Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing the Research Paper--another educational adventure with Ben

Hi, Mrs. Goble--

Here is a more coherent email about Ben's progress on the research paper.

I think I've told you what an 'difficult' child Ben can be.  He's probably, what do you call it, Oppositional-Defiant (?), ADD,  and OCD and most days it's a daily battle just to get him clean, clothed, and properly fed.  Then, we come to school work.  It's kind of amazing that I'm able to push him as hard as I push him to get the grades he gets.  He basically failed the 7th grade at his Brick & Mortar school, so I'm really very pleased with the progress he's made this year.

First of all, we're doing fine with the topic of researching a higher education option.  I know we had talked earlier about having him do last year's topic of researching a legend (Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.), but two things happened:  1) he was looking up fantasy characters like Chuthulu (from HP Lovecraft) and Japanese anime gods and other amazingly obscure (and fictional) stuff....I decided that he needed a dose of reality, rather than more fantasy; 2) after the discussion about what he should DO a legend paper on, I made a second executive decision that I wasn't up to fighting my way through TWO research papers with him.

Second, we've turned in the first form of the first assignment where we listed our sources, the proper MLA form and a description of each source, but we have not turned in the second assignment where we list questions, list the source and write the answers in small boxes.  As you may or may not know, I preview a good number of the lessons and portfolio projects for Ben to try to find ways to approach the project in concrete and linear ways that won't overwhelm Ben (or me).  He gets frustrated with jotting things down on an organizing worksheet and then having to recopy it on an electronic form and then taking the notes and copying it again into research paper language.  It seems redundant and I don't blame him.  Sometimes I am amazed at what he can and can't process.  For example, we were looking at a list of campus organizations and clubs for BSU, and Ben was writing specific clubs HE would be interested in.  That is fine, but what were trying to do is come up with some general, blanket statements about the variety of opportunities for involvement at BSU.  In short, he was unable to look and read and come up with something like, "Ball State has a huge variety of student organizations including the Chess Club, the Anime Club, Belly-Dancing, and Intramural Sports."  It was interesting to see that.

In any case, what I'm getting at here is that neither one of us found the "Brain-Storming:  Research Questions and Notes" form to be useful to the project.  He's very easily frustrated and I didn't want to frustrate him more by trying to complete a form that didn't seem to fit into the flow of what we were doing.  So...I wanted to tell you what we ended up doing, if that is worth anything.

[This is a strategy I learned from the National Urban Association when they came to do a three-year project in IPS.]  Before yesterday's Live Lesson, I had had him make a list of ten questions he wanted to answer during the course of the research.  I copied all of those on to post-it notes.  We then added some questions after sitting through the Live Lesson yesterday.  Then, I had him look at the post-it notes and think generally about what kinds of questions we were asking.  We grouped them into these categories:  What You Need to do to Get Into the College, Basics about the School, What You Can Learn, and Living at College.  We went to the library this morning and proceeded to work on answering the questions one at a time, which he did in paragraph form in a Word document, which can then become a part of his final paper.  Using this strategy, we are now 1/3 of the way done with the entire paper.  I have to say that he and I are very pleased with the progress we've made.  We had fun researching Ball State and picking out some books about careers in animation and film.  It was a great morning.

So...anyway, if you need to count off on the project because we didn't fill out that form, that's fine, but I did want you to know that we learn the skill that the the form was teaching.

Mrs. Goble, thanks for being a good an understanding teacher.  I'm not saying that just so you'll excuse Ben from that paper, but I really do feel grateful to you and to INCA for providing a way for my son to be successful and for me to take an active part in his achievement.  It truly is a daily battle here, but I honestly think that he is making some progress, gaining some skills and so forth.  I don't know yet if college is in is future, but it's heartening to see, every once in awhile, a spark of interest from him in something academic and in his future.  :-)

Christine Schaefer

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