Linked In – Innovative Writing
How many times have you heard that as 21st century educators, our job is to help students to become curators of content – rather than just consumers? Even the Common Core standards ask students to draw from a variety of sources both in their reading (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7) and in their writing (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2a ) . But, in my department meetings, these skills often are dismissed because teachers assume we address them in our lengthy research project. As far as I’m concerned, though, what the Common Core standards are asking for is not just another research paper, but assignments that really take full advantage of all that internet publishing has to offer.
This week, I collected two assignments that challenge students to curate, format and synthesize a variety of sources. The first, for Freshman English, asks students to write an informative essay answering the question: What is the perfect ______?, drawing inspiration from Lifehacker.com, a site that publishes how-to guides for the 21st century. The second, in American Lit, asked students to create an infographic synthesizing our reading of The Great Gatsby and our research about the American Dream answering the question: is the American Dream still alive today?
With the freshman, this hyperlinked assignment served as an excellent opportunity to teach basic research skills, including Google’s in-document research function, to talk about the reliability of sources, and to discuss document formatting and titles. Students were able to choose any aspect of their lives to discuss, thus increasing their interest in the assignment. Additionally, the peer evaluation process using Google Forms forced them to consider their audience and the efficacy of their curating.
In their feedback on this unit, students indicated that this assignment was among their favorite assignments of the semester, because it allowed them to pursue a topic of interest to them, and because it helped them to develop skills as content curators.
While the American Lit students had seen infographics before, they had never spent much time thinking about their purpose or their format, so we started this activity with a form that asked them to examine several infographics. In the process of curating and constructing this visual argument, the students struggled far more than I thought they would to visually represent their research – though I’m sure this is a skill they use regularly in their science and math classes. Additionally, students struggled to make good use of titles and subtitles to convey their arguments – rather than just to correspond to components of the assignment. As we move into the outlining and drafting stages of our traditional research project, I hope that the skills students honed in creating their infographics transfer to outlining and organizing a traditional research paper. These students, too, used a peer evaluation form to assess each others’ work and to revise their own.