Reflection: Standards Alignment The Many Faces of Loneliness in OMAM & Outlining for Success - Section 3: Building Knowledge


We've all been there before.  You know the place.  You're flipping through research paper packets looking at preliminary outlines, the essay, and final outlines, and while the outlines are darn close to identical, the essay itself is chaotic and unintelligible.  It's almost as if they didn't even consult the outline before writing...and then you realize what has happened.  You're grading the paper of a "post-outliner."  I don't know about you, but I have scads of kids like this.  They slop through the paper, then realize they have to turn in an outline with it.  Rather than consider that the outline was probably a piece of the learning process or a tool to improve the paper, they slop through a fake outline and turn it in.  Oh, they needed a preliminary outline too?  They'll just print it off twice.  Heck, some kids even plan on writing the outline after the paper, because it "works better" for them.  Their organization tends to disagree, however.  Even worse?  Kids who don't start with an outline tend to focus on arbitrary assignment specifics, like the number of sources they need or how many notecards need to be done, rather than what KIND of sources and information they need for their paper.  It's fairly easy to spot these kinds of papers as well since they're largely jammed with information that doesn't seem relevant, organized, or curated to make any kind of overall arguments.  

So how do we stop the post-outliners or the world and help them see the outlining "light"?   And WHY would we ever try to convince these people of such a thing when they're SO RESISTANT to it at times?  Well, the "why" is actually the easy part.  We must teach outlining (and all prewriting and planning, actually), according to those fabulous Common Core Standards.  I, personally, LOVE this element of the standards.  They are focusing on treating writing as a process and having students be able to apply that process, which is pretty consistent with the teaching of writing best practices that we all learned.  This argument, that you need it for a test, will get a certain percentage of your high-achieving kids on board with writing outlines, which is a victory since many of them tend to be your post-outliners.  Other than this argument, the BEST argument for outlining is that it really makes students' jobs EASIER and that we'll be using a drafting process that makes specific use of their preliminary outlines in chunks to make drafting a breeze.  Approaching it in this manner helps students to see how relevant it could be and more willing to give it a shot.

I choose to model this outlining activity first, because with so many kids skeptical of the value of outlines, I know that they don't really understand outlines.  If you GET outlines, you know they're magical tools!  Also, I want to make sure we review the pieces I expect to see in their papers (claim, counterclaim, rebuttal, concession, thesis, etc.) and that they see how much evidence it takes to craft a good paper.  Probably the most important reason I model this activity, however, is to help students reframe how they think about the outline.  Currently, they think it's this dead, useless thing.  I want them to see that an outline at its best captures your conversations, both with your peers and in your own mind.  This snapshot of the mind that can be easily remixed and looked back on when seeking out information to back your ideas is vital.  I equate it to making a shopping list before the grocery store.  Creating a complete outline of your thoughts and ideas allows you to quickly check off which "ingredients" (i.e., evidence) you already have and what you still need to "pick up" from research.  Outlining together can be a fabulous way to achieve all of these results while helping students better understand how to use this tool to improve their quality of research and overall organization. 

Please keep in mind one thing about this activity.  I always allow the class to decide on a topic (or approve a topic that is randomly tossed out there like a suggestion in an improv club).  This might mean that I'm leaning on kids for information that I don't know about (using questions any audience might ask an author to better understand their topic), supporting a thesis I don't necessarily agree with, or getting heated about popular culture topics that I don't particularly find interesting.  Despite the uncertainty about this, PRESS ON with the unfamiliar topic!  It increases engagement since students are the crafters and experts, and it also shows students in a very legitimate way how good argumentative writing is about structure and evidence, not a fiery passion about the topic.  It means you'll have to be flexible, but it totally pays off! 

  Outlining as a "Shopping List" for Research Tasks & a Requirement of the Common Core
  Standards Alignment: Outlining as a "Shopping List" for Research Tasks & a Requirement of the Common Core
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The Many Faces of Loneliness in OMAM & Outlining for Success

Unit 6: Multitasking with Modernism & Research Skills
Lesson 6 of 9

Objective: SWBAT connect Steinbeck's characterization with larger themes in the novel, evaluate his choices and their impact on readers, and collaboratively create a thorough argumentative outline to guide their research process.

Big Idea: Major reveals for today: George didn’t ever plan to buy Lennie rabbits, Curley's wife is just lonely, & outlining is USEFUL! Whoa, big day!

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