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The catalyst for my projects.

The catalyst for my projects.

So, genre may not be the correct word.  Let me explain.

This year I teach 2 reading classes and 3 language arts classes.  This means that the ELA standards have been divvied up among the two areas.  The standards for research have been given to reading rather than language arts, which allowed me a unique opportunity.  I have to assess their ability to research, not necessarily their writing, and can have them present the information any way I want.  So, I decided that I had graded more than enough long essays leading up to the state’s writing assessment and I could have a bit more fun with this.

It all boils down to this: factual information about a topic can be presented in more ways than just an essay.

Genre in this case does not refer to folktales, fairy tales, etc.  Genre refers to the styles of writing used to communicate ideas: poetry, letter writing, diary entries, obituaries, and the like.  While I agree the term may not be accurate in the strictest sense of the word, it is the one used by the author Tom Romano in his book Blending Genre Altering Style.  His approach lends itself better to upper grades in high school, but I decided, with some tweaking, it could be used in 8th grade as well.

Before our unexpected week off for an ice storm, I launched the project with my reading classes.  I created a model of some of the ways they could share information and how it could be presented.  (I will go into more detail on that in another post since the scrapbook with all of it is stuck at school and I am stuck at home.)  I went over my expectations as well as what I will be grading on (content, validity of information, correct citing of sources, grammar, neatness, creativity, etc.).  We talked about what makes a good research topic and I gave them some time to brainstorm and go through lists of sample topics before having them submit their top 3 choices.  Then, I went through their lists and assigned topics.  This way, I could avoid duplication and hone some of the ideas into the best topic.  Some were too broad, others too narrow, and I needed t help them refine them a bit.

By allowing the kids to pick a topic that interested them, they will be more into the research process.  It’s going to be a month or so before this whole thing is done, so they needed to be into what they were going to spend so much time on.

Once we got off and running, I started getting positive feedback from not only my reading students, but also my language arts students who were wanting to know if they were going to get to do it, too.  Unfortunately for the LA kiddos, the answer was no.  I don’t have any of them for reading, so their project will be up to that teacher.  I’m positive she will do something fun with theirs, but I don’t know exactly what.

This week, we will talk about how we will take and organize notes, as well as validity of sources, especially on the web.  There will also be a progress check on their research.  Most of the research itself will be outside of school to allow the class time to be used for teaching the standards and skills they will need to complete the project.  Along the way will be “Multi-genre Days” where we will talk about and look at examples of various presentation genres.  There will also be a few work days in class for research and then work on their various genres.  (They are required to use a minimum of 6 different ones.)  Part of the skill is organizing information, so they will need to think about what information should be presented together in each genre.

This is a work in progress for me as I figure out how to get this all done on an 8th grade scale and level.  As we go along, I will post updates.  At the moment, we are all pretty excited about this.  Let’s hope we stay that way!