No two words in the English language strike quite as much fear in the hearts of high school students as “research paper.” Selective hearing kicks in and the daunting task of writing five, 10 or 13 pages immediately shuts the student down academically, mentally and emotionally. In truth, research papers are just about the easiest writing that a student can do; it literally is paraphrasing, summarizing, and organizing information in such a way that the student can create a coherent piece of communication. Still, it scares the daylights out of them.
As teachers, specifically the teachers who are assigning the research papers, we do all that we can to assuage those fears. We take extra time showing them how to research properly, teaching them options for organizing information, and walking them through outlining and directive research processes so that the burden will be lessened.
So, what should parents be doing to help their students during the research paper process? There are several, seemingly small, but largely impactful strategies that parents can implement at home that will help students become better researchers and writers. Here are just a few of them:Get interested. Talking to your student about the topic of their research paper helps them subconsciously sort through the abundance of information that they are gathering. This exercise, done in the course of conversation at home, can be incredibly helpful at school. Believe it or not, your student cares what you think, and these conversations become subconscious points of reference for them so that during the writing process, they can come back to these conversations and glean the points that they made, isolating the “what matters” from the abundance of information they will garner. Let them be the expert and show it. Encourage your student to tell you what they have learned about their research topic. Ask them a couple of times a week if they have learned anything new or interesting. Let their learning spark your learning; there are documentaries out there about everything. If you as a parent can do a bit of research and find a documentary you can watch with your student, you are supporting them academically, mentally and emotionally. And you are providing your student with another source for the paper itself. Ask them questions. Being able to discuss something during the process of academic research on that topic is absolutely invaluable. It is a confidence builder and goes hand in hand with allowing your student to become an expert on their research topic. Yes, what they are writing about may be out of your wheelhouse, but just knowing that they have support and interest from someone outside of the classroom can boost their interest and their willingness to complete the assignment with less stress. Talk about your writing experiences when you were in high school. Research sources used to be something that was locked away from students, accessible only through an encyclopedia or the dreaded, putrid green catalogs of all articles and information that existed on a certain topic. Remember card catalogs? Remember microfiche? Let them know that they have been given an edge, thanks to the proliferation of technology, that makes research much less daunting than it once was. Consider writing with them. Yeah, right… like you have time to write. But surely, there must be something that you are interested in as a person, that you would like to know more about, right? So turn your interest in forensic criminology or historical documentaries into a way to connect with your student by going through the research process with them. This will open up a dialogue between parents and students that is both encouraging to the student and catalytic to their academic well-being. A nightly conversation in the car comparing notes, sharing information and trying to one-up the other can make the student feel important, encouraged and it can stir their desire to learn more. Talk to their teacher, please. We’re begging you to communicate with us. Not only has the process of research and writing changed thanks to technology, but so has the process of communicating, and they are both good things. Want to know how your student should cite a source? We can email you a link to that. Want to know what voice your student should be writing in? We can explain that in a quick phone call or an email. Reach out to us during this process; let us know what difficulty your student might have, what struggles you are witnessing at home. We are more than ready and willing to help.
Research writing, in reality, is one of the simplest forms of writing that exists, but often seems daunting because there is a big number that comes before the page count and a proliferation of information to be filtered. There will be very little original content in a research paper; the paper itself is one big paraphrased summary of points that have already been proven and argued. But that doesn’t stop students from being nervous and immediately waving the white flag of academic surrender. Do not allow that to happen. Every student has the ability to do this and with a strong school and home support system in place, we will all survive research paper season.
Jami Hunt-Williams is the Mexico High School journalism teacher.