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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