Listen to your teachers, kids

When I was a senior in high school, I took an English Class that really challenged me as a writer. It was called “Advanced Composition Methods,” but we referred to it as the Writing Center. There were only about twenty students in that class, the majority of them my friends, and we were the best writers who wanted to take the class. We were trained as tutors to provide free lunch-time one-on-one tutoring available to the rest of the student body. But we weren’t allowed to rest on our laurels ourselves. No, besides helping every freshman who needed help with their To Kill a Mocking Bird essay, and every sophomore who needed help with their personal narratives, we were to produce two polished pieces of writing, and a research paper each semester.

The research paper wasn’t the typical kind that you think about, with a stilted omniscient voice that presented itself as an authority. This paper was about a personal quest, about our own personal journeys to seek knowledge. It sounds really hokey, and the majority of us scoffed at that. But the least sentimental teacher who helped coordinate the class said, “No, really, guys. You’ll be writing these papers for the rest of your life, even if you don’t write them down. I have three or four topics that I’m investigating right now, myself.”

Well, Mr. Thompson, you were apparently right. I know I have three or four things that I’m researching right now, trying to understand, trying to put together as I’m trying to become an adult. And the last couple of posts speaks to one of those themes, which I’d like to formalize here as an i-search.

But what does an i-search look like, you ask? I actually had to look it up again, though I still have the two i-searches I wrote back in high school that I could have looked through as a guide. The i-search involves an introduction, where you explore what you know about a topic, and what you want to learn about it, and what your plan is. The “body” of the paper involves many different types of sources, including books, magazine articles, academic articles, interviews, documentaries, and the like. The formalized outline says three different sources for each type of source. I’ve already got the three books sourced that I want to read and talk about in my search, but I also have plans to interview both my mother and my mother-in-law, as well as some of my friends who are mothers. I know of a couple of academic articles I could look at, but I’m willing to see what comes up in the course of my search. Finally, there’s a conclusion, in which I discuss what I’ve learned, and, in my case, what comes next.

I’m a little embarrassed by needing to formalize this like an assignment. I’m reclaiming structures and practices that worked for me in high school, and I’m afraid that it might be an unhealthy coping mechanism. What’s next, me claiming that high school was the best years of my life? But on the other hand, I’m recalling my skills and strengths, and using them to discover myself, go on an intellectual journey, and reach conclusions. I hope you’re up for the ride, dear readers.

Do you guys have any research projects you’re doing now, floating around in your brain, even if you don’t have to write papers anymore?


3 thoughts on “Listen to your teachers, kids

  1. From where I sit … there’s no need to be embarrassed by this. If the i-search technique works for you as a way to structure your thinking about topics, that’s great. It doesn’t matter when, or where, we learn what we learn. What matters is that we learn it.

  2. Mostly, I treat all of the articles I write for the school paper as research pieces tied in with my own experience. Currently writing one about STI’s and STD’s, but you’ve seen my bits of that, Kate.

    I know that you and I have a lot of opposing political views, but I am getting more into researching those things, too. Politics is a huge subject that is very often the focus of fiction and non-fiction books, along with a lot of other material, facts, statistics, etc.

  3. I totally lean on every learning and mind-organizational technique I’ve ever learned. I do indeed try to formalize my research as much as possible: taking notes while reading a book, putting my own text together with links to my reference material so I don’t lose them…

    Actually, I kind of like giving myself little assignments, especially for work. It kind of gives my mind a specific thing to do, and puts bounds around your exploration: you need to produce this thing, and you know when it’s done.

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