- The first time I remember being excited by the prospect of a research project was in fifth grade. Whereas prior ventures into research had been conducted under strict rules and instructions, this project was something with which we were given greater freedom. I had come across a mention of Japanese internment camps in America during World War II in some historical fiction I was reading, and I realized that this was something I had never heard of before. I was amazed that this piece of history had not been taught to us in school, and I set out on a mission to learn about this topic. The research assignment came right as I had become interested in researching this topic on my own. As I did not yet have a computer or the internet at my home, I had to conduct this research the old fashioned way and scour the library’s card catalog for sources. The books I selected were all from the adult section of the library and I poured over them until I organized my research into a lengthy paper replete with headings and chapters. I felt much more mature and grown up with my assignment than I had in the past. The fact that this was a topic I had discovered on my own and had chosen for myself made me far more interested in it than I would have been had the teacher simply chosen a topic for us.
I had a similar experience once again as a teenager in high school when researching the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that led to the international celebration of Pride each month in June. The fact that my history lessons had never included this event astonished me. Many of the adults in my life at this time were also a bit put off and avoidant of anything related to homosexuality and LGBTQIA+ rights so my interest in this topic gave me a thrilling feeling of rebellion and also an adult feeling of being an independent thinker.
- In regards to the Graf and Kynard readings, I was really intrigued by how Kynard allowed the students to insert their personal experiences into their research projects and how the students became so much more invested in their work. Using personal experience as a source/a text in any kind of academic writing has long been frowned upon and is not traditionally part of this “genre”. I am sure that had I tried to include myself in as a text in my literature papers as an undergraduate and graduate student I would have received a failing mark. This is probably why I found it so much more interesting to take creative writing classes, especially creative nonfiction classes where my exploration of a topic could be connected to my own experience. I also noticed that in my creative nonfiction classes there was a bond that developed between the other students and I as we were sharing parts of our lives with one another. This created a very supportive environment.
I first began teaching at the college level by teaching freshman composition at the CUNY schools Kingsborough and BMCC. At both colleges the first essay assignment was a personal narrative assignment in which students responded to a text by connecting it to their own personal experience. They would include a quote or two from the text to which they were responding, but most of the essay would be them delving into their own experiences using writing that was more creative and descriptive than that which is usually seen in composition courses. With this assignment the students were much more motivated and personally invested in it than they seemed to be with other assignments. I think that allowing for this type of assignment can be beneficial as many students might be fantastic writers, but might just not be familiar with how to approach an academic essay. I saw some really impressive writing come out of this assignment and as an instructor I was much more interested in spending time reading and engaging with the students’ writing than if it had been an assignment where they were more limited in their approach. I also had a similar experience teaching the first essay assignment within Eng 1101co here at City Tech.
One professional writer who successfully merged the worlds of memoir and scholarly writing is Maggie Nelson in her work The Argonauts which explores gender. By inserting herself into the text Nelson creates something that is far more intriguing than it would have been if she had chosen to follow a more traditional route with her research and analysis.
I as a professor am definitely willing to let students take the reins in terms of their research topic as Kynard did, but I am aware that the students will need guidance and will need to follow the necessary steps and assignments in their research project.
I also know that some students prefer to be given a specific assignment and research question and balk when they are given greater freedom. This past semester I gave students an outline to follow along with specific instructions and questions for one of the first writing assignments just to give them practice with how an academic essay is put together. My thinking was that by practicing with an outline they would be able to apply a similar structure to future assignments. However, the following future assignments some students, especially ESL students would request outlines for all of the assignments and specific assignment questions as opposed to just being given a topic and assignment requirements.
Overall, I think it is great to give students the freedom to create their own research topics that apply more directly to their own lives, interests, and professional experiences, however, I do also realize that some students prefer guidance and constraints in terms of assignments.
I am intrigued by Graf’s discussion of how students can use “meta-awareness” when embarking on a research project to help them better evaluate the sources that they choose to use. Having students discuss their decision to use a particular source within their paper can help give them the tools to better develop their own research techniques as opposed to having a professor who simply tells them what to do without making the student part of a discussion.
I think that both Graf and Kynard’s strategies and tools could be very useful with 1101 and 1121 students. However, students will need to be engaged during the duration of the entire course and follow the step by step assignments that lead up to the final research paper. In my experience teaching online this past semester, some students disappeared during the course of the semester and then reappeared the last week of classes to complete and turn in the assignments all at once without doing any of the drafting or reflection assignments. I of course understood these students did not sign up for online classes and that this system was new to them. I also know that many of them were struggling with issues related to the pandemic and the economic recession. I am hopeful that this semester the students will be better prepared to follow all of the necessary steps for the research paper and that I will be able to make sure they are sticking to the research process timeline.