Wednesday, June 29, 2005
A CALL FOR A RETURN TO TERM PAPERS
It’s hard to imagine how secondary schools justify the fact that students are expected to do so much less serious research and report-writing these days.
It’s pretty sad to contemplate the valid complaints of most secondary-level teachers, that they don’t have time to teach students how to write a solid, lengthy thesis any more – but somehow or another, their administrations believe they have time to coach swimming for more than 20 hours a week, or fulfill other extracurricular functions that no one would dare say are more important than the traditional curricular ones, including expository writing.
When is this going to change? When enough people demand that writing be taken more seriously from 7th grade on up. You don’t have to take hours and hours, and write thousands of words, to express this point. A courteous note to your school board will do.
Kids Don’t Write As Much Today – So What?
Q. What’s all the fuss about kids not knowing how to write more than a few words at a time any more? Can’t they express themselves even more with all the other media they use today?
Despite the advantages of computers and other technology that make written expression far easier than the days of the inkwell, mimeos and white-out paint, the average word count produced in assignments by a typical high school student today is minuscule compared to yesteryear.
Consequently, students aren’t getting the deep, analytical, quality thinking skills that are polished with term paper assignments any more.
In 2002, with a grant from the Albert Shanker Institute, The Concord Review commissioned a study of the state of the history term paper in United States high schools. According to that group’s website, 95% of the teachers interviewed said term papers were important or very important, 82% never assign a 5,000-word paper, and 63% never assign a 3,000-word research paper.
Taken together with studies that show high school students spending less than three hours a week on homework, it seems most probable that the majority of high school students in this country now leave without having done a serious research paper, and perhaps without having read one nonfiction book.
But the reason isn’t that today’s students don’t need the skills that come with serious report-writing, including how to narrow down your hypothesis, choose the best evidence, organize a lot of material, achieve perfection in the use of writing conventions, and create a conclusion fully supported by the research.
The reason is that teachers say they do not have enough time to assign, coach and evaluate research papers, even though it takes a lot less time than varsity sports participation.
Quality private schools do expect their students to learn to write research papers and teachers are given small classes so that they can work on papers with students, and have the time to assess them. But that’s a relatively small number across the U.S.
Homework: Read The Concord Review’s study, “The State of the Term Paper,” on www.tcr.org/tcr/institute/stateofthetermpaper.pdf
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