Well, it’s like when you go to the doctor and he tries to tell you what’s wrong and what you need to do about it…what do you call that when he says, ‘It looks like you have…’?”

I was looking for the word diagnosis. We’d had it as a vocabulary word awhile back. However, a genius in one class was probably more accurate than he knew (about his own grade) when he ventured,

“An autopsy?”