Freshmen at ODA learn the intricacies of obtaining and documenting research through a unique approach.
Several years ago, Miss Alyssa Mandel, ODA’s Director of Library Services for Middle & Upper School and Writing Center Director heard a presentation by Ms. Christina Pommer the Library Director at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, about how she teaches the research process to students. Inspired, she adapted the process to work for the students at Out-of-Door.
They discussed how research skills could be taught outside of the typical process of writing an assigned essay. Earlier this year, the editor of School Library Connection (SLC), for whom Miss Mandel has written four articles and presented two webinars, invited her to pitch an article about the NPRPP. Miss Mandel and Ms. Pommer co-authored “Process Apart from Product: Two Not-Really-a-Paper Research Papers” which was published in SLC this month.
Every fall Miss Mandel spends two weeks with all of the 9th grade English classes. Each student picks a different random topic from an assortment she has prepared and spends the next few weeks learning how to use research tools including the ODA library databases, good-quality websites, educational videos, personal interviews, and whatever else their topic requires. The final product is a multi-source annotated bibliography and a thesis statement, what she calls the No-Paper Research Paper Project, or NPRPP.
“So often students have to tackle learning how to write a well-organized and thoughtfully argued essay and figure out how to do research at the same time. This drives kids right into the arms of Google,” said Miss Mandel.
Miss Mandel reports that working in the fall with all freshmen ensures that whatever gets thrown at them, they're ready to research and cite…whether it’s a history essay about religion or an English paper about Shakespeare.
“I hadn’t had any experience with writing a research paper before now, so learning these skills is really going to help me,” said Kaitlyn Roman ’25. “Now I know how to navigate the web to find scholarly articles, video content, and magazines that are reliable sources of educational information. I also gained experience in being better with time management through this process. I’ll definitely be able to apply everything I learned to my other classes.”
"There really is no paper in the No-Paper Research Paper Project! The NPRPP gives students the research skills they need to do all the things a paper requires–finding and analyzing different sources and documenting them in a bibliography–except for writing the essay itself,” said Miss Mandel. “That way they can focus on learning how to be discerning researchers, and when the time comes for them to write an essay or do a project, they don't have to learn how to do research at the same time they're tackling a big, important writing assignment worth a large part of a semester grade.”
The ultimate goal of the NPRPP is for students to focus on learning how to correctly conduct research. Having these skills in their toolbelt will serve them well at ODA and beyond.
“When the time comes to write an essay or do a project, they won't have to learn how to do research at the same time they're tackling an important writing assignment worth a large part of a semester grade,” said Miss Mandel. “The No-Paper Research Paper Project is one of the ways I’m trying to fulfill my mission of ensuring that our graduates are prepared for collegiate research.”