Post to: NCTE Teaching and Learning Forum

posted 9-8-2014

I want to advocate for both Ken Macrorie’s  I-Search paper (Nancy Patterson did a great job of discussing that) and Tom Romano’s multi-genre paper.

The I-Search is an alternative to the traditional academic “research ” paper in which kids engage in secondary research, then struggle to glue it together and represent it “in their own words” without plagiarizing.  Remember, of course, that plagiarism is representing someone else’s “words OR ideas” without proper citation.  How one does that when you are investigating a topic you are unfamiliar with and have no direct experience with might be a bit challenging for  teenager.

In the I-Search process (here, research is process, not  a paper) kids start with wondering what they want to investigate or think about.  Then they begin by writing.  In pre-writing exercises, they explore what they know and reflect on  why they are interested in that topic–what their connection is.  Then they engage in secondary research –to educate themselves before they move to site visits and interviews (primary research).

The paper itself is a narrative re-telling of the search process.  It is authentic and engaging.  The quality of the writing improves exponentially (because being truly engaged makes you truly engaging.  It tells the story of the journey–it’s byways, and reroutings–concepts that were antithetical to the old academic exercise.

Notice that in this model, the traditional research paper becomes a research report that is only an early stepping-stone in a much larger process–but still has greater significance than it used to.

In the multi-genre paper, students research their person or topic, then engage in creative writing in multiple genres  (letters, plays, newspaper articles, memos, autobiographical sketches, eulogies, letters from jail, letters from their mothers….)  in which you use voice, persona, POV, etc., to explore, develop and convey what you learned.  It is generative, complex and critical.  Kids have the opportunity to engage in the research process using fiction–something that was unthinkable in the traditional model.  And as Tim O’Brien points out, fiction has the power to be “truer than the truth.”

There as places for both in the curriculum, and they lead to generative skills as kids learn to write in many ways, for many purposes, for many audiences,


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