Friday, January 16, 2015

Task 1: Ideas for Research Project - Establishing a High School Writing Center

This week, we're beginning to think about research topics. I've been fearing this class because I do not consider myself a natural researcher, but it's nice to have the opportunity to brainstorm a bit and get feedback from my classmates. The questions that were posed - meant to help us brainstorm - were quite extensive, but this was the start of it:

The object of this assignment is to write down your ideas for the research project that you want to work on. We often have many ideas, but we don't have much experience putting these ideas into writing and then actually completing an applications project. The readings that you are doing for Module 1 should prepare you to think critically about the research that you are interested in, and what methods you will use to approach your research project. Your project has to show that you understand specific theories within the general area of Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies, and that you can apply these theories to your project.

When you post your ideas to the discussion forum, you need to consider the rhetorical situation explained by Bitzer (exigency, audience, constraints). You can use much of this information for the starting point of your proposal.

What would you like to work on (topic)? This is usually a broad idea that is of interest to you.

My having wandered into a writing center at a large state university in New York is what inadvertently led me to a career in teaching, and I still maintain an interest in writing centers. Yet because I also have a background in secondary education, with a focus on English/Language Arts, I would like to find a way of combining research on writing centers with secondary schools. As such, my research interests for this project are focused on establishing a writing center in a secondary school, especially in the area in which I live. I don’t know if there are many – or any – writing centers that have been established in Utah.

This past September, I started teaching English part time at a semi-local charter school. (The school is located in another county, about 20 miles south of where I live.) Having started a few weeks after the school year had begun, there was not much time to prepare or collaborate with my departmental colleagues. The student population is one that struggles; it’s an extremely conservative area, one in which traditional gender roles are promulgated, and one in which many parents don’t have advanced levels of education. (Many parents have graduated from high school; many have not. Some of attended college, and some have graduated, but many have not.) As such, the students aren’t taught to see the necessity of a post-secondary education. (Not necessarily college – any type of post-secondary education.)

Shortly after I started teaching, word came down from on high that we were to become a “writing school.” No one was quite sure what that meant, or how this was to be achieved, but it was desired that we would become known to be a “writing school.” There is no writing center; I do not believe there has ever been one. I am not sure that there would be funds for one.

Given that I do have a background in writing centers and rhetoric and that I teach first year composition at the local community college, I volunteered to run a writing lab two or three times a week for an hour after school, but nothing ever came of it, and the urgency in which we were to become a “writing school” has since been dropped. Yet I would like to know if there is a real need for a writing center at a school like the one in which I teach. I believe there is a connection between strong writing and post-academic success – not necessarily or specifically post-high school/college, but a connection between strong writing and clear thinking. I would like to establish a writing center at my high school because I think it could help the student population, and I would like to do some preliminary research to determine if this would be feasible financially.

There are many parts of this in which I would welcome feedback from as many people as who are willing to give it. I’m not sure how much more specific I should be or need to be when it comes to my research, or which specific aspects I should explore – if the research is too broad, or too narrow, or if there are points I’m missing (or some combination thereof, etc.). I believe that the audience that would benefit from my research are, of course, first and foremost the student population, because they would be the ones being helped. However, the administration of my school, as well as the school board, would also be a primary audience because they need to see the multiple ramifications of maintaining a writing center, the financial cost, and why a writing center would be extremely beneficial for the student community and the community at large.

I’m not sure which problems I might encounter, and I’m not sure which research methods I’m likely to use yet. I see the necessity for doing some database-driven research to determine how secondary writing centers are formed – I have a basic idea, but of course I am sure there are many issues I have not considered. I suspect I will need to create a survey to distribute, and if so, I would need to request assistance from my English department and Special Education department colleagues, as well as the school administrators. Focusing on these groups specifically could allow me to determine the problems my colleagues might see, and/or determine how a writing center would be helpful – or detrimental – to the student community.

I'm also not sure how of the medium or format of my research; this is something on which I would also welcome feedback. I’m not sure a website or blog would be helpful (unless the blog would allow me to document the research process). Prezi came to mind in terms of ways I could present my findings to the board, but that doesn’t strike me as the best, most professional way to do so – although perhaps it would be acceptable.

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