This year, I decided to give my students the full Thanksgiving vacation to finish up their research essays, which gives me the long weekend without “the stack.” I’ve made a number of changes to this assignment this semester, and I checked over all the resulting drafts yesterday. I’m proud to say—drum roll, please—the drafts did not leave me nauseous and depressed! Most significantly, I changed the topic of the assignment this semester. In the past, I’ve asked students to pick an ethical dilemma related to a field they might want to pursue. Generally, students wrote about medical and media issues. After some summer rumination, I made the topic “a problem facing public education today.” Students have chosen to write on a wide range of education issues, and it looks like they just have more of their own ideas on these topics. The drafts appeared to be less packed with block quotations to meet the page minimum. Okay, okay, so I haven’t actually read through their arguments carefully yet. Okay, okay, so no Turnitin.com reports yet reveal places where they lifted liberally from their sources. This holiday weekend, I’m emotionally banking some optimism before collecting the pile. Reality will arrive soon enough, right?
I know that once I start grading the stack, my enthusiasm for creating big changes to the assignment will be snuffed out by exhaustion and perhaps a nagging melancholy that even a perfect assignment would not reach everybody. So! Before that begins, I’ve been catching up on some professional reading. I really enjoyed Lorna Collier’s “The ‘C’s of Change:’ Students—and Teachers—Learn 21st Century Skills” from NCTE’s November 2008 Council Chronicle. According to Collier, the “C’s of Change” “include creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, self-control, and comprehension.” The article discusses different aspects of that list, but I found some commentary on social networking especially interesting: “Students still need teachers to show them how to navigate the digital age, how to mine the information overload for meaning, and how to make wise connections through social networks.”
In my research essay assignment, I feel like I accomplish the first two items in that list. However, I have not asked students to use their Facebook or blogging skills “to make wise connections.” The concept appeals to me. What if I asked students to use a social networking connection as one of the resources for their research essay? I imagine they could email a principal or participate in an education blog or find whomever they find on My Space. I’d have to come up with a series of vetting questions for them to use to determine if the source could be trusted, but I’m willing to bet I’ll be shocked with what they can find. Judging from how often students try to text in class, they’ve really honed this skill—why not harvest that skill for academic goals?co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher