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Students weren't taught research writing

[This is my Local Living section column for July 15, 2010.]

Kate Simpson is a full-time English professor at the Middletown, Va., campus of Lord Fairfax Community College. She saw my column about Prince George’s County history teacher Doris Burton lamenting the decline of research skills in high school, as changing state and local course requirements and grading difficulties made required long essays a thing of the past.

So Simpson gave her freshman English students a writing assignment.

Simpson noted my complaint that few American high-schoolers, except those in International Baccalaureate programs, were ever asked to do a research project as long as 4,000 words. Was I right or wrong? Did her students feel prepared for college writing?

The timing was good because her classes had just finished a three-week research writing project in which they had to cite sources, do outlines, write and revise drafts.

She said she discovered that 40 percent of her 115 students thought that their high schools had not prepared them for college-level writing. Only 23 percent thought they had those writing skills. Other responses were mixed.


Twenty-nine percent “felt that students should be taught to write lengthy papers in high school,” Simpson reported. Seven percent “felt that long papers were not necessary but that emphasizing writing across the disciplines would be enough for students to learn how to focus on a topic and follow through with concepts,” she said.

Here is what some of her freshmen said:

“Not once in my four years of high school was I required to turn in a paper of over 1,000 words.”

“My high school instructors didn’t have time to grade or teach ..... longer, in-depth papers. It was hard transitioning from high school with no writing experience to college.”

“I was not required to write long papers ever. The teachers claimed that it would be too much to grade.”

“My [high school] teachers assigned small [papers]; assignments that have not proved beneficial in the long run.”

One student who was home-schooled in high school praised the Seton Home Study School program, which required a lot of writing. But another said, “I hated writing [and] convinced my mom to stop making me write.”

Some were lucky. “I had excellent English teachers who assigned papers almost weekly and had us writing every day,” one student said. Another said that more high school writing was necessary but that my call for more 4,000-word (about 16 pages) papers was too much. “I was never assigned a paper needing more than 2,000 words, yet I am confident that my research skills still stand strong,” the student said.

In what many teachers of my acquaintance would consider an understatement, Simpson said that “students do not always embrace the learning opportunities that fill the school day.” In other words, teachers have to be persistent and tough.

“Plenty of books detailing various methods of teaching writing attempt to maximize student success and minimize educators’ time and level of disillusionment,” she wrote. “The truth is that learning to write takes a great deal of practice, and giving students feedback takes time and effort.”

That responsibility falls more heavily on college professors such as Simpson than it should. I sense some high schools are getting the message. The ability to research questions and explain the results clearly is needed not just in college but in just about every trade or profession, and in life.

Our teenagers will complain when we make them do it, but someday some of them might tell us, as they did Simpson, they were glad they did.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page.

By Jay Mathews  | July 14, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Local Living  | Tags:  23 percent said some, 40 percent of one professor' freshman class said they had none, Kate Simpson, Lord Fairfax Community College, high schools fail to teach research writing  
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Next: The untruth about International Baccalaureate

Comments

Why should students learn how to write? The state test in English does not include a writing component and we test on what is valuable to learn.

Posted by: eduk81 | July 15, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm shocked. Just shocked that teachers are not teaching students to do writing and research.

Not.

Research and writing aren't tested subjects. They're not part of the test-prep grind that Jay Mathews thinks is the same as teaching.

Posted by: Nemessis | July 15, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Because of AP credit, I could have skipped freshman English in college. When I arrived on campus, I sat in on a sophomore English class and quickly realized my public high school had not adequately prepared me for the level of essay writing expected in the sophomore course.

Yes, I was fabulous at taking multiple choice exams (like the AP tests or the old SAT), but not at writing short or long essays, which our public high school teachers never assigned.

So, I decided to take freshman English, a two semester course, where I had to write essays every week and by the end of the year becaume a much better writer.

Fast forward to today: my kids are in an IB program which requires extensive writing in every subject. They write far better than I did at their ages because of constant practice and feedback.

College will be so much easier for them because they'll arrive on campus knowing how to do research and how to write short or long essays.

This summer, my son is working on his 4,000 word IB extended essay. And, he's not the least bit phased by the requirement. He says, "Mom, when you've written as much as I have in middle school and high school, doing a long research thesis is farly easy."

Posted by: GlobalNomad | July 15, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

This story is the crux of our testing mania, and in many ways the crux of our education dilemma: young people graduating yet unprepared for their next challenges. We have people getting 'A's and 'B's in a Language Arts class yet can't write essays, or have 'A's' and 'B's in Algebra but cannot solve a system of equations, or even worse folks who show up for work at 8:34am when their shift starts at 8:00am. Teachers must be more transparent about what a grade in their class represents, and be courageous enough to embrace peer scrutiny.

Besides parents and students, teachers have another level of customers they must satisfy, and those are the teachers that get their students in subsequent years! When the Algebra 2 teacher sees an Algebra 1 grade from one of my students they should know what that grade means, which will drive their instruction and expectations for that student in their class.

Posted by: pdfordiii | July 15, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

“Not once in my four years of high school was I required to turn in a paper of over 1,000 words.”

“It was hard transitioning from high school with no writing experience to college.”

Oh, boo hoo.

If we grouped students by ability, we could teach the top 10-15% to write longer papers because they'd mastered everything downstream of that. But when half the kids can't put together one grammatically correct sentence, it's absurd to call for more long papers.

And so what if they struggle in college? It's not supposed to be easy. If they are prepared, they'll learn. If they're not prepared--and far too many aren't--then that's the problem, not the lack of research papers they did in high school.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | July 15, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

For Cal---I weep that a good teacher like you so discounts the power of good teaching.

GlobalNomad----What a great post. You hit all the right notes. At the beginning I was thinking to myself, but what about IB? Then I kept reading and saw you were way ahead of me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 15, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

to eduk81, Nemessis and pdfordiii---very well said. If we managed to switch to an school assessment system that had independent monitors grading major student writing, as is done by the 28 schools of the New York Standards Performance Consortium I wrote about last week:
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2010/07/intriguing_alternative_to_rati.html#more
would that make a difference?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 15, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

This article caused me to again consider the vast improvement in my 6th grade son's writing this past year. Previously his writing style was direct and to the point. If asked to describe the sky he might very well have written: "The sky is blue." However, in 6th grade I watched his writing skills blossom. He has always had a strong vocabulary, but now his writing has depth and color. What triggered this improvement? While I suspect it was the culmination of several school based initiatives, one assignment in particular stands out. This past year his teachers at Wolftap Elementary School in Vienna, VA assigned a year long writing assignment. Each child worked on their own work of fiction. At the end of the year the teachers shared these stories with the parents, and I was amazed! My son's 'book' had 21 chapters and, according to Word, was over 15,000 words long. The writing was rich with descriptive narrative and far beyond anything I remember doing in school. As he heads off for middle school in the fall I am thankful to Dr. Blain, Wolftrap's principle, and Mrs. Kassing, my son's 6th grade teacher, for this life long gift.

Posted by: lewis0831 | July 15, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

@Jay:
I read Meir's book 'In Schools We Trust' a few years ago, and have been a proponent of her approach. Allow me to use an often heard refrain from my students when having to solve systems of linear equations as to why we don't employ Meir's thoughtful and comprehensive approach to assessment:

"That's too much work!"

I believe this work burden isn't so much because it's too much, but more from all the other assessment and instruction burdens we place upon teachers that hinder them from doing what's best for students. Pacing plans, interim assessments, assessment collaboration and review of standardized tests intrude upon Meir's approach; this is where the NCLB and RTTP mandates truly interfere with quality instruction.

Posted by: pdfordiii | July 15, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

The idea of "research writing" is strange.

To me writing is writing. It is an act of the communication of ideas.

Accepting the need for "research writing" would mean also the need for "research speaking".

Besides high school students are not doing "research". Students should be sufficiently educated to a point that they can be assigned to read something in English and demonstrate that they understand the thoughts and ideas expressed in the written text.

Imagine a student given in English written Nazi propaganda from 1944. Would this student be "researching" how Germany won the war.

A high school student or even a college student being asked to describe a poem that he or she has been assigned to read is not doing research. The same can be said for a history student assigned the reading of a book by Barbara Tuchman.

Writing is important but one has to really get over this idea that everything can be taught.

Student should be encouraged to develop verbal skills and writing skills to convey their understanding of written material and to express their ideas.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 15, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

"Research," in this context, does not mean that the students pose original questions or state original hypotheses which they then answer or prove by citing primary sources. It may mean that the student poses a question that is new to him or her, and answers it to her or his own satisfaction (and, we hope, to the instructor's satisfaction) by citing information that may range from primary sources to Wikipedia. The question may be as simple as, "what happened during the War of the Roses?" or "why was Red Grange so succesful?" The point is that the student learns to gather information that's relevant to the question, arrange it in some sort of logical order, and produce a written document that is clear and convincing.

Posted by: jane100000 | July 15, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

thanks to lewis0831 for that great example.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 15, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Jay, what would you take out of the high school curriculum to put this in?

Posted by: Jenny04 | July 15, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Well, DUH.

As in an email I sent to Jay Mathews earlier, I know of many similar stories from here.

As long as Jay's list featuring nothing but # AP/IB tests divided by # seniors drives school decisions, this is exactly what you'll get.

Jay...you aren't doing most kids a favor by ranking schools. You are just causing behavior to optimize rankings on your list at the expense of actual student preparation for college.

Please publicly end the publication of your list. Until you do, hundreds of thousands of kids will needlessly suffer as they are exactly *unprepared* for college or the real world, after attending schools that follow your prescription for college success.

Please.

Posted by: rayburt456 | July 15, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I went to a college prep public charter in NC where we had to write a research paper every year, from freshman through senior, in whatever our history class for the year was. We devoted almost a semester to it, working incrementally: propose a research question/thesis statement, get feedback from the teacher, go the the local university library and learn to use their library system, do an outline and present to the class, more teacher feedback, a rough draft, feedback, a final draft and presentation. The papers got longer as we got older (from 8 or 10ish pages to about 20 pages) and it really taught us a great deal.
Was it a lot of work for the teacher? I'm sure it was! But it made me uniquely positioned to be an excellent research writer once I got to college- I even won an award for a research paper I wrote my freshman year. Many of my friends in school were certainly underprepared, only having written papers of 4 or fewer pages (even going through IB or AP programs).
I know we were likely in a unique position at my school because, although it was public, it was a self-selected population, being a college-prep charter school. However, we were still bound by the rules of the state and had to take the tests at the end of the year, which we always performed well above standard on. This is not to start a debate about charter vs. traditional public schools. Point is, you have to teach good writing and it can be done. It doesn't even necessarily have to be done in English class- ours wasn't.

Posted by: SPEDteachDC | July 15, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

My two favorite things I've ever written were research papers... one on book banning, in 10th grade pre-IB English, and one with the prompt “Compare the significance of the events at Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 with those at Birmingham in 1963 in the campaign for civil rights by African Americans” in 11th grade IB History of the Americas. That paper was about 7 pages long. In my first year of college, I don't think I wrote anything longer than 2 or 3 pages, and that long only occasionally.

Posted by: sarahee | July 15, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

"Research," in this context, does not mean that the students pose original questions or state original hypotheses which they then answer or prove by citing primary sources.

It may mean that the student poses a question that is new to him or her, and answers it to her or his own satisfaction (and, we hope, to the instructor's satisfaction) by citing information that may range from primary sources to Wikipedia.

The question may be as simple as, "what happened during the War of the Roses?" or "why was Red Grange so succesful?"

The point is that the student learns to gather information that's relevant to the question, arrange it in some sort of logical order, and produce a written document that is clear and convincing.
Posted by: jane100000
..........................
Yes you can lower the definition of "research" to mean read something about subject x.

So based upon this definition of "research writing" becomes writing something about something you have read.

Of course now there is the categories of writing not about something someone has read that are not "research writing".

I guess we can have "seeing writing", "hearing writng", etc.

Of cause there is the big surprise if a student writes he has researched a poem when he has really just read a poem.

Great we are asking for clarity in writing while in thought we have trivialized the word "research" to mean simply reading.

Why not replace totally read with the word research? People will be described as researching when they are reading comic books.

One tires of these very poor ideas in education. Teach individual the importance of clarity while totally ignoring it.

If educators continue to reduce everything to the trite it is no wonder that so many students follow suit.
.......................................
The point is that the student learns to gather information that's relevant to the question, arrange it in some sort of logical order, and produce a written document that is clear and convincing.
......................
Sounds like plagiarism or paraphrasing to to me. Perhaps educators should not wonder why so many students do not see any problem in plagiarism when they have been taught "research writing". There has always been a fine line between plagiarism and paraphrasing.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 15, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

for rayburt456---Have you seen how well IB schools do on the Challenge Index list? Six out of the top ten, 34 out of the top 100, way out of proportion to their 2 percent share of all US high schools. I think that encourages schools to look at the strengths of the IB program, one of the greatest being the 4,000 essay requirement for those doing the IB diploma. AP schools could have an essay requirement if they wanted to.

for Jenny04's great question, what would I sacrifice to make room for the essay requirement. I don't think it would take much. The requirement can be part of the senior English classes that everyone has to take these days. You need time to discuss proper topics, read drafts (students read each others) and make suggestions for changes. In terms of class time, if you take one or two of the more boring novels scheduled for discussion off the schedule (see my frequent trashing of fiction in favor of non-fiction) you should have time for essay prep. Most of the work will be done by the student at home, again not a problem because the average college-bound senior devotes less than a hour a day to homework. A little less TV time and the essay is done.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 15, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

First "research" and "long paper" are not synonymous. My mother, a writer, might spend a lot of time researching an article but the article itself was short. (Who was the philospher who apologized to one of his friends? "Forgive the length of this letter. I didn't have time to write a short one.")

Second, a few of the examples readers cited involved students writing the way professionals do it--one paper, with a lot of research and multiple drafts and revisions. This practice is all too rare. I learned to do research, but all my high school and college papers were written hurriedly, because in high school we had from about mid-September to early January to do the complete work, and in college we had only 10 weeks for the entire term. Frequently, there were problems accessing research materials at the library because other students were also using that source or because we had problems getting to the library. And that was in history--in most of my English classes we churned out essays on the reading selection every few week or so, and they were little more than listings of symbolism or using quotes to prove the theme of the story was such-and-such. I never learned to revise adequately until I was an editorial apprentice at a scholarly journal in graduate school.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 15, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack, you're very cynical. In the examples I gave, students would not merely "write about something they read." They would pose a question and consult many sources in order to arrive at(and successfully frame) an answer to the question. I was merely pointing out that the questions don't have to be ground-breaking.

Posted by: jane100000 | July 15, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Jay shoukd start a ranking of high schools that uses the metric of the number of 2,000+ word papers that students are required to write over four years.

Maybe call it the Writing Index Challenge.

Posted by: fairfaxvaguy | July 15, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

For the 4,000 word IB essay my son is working on, students are supposed to stay away from "what happened" essays and focus more on "why".

If possible, students are also to develop original sources, which our son has done by writing to seven former U.S. Ambassadors who served during the period he's examining.

Amazingly, he's already heard back from four former Ambassadors and their answers to his questions will be incorporated into his final research thesis.

"Besides, high school students are not doing research," someone said earlier.

High school students are doing "research" and are capable of doing amazing work, if challenged to do so.


Posted by: GlobalNomad | July 15, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack, you're very cynical. In the examples I gave, students would not merely "write about something they read." They would pose a question and consult many sources in order to arrive at(and successfully frame) an answer to the question. I was merely pointing out that the questions don't have to be ground-breaking.

Posted by: jane100000
.................................
jane100000 my comments were on teaching "research writing".

There is no such thing as "research writing".

Teachers should teach writing and not create make believe skills that do not exist.

As for your examples.

"what happened during the War of the Roses?"

The Roses fought.

"why was Red Grange so succesful?
He was not I never heard of him/her.

When I was in school I would have been perhaps interested in reading about the War of the Roses.

In school I would have had no interest in football players. ( I cheated and looked it up on the internet. ) I always thought football was a poor game after I clipped someone and I was told that this was illegal. It is okay for a 200 pound player to crash into a smaller player but it not okay for a smaller player to trip up a 200 pound player. This made no sense to me.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 15, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack:I'd like to know a little more about your school experience. Your cynicism makes you sound like the sort of adolescent who makes fun of things because he doesn't understand them. And then other comments make you sound like someone with a very inferior education who doesn't realize it was inferior and while you were merely answering a question about what happened, other students were coming to original conclusions. If it's the former, grow up. If it's the latter, I really feel sorry for you.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 15, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

"---I weep that a good teacher like you so discounts the power of good teaching.:

That's just dishonest.

You've got two students. Student 1 can write a five paragraph essay, a synopsis, and a brief narrative. His grammar and spelling are solid.

Student 2 can't write a five paragraph essay or a synopsis or a brief narrative. His grammar and spelling are both non-existent.

Which student should be learning how to write a research paper? Which student should be learning how to organize his thoughts in shorter form and master the basics of grammar?

If you answer Student 2 then, according to you, you "discount the power of good teaching".

So don't be silly. Your inability to understand that not everyone views education from the same narrow prism that you do doesn't give you the right to misrepresent what I'm saying.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | July 15, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack, what would you call what a journalist does before writing an article in a newspaper? Or what a scientist does before writing an article in a journal? Or what my husband does when he needs to justify next year's budget to his bosses? All of these are examples of research writing, and it's a valuable skill to have because it's used in so many professions. It's different than descriptive writing or persuasive writing or fiction writing. Many students can write persuasively, but they have no idea how to take information from multiple sources and integrate it to form a cohesive thesis. There are indeed different subsets of skills within being able to write.

Posted by: landerk1 | July 15, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

What's up with the personal attacks?

At our high school we teach a sequence for ALL the students, not just the AP classes. That means 3-5 page research paper in sophomore year, and 5-7 in Junior and Senior year. It is the process that is the most important, and we did it after getting feedback from our graduates who were prepared for everything EXCEPT research papers when they got to colleges. However, don't discount the laziness factor of high school teachers. We do this in the history department because the English teachers cannot find the time to do it too. Is that because the curriculum is jammed, or because it takes a lot of time to teach and grade research papers? Unfortunately, I believe it is the latter.

Posted by: hotrod3 | July 15, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I think the idea that you would have to change the curriculum very little for this is a pipe dream. To ask senior English teachers to do this assignment with all of their students is an immense amount of work. If you want it done right it will require a lot more than just students reading each others' drafts. The teacher will need to spend an inordinate amount of time reading the writing of the students.

I'm not suggesting it wouldn't be an important experience for high students to do work of this nature. I'm simply trying to point out that most K-12 teachers already feel that the amount of work they do (in and out of school) is immense and a project of this magnitude would be back-breaking.

Posted by: Jenny04 | July 16, 2010 7:10 AM | Report abuse

Yes, as teaching schedules are set up now, properly teaching how to write a research paper would be a ton of work. Maybe the teachers who teach these writing intensive classes could get an extra prep period every day? Then they would have fewer students overall (1 less class of 30 or so) and more time to read what the students write. In addition, an extra prep period would be an incentive for many teachers to teach this class, and the administration could just take it away from any teachers who aren't teaching writing well. Now, this plan would require some money to hire extra teachers to make up for the reduced load of the writing teachers...

Posted by: landerk1 | July 16, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm a former high school IB English teacher and current education consultant. And I couldn't agree more with Jay Mathews' recent column.

Writing is thinking made visible. Unclear writing reflects unclear thinking. Students tell their teachers and parents, “I know the answer, I just can’t explain it!” or “I don’t care if you don’t understand what I’ve written, I know what I mean!” While these responses can be exasperating, they also bode ill for students’ future success. There is no such thing as "knowing" something and not being able to explain it! The very definition of knowing something is being able to explain it.

School is where students need to learn how to structure and communicate their analytical thinking in all subjects. And analytical writing is the most effective means for schools to teach students how to do that. I believed this so strongly I have a book coming out on the topic in a few weeks: Compose Yourself! A Guide to Critical Thinking & Analytical Writing in Secondary School (http://www.lightbulblearning.net/Publications.html)

Much has been written about the creative aspect of writing narratives; however, there has been relatively little focus on the types of expository academic writing students need in order to succeed both in school and later in life. Schools explicitly teach narrative, descriptive writing beginning in elementary school. Unfortunately, too often educators then expect secondary students will intuit how to transfer those skills to write clear, concise, organized responses to difficult, real-world questions in secondary school. When this does not happen, parents and teachers wonder why students are not able to analyze and synthesize information effectively.

Generally, our society thinks of writing as a creative art, not a learned, structured skill. However, in order for others to follow one’s thinking in all disciplines, ideas need to be logically organized and effectively communicated. Individuals cannot think clearly without using well-ordered language, let alone communicate with others!

Unfortunately, research shows that most students in the United States are weak when it comes to reading and writing non-fiction, as is apparent in the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This is not because students cannot learn these skills, but because we so often do not teach it well, or at all (For more information on NAEP go to : http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/).

It is my strong belief that this is an instructional issue rather than a student issue.

Posted by: arstempel | July 16, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Most, if not all, of these comments address high school writing curriculum. If we wait until high school to focus on writing, it’s too late. Good writing instruction should begin in elementary school.

I’m a elementary school gifted resource teacher and I’m often asked to work with small groups of advanced writers. I also work with whole classes that include all ability levels. K-2 students love to write pretty much anything, whether poetry, stories, or books. They even like to collect facts to write their own nonfiction books. Most are naturally enthusiastic and about writing, even those who struggle with it because it’s interesting and often creative. They feel a great sense of accomplishment when they complete a project.

Everything changes in 3rd grade. That’s when SOL’s become crucial. Grades 3-5 writing instruction is centered around a rigid paragraph formula designed for one purpose: the SOL writing test. This is a time when they should be learning how to craft good sentences. They should be learning to construct logic while exploring science or history topics, or learning how to thoughtfully critique literature, or develop fiction writing skills. Instead, they are learning how to write exactly five paragraphs on topics like “describe a perfect day” or “what would you do if you found a baby dinosaur?” Teachers use lists of inane subjects like these to train their students to write to a precise formula required on the 5th grade writing sample test because the school’s reputation rests on the scores. Other than what I described here, there is little, if any, writing practice in many schools.

Every year, around SOL time, the 5th grade teachers ask me to work with small groups of advanced writers who don’t need the incessant practice to pass the test. These children who were so enthusiastic and talented in the 2nd grade are usually pathetically stunted in their writing ability by then. Regardless of what the writing objective is, they first thing they want to know is how many paragraphs to write, and how many words long the paper should be. That’s how they have been taught to write. The rubric drives the content. The quality of the content doesn’t matter very much.

So writing quality is a much bigger issue than what happens in high school. It’s going to get worse as the emphasis on testing continues.

Posted by: aed3 | July 16, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

It isn't just writing--it's timing. A student who says,“I know the answer, I just can’t explain it!” usually means he hasn't had time to put his thoughts together, think them over, and revise them to make sense. Students are expected to turn out papers of a specific length on topics that were just assigned, or given a short period of time to do the entire paper. They are expected to do math problems and get the right answer the first time. They have one crack at a scientific experiment. Those of us who try to forumlate a comment before we speak (and there really are some of us!) find the teacher has called on another studet or the conversation has moved on. If a student suddenly sees a connection in the news to something discussed in social studies that day, there is no time to mention it the next day because another lesson has to be covered. A test may come back, but if the student wants to find out why an answer is wrong, he has to do it on his own time; even if the teacher takes the time to supply the correct answers, the class simply goes on to the next topic and only repeats a lesson if the entire class seems to be having trouble.

My speech class in college required giving a 5-minute speech from notes once a week--somehow I don't think the Gettysburg Address was prepared or given under these conditions!

Students reach college--and beyond--thinking knowledge is not something you think about but something someone tells you and you put down on paper as rapidly as possible one time only.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 16, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

My soon to be senior child just came home from a 2 week pre-college program where everyone earned 2 credits for the class they took. My child's final was a research project and a power point. My child said all the kids in the class knew how to research and do a power point presentation (they were from all over the country). Mine was the only one who had no idea how to research or do a power point. Why? Because my child was never taught to do either in high school. There should be a class for all students that focuses on writing skills, research skills, studying techniques, time management and whatever else would be useful in college. It seems like the only kids that get to learn such skills are in the IB or other gifted high school programs. If you just take honors or AP classes, at least at my child's school, such things are not taught. A child can be ready for college intellectually, but without these basic skills there's a good chance they may not be successful.

Posted by: chalkycat | July 17, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

I seem to recall reading that President Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address during his train trip from DC to Gettysburg. I think the original copy may be in the National Archives.

Posted by: momof4md | July 18, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

momof4md: please don't help your kids with their history homework. The myth about the Gettysburg Address being written during his train trip belongs with the myth about George Washington and the cherry tree. Actually, Lincoln worked on the speech at the White House, during the trip, and in his room the night before the speech. Plenty of his aids left records of him writing the speech, and there are copies showing revisions.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 18, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

The long-form fully referenced, senior year research paper is my favorite topic because it taught me so much about researching from credible sources, writing logically from an approved outline, attribution of facts to sources, and tank warfare in World War II. (It was the tank warfare subject that really got me enthused about doing the research paper and I poured every ounce of effort I could muster into it.)
If I was the research paper czar of public education, I would set up the senior year research paper this way:
+ Minimum of 5,000 words, but with half a letter grade higher awarded for 7,500+ words
+ An elective class conducted mostly outside of the regular class hours and additive to the traditional college prep curriculum. Conducted online to the maximum extent with face-to-face meetings as required and by appointment.
+ A lead teacher (possibly part-time) to teach this two semester course ONLY for perhaps 100 willing and eager students seeking to excel.
+ Part-time readers to assist the lead teacher in reviewing/advising/grading all student efforts.
+ Appropriate thesis subjects that both interest the student yet are amendable to a high school student learning to perform long-form expository writing that is fully referenced (no "Solving World Hunger" thesis subjects accepted).

Posted by: fairfaxvaguy | July 18, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I just found a perfect example of why research writing should be taught. A reporter for another paper posted some photos from the 1960 Democratic convention on his blog; he said showed a person "I believe is Edward Kennedy, although he isn’t identified in the caption information – and I can’t imagine what he was doing with the Wyoming delegation." Within a day, 5 people had identified the person as Ted Kennedy and explained that in 1960 he had been in charge of the western states and had been lobbying the Wyoming delegation to change its votes to Kennedy in exchange for being the state that put JFK over the top. Without looking, I can think of three or four sources he could have checked, available at any library. But maybe he never learned to do any research in school--and never learned that the biggest advantage of research is that it answers your questions.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 19, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

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