Part of the ninth grade curriculum is for our students to write a persuasive research paper where students apply their composition skills to a five paragraph essay. Last year with my student teacher, Mr. Ruggles, we changed the focus of the paper to a Change the World paper.
This year, we started the paper writing process talking about issues in this world that were injustices or wrongs that have been committed. These could be as simple as personal issues (curfew laws, child abuse, drug abuse) or complex as international issues(blood diamonds, world poverty/hunger). I wanted this paper to be very different for my students. We had spent the better part of first semester perfecting the paragraph with strong topic sentences and we had spent some time working with thesis statements. I wasn’t so concerned about the formatting of the paper, but helping my students find something they were passionate about and then helping them DO something about it. The paper was just a means to the end of creating an action plan. As they constructed their paper, they had to be thinking about how to solve this problem and then what could they personally do to Change the World.
After brainstorming and learning about proper internet search techniques from our library media specialist, Mr. Murphy, I asked Karl Fisch to come in to introduce the wonderful world of Diigo to our kids. Karl came in and presented about the organizational and collaborative nature of this tool. We had a group set-up for our entire class so that when one kid would bookmark a site, his bookmark would be shared with the entire class. The kids had the capability to collaborate on researching and sources, rather than be seen as “cheating.” – they were going to help one another succeed.
Another benefit of using Diigo was that all the information for the boys was stored online. As they read through articles, they could sticky note important information, tag the source with reminders as to where this valuable piece could support an argument in their paper, and most importantly, stay organized. No matter whether the student was at home or at school, as long as they could log into Diigo, they could access their sources.
As the students organized their papers, they were asked to create thesis statements that identified the problem, but then also identified a solution or two. Throughout the paper writing process, the ability for the kids to access the sources was so helpful. I think I would make some changes to this process in the future:
1- I would have the kids use Google Docs as a composition tool. Too often, paragraphs were lost or misplaced. I think this would parallel well with Diigo in that everything is available to the student wherever they go.
2- I need to stress the importance of not just Googling quotes about the topics. After finding sources for their papers, some kids would just find any quote that dealt with their topic rather than focusing on the research work. If they were arguing about global warming, they would just Google “global warming quotes” and use whatever came up, rather than facts and data that would support their opinion. I think a change to the rubric would help eliminate this problem.
3- I would like to get more kids to write their papers as Wikipapers. I think this is so important for writing in the 21st century. I don’t want their papers to be limited to my reading, but for everyone to see what these kids are thinking about and what they want to change. I need to work on this. After presenting Wikispaces and Google Sites to the kids, only one took me up on the offer.
4- I have to find a way to make kids better editors of each other’s work. This is something I have struggled with all year long. We do musical chairs editing (which if you have never tried is the best thing), but the kids are not either capable or focused enough as to what to edit. We walk through the papers step by step, and I have done example editing with them, but they don’t seem to follow through. I want them to develop this quality but am unsure beyond modeling, and reinforcing expectations how to get them to be better.
At the end of the paper, the kids were asked to develop and implement an action plan where they are going to personally do something about their problem. This is my favorite part of this whole project. The kids aren’t just writing a paper, but trying to change the world. They are actually doing something that is meaningful, relevant and personal to them. I have kids talking to news channels, emailing ESPN, Sports Illustrated, writing letters to congress, volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. You name it, they have considered it. With their final paper, they turned in their action plan as well. I asked the kids at the end of this whole six week process to reflect on the paper, Diigo, as well as the action plan. Their thoughts are posted on the class blog. It’s a start, and I know I will make changes next year, but these kids are beginning to see that the change all starts with them.