This assignment was developed for a first-year research and writing course. It is the second of a two-course sequence for students who did not place into the one-semester course equivalent.
A Brief Overview
This four-week assignment asked students to read a common set of texts, take notes on them, and develop a draft of a research paper together as a full class. Students then revised the class draft independently.
As Described to Students
Before we begin our semester-long research project, it’s important that, as a class, we understand what constitutes effective research and how we develop a strong research paper. In order to accomplish this, we will begin the course with a collaborative project in which we—meaning the full class, even me!—will practice strategies for note-taking, source synthesizing, developing our writing, and revising. After we have collaboratively developed a working draft for the project, each student will write an independent revision of the paper, allowing for each of us to bring his or her own ideas, feelings, beliefs, and flair to the project itself.
- Demonstrate fluency in the writing process: planning, drafting, revising, editing, and preparing final papers.
- Demonstrate competence in the varied elements of writing: thesis, stance, content, organization, sentences, diction, and technical matters.
- Demonstrate awareness of rhetorical strategies in various forms of writing, with particular attention to audience.
- Assess the usefulness and reliability of sources, including Internet sources.
- Synthesize and critique material from a variety of sources with an emphasis on scholarly and professional publications; incorporate sources; document sources properly.
- Exhibit critical thinking as readers and as writers.
- Understand the relevance of good writing to real-world situations.
- Provide opportunities for discussing, modeling, and practicing note-taking strategies
- Model the drafting process by working with students
- Encourage "radical revision"
What We Did
This assignment took four weeks of our course, featuring a lot of in-class work time. In the assignment, I explained to students that this project would require them to do the following:
- Read a variety of articles that address a guided research question.
- Participate in daily activities focusing on effective note-taking strategies and the importance of approaching research as entering a conversation.
- Develop and share a thesis for the collaborative project.
- Contribute to the discussion and decision-making process while drafting as a full class.
- Independently revise the full-class draft.
- Appropriately attribute information using MLA Style.
- Reflect on their learning throughout the process.
Breaking It Down
This assignment required a lot of in-class work time and discussion. Students were often asked to prepare part of the draft in advance before collaborating with peers in class and then having a full-class conversation. This section breaks down how note-taking and drafting occurred in class.
Reading and Note-Taking
- Before reading the texts we used for research, we read Karen Rosenberg's "Reading Games: Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources" to talk about how to engage with difficult readings and talk about ethical course use and academic integrity.
- We read nine selections from our reader (They Say/I Say, 2E with readings) that all focused on the question "Is Fast Food the New Tobacco?"
- Students read and took notes in a variety of ways on their own. In class, we used the notecard method to move from initial note-taking to narrow in on the ideas we thought would be most important for our draft.
- In class, students summarized the readings and shared those summaries with each other. Then, we talked through the notes we took on each reading and made a class set of notes about each reading (essentially, an annotation like I would later ask them to do in their research blogs).
Each student was asked to write a thesis, outline, introduction, and conclusion in advance of class sessions spent drafting the project together. In addition, students were asked to choose one quote, idea, or reference to each of the nine texts we read that they felt were crucial to our research project after we had chosen the thesis as a class.
Developing Thesis Statements
Students were asked to submit a thesis statement that could guide our drafting before class. They met in groups to discuss the thesis statements they each brought. Then, they advanced one thesis statement (by choosing one or by writing a new one as a group) for the full class to consider. The full class considered the "finalists" for the thesis and we voted on what one would guide our collaborative draft.
From Outline to Drafting
- Each student in class wrote an outline that identified the body paragraphs they thought would advance the thesis we chose and the notes/quotes that they would incorporate into those body paragraphs.
- In class, we talked about the body paragraphs we felt we should include and wrote one of them together. At this point, we engaged a lot in the language of our textbook, such as "planting a naysayer," to talk about what we wanted different paragraphs to do.
- Groups drafted additional body paragraphs using their outlines and posted them in the collaborative document.
- As a class, we decided on an order for our body paragraphs for the first draft.
- I compiled the draft into a Word document that could serve as an MLA Style template and left comments to help guide the independent revision process.
After drafting as a class, students revised the full-class draft to their liking. They were able to change as much of the draft as they wanted, even advancing a different argument if they chose. The goal was for them to identify the choices they made and explain why they made them.
In their revisions, students had to include at least one instance of "radical revision" in which they drastically alter a paragraph from its "original" form. This is an activity I use frequently and that students really struggle with, but it does help them to move from just changing a few words to really rethinking their ideas.
- Revise any paragraph of the paper so that no more than one sentence remains exactly the same word-for-word. Yes, this includes direct quotes!
- Evaluate your two options. Which do you think is stronger or more effective? Reflect on why.
- Rewrite the paragraph in the paper. This could mean choosing one paragraph over the other or incorporating pieces from both.
In addition to submitting their revised versions (with changes marked), students submitted a reflection on the experience. Though they had several questions they could address in the reflection, most of them chose to think more deeply about what they had learned about the researching and writing process through this project and how this experience differed from their typical researching and writing process. Several students also explained what strategies they planned to continue to use in the next phase of the class, in which they chose their own research questions and spent the remainder of their semester exploring them.