By Alissa Hansen
I try to stay optimistic, but I have to admit that sometimes this is hard, especially while working with 150+ high school freshmen on the research paper. Day after day, I do mini-lesson and we babystep our way(I repeatedly break down each step along the way) through the writing and research process, but I still have so many students fall off the wagon along the way and thus we have what I like to call: The Great Divide. This is when a portion of the class is moving through the steps swiftly and accurately and are eager to move onto the next step, while another portion is lagging behind. They lag because they need extra help, they think it’s too difficult, or they just do not see the purpose. This is a painful thing to witness, but one that occurs year after year with this project. The paper itself is five paragraphs and we are on week five already and there are students who have yet to complete notecards, which is the most important aspect! Again, my goal is to stay upbeat and to positively frame when duty calls, to give precise praise, and to try to keep that joy factor alive during a unit many find challenging. However, this process is taking a toll and I am finding it hard to praise or positively frame much at all with the students who seemed to have given up. I do not want to be a bitter, frustrated teacher unwilling to help, but I am struggling with having to consistently repeat directions or redirect off-task students. I know it’s hard to sustain a strong work ethic for a 45 minute period at times, but at least putting in some effort would be nice from some. Today I found myself saying to a class: “I am going to stop nagging you to get back to work and let you find out the hard way.” This seemed to do the trick for a few.
This is where I am at… I will say that the light at the end of the tunnel each week has been gearing students up for the persuasive speech, which follows the research paper. We take a day each week where students give a 30 second speech on the day’s theme. We started with an informative speech on animals then they had to argue the better of two options to hone their persuasive skills (ex. iPhone versus Samsung). Some students are asking to do this on a daily basis, so it has really added some of that joy back into this research process and see that some are truly seeing the purpose and enjoying it along the way. But it can be grueling at times.
What I find tough is while I am breaking steps down for students (and these are the ones now that are behind…way behind for a few), is that I often give too much away so they do not “solve” anything or much themselves because out of frustration, I solve it for them so they can move along and not fall further behind. How can I combat this? I think if I ask a question, it only seems to further confuse them. Now I do not usually have a template that I use for this, Lemov’s template on page 271 is what I aim for when I run into these types of situations. With the research paper students tend to struggle with taking appropriate notes and this becomes clear when looking at their rough drafts and seeing that the facts that they have included do not seem to appropriately support the claim they intend it to. So, what do you do? I have been spending much of the day walking students individually through in-text citations again as well as explaining this process by including examples and providing the context, and I am hoping that it sinks in. I always ask, “did that make sense?” and I usually get the nod, but that is not always the case when I look at the final product. This whole process is what is breaking me down…perhaps I am over-complicating things here, but I am not sure how much more can be broken down, elaborated on, explained in detail, or perhaps it is just that I am giving them too much and it’s enabling them. Either way, as much as setting expectations and building trust is important in the classroom, so is figuring out the best way to help ALL students. And this is one I need to work on.
In the words of Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive”.