Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tips for Teaching the White Rose Essay in Middle School

I have found that my middle school students (I teach 8th grade advanced) have a very hard time with a research paper when they have unlimited sources, like the internet.  Last year, I decided to narrow their sources down to a very small set.  I found this to be remarkably successful, and much easier on my end as well.  Here are some things I did:

·       Before we ever looked at the documentsfrom MCHE, I taught them the basic information they needed to know about the topic we were covering. 
o   I tried to break down the topic as much as I could to help them understand the events leading up to and the historical context of the event or situation.
o   I printed off articles from USHMM and created guided notes pages for them.  They read the articles knowing what they were supposed to learn from them and completed the guided notes both in class and for homework.
o   They had to complete the notes in order to move on in the project. 
o   These website pages became part of every student’s works cited page, since I knew every one of them at least learned information from the handouts.
·         While my students have a hard time with the vastness of the internet, they also have a hard time finding a book that works for their topic and then trying to glean only the information they need out of the book.  Therefore, I had them all use the same book as their print source.  I borrowed a class set of “Tell Them We Remember” from MCHE.  This is a great, simple resource created by USHMM.  I had the kids use the book to add at least 10 facts about the topics we had already covered in class.  This also was added to every student’s works cited page.  

Once we had this base information covered, I then introduced the actual White Rose topic.  I went through and showed them the various documents they could use.  *With this year’s topic, I may not give them ALL of the documents, as some of them are perhaps a little too graphic or over their heads at this age.  Or, I may only give them parts of some documents.
They then were able to choose the documents they wanted to use and begin the note taking on those documents.  Again, I gave them guided notes pages so they knew what they were trying to get out of each one.

After we had all of our notes gathered, they then chose the specific person’s story they were going to use.  I only gave them the websites from MCHE, but this is where they went online and did some exploring.  I gave them a more generic guided notes page that worked for all of the stories.
Once they had all of their information gathered, I gave them an outline to follow for their essay.  I allowed those who were comfortable and capable to veer from the outline, but most students stuck with the basic format of:
o   Intro paragraph, ending with a thesis statement.
o   Paragraphs explaining the historical situation, including in-text citations
o   A paragraph about the specific story they researched
o   Their final paragraph, addressing part B of the essay and concluding the paper
I have also found that works cited and MLA format is quite difficult at this age.  So I made a works cited page for all of them. 
o   I included all of the internet sources and the book sources that we all used.
o   I included all of the documents that we studied and all of the choices for the personal stories. 
o   The kids uploaded the document from our server and saved them for themselves.  Then the cut out the documents and the personal stories that they didn’t use.  They were left with the actual sources they did use and it was already formatted and in alphabetical order.  This saved time on both their parts and mine when grading.
Once the first draft was typed, I had them turn them in.  I didn’t read them, however.  I attached a personal editing sheet for them to go through and check for the common mistakes kids make.
I actually read their second drafts and gave feedback.  I didn’t edit them though.  This cut down on time grading.
I then read their final draft for their grade.

By following these steps, I ended up with papers that were much better than the years before, on the whole.  While I did find that they were all quite a bit alike, the structure and formatting made them better quality papers.  I made sure they learned the objectives from our curriculum, like good research techniques, note taking, what a works cited contains and how to do in text citations.  But I made it so that they were able to be successful without learning a hundred new skills on top of that.  It was much less stressful for all of us!