We're nearing the end of the first go round with the collaborative research unit I talked about a while back. And as I mentioned in that post, we're on a modular schedule, which means we'll be starting the same project from the beginning. Which, of course, means revamping based on our experiences this first time around.
In talking with teachers about revamping things, they have sometimes lamented that it's unfortunate that this first group had to act as guinea pigs--but I point out that usually all students have to act as guinea pigs, and we have to wait an entire year in order to test our new ideas again. I'm excited about being able to re-do this unit so soon, and get more ideas for how to make it better.
And boy do I have ideas for how to make it better. I love this project, and I think many things worked well the first time, but there are definite areas for improvement. One big change will be where in the process we explicitly introduce the writing of the thesis statement (speaking of which, have I mentioned how very, very much I love Tom March's Online Thesis Generator? 'Cause I really, really do). We talked with students from the beginning about the need to form an argument and write a thesis, but we didn't do much direct instruction until late in the process of finding sources--and many students discovered that the sources they had were not helpful to their thesis, which was very frustrating for many students.
For our next go round, we'll be asking students to find a certain number of sources on their topic in order to establish their background knowledge and get an overview of their topic. Then write the thesis, then find additional sources in order to specifically address the subtopics of their thesis. This is one of those ideas I have that makes me feel kind of foolish for not having thought of it the first time around.
As frustrating as citation has been, I'm nerdily excited about deploying my citation map to its full effect. And I have to remind myself that I no longer see Works Cited pages that simply list "www.google.com", so progress is being made. There have been some interesting mistakes, and I think understanding those will help me help students avoid them in the future (for example, one student entered a magazine article from a database as a radio broadcast, because he'd used the database's built-in text-to-speech feature (which, by the way, much UDL love there) to listen to the article). (Did I just do a parenthetical aside within a parenthetical aside? I think I have a problem. . .) And inspired by Buffy Hamilton (a statement which could be true of about half the things I do), I'm going to work on some citation guidesheets to help my students move through the process from finding a source to creating an accurate citation. While I love NoodleTools (and eventually many of my students come around), many of my students struggle with identifying what type of source they have and how to answer the questions in NoodleTools. I want to help them get things right at the beginning, in order to limit future frustrations.
And after reading Kristin Fontichiaro's recent post about reflection it occurred to me in that "why didn't this occur to me before?" kind of way that while I regularly checked in with students on their progress and got a good sense of what they were struggling with and what was going well, it would be good to ask students to reflect in a more formal way on their own process. So I created a form asking students to reflect on each part of the research process--from topic selection to citations, and which parts were easiest and most difficult for them. This will help in adjustments for the next go round with this project, but I'm hoping that it will also help students realize how much they've managed to accomplish.
There are also lots of little tweaks, and I'm sure after the next time I'll have even more ideas for how to adjust. I don't know if I've ever taught the same unit the same way twice, and I think it will be a long time before I do. If I ever do. Which is just the way I want it to be.