After six years of struggling with the research paper requirement for Comp 1 (conventional topics, paragraphs patchworked to incoherence), I'm trying a new approach, inspired by the format of Harper's Annotation section. (Here's an example that's freely available--there are many with more accessible subject matter, but you can see the basic layout: an image or visual artifact of some sort surrounded by discrete text boxes, aka paragraphs, filled with researched info.)
The traditional argumentative research paper (esp. as a first research assignment), I'm hypothesizing, is much too complex, so I'm separating out argument from research in a developmental sequence that goes something like this (a work in progress this semester still):
- I had students first write a personal essay (btw, if you haven't seen it already, check out Clancy's list of reasons for giving for such an assignment) and then an ethnography.
- Essay 3 is an argument based on personal experience and observation (arguing against the conventional view of an object, activity, abstraction), focusing on clear statement of thesis and cookie-cutterish development pattern of series of reasons each developed into paragraph.
- The Annotation assignment (I encouraged students to select images that tied to their personal interests) will focus on formulating research questions, finding sources, and integrating info into coherent paragraphs (without having to sustain at the same time the thread of an argument). Paragraph coherence seems to vanish with the argumentative research paper, so I'm hoping the emphasis on paragraphing with these discrete sub-topics will help.
- For the last essay I plan to give pairs of articles that present opposing views (so that I have control of topics, to avoid the too-familiar) and ask students to do a text-wrestling synthesis, with a somewhat scaled down amt. of research to try to reconcile contradictions of fact.
Question(s): What nonargumentative research projects have you used, and how do you think they support students' cognitive development?