Advanced Students Encounter Research Writing at National History Day Contest
Learning to think critically and deeply is an essential skill students must learn to be successful in college and beyond. As an online instructor for All Belong’s advanced middle school honors English courses, I have the privilege of helping young minds develop their critical thinking skills through literature and writing. One of the units we work on each year is research writing. In 6th grade, students begin learning basic research skills such as taking notes, developing introductions and conclusions, and creating appropriate works cited pages. In 7th and 8th grade, the students further develop these skills by distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, thinking critically, and further refining the skills they learned in 6th grade. This past school year, the 8th grade English class entered the National History Day (NHD) research contest as a way to enhance their research writing skills.
Enhancing Writing through Engaging in History
In January, students chose topics to fit with the 2016 NHD theme of Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in history. After much debate, the topics they chose to write on were Allies & Axis: WWII Air Force; Nuclear Energy and its Involvement in World War II; and 19th Amendment Suffragettes: Exploring New Methods of Protests. Once they selected their topics, each student was required to find three primary sources and four secondary sources. Students were challenged to interact with local librarians as they conducted their research.
After the students researched their topics by taking notes, they developed an outline, thesis, and an introduction for their research papers. Using online peer and teacher reviews, students made necessary revisions. Through research and organization, students were rewarded by experiencing the joy of creating a well written paper and accomplishing what they initially thought was an insurmountable goal.
Students wrote their papers through Google Docs, which enabled me as an instructor to work with them and see their progress as they worked through various drafts of their paper. I was impressed by their ability to research, to draw conclusions, and willingness to make necessary revisions to each draft. Thanks to my students, I learned the forms of protest the suffragists explored, the exploration of aircraft during World War II, and the exploration, exchange of information, and the encounter of nuclear energy during WWII. Their final papers were submitted to the NHD judges in the beginning of March.
The Culmination of Hard Work
On March 19 the students involved in the National History Day competition and I, along with some of their parents, met at Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI) for the regional competition. This was an unique opportunity for me as an online teacher to interact with my students and their parents. Each student was interviewed by a NHD judge who had already read through his or her paper. Although the students were a bit nervous for the interview, they all did an excellent job conversing on their topics. Students appreciated the opportunity to participate in the NHD competition and were excited to share what they had learned about their topics with the judges. They acknowledged that the interview process was not as scary as they originally anticipated!
Throughout the year, and specifically with this project, students developed their writing and communication skills, learned how to think critically and to write a historical research paper. I was encouraged by the progress students made this past year and look forward to working with more students again this coming school year.
Kristin Contant is the online courses coordinator for All Belong, where she teaches 6th, 7th, and 8th grade online honors English for advanced middle school students.