Engaging Writers with Multigenre Research Projects: A Teacher's Guide
reviewed by Timothy Wells & Mirka Koro-Ljungberg - July 26, 2016
Title: Engaging Writers with Multigenre Research Projects: A Teacher's Guide
Author(s): Nancy Mack
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807756857, Pages: 128, Year: 2015
Search for book at Amazon.com
Thinking of writing as one way to express and explore oneself across different genres generates many possible learning opportunities across educational contexts. This is the case with Nancy Macks short but stimulating Engaging Writers with Multi-Genre Research Projects: A Teachers Guide that introduces the author's pedagogical ideas concerning teaching and multigenre research. With 10 similarly structured chapters covering topics like brainstorming ideas to constructing narratives, organization, and referencing, the book is tightly packed with Macks thoughts on writing in research contexts. Engaging Writers resembles professional development literature that educators often encounter with its readable prose and pedagogical practicality.
This informative text is meant for teachers and includes lesson ideas, activities, and internet resources. Mack shows how students can turn their research findings into crafts such as fact wheels and scrapbooks. She also includes fun ways for students to explore mundane grammar rules and practice revision skills. Mack includes Common Core Standards correlating with her pedagogical ideas and writing activities at the back of the book and this is one of the most helpful features.
Although filled with mini lessons, teaching strategies, and resources designed to develop researching skills, the books purpose is less about research based best practices than strategies learned from time in the classroom. Mack hopes to share more widely what . . . [she has] learned about the benefits of multigenre research writing with students who are preparing to teach as well as teachers already in classrooms (p. 6). Although not explicitly stated and somewhat confusing given the broadly defined subtitle, Mack intends for the book to be used by middle school and secondary teachers as the standards she references only begin with sixth grade. Fewer anecdotes, more theory to structure her ideas and research, and literature references to support her strategies and suggestions would have increased the applicability and usability of this text beyond secondary school toward higher education.
Engaging Writers is not a scripted writing program nor does it provide anything in the way of a curriculum map. Mack does not recommend a linear reading of the text by suggesting readers leaf through the book and see what might be useful before . . . [tackling] it from front to back (p. 9). After leafing through and reading from front to back we prefer leafing through. As opposed to following a sequential plan with units and lessons, teachers will have to piece together mini lessons and insert activities into their own writing curriculum, which can be productive, generative, and build upon a teachers responsibility and pedagogical autonomy. However, some teachers experience current writing curriculum as a structured and tightly packed pedagogical system. Many educators do not have three weeks let alone three months to take on a research activity or scholarly inquiry. This leads to several questions. How could this educational paradox and pedagogical dilemma be addressed in this book? How could this text be adopted to a more structured curriculum structure? How could some of these ideas be inserted more subtly into pre-described lesson plans? Who knows how this book will be used by educators across diverse educational contexts?
Some of the conversations in the book unfortunately are cut short or left out; the biggest example is the research question that largely goes unaddressed. For example, Mack has great ideas on directing student interest and brainstorming topics but offers little in the way of developing systematic or scholarly research questions to guide students inquiries. A more informed and systematic approach to identifying research problems and dilemmas, choosing data collection and analysis tools, and disseminating findings and insights among diverse audiences could be useful in extending the pedagogical practices presented in this book.
This book serves well as a conversation starter in our opinion. Research projects, interdisciplinary inquiries, participant, and context specific research approaches are often superficially addressed in schools. Mack instead pushes teachers to take student research and critical thinking more seriously and encourages expanded conceptions of research and writing. As a doctoral student and professor of education and research methodology, we find this book inspires us to think critically about our pedagogical practices, promotes a dialogue among teachers and students, and prompts many questions and lines of future inquiry. In the following we share some parts of our dialogue that took place while reading this text and thinking through Macks ideas.
WHY ENGAGE IN MULTIGENRE RESEARCH PROJECTS AS A SCHOLAR OR SCHOLAR ACTIVIST?
Tim: In reading this book, I often thought about multiple intelligences, which reminded me that we learn and obtain information in multiple ways. This thinking could also be translated into research across approaches, genres, and disciplines. Diverse and complex inquiry questions call for various ways of knowing and inquiring. Mack moves her students beyond the traditional written report as her learners work often included visual and auditory components. Expanding our modes of representation makes sense as our world expands beyond the written word to include image, sound, digital formats, material, and video. If Macks students can do it and our society writ large is doing it why are educational and sociological researchers not doing it?
HOW DO YOU CONCEPTUALIZE RESEARCH, INQUIRY, OR WONDERINGS?
Mirka: Much of contemporary research, inquiry, and wonderings cannot be simply described or strictly characterized. For example, qualitative research might only be described through its use and practice since the qualitative research community presents a large spectrum of different theoretical perspectives, methodologies, and methods. Research traditions are in flux and often respond to changing cultural and historical movements. As a result, research methods and analytical approaches do not exist in a vacuum; rather, they are theoretically grounded and applied within particular theoretical frameworks. Furthermore, well designed qualitative studies often build on epistemological consistency across theoretical perspectives, research questions, and research methods. In addition, answers to many research questions could be seen as multiple beginnings, new entry points, or as an entrance to the ongoing dialogue not as an end to the inquiry.
HOW COULD THIS BOOK BE REWRITTEN TO BE MORE SUITABLE FOR A VARIETY OF AUDIENCES (E.G., HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE LEVELS)?
Tim and Mirka: The books audience is highly specific taken at its face value. Though teachers could adapt most of the ideas to different grade levels from primary school to college, the activities in the book most directly connect to middle school teachers and students. To make this book more adaptable to a variety of audiences, Mack could have done multiple things. For example, she could have provided more direct connections between varying levels of Common Core Standards, pedagogical ideas, and suggestions. She also might have centered scholarly inquiry and used methodology literature throughout the book to draw parallels to scholarly practices; many of the presented ideas are not new but already used in scholarly inquiry and practice. In addition, she could have introduced projects that keep building, continuing, and expanding across different grades and skill levels. Finally, she could have been less assertive and more tentative in her conclusions and suggestions. What might work for one class, group, or learner might be less effective and desirable for another.
Can a critic speak with authority unbound from convention?
Does transparency couple with style?
What about reliability? Does validity matter?
Can creativity venture too far? Is it ever too late to use creativity in writing and inquiry?
What about genre blurring?
Tell me, can poetry play with research or is it forbidden? Or hidden?