For a history teacher at Potomac, the arrival of spring means research papers and writing instruction. Indeed, both my seventh grade and ninth grade students are in the midst of significant research and writing efforts. For my seventh graders, this means researching and developing a thesis-driven essay about what they believe to be the most important cause of the Civil War. My ninth graders develop a more analytical paper on the influence of humanism on three pre-modern intellectual revolutions: the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. For both my seventh graders and my ninth graders, these writing projects are the culmination of a school year's worth of dedicated effort to growing their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. And while the introduction of these extensive assignments to my classes is inevitably accompanied by groans (and the perennial question: "Wait... how long does it have to be?"), I know the process is inevitably rewarding to my kids, who witness their writing and analytical skills develop significantly over the course of the process.
Research paper season can be stressful for a teacher. For one, it's the most time-intensive unit of the year, as reviewing student work requires extra hours of focused effort. In addition, there's the inevitable stress that comes with giving up some level of control in the classroom. I work to guide students toward strong work, but in the back of my mind, I always wonder, "Are they understanding this? Will everything turn out ok?"
Still, I've found myself reflecting lately about the value of these research and writing projects with regard to both the students and myself. I've come to think that spring research paper time might be my favorite academic season at Potomac. The reasons why I love it so much, I think, goes back to my own schooling. When I was in high school, I thought that writing was a solitary process. I was assigned an essay in class, I wrote it at home, I turned it in, and then I got a grade. In college and graduate school, I came to love writing, in part because I came to see the ways in which writing is an intellectual partnership between teacher and student. Indeed, all of the significant writing projects I've undertaken in higher education have been written in consistent conversation with a valued academic mentor. It is the social aspect of writing - working closely with a respected teacher to challenge myself to grow - that is truly joyful.Now as a teacher, I work hard to provide my students with that same experience of academic partnership in writing. The student always "owns" the work, but by engaging with each student deeply throughout the revision process, I feel that we are on a shared journey to create a piece of writing that showcases each student's creativity, intellect, and powerful writing skills.