Academic journal article English Journal

Research as Creative Practice: Two Metaphors for Teaching and Learning

Academic journal article English Journal

Research as Creative Practice: Two Metaphors for Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

-Herbert Gerjuoy1

In June and September of 2014, we collaborated with teachers from local high school districts whose students make up a significant percentage of incoming first-year students at Arizona State University, our home institution. Our collaboration is ongoing. More than any other topic of conversation, research-how we define it and how we teach it-captured our collective attention at our recent meetings. Across pedagogical and institutional differences, a strong consensus emerged that developing best practices of teaching research mattered beyond academic success. We take as axiomatic in the following pages that to realize the ideals of democratic education many of us espouse and that led many of us to teaching careers in the first place, instruction in research must create opportunities for students to integrate academic pursuits with their own interests and passions. Research, as Arjun Appadurai defines it, "is an essential capacity for democratic citizenship" (176). And as Nadia Behizadeh argued in the pages of English Journal last year, democratic principle demands that the issues, problems, and questions students bring to the table be at the center of the English language arts (ELA) curriculum (100-01).

Our efforts to align approaches to research instruction across our institutions have been spurred and potentially threatened by the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), rebranded locally as the Arizona Standards for College and Career Readiness. To be sure, there is reason to believe that the "standards movement" might potentially close down opportunities for studentdriven inquiry and the rich, messy social and intellectual idiosyncrasy it entails (Behizadeh; Gilbert; Heller). Without ignoring the thorny problems regarding the pedagogy and politics of the CCSS, we submit that by the letter of its mandate, the CCSS articulates principles around which secondary and postsecondary English teachers can pragmatically rally. The suggested instructional route of intellectual "independence," in the language of the CCSS, prescribes "short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem." Along this trajectory, students are further expected to "narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject" (ELAS, Writing Standard, 6-12, 11-12.W.8). Though this is no mean feat, as we might all attest, it fairly states postsecondary expectations.2 More importantly, it articulates the kind of capacity that students will need to participate fully in our 21st, post-i ndustrial, globalized century.

We propose two metaphors for research that can powerfully orient curricular design and instruction: geography and conversation. We argue that these metaphors can be deployed as generative heuristics for structuring curricula that challenge and support students through a transition from passive to active learning. Along the way, we offer scaffolding-the bones of exercises and assignments-for the teaching and learning of research. Before we introduce these metaphors, we offer an overview of the paradigmatic shift we hope to enact.

Shifting the Paradigm: research Creates Knowledge

Students often have a truncated notion about what constitutes research for an academic paper. Research, for many secondary and postsecondary students- certainly in our first-year writing courses (FYW)- entails gathering information to support claims, claims based on received knowledge or at least claims articulated without critical reflection. Perhaps this is not surprising since so much of their educational experience is with providing well-known answers to well-f ormed questions rather than constructing questions and searching the chaotic terrain of the unknown. As well, developmental factors may constrain our students within binary thinking that makes the open-ended and messy process of critical inquiry seem unnecessary or irrelevant. …

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