At the start of my US history classes today, I handed each student a different history book. They guessed a variety of reasons I was doing it – to help them with citations, to look at authors and publishing dates, to help them with their research papers, to read as a break from their research papers, to practice writing annotations. They were locked in on the fact that the Annotated Bibliography is the next phase of their research paper, with preliminary research questions due today.
They were wrong. I asked them to find the Acknowledgment section and read it. We talked about how the author still had claim to the work but enlisted the support and expertise of others along the way. I asked them to talk about the type of help that is appropriate and what goes too far. They talked about sharing sources, giving moral support, and helping with grammar and spelling as okay. We also decided it was fine to share information.
The research paper is an important part of the US history curriculum, but it is too easy for students to isolate themselves. I want them to practice the real world skills of consulting with others and getting feedback, testing their ideas out as they are forming them, and asking for help when they need it. One student pointed out that it would be too much to have someone edit your sentences; we decided that leaving comments on a Google Doc is okay, but editing is not. In the end, the decisions and responsibility fall with the author.
I plan to give them class time to work in small groups talking about their research and providing some guidance to one another. My goal today was to open their minds to this sort of collaboration. I have done the small group sharing in the past, but often kids see it as something to get through so they can get back to work. I want them to value the conversations as part of their work.
This is a gray area for students, but it seems really important. Their work will be stronger if they share it out. Being the person with the knowledge to share is a valuable experience as well. My hope is that by taking them into the gray area of consulting with others, they will feel better about the final product they can produce. On one level, it takes them closer to the line of academic integrity, but at the same time, giving them the permission to seek help from a variety of places gives them an incentive to operate honestly.
They asked if they would have to include an Acknowledgment page with their paper. I do think that I want to have them include on as part of their final reflection if not as part of the paper.