English 303Z
Fall, 1997
Instructor: Robert Yagelski


Guidelines for the Inquiry Project



Overview

Since the beginning of the semester, we have been reading, writing, and talking about issues in education. We have shared and talked and thought about our experiences in schools; we have discussed a variety of problems in education; and we have considered the perspectives of theorists who hold various views about education. The inquiry project described here is intended to help you bring this work together. Its purpose is to encourage you to explore in a more careful and critical way than you have in previous assignments an issue or problem or question in education that interests or troubles you. Further, it is intended to encourage you to imagine how you might actively address that problem through writing and reading. And, finally, it is intended to encourage you to think about how writing functions as participation in discourses--such as the discourse on education reform--that might affect our lives.

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Your Research Question or Problem

The first step is to think about what interests or angers or troubles or excites you most about the kinds of issues we have been discussing in class. If you think about this as just another writing assignment, it will likely become boring for you and for the rest of us. Rather, think about this assignment as an opportunity to address an issue in education that truly matters to you. It's helpful to think about this issue or problem in terms of a question that you try to answer by doing the project. For example, in past semesters students have often discussed the idea of a canon in English studies. One possible question for this project might be something like, "Is there a need for a canon in English studies?" Or, "What constitutes the canon in English studies today?" Your project would be an attempt to find answers to the question.

But you can also think about the question in terms of a problem in education that you'd like to solve. For instance, students often write about racism in education. You might formulate a question like this: "What can be done to combat the effects of racism in schools?" Obviously, that's a big question that many people have tried to solve. But you can define the problem as narrowly as you think is appropriate. For example, you might focus on a specific school--SUNY at Albany or Albany High School--and how the problem manifests itself there. Your solution could thus focus on what can be done at that particular school.

Another option you have for the Inquiry Project is to participate in writing, editing, designing, and publishing the Writing Sequence Newsletter. See The Newsletter Option for the Inquiry Project.

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Form or Genre

The second step is to imagine what sort of form your project might take. If you'd like, you can write a standard academic paper that explores your question, using appropriate sources (a topic I'll return to below). And that's fine. But you need not limit yourself to a standard academic paper. You can imagine any sort of text that seems appropriate for the question you are posing.

For example, let's return to the example of racism, which I mentioned above. Let's assume you posed the question, "How does racism affect student learning?" Let's assume further that you decided to focus on Albany High School. Your project might ultimately be a report that you would submit to the principal there. Or it might take the form of a series of pamphlets that are intended for parents and teachers. Or it might become a handbook intended for students. The point is that the form your project finally takes should be suitable to the question and problem you'd like to address.

Some other possibilities for the Inquiry Project:

These are not suggested topics; rather, they are examples of the kinds of projects you might engage in for this assignment.

One other important option for this project is to engage in some kind of community service learning activity for which you would write a document or perform some service for a state or non-profit agency. The Writing Sequence has connections with several dozen such organizations for which you would perform some service. The only requirements for this course are (1) that the project involve a significant amount of writing, and (2) that it be connected in some way to education. See me if you'd like to discuss this option.

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Gathering Information and Data

It's important to keep in mind that the research you do for this project will depend upon the question you're trying to answer and the kind of text you want to create. For instance, let's say you're doing a pamphlet for parents about the new state standards. Obviously, you first need to get a copy of the standards. You might also visit the state department of education in Albany and gather relevant materials there, and you might interview one of the people in the education department who are responsible for implementing the new standards. You might also speak with some local teachers and ask them what these standards will mean in the classroom. r you might talk with a professor of education here at SUNY. In addition, you could look at the English curriculum of a local school and examine how it might change with the new standards. You might talk to a school board member to get her or his perspective. And you might visit the library to find some general materials on English curriculum reform. In short, you are not limited to conventional library sources for this project. Use whatever sources will help you explore and answer your question.

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Rules, Nuts and Bolts, Etc.

Here are some guidelines you'll need to follow as you complete your project:

In addition, you'll need to complete the following steps:

Please Note: If you don't complete these steps, I reserve the right to refuse to accept your project.

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Schedule for the Project

Proposal due Thursday, November 6
Draft due,
Conferences held
Weeks of November 17, 24
Peer Responses completed Friday, November 21
Final Version due Tuesday, December 2

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