Another pitfall each year is the widespread plagiarism. Whether it's blatant or unintentional, plagiarism occurs far too frequently. Even with careful instruction and clear models, only a handful of students prove to be effective at giving credit to their sources, at incorporating borrowed information in their papers seamlessly, and at incorporating their own thoughts or drawing conclusions based on their research. It was here that another fellow, Mike Larson, introduced me to his alternative to the traditional research paper.
For this project, which Larson called The Living History, his students combined research and history to create a written description of a historical event as if they their narrators had taken some part in or witnessed the event as it happened.
The paper was to be written in first person and approached from the perspective of the character, real or imagined, recalling the event in the past tense. One restriction was that the character could not be a major player in the event. At first I was somewhat skeptical, as I am sure many who read this may be, about whether I could break away from tradition, meet the required standards, and work this assignment into my tightly packed curriculum. The more I listened, however, the more I saw the potential.
Within the parameters of Mike Larson's ninety-minute demonstration, I was given a taste of what this writing experience would be like for my freshman students. Each of us in the institute was given one of four topics; mine was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Prior to his demonstration, Larson had asked each of us to research and gather facts about our topic. After Larson presented an overview of this assignment, we collaborated with others in our group who shared the same topic.
Our task was to compare and pool our resources, allowing us to add additional information others had found to our own research. Then each of us was asked to take the information and embed it into a first-person narrative of someone who had lived through our particular event.
Suddenly a news report I remembered hearing during the time the Wall actually fell came to mind, and I decided to use it as the basis for my story. The report told of an East Berlin woman who made it a point to cross the Wall to meet the West Berlin baker she had seen set up his shop every day from her apartment window for the past twenty-three years. She, I decided, would be the jump-off point for my narrator, and with that I began to write. I could envision my students having fun doing this exercise while incorporating the essential skills of a researcher.
While my initial paper was quite short, owing to time constraints, I really enjoyed the experience and felt it was loaded with potential to use in my own classroom. I could envision my students having fun doing this exercise while incorporating the essential skills of a researcher: The transition to this new format, however, was not immediate.
I knew I would have to plan carefully to execute it well and meet my students' needs. In a graduate course I was taking, I had the chance to develop an extended version of the Berlin scenario, so I was able to face my class with a model for what I hoped they would do. To expedite the process, I provided students with a topic list including both traditional and contemporary events in history that I thought would excite their interest: By far the most popular topics from the list were Columbine and famous military battles.
Students also had the freedom to select their own topics if the topics fit the assignment's criteria. I was pleased with the unexpected and highly engaging topics they submitted: The students had equal success with both traditional historical topics and more contemporary historical events.
Allowing them the choice to veer away from topics with a more traditional place in historical research was essential to their engagement in the process and ultimately contributed to the success of their research and writing. I conjectured that a big part of students' success with this project would be determined by their choice of an appropriate narrator. So with Larson's permission I used one of his worksheets to help kids select the point of view from which to tell the story and determine how that choice would ultimately influence the information that could and could not be included.
The worksheet asked key questions: What is the narrator's age? Why is the person telling the story? What was he or she doing just before the event happened? How does the person feel about the event? And what has happened to the narrator since the event took place? During my instruction, I also had students assist each other by brainstorming—both in small groups and as a class—potential narrators for each student's selected topic.
It was exciting to listen as they discovered the possibilities. The table below gives a small sampling of the ideas students generated during these sessions. Following Larson's lead, I required that students include a minimum number of facts in their story—I settled on twenty. Further, I wanted students to realize that while their story was original, the information they used was not their own.
So I had them include endnotes crediting the sources of their facts. This not only taught them about documentation; it also made it much easier for me to monitor the number of facts they included. When I initially announced that we would begin our research project, the usual groans of despair filled the room.
However, after I explained that I intended to try something different, the mood changed. I heard murmurs of "Sweet," "Cool," and "Awesome"; some students even clapped when they heard that they could be creative and still be involved in research.
In my nine years of teaching, that was a first! The engagement my students demonstrated with this assignment was evident in the quality of their stories. Even more revealing was the quality of the insights they shared in the required cover letter. The combination of researching and creating an original story was very appealing to them. I had successfully achieved one of my goals: Many shared Lawrence's perspective: Some shining examples of quality research resulted. Perhaps the best paper came from Aaron, who not only chose to write about the invasion of Normandy, but also took an unusual slant by using a German soldier as his narrator.
His account begins when a German soldier intercepts portions of a radio broadcast of what he believes to be a speech by General Eisenhower rallying his troops for the upcoming battle. The radio operator was saying "It sounds like they're planning an invasion. They aren't serious, are they? Of anyone in the nd Division, he was by far the most confident about the strength of the Atlantic Wall and its designer, Oberbefehlshaber Rundstred.
And that big barbwire mound. They'd have to get past that! And if they did, well, they'd still have to get past those trenches outside, then up 30 meters up the cliffs. They don't stand a chance. At that moment there came the muffled sound of an explosion in the distance; Rudolf fell silent. It came again, and again, closer and closer. A second later, the entire bunker was shuttering under the impact of what had to be a bomb. What was going on? We made our way into the bomb shelter on level ground.
My entire battalion was down there. We waited for hours while the bombs continued dropping. Akaim managed to get a radio working; we received reports that this was happening all along the Wall. It had to be about five in the morning before we noticed the barrage had stopped. We were so relieved. About a half an hour after we had resurfaced Rudolf gave a sudden intake of breath. He handed me the binoculars and directed me towards the horizon.
I dropped the specs over the side of the bunker out of shock. Aaron goes on to relate the eventual defeat of the German army. His narrative is loaded with facts that include the designer of the wall, the weaponry, the landscape, the German trench system along the beach, known as Widerstandnesters, and the time frame. One specific fact Aaron uncovered really sticks out to me as an example of "stuffing" his account with detail that was accurately researched.
He discovered that a pair of Ranger scouts disabled the artillery at Point du Hoc with thermite grenades that melted the mechanisms used to fire the guns, rendering them useless. As the narrator's situation deteriorates, this is how he relays this information:. The radio sounded off behind Akaim. As he checked it, his faced paled. It didn't matter, though. The guns are useless, and the scouts have disappeared.
Some students came upon intriguing and significant historical problems as they researched and developed their narratives. Zhiyun wrote about the Trail of Tears, the Indian removal that took place in the s. One problem she encountered was that many of the first-hand accounts she found were very biased. As I started to research, I realized that most of the first-hand accounts came from an American point that was severely slanted against the Indians. I realized that there were very few accounts from white men sympathetic to the Indians.
Thus, my narrator was born. He was to be a soldier directly involved in the removals but with a pro-Cherokee point of view. Here the narrator, who is awaiting his own hanging, explains to the audience his reasons for killing two American soldiers in an attempt to save an Indian family from a savage beating:.
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