From Research to Writing: A Crummy First Draft

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SWBAT synthesize their ideas in writing and identify specific areas for further research.

Big Idea

Free-writing is a great way to focus your research before getting lost in a sea of data.


Crummy First Draft

30 minutes

While I think a lot of students would keep poking around for research, I’m pulling the plug on them for a while to have them write; the infinite resources of the internet in many ways makes researching so much harder now, because there is always one more search term, or one more article you can look at (and one more click is always easier than writing your own ideas!).  As I've visited with the students one on one the past couple days, I've seen that researching a topic like this is a much newer skill for them than I had anticipated.  They are going through the process of documenting resources that we worked on the other day, but they aren't really seeing their argument emerge yet--they are focused on each individual text.   One of the lessons, then, is simply how to start writing and get focused; this is the first wave of "integrating information into the text selectively" (writing standard 8), which can lead to more selectivity once they see what they are really thinking on the page (because of this realization of how students handle this task, next year I'll give them an explicit time limit for initial research).  In that vein, the students today will not do any research until they have a complete crummy first draft (they are all familiar with Anne Lamott’s piece, whose title uses a much stronger word than ‘crummy,’ since we used it last year in their tenth grade class, and I’ve talked about the crummy first draft numerous times.  A Google search will likely yield copies of this text from various universities).  As they are writing, I will circulate in the library and ask them what their central idea is to help them get focused by simply asking what they are finding themselves writing about.  In the spirit of Anne Lamott's piece, I will not collect these or score them (in some classes who still need the lure of credit for putting words on a page I may collect them and note in the grade book that they were done, though I don't count them toward a grade--the zero in the grade book program is enough, and I have that to go back to if they are struggling.  However, these particular students are beyond that).

Research with Purpose/Writing and Revising

40 minutes

The students are really working independently and at their own pace, so as they seem to be finishing, or in the throws of, their first drafts, I will help them identify more pointed places where they may want to research--either to get some statistical evidence or expert evidence as support, to research more to develop credibility, etc.  Additionally, I will continue to work with them regarding search terms and things of that nature.

We are kind of in this now, so I will continue working independently with the students.  However, in the future I will probably model this process as a class with some student texts (I just don't have time to do it this year, given the calendar and a vacation on the horizon, along with a high stakes test).  I guess it is fortunate that I tried this with a small class so I can effectively work one on one with each of them on essentially the same skill!