Sunday, July 17, 2011
All right, I'll admit it: stealing Hamlet's self-reflective moment as he contemplates life and death may be a bit of an over-the-top-comparison as I contemplate the appropriate role of differentiation. Still, it remains an important reflection to me.
I teach English 3B, a class required of all juniors at Boone High. A big focus of this class is to instruct high school students on proper research methods, for much of college work is research. Over my 20 years in an Iowa classroom, students have thanked me many times for teaching them this skill. Former students have reached out saying they are writing excellent papers in college while they watch many peers struggle, and they are now grateful for all that work we did in high school. Those moments are the BEST part of teaching for me...preparing kids for the future they face.
But, there is a problem in my new teaching assignment: ALL juniors are required to take the course, but not ALL will go to college. Some will go the military, some will go to work, some will attend a tech-orientated school that involves no traditional course work. Will these students write a formal research paper again in their lives? Probably not. Thus, I am challenged to make the work relevant to ALL my students.
As I contemplate differentiation, I begin by delving to the crucial skill I wish students to gain by completing a research paper. For those facing college, they must learn how to access relevant information, such as using online databases like EBSCO, and the formal way in which the writer must document these sources. But the real heart of research is the ability to read and learn about a topic and then articulate clearly what was learned. I think that skill is crucial to all adults expected to function in the information age...college bound or no. So, would it be fair to create an option for those non-college bound students to complete that demands reading, learning, and articulation, but not the formality of research paper with citations? Right now I'm thinking of alternative projects such as an iMovie or a PowerPoint which would articulate the information, but not involve the formal steps of documentation. Would this be fair to my students? Would students choose wisely if given this non-college option?
There is another wrinkle to consider. Currently, students can opt to drop a course and take a comparable option via an online computer-assisted-instruction program called Odysseyware. This involves no research of any kind...just reading and choosing from multiple-choice questions. I think completing an iMovie or PowerPoint requires more critical thinking than this. So, wouldn't it be worthwhile to offer an optional assignment than have them drop out to take the easier road?
As an instructor, I continually work to make the assignments relevant to students' lives and their future lives. Knowing how to write a formal research paper is a vital skill for many, yet not relevant for others. Or, is this not true? Should completing a formal research paper be required for all students who earn a high school diploma? I do adjust requirements for students...that much differentiation I've done for years, but is this enough? Would a more hands-on option be a better choice? I seem to lack the wisdom to answer this question.
I would love to hear from the blogosphere on this. What do you think?
Photo courtesy of flickr.com