Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let's get these topics down to manageable size

As of right now, many of you have some ideas about a topic for the final paper, but I'm noticing that your topics are quite broad. In many cases, too broad that I think it will be difficult for you to write a focused essay to meet the requirements of the assignment. Remember, this is not a research paper like you did in 9th grade. You decide the topic, the purpose, and the audience.

As we have talked about all year, one of the most crucial aspects of the writing process is developing an idea for writing. Put some time and effort into that, and the writing part will come much easier. This is a large writing project and one in which you cannot afford to waste too much time researching unnecessarily.

Your next assignment, then, will be to start to narrow the focus of your essay. Use your blogs to write/reflect on the following prompts in a blog due by Tuesday.

Why does this topic need to be written about? What type of audience will be reading your essay? Why would they read it? In other words, what new and interesting angle are you bringing to the topic? Where will you get your information?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mr. Miller's model blog post

Note to students: what follows is a sample blog entry I wrote as if I was assigned the same prompt you have been assigned. I attempted to answer the same questions asked of you and respond in a way you have been asked to respond. 390 words by the way. Imagine that!

As I thought about a topic to investigate, many ideas crossed my mind. I'm interested in the emerging web 2.0 technology that allows such rich interaction and collaboration via the internet. As I was skimming through some blog posts about using new technology, I found a blog called Students 2.0, which is run by student bloggers, for other students. Sounded kind of interesting. There was this posting on it called Plagiarism: Not Quite As Simple As It Seems by a student from New York. In her posting, she discusses the different challenges that both students and teachers encounter in terms of plagiarism. What struck me is that some of the questions she raised about plagiarism and how to define it are just as difficult for students as they are for teachers. And in many cases, the definition is just plain murky.

The student writes about how she finds herself "staring at the computer screen, unsure on whether I can copy my AP Environmental Science textbook’s definition of biodiversity or if I needed to paraphrase. Do I even know how to paraphrase that term when the textbook’s definition seems to leave no room for a more direct explanation? Teachers always tell students to reword things they write, but what if the student can’t think of another way to reword what they want to say? In this incidence, sheer laziness isn’t the factor behind it."

She goes on to say that copying word for word is inexcusable - as all students should know - and that both teachers and students should know that "technology works both ways." Teachers can use online plagiarism software or even just Google as easy as kids can cut and paste from the internet. I know I have regularly used to detect plagiarism. With so much information available, what exactly is the best way to deal with it?

Anyway, her ideas got me thinking about the topic, and I think I'd like to write my paper on plagiarism. How has the internet altered the way plagiarism is detected? What are current plagiarism policies at colleges and what other issues have arisen with the new technology? I thought I had heard about a student suing a school over using, so maybe there are some court cases or other information I could pursue.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Getting started, finding a topic

Probably the hardest part about starting a writing project is coming up with a topic. There are thousands - even millions - of places to find information, but without a focus for your project all of that is not too helpful. Your first step, then, is to try to narrow down your topic a bit. Look through some of the following resource sites.

This site is a search engine search designed to help you depending on what step of the process you are in. Are you looking for a topic, or do you need to redefine and narrow your topic? Try this site first and explore several different places.

The next two sites are organized around topics that you might be interested in. Browse through and try to come up with some ideas. The VLRC Directory and the a list of Hot Topics.

Another option is looking through Teen Ink, either online or in class, for topics that other high school students are writing about.

By tomorrow, you need to post an entry to your blog that deals with your efforts to find a topic. What are you going to write about? Why? What made you come to that decision? What was your thought process? What resources did you explore to help you come to that decision?

In your posting, remember to include a hyperlink to any sources you mention or cite. Make your links part of your sentence writing, as I do above. Good luck.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A culminating project in Writing the Essay

As a longterm project in Writing the Essay, you are assinged to write a longer informative essay about a school-related topic of your choice. This writing project, which is expected to take until the end of the semester, will be completed in addition to the other essay assignments in the class. It will be due in January.

The purpose of your essay is to explore your selected topic in depth by looking at different facets or components of it and explaining how it is relevant for high school students today. In a sense, you are writing a magazine article geared towards a teenage audience.

The assignment will involve several steps. At its most simple level, we will follow the process outlined below:
  • First, you will brainstorm different ideas and select a topic.

  • Next, you will research several sources and take notes on relevant information.

  • Then, you will decide on a focus and organization for your essay.

  • Then, you will begin writing your essay, sharing parts of it with the rest of the class and me on a regular basis through your blog.

  • Finally, you will write your completed essay.
On top of the writing aspect, this assignment will also provide us the opportunity to use 21st century research tools, online resources, and collaboration methods. This involves setting up a personal blog to act as a central clearinghouse for your work; using a social bookmarking tool to share your findings as you go along; searching through online resources more comprehensive and valuable than simple web searches; posting your work online to invite regular feedback on your efforts.

Your blog will serve as a major component of this project, both as a way to compile your research and to showcase your work.