Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Spontaneous Anthology Research

My 9th graders' poetry anthologies are due on April 10th. We've been working on this project for a few weeks now. It involves a fairly substantial amount of time and effort. It's one of my favorite units.

The students are asked to write poems, gather poems, analyze poems, and write a research-based essay about one particular poet. They are free, essentially, to pick from any professionally published poets they like. Our school's librarian does a wonderful job gathering a plethora of poetry books and anthologies for the students to use.

In class I do mini lessons on various types of poetry, teach students about MLA format, and give them ample time to write, research, and conference with me and each other. It's an independent (each student must create his or her own anthology) yet collaborative and social project. Once the anthologies are complete, we'll do a poetry reading, a poetry slam, and students will post their favorite original poem to this very blog.

Here is a poet research narrative I wrote about Jack Kerouac. I've been a Kerouac fan ever since high school, when some of my friends introduced me to On the Road. Since then I've read most of his novels, a number of his poems, and many of his letters, journal entries, and random musings. One of my favorite Kerouac anthologies is Some of the Dharma. It's a must-have for true Kerouac enthusiasts.

In my essay I tried to do things I asked the students to do, like paraphrase ideas, weave in direct quotes, provide basic (but not mind-numbing) biographical information, and discuss the way a poet uses language and form to communicate ideas.

The essays needed to be written using MLA format. While this is the third time we've used MLA format to cite information, it was the first time I explicitly taught the concept of plagiarism as idea theft. Many of my students were under the misimpression that it was OK to take someone else's ideas and put them into their own words without having to reference where the idea came from.

I told them that nope, sorry, that is still plagiarism. I said it was fine and good to take another's ideas and try to express them yourself, just be sure you cite in parentheses where that information came from.

This then led to a discussion about "common knowledge," and instances when one does NOT need to always cite information that comes from a source. For the purposes of this particular project, I told my students they did not need internal citations for the biographical information about their poet, as I considered basic facts about when a person was born, where a person lived, where a person went to school, what a person did for a living, and when and how a person died (so long as it was not disputed) to be "common." Ideas and statements about who the poet was as a person, and any anecdotes or insights about that poet's writing style or techniques, however, absolutely needed to be cited.

I think the following passage from the University of North Carolina Writing Center does a good job explaining what common knowledge is. It begins by first stating three ideas that are considered common knowledge (Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, oxygen has an atomic number of 8, and "The Starry Night" was painted by Vincent Van Gogh):

Sometimes it's difficult to be sure what counts as common knowledge, especially when writing in an academic discipline that's new to you. Perhaps you aren't familiar with Van Gogh or an atomic number. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if a knowledgeable reader would be familiar with the information. You may, in fact, need to consult with a reader within the discipline. If she'd have to look it up, you usually should document it. If you aren't sure if something counts as common knowledge, document it to be safe.

These discussions about common knowledge, paraphrasing, intellectual theft, proper attribution, when to paraphrase and when to weave in direct quotes, are, for me, very stimulating. They definitely require higher-order cognitive skills, and really challenge students to think about what they're doing and why they're doing it.


Anonymous said...

knowing that you are a big kerouac fan, you should know that a group of portuguese artists are putting up an exhbition to comemorate 50th aniversary of jk on the road. you can check us @

the blog is still pretty fresh - because the idea is still building up. but with time and patience you will start to see information regarding the exhbit.


Mr. B-G said...

Sounds great. Thanks for the heads-up.

proppspropaganda said...

Right On! I just finished with my juniors the research paper. I am so happy to see you are doing research with your 9th graders. That only happens with 9th grade honor students in my class. I really enjoy researching and putting it all together. I liked what you wrote.

Anglophile said...

i am a 7th grade english teacher and i try my hardest to incorporate kerouac into my lessons. if you have any ideas for younger students i would love to hear them. i posted a great book by kerouac today on my blog, check it out.

Mr. B-G said...

I wonder if you could use Kerouac's idea of "first thought, right thought" for some sort of journaling exercise.

For three summers I worked at an arts camp where I taught journalism and creative writing to kids age 9-15.

We did a lot of fun group journal activities where each of us would write non-stop for 1 minute, then pass the journal on. The next person could only read the last entry written before beginning his or her new entry. We usually had two journals going in different directions.

Once everyone had written something in each journal, we would share the group stories. They were sometimes so hilarious I would literally laugh until it hurt.

As a group we came to generate our own recurring figures, themes, and symbols. Off the top of my head I recall encountering numerous blue dinosaurs and flying puffins, among other intriguing creatures.

In thinking about this now, I am wondering why I haven't done this activity with any of my current high school students.

Anglophile said...

good idea! i will let you know how it turns out! thanks.

Amy said...

That sounds like a WONDERFUL project for poetry. I'll have to keep this idea in mind for when I have my own classroom next year. Excellent! :-)

Mr. B-G said...

Thanks. I'd definitely be curious to know how it turns out, and about any modifications or changes you make to ensure it is as appropriate and beneficial (and enjoyable!) for your students as possible.

Best of luck next year.