Researching Writing: The Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project Author(s): Sarah Andrew-Vaughan and Cathy Fleischer Reviewed

work(s): Source: The English Journal, Vol. 95, No. 4 (Mar., 2006), pp. 36-42 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30047086 . Accessed: 13/10/2012 03:03
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and experiment with writing in a challenging or unfamiliar genre. demonstrating with my process (and in the rubric) copy. No. Todaywe're going to start something a little different. I ask students to fold the so I repeatedlyassure handout in half. ake out two different colored highlighters and clear your desk of T everything else. "What's flash fiction?" I open it up to the class. comfortable for you or in genres that we worked on together as a class.Here's how we'll start: Using your highlighters. and then in the genre. so I repeatedly assure them throughout the process (and in the rubric) that this is primarily a research project. Use your darker color for genres you like or tend to write in and the lighter color for genres that are challenging or kind of scare you. "When you finish. knowing I'm up to something. One student asks. 36 English Journal Vol. 1). The bottom half of the that this is primarily a front page consists of a threeresearchproject.the writingqualityis only you have chosen to write in wortha fractionof the genres that are either pretty final grade." Students keep looking at the list. I'm making my own key on an overheadtransparencyof the handout. pick up your other highlighter and mark the genres you tend to shy away from as well as those you've simply never tried to write in. "So far this year. a version of the list I will use althoughoriginalwriting later in the year when I introin theirchosen genre will duce the multigenre research be the centerpieceof the project. and although original writing in their chosen genre will be the centerpiece of the presentation." I (Sarah) announce to a room of talkative ninth graders.READING. I want you to purposely choose another kind of genre to write in-a genre that for some reason you find unfamiliar. seeing what their friends are marking. I want them to honestly select a genre that is foreign or intimidating. "Please use your 'like' color to highlight all the genres you like or tend to write in. I invite students to read. the writing quality is only worth a fraction of the final grade. "Does anybody know? What does it sound like? Maybe that's one that is worth investigating." Students again shoot looks at each other. recognizethe characteristics definethe genre. they're busy at work." Two students shoot worried looks across the room while another pair simultaneously grin. critically analyze. As copies of the introduction to our UnfamiliarI want them to honestly Genre Research Project circuselect a genre that is late through the room (see fig. 95. hamburgerthem throughoutthe style. however. please. occasionally asking for clarification. foreign or intimidating. Not all of the items on your page will be highlighted." In this research project. AND RE-PRESENTING RESEARCH Sarah Andrew-Vaughan and Cathy Fleischer Researching Writing: The Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project SarahAndrew-Vaughan CathyFleischer theirstudentsto investigatea genre of writingthat and ask or that they find challenging unfamiliar. most of presentation. Soon. "We'regoing to explore some of your fearsabout writing today. 4 March 2006 . and that's OK. WRITING. make a key in the margin." As I speak.and column list of writing genres. For this next writing project. Go ahead and work through the list now. Studentsreflecton theirprocessof inquiry writean original piece throughoutand gain confidenceby writingin a challenging form. marking those genres they've been writing in for most of their lives.

Genre Pickingan Unfamiliar We'll begin this projectwith honest soul-searchingas you.or perhaps you preferto writefictional making up whole storiesfromscratchseems impossible you.and writein a genrethat is personally It to challenging. read. engaging in the researchprocessand the reflective journalwill constitute most of your grade.I willask you to identifythe genresthatare personally challenging-genres you are not particularly familiar with. (See the A rubric.) In to this project. or that you tend to avoid.it'salsotruethat we have our own comfortlevelswith each genre. To you picka genre that challengesor intimidates rest ensure that you picka genre that is trulyunfamiliar. Don't limityourselfto these! Application * college * job * scholarship Artcommentary a Bill Books * children's book * cookbook * flip book * graphicnovel * how-to book * instruction booklet * pop-up book * user'smanual Brochure/pamphlet Closingor opening arguments Constitution(organizational) of Critique art/photography Dialogue Essay * personal(college) * prose * literary criticism Eulogy Guide(e. I would likeyou to honestlyselect choose to writein one genre that you do not ordinarily but would liketo learnmoreabout.) proposalin which you identifyyour challenging genre along with an explanationof why you chose it and what you'd liketo learnis due as you enter the for library our presearch.Thisproject you asks to investigate.and SarahAndrew-Vaughan CathyFleischer FIGURE Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project (Front Page) 1. ResearchProject ProjectOverview:Unfamiliar-Genre Afterspendinga semesterin workshop.Becausewe each have distinctive experiences with the manygenreswe encounter. Hereare some genres you might considerexploring. essays)and to learn to yourresearch processwhile usingyourresearch create somethingyou mightotherwisethinkis too difficult.From these.that may intimidate you.g. assuredthat the qualityof the final piece will only account for a smallpartof your grade on the project.(Perhaps stories..we've begunto discover strengthsand preferences reading our in and writing. citizen'sguide) Labreport LastWilland Testament Letter * business * complaint * condolence * cover * letterto the editor * of recommendation * to representative Memoir fiction Microfiction/flash Newspaper/magazine * news article * featurearticle * in-depthreport * personality profile * obituary * opinioncolumn * editorial * sports * review * book * CD * movie * play Novelor novella Parody Poetry(many kinds-pick one) * ballad * cinquain * epic * free verse * haiku * ode * sestina * sonnet * two-voice * others! Publicserviceannouncement R~sumb Scrapbook Script * commercial(TVor radio) * monologue * one-act * puppet show * radioplay * screenplay * skit * soliloquy Shortstory Song (lyricswith music) Speech Vignette collection English Journal 37 . has severalpurposes: learnto study genres(whichyou can applyto futuregenresyou willensuch as college and SAT counter.

with a reflection * Yourexperimentalwriting.You may want to jump rightinto a draft. Now readyour best draftagain. so.thinkingabout your thinking. will be a finished piece in your chosen (unfamiliar) genre. they've just written the first entry. You must take this piece throughseveraldrafts.with an entry for each time you work on the project * Yourfinal piece. as you are reading. peer."To capture this dilemma. "Now.To some extent.as in writing.Throughoutthis study. Genre Reading in YourUnfamiliar One partof your researchin this genre study is simply to read within the genre.is an importantpartof this researchproject. metacognition. 38 March2006 . and to keep a researchjournalin which they think through the project and attempt various drafts. It should be typed.writer. structure. this projectis intendedto allow you to discoveryour researchprocess. I then use this opportunity to introduce the researchjournal-a key component of the Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project-for which ReflectiveLetter When you finishthe best draftof your writingand as you are compilingyour researchbinder. The ResearchJournal Although researchincludesmany steps. and teacher conferences(required). to gather and analyze model examples of that genre.and researcher.When you are completelyfinishedwith your Unfamiliar-Genre ResearchProject. You must write in this journaleach time you workon the project. to identify key characteristics of that genre. the project begins: a project that asks students to identify a genre they find challenging. all this in mind.includingparent. Thus. Genre Writingin YourUnfamiliar The centerpieceof this project. Rememberto write down the informationyou'll need for your bibliography MLAstyle when you first in of get the piece to save yourselfthe frustration having to go back for this information.Beforeyou actuallyget to your final piece. thinkingabout what you have learned With about yourselfas a reader. we'll learnall about this in class).Use this journalto keep trackof your researchstrategyas well as your feelings about each stage of the work." Discussion slowly breaksout as students contemplate. it's likelythat you will experimentwith the genre-you may have several startsbefore you writethe piece you will finishfor your final project. This journal entry also has a second purpose: it becomes a prewrite for their researchproposal.As you are reading.of course. whether they will choose a genre that is truly unfamiliar or pick something "safe. privately and aloud. I think it's importantto shareyour hard workwith your parentsand guardians.ResearchProject ResearchingWriting:The Unfamiliar-Genre FIGURE Continued (Back Page) 1. Perhapsyou will begin by journaling: you mightfirstdeal with your fears by putting them to paper.share it with your parentsor and ask them to write a letterto you in guardians responseto your work.Whateveryour process. Please limityourselfto published works (no student samples).all drafts.take the time to rereadyour researchjournaland reflecton your experienceover these six weeks.and easy to navigate. keep a journal-handwrittenor typed.and strategiesused in each piece. Yourbindershould includethe following (makeone tab for each category): * Yourresearch(metacognition)journal.You may preferto begin by reading(and collecting) samples of your genre. ResearchBinder The final projectwill take the form of a researchbinder. to write in the genre. organized. the orderof these steps may vary.We'll practicethis in class! You will compilethese analyticalnotes in an annotated bibliography (again. collect the best five to ten samplesyou can find and analyze how they were crafted. read through the items you just highlighted---the ones that intimidate or are unfamiliar to you-and circle two or three that are interesting enough that you'rewilling to learnmore about them. your preference-of your experiences. which they will later need to enter the library while they conduct a presearch to ensure that they can find plenty of examples that they want to readin their chosen genres.take notes on the writer'scraft.and all conference notes * An annotated bibliography five to ten of the of best samplesyou can find in the genre Letter Parent/Guardian As you know.write a reflectiveletterexplainingwhat you've learnedabout genre throughthis projectand how you've demonstratedyour newfound knowledge in your best draft. I ask students to write about the options they areconsidering and work through the pros and cons of each.

Cathy'sstudents keep a researchjournalof their experiencein which they reflectnot only on their newfound knowledge of the genre but also on the experience of their immersion into it: How did it feel to write English Journal 39 . Masia. "How can I possibly teach poetry?"one student cries out. professor of English education at Eastern Michigan University. like my students. began this project as a way for these soonto-be teachersto think carefullyabout their writing as well as to considerwhat it might be like for their future students when they are asked (as students commonly are)to write in a genre with which they aren'tfamiliar. and Krathwohl). Background In a college classroom just ten miles down the road.Sarah Andrew-Vaughan and Cathy Fleischer A Case for the Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project This project has several purposes for high school students: to learn basic research strategies. the college version of the UnfamiliarGenre Research Project begins. Perhaps the most Cathy continues. Perhaps the most important quality of the Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project is that it asks students to use their researchby experimenting with and drafting in the genre they have studied. the intention of the traditional research project is too often limited to teaching students the researchprocess. I couldn't get the rhythm. will cement the ideas and strategies students encounter in this project into their memories. and to use research to create something students might otherwise think is too difficult. and I still don't understand it. Building on these alternatives. Actually using the research. preserviceteachers are engaged in their version of the Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project. this project shines a spotlight on English as a research subject. In contrast. to identify the processes we each use to learn about that which is unfamiliar. Cathy also asks students to select a genre that they find challenging in order to learn more about it-through research into the genre and practice writing in it. The research topics English teachers offer students often have nothing to do with reading or writing. "How about now? Are with anddrafting the in there still some genres you havestudied. An added attraction of the Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project is that its topic is reading and writing. such as SAT essays or college applications. Applying their newfound knowledge is a critical step beyond research projects that only ask students to present the information they've gathered. I couldn't get the rhyme. the multigenre research project as developed by Tom Romano takes a further step by acknowledging that an extended essay is not the only germane form in which to present one's findings. for example. especially when they next encounter challenging and perhaps high-stakes genres. "I hate poetry! And the time my eleventhgrade English teacher made me write a sonnet was the worst moment of my school life. generally with the expectation that students know how to write in the "researchpaper"genre. "How many of you have ever been told to write in a genre when you didn't feel very knowledgeable about that genre?" As almost all her students raise their hands. It will also provide students with the confidence of having "figuredout" the constraints and demands of particular genres. And. from sonnet to drama to analysis to short story. Cathy Fleischer. "What did that feel like? What did you important qualityof the Unfamiliar-Genre wish you'd known about the genre?" As students share Research is Project that it their experiences and their asks studentsto use their wishes. the UnfamiliarGenre Research Project both incorporates the efficacy of these projects and extends them by asking students to use their findings and actually write in the genre they've chosen to study.we know from Bloom's taxonomy (Bloom. to engage in a genre study while practicing strategies real writers use to approach new material. I couldn't think of anything to say. recognizes the need to engage students in a personally relevant and interesting topic. she pushes them furresearch experimenting by ther. they also begin to share their discomfort in knowing they may soon have to instruct students in the genres with which they feel most challenged. All I learned was that I hate Shakespeare!" Thus. feel challenged by? What are genrethey those?" As students start to reel off a variety of genres. Other alternative approaches to the research paper expand on the traditional approach: The I-Search paper as developed by Ken Macrorie.

visiting each other's classes to see how this project actually plays out for our two different audiences. and formatting a bibliography using MLA style. Research takes on new meaning-both groups learn that various genres have particular constructs and that understanding those constructs can help them gain the confidence they need to figure out the intricacies of any genre. presenting sample projects that we'll analyze for is Metacognition one of the first terms students learn in my classes. read. Since they might begin to then. At least one day a week is devoted exclusively to workshopping this project. Students present their projects in a research binder (see fig. which accounts for another 10 percent. and experiments with classmates as well as a parent or guardian and. of course. 1). and (4) the student's research (metacognition) journal. and continually revising the project for each group. practicing how to identify genre conventions through reading examples. A third category credits students for their self-evaluation. strategies. Cathy's students begin to acknowledge that alternatives to the traditional researchpaper are indeed possible in a real classroom. drafts. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be conscious of and evaluate the internal dialogue we engage in as we think. write. (This rubric is on EJ on the Web. it includes ten categories worth 10 percent each. I it felt. I expect that the final drafts of their genre. strategies to help students feel and approaches while ready to take on that genre? evaluating how each After Cathy shared the method worked and how basics of this project with me.Researching Writing: The Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project in a genre that is uncomfortable or unfamiliar? How do you think your future students might feel if you simply assigned a genre without giving a lot of background-a sonnet. (3) a bibliography of five to ten samples that the student read in his or her chosen genre with an annotation explaining the analysis of the conventions. and so forth as well as the quality of the piece. drafts. reflection. Class periods are devoted to library visits. An added benefit-we hope-is that by sharing my forays into the Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project with the preservice teachers. together. The URL is at the end of this article. which is weighted heavily with another 20 percent. they see how they might adapt their experience in Cathy's class to their future classes. While the purposes of the project differ somewhat in each setting. the high school students will spend about half of their class time and much of their homework time working on the project. demonstrating how to keep a research journal. experiments. the teacher. They receive 20 percent of their grade for their process and are given credit for the experiments. writing annotations. drafts. Conferencing is emphasized throughout: Every student is required to conference ideas. this project has evolved as determine what their the two of us have worked processes look like. lessons. Just as students analyze their chosen samples for craft and evaluate their quality. The teacher-led lessons involve introducing expectations.writer. it seemed like the well as successes so that perfect project to precede a multigenre researchunit. and researcher. traits. I want studentsto decided to adapt it for use with reflect on frustrations as my students. or any other genre that might seem uncomfortable The research journal's or scary to them? What stratecontent should document gies did you use to feel more each student's attempts. and conference notes. I am specifically interested in helping students internalize what all teachers know: each person's process is a little different but 40 March2006 .(2) all experimental writing. and conference notes. roleplaying conferencing strategies. and annotated bibliography are polished and proofread. strengths and weaknesses. and workshops. and learn. the first two categories ask the same of the students' final drafts of the genres they have chosen.) The Research Journal Overview of the High School Experience Over six weeks. for example. what we find intriguing is this: Both college students and high school students benefit from this kind of immersion in genre as they become the central inquirers into how genre works. structure. comfortable with that genre? How could you adapt those false starts. Students compile their observations from the researchprocess in an annotated bibliography. talking about the and its value to two different groups of stuproject dents. style. The rubric I use for this project is broad. The binders include separate sections for (1) the best draft of original writing in the studied genre with a reflection on how the piece demonstrates the student's research as well as what the student learned in the roles of reader. In this project.

students begin to observe that while each genre looks and reads in a recognizable way. false starts. professional writers do not follow strict formulas. Researching Lessons Of course. The research journal'scontent should document each student's attempts. paragraph-long standalone quotes. and because many students request a conference with me closer to the project due date. my job is to introduce useful skills and strategies. voice. we will analyze the genre of annotations and will collectively write an annotation for the news story from the handout. I require the research journal to help students make this subtle venture more pronounced(see fig. I expect students to read their drafts aloud and take notes. is key to learning. we brainstorm a few obvious and more subtle characteristics as I mark them on an overhead transparency of the handout: columnar layout. the quick check-in Atwell recommends during every writing workshop doesn't happen in my classroom. these observations to write each annotation. I find it impossible to conference with every student during in-class workshop time. A note on conferencing: Students value oneon-one time with teachers as much as we do with them. I ask them to look for two additional characteristics and distribute my second handout. during lunch. much like Nancie Atwell describes about Writing.) As no group has come up with more than half of these. Through their analysis of multiple samples. style. class sizes of twenty-five to thirty or more are a reality of public schools. structures. I am experienced and comfortable with newswriting. short (often one-sentence) paragraphs. and me. experiments.Sarah Andrew-Vaughan and Cathy Fleischer includes common strategies and skills. the students' job is to try them out and find a process that works. In future lessons. a copy of the original with the addition of thirty-six observations specific to news stories. I make it clear that simply trading papers and never actually talking to conference partners is unacceptable. As such. and approacheswhile evaluating how each method worked and how it felt. (These two handouts are on EJ on the Web. Students are apprentices I expect students to perform a variation of this lesson experimenting with the on each of the samples they tools they observe the select for their annotated bibexperts using in their liography and then to use sample pieces. As I see it.far more than the result. As with all worthwhile ventures. I want students to understand that they have the power to learn about that which is unfamiliar and that they can employ this power with or without a graded assignment. I want students to reflect on frustrations as well as successes so that they might begin to determine what their processes look like. When it seems that groups are beginning to lose focus. heterogeneous groups and continue the job. I offer writing conferences before school. as students are quick to point out. During writing conferences. I also want students to internalize the common wisdom that the process.and Learning. When it is clear that students are picking up the idea of defining characteristics. and after English Journal 41 . this is supposed to be an unfamiliar genre.I require students to conference with at least one classmate. Talking through writing choices and intentions is an important part of a writer's researchprocess. Even by spreading conferences over several periods. we divide into small. Of course. The Workshop Approach Most of the direct instruction associated with this project is focused on demonstrating for the students how to evaluate writing samples and then how to compile those observations into an annotated bibliography. Further. The point of the lesson is that through the course of our research. Because I believe that students genuinely appreciate the time. in In the Middle: New Understandings Reading. and other defining characteristics used to craft them. strategies. we must read in our selected genres to become familiar with the conventions. 1). they are amazed and impressed with what one can find when one looks carefullyat a text-and this is a simple. layout. a handout with a short. fake news story I wrote. two-hundred-wordpiece! Additional class time is spent teaching and reteaching workshop essentials. a parent or guardian. a core intention of this project is to nudge students toward lifelong learning. especially role-playing writing conferences. awaits students as they take their seats. We talk about defining characteristics-what makes a news story different from any other genre? As a class. My first lesson in this series.

. This was a change for me because I am used to writing where detail and specifics are not so important. "This project helped me a lot more than I expected it to. ed. 42 March 2006 . researching their genre helps students gain confidence that they can take on new writing tasks-a tangible end to the sometimes elusive researchunit. . Students are apprentices experimenting with the tools they observe the experts using in their sample pieces. I will now pay more attention to different formats and styles of writing so I can incorporate them into my own. . 2 of New York:McKay. . additional workshop days might be added to the schedule to accommodate conference requests in the two weeks before the project is due. .edu/Extensions/extensionsmain. Although I treasure the times when we devote our entire week to reading and writing workshop as Atwell does.mi. I found myself just today reading my dad's newspaper and paying attention to the special way it was written. . and novel as some of their unfamiliar genres.englishjournal. Krathwohl. Students choose genres as varied as microfiction. . This brings up an important point some students miss without my explicit reminders: their five to ten samples cannot simply be the first samples they find in their chosen genre but the best they find. how to use the Internet. I now read as if I am on a treasure hunt. Macrorie.where she teaches courses in writing and literacyfor preserviceand practicingteachers and co-directs the EasternMichigan Writing Project. and news story with observations are all available as El Extensions on El on the Web." Leo. and David R. 1998. sonnet. Cathy Fleischer is professor of Englisheducation at Eastern Michigan University. Further.Rev. BlendingGenre. The project has opened my eyes to new forms of writing and has shown me how the format and aspects of writing make the piece. .and Learning. . I have a brand new perspective on reading. vols. It helped me develop some discipline. The long-range benefits are important as well: As students learn more about the concept of genre. and how to critically assess and annotate their findings-and have the added benefit of applying those skills in an immediate and tangible fashion. they are amazed by the dramatic changes they see in their learning. Bertram B. ..She is the author of numerous books and articlesabout teacher researchand community outreach. and I am searching for clues. 1988. 2000. Bloom. In the Middle: New Understandings Writing. but it was different from most of the ones that I have done before. the once-a-week workshops I offer during this unit provide a similar value at the core of this research project.Researching Writing: The Unfamiliar-Genre Research Project school in addition to in-class workshop time. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook. Tom. students internalize their newfound skills and feel empowered to put them to work. And it doesn't end there. Masia..us. "My writing benefited from having to pay such close attention to detail. Culling is an important research skill students learn in this project. news story. The rubric. Nancie." What's more. Works Cited about Atwell.Reading. Students report that within the six short weeks of the project. Alternatively. who studied cookbooks. they are more-informed readersand writers. one that I probably would not have learned without having done this project.AlteringStyle:Writing Papers. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook. . genre Sarah Andrew-Vaughan is an eighth-year Englishteacher at Ann ArborHuronHigh School and a teacher consultant with the EasternMichigan Writing Project. Searching Writing.colostate. I will never read a book or any other piece of written material quite the same again. Visit http://www. . Ken. MultiRomano. Taxonomy EducationalObjectives. . understanding in a real way that various genres have various demands and using that awarenessto approach the new as well as the familiar genres they encounter. They learn some traditional research skills-how to use the library.2nd ed. "This project taught me to look for the specific qualities that make each genre unique. wrote in his reflection. Benjamin S.Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook. who investigated how-to books.edu." reflected Susan. scrapbooking. 1964. email: cathy.. "I thought this was just going to be like any other project. email: andrew@aaps. The I-SearchPaper. Lessons Learned Students repeatedly impress me with the breadth and depth of the work they voluntarily undertake in this project. As a reader.fleischer@emich. . ." The students have convinced me that this project is a worthwhile and welcome addition to their ways of learning.kl2. htm. .

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