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How do I balance long, traditional versus short research-writing tasks?

Traditional research writing is a long process.

It typically starts with days spent on topic selection. Then, several more school days pass as students surf online, click on websites, and print off articles. Eventually, with the teacher’s nudging, students wade through all of their research and begin to write their first drafts. Often, it’s another couple of weeks before the multi-page final draft is completed.

Because of this lengthy (and sometimes painful) process, most teachers guide students through a single research unit once a year.

However, today’s College and Career-Ready standards indicate students should be executing numerous research projects throughout the year.

Emphasize the synthesizing of information

The real focus of research writing is the ability to integrate information learned from a variety of texts. This requires more than just summarizing or regurgitating what was found; students need to be taught how to synthesize the information to demonstrate deeper understanding of the topic.

However, as difficult as this skill is to learn, it often gets slighted in the overall research-writing process because of all the other time-consuming facets (e.g., picking topics, finding sources, revising drafts). However, these steps can be tightened and even eliminated if you embark on what is called a simulated research task.

Execute simulated research-writing projects

Rather than executing every step of the research process, within a simulated experience, some of the steps are abbreviated or “faked.” This faster pace allows the teacher to execute multiple shorter research-writing tasks and/or focus the instructional time on the more important parts.

Simulated components might include the following.

  • Rather than picking their topics, assign students the topic (or let them choose from a limited selection). This mirrors the experience they will face on the standardized test, too.
  • Rather than having students find their own sources, provide 3-4 texts that you have already deemed credible and relevant. This also mirrors the experience they will face on the standardized test.
  • Rather than requiring final drafts, push students to produce strong first-and-only drafts. This, again, mirrors the experience they will face on the standardized test.
By executing a simulated research experience, the teacher can abbreviate the less vital aspects and zero-in on the most important. More time can be spent supporting students as they learn to synthesize the information they have collected, generate a strong thesis statement/topic sentence, and write a solid product from their research.

Include traditional research writing, too

Although the standards indicate our curriculum should include numerous short research experiences, it does also state that more sustained research opportunities should happen, too.

It’s within these longer projects that students should be taught how to choose their own topics, find their own credible and accurate sources, generate formal Works Cited pages, and polish final drafts.

And while these will be new skills for them to learn, their previous experiences with shorter, simulated research have prepared them to sift through large quantities of information and synthesize their thinking into a written product. All of this will make these longer, more traditional research papers seem less daunting.

April 16, 2017
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Simulate Research-Writing Tasks During eLearning

March 13, 2013
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Teach Research Writing in Smaller Mini-Units