Archive for March, 2010

Multigenre Research Projects: Sources and Notetaking

This is the third in a series of posts on multigenre research projects.  The introductory post is here.

After my students chose their topics, it was time to get started with research. One of my priorities was to provide the students with guidance for thinking broadly about resources for research and learning. One of the key principles of multigenre work is that we can convey knowledge in many different forms, from poetry and narratives to diary entries and brochures. Conversely, as I see it, we can also learn from a number of different texts when we read and interact with them.

Here’s a related example: in my Children’s Literature class (which many of my current students took with me last semester), one of the final projects is creating a text set. Basically, students have to pick a topic from the curriculum, and gather texts that address that topic from as many genres and perspectives as possible. (They also consider reading levels, cultural diversity, etc.)  The example I always give is mundane: trees. When we first think about studying trees, we might think of encyclopedias, informational texts, and perhaps websites as key texts for research. If we stretch, we might also include a less common source like a field guide. But, going beyond these traditional informational sources, there are many other ways to learn about trees. We learn different things from a poem about a tree, or a pourquoi tale about a tree, or an image of a tree, than we learn from a traditional informational resource.  We need all of these genres (and more) to get a fuller knowledge of the tree.

By the same token, I encouraged my students to look outside traditional “academic research” resources for their learning. I sent each of them a list of suggested resources, including titles from children’s literature (fiction, YA, and so on), newspaper articles, and so on. One literature resource that was both new to me and valuable for this project was the Schneider Family Book Awards, but there were many other useful resources for finding literature as well.

I also suggested they each look at youtube and blogs for additional sources in their research. Ever since I read an article about youtube as a reference tool, I’ve wanted to explore this further. I also had a hunch that, in many cases, blogs and other resources would provide additional voices not heard in traditional scholarly sources. For instance, from reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s excellent book Wintergirls, which has a central character who struggles with anorexia, I knew that there were communities on the internet where anorexics connected in order to encourage each other to eat less and get thinner. (Yes, you read that right).  So, several people studying anorexia for this project read Wintergirls. They also sought out these online communities and did research by learning from the texts produced by anorexics and posted online. Of course, not every topic had such a robust set of online texts to learn from, but I think most students found several videos, vlogs, and blogs that were useful for getting the perspective of insiders or family members. Each student’s resources were customized based on their topic. The cookie cutter “5 print resources including an encyclopedia” requirement was out the window.

We talked a bit in class about taking notes. I showed the students diigo, delicious, talked about evaluation of information, and so on. But, this was a whirlwind. My librarian self felt like I didn’t treat any of these adequately. I easily could have taken a week’s worth of mini-lessons to go through much of it. But, it would have to do for the moment. In the future, I need to think about podcasts or screencasts for reference. Even though I encourage my students to email me at any time, I think I can support them more effectively in this area.

The students spent at least a week just doing background reading, gathering resources, and thinking about their topics.  Finally, in the next post, I’ll talk a bit more about what multigenre research is, as well as explain why I held off until week 3 to tell the students about it.

We are a few posts away from examples of student projects! Thanks for following along.

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Multigenre Research: Choosing Topics

Note: This is the second in a series of posts about Multigenre Research Projects.  For an introduction, read more here. I am going through this project step-by-step to avoid a really long post. I hope you’ll find some of it interesting and worthwhile!

You might think I would start by telling you exactly what multigenre research and composition is. But, I’m going to hold off, just as I did with my students for the first couple of weeks of the project.  (Organizational note:  We completed the project over the course of seven weeks, meeting once a week during that time period. Much of each class meeting was spent on the fundamental principles of writing pedagogy. About a hour of each class meeting was dedicated to this multigenre research project, including time for explanation, mini-lessons about research and genre, independent writing, peer and teacher conferencing, and sharing.)

There were two main contributing factors to the design of this assignment. First, the instructor who taught the course before me included a multigenre project on diversity. The idea appealed to me, but I didn’t commit until an event happened last semester, when I taught a Children’s Literature and Oral Language course. During that semester, the students in our elementary education program pulled some faculty together to share their views on what was working in their program and what wasn’t.  They taught us a lot that day, but one critique struck me particularly hard. The students said that they heard about diversity a lot in their classes. But, our students told us, when we talked about diversity, we only seemed to talk about racial diversity or students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

In my department, we work to develop anti-racist educators who are also mindful of social class. While we still have a long way to go, we have definitely made this a priority for discussion in many of our classes and we will continue to work on these topics. In spite of all this talk about diversity, though, I knew the students were right. They were not getting nearly enough information about all the other ways people can be diverse, at least not in my classes. When I re-designed the multigenre research project, I thought about this problem, and decided to develop the project to address it.

To begin, I invited the students to select a group of people, different than themselves, that interested them. The group would be their general topic of study. This was a tricky proposition for a number of reasons. Most importantly, I didn’t want my students to become more rigid or monolithic in their thoughts about diversity. So, we talked about the way that any group we chose to study would contain a lot of diversity in itself.  Our work will always be oversimplified.  This does not mean that the work isn’t worth doing, but that we always have to keep this complexity in mind. Thankfully, multigenre research seems to invite complexity. But, more on that later.

For the first week, that was it. The students’ only assignment was to think about what they wanted to study. They could interpret “diversity” however they chose. To my surprise, it did not take long for people to ask me if they could study groups that they belonged to themselves. It turns out that many of my students felt like they were part of cultural groups that were misunderstood. They wanted to research and write about themselves and their cultures to help others (and even themselves) understand. Not really knowing how this would turn out, I agreed to let the students pursue this self-focused kind of research as well. I thought back to my experience conducting an I-Search in my Information Literacy course with Dr. Julie Tallman. As Dr. Tallman used to say, when we do personal research we do not choose our research topics, “our research topics choose us.” With that in mind, I encouraged the students to pursue whatever topic about culture that seemed to pull at them.

Here is a sampling of their topics:

Autism

Verbal abuse

Students with gay parents

ADHD

Asperger’s

Anorexia

Perpetrators of school violence

Homelessness

Left-handedness

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Poverty

Anxiety

Institutional racism

Students with chronic illnesses

HIV/AIDS

Students who have been incarcerated

Teen mothers

Asian-American identity

Visual Impairments

Depression

Victims of sexual abuse

Holocaust survivors

Students with alcoholic parents

Tourette’s Syndrome

Stuttering

Childhood Obesity

Hearing Impairments

and more…

As you can see, the students selected a wide range of topics.  If I had developed a list for them to choose from, I’m quite certain that most of these topics would not have appeared. For many of them, the simple process of choosing a topic was an opportunity to think about what “diversity” means to them. It turned out to be much broader than many of them had considered. This became even more clear when they heard about all the other topics being studied.

Here we are at the end of the post, and many of you may still be wondering what multigenre research is. At this point, so were the students.  I asked the students to trust that I would guide them through the process, and I guess I’m asking that of you as well.

In the next post, we will talk about information sources and the way they managed their research. We welcome your comments!


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