Several instructors have sent follow-up response to the program’s October’s workshop on Sequencing/Scaffolding assignments (see the video of the workshop here), discussing how they use strategies emphasized in that workshop in their own teaching. Below are the comments submitted by instructors Ian Kennedy, Abby Heiniger, and Katrina Newsom.
In our 10/3/2011 workshop on sequencing assignments, something that came up a few times was the idea of playing with scaffolding by moving back and forth between complex tasks and simple tasks, while at the same time sticking to a basic scaffolding trajectory moving from simpler assignments to more complex assignments. I’ve been using this kind of recursive play in 1020 as a way to keep students attuned to the idea of bundling Projects 3, 4, and 5 (the Definition paper, the Evaluation paper, and the Proposal paper, respectively). Specifically, I have students develop prospective thesis statements for Projects 4 and 5 while pre-writing for Project 3. I then have them go back and revise those Project 4 and 5 thesis statements after writing a draft of Project 3. Here’s why:
*I’ve found that students more intuitively, readily “get” how evaluations and proposals are arguments: an evaluation argues that something is a problem, and a proposal argues for an action that could fix said problem. What seems less intuitive to students at first is how a definition can be at stake in an argument. This is why I have students work backwards from evaluation/proposal thesis statements: it’s easier for them to find a definition argument implicit within forms of argumentation that they already intuitively grasp. The evaluation/proposal thesis statements I ask for at this stage follow a very basic skeletal structure: X is bad for reasons A, B, and C, and this is I how I propose to fix it: _______.
* After the students workshop their Project 3 rough drafts, I have them revise their evaluation/proposal thesis statements. At this stage I introduce some complexity into their basic, intuitive understanding of evaluations and proposals by introducing more components into the evaluation/proposal skeletal structures: X is (unethical, impractical, and/or aesthetically problematic) for reasons A, B, and C. You (the paper’s target audience) should fix this problem by taking action Y, because it would have the following positive outcomes: _______. By introducing more specific evaluative criteria, and by introducing a target audience, students are now inclined to revise their Project 3 drafts with Projects 4 and 5 and mind.
I made an activity for my 1020 Project Three (Definition) that worked the scaffolding techniques from October Workshop into a contextual definition argument. For this activity, students are assigned two essays (both available on JSTOR through Wayne State University Library):
* Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. “Symbolic Terror.” Critical Inquiry (2002): 28.2. 573-79.
* Ahmad, Eqbal. “Comprehending Terror.” MERIP Middle East Report (1986): 140. 2-5.
These two articles are essentially definition papers – they make arguments about the definition of “terrorism” (both pre-9/11 and post-9/11).
I then have students evaluate these two articles using the same list of questions that were developed for the Project Three Rough Draft Workshop:
1. What word/term/concept/idea is the article you read defining and why?
2.What does the article offer in defining this idea that has not been (well) covered elsewhere? What is does the author claim is unique about their perspective (on this term)?
3. What is the audience for this article (be as specific as possible)?
4. How is your audience likely to feel about this issue/concept before the read your project?
5. What is the author’s purpose in arguing this definition? (i.e., what’s their point?)
6. What strategies (pathos appeals, resemblance arguments, etc.) does the author use in making this argument?
I emphasize that these questions they are answering ARE THE SAME QUESTIONS they will be using to evaluate each other’s papers during the Rough Draft Workshop (and I repeat this at the Rough Draft Workshop). It’s a small moment of scaffolding, but it has been helpful in bridging the gap between class readings and the Definition Paper (it even opened up a moment where we could discuss the link between reading a writing in general).
I align my project of promoting transfer in the curriculum of my English 1020 course with a combination of Barbara Bird’s approach to teaching her students to find their own voice and Debra Frank Dew’s approach to generating mindfulness and awareness in her students. My sole interest is to attend to the question, “How to help students become aware of the gaps in their knowledge and skills in the area of writing and how to help them find ownership and agency (their own voice) in attending to those gaps?” These questions, I contend, are an important aspect of promoting transfer in the curriculum in that a large part of what we do as instructors is to help students develop the skill of self-teaching (meaning recognizing areas in their writing that are weak and using sources both inside and outside the classroom to counter those weaknesses). In my proposal, I outline practices in developmental writing in the form of pre- and post-writing workshops in my classroom. In the post-writing workshop, students engage the question, “What could I have done differently to perfect the project” – of course, this question is in conjunction with my feedback. The students answer this question by generating a list of at least three major problem areas in their papers. This list is used to help guide them as they work on the next project. The pre-writing workshop is used to generate and review a brief synopsis of how they plan to address the three problem areas that were present in their previous project to ensure that they are not present in the current one. These workshops are part of the writing process of each project. Accompanying the last project is a one to two page reflection about the student’s experience with self-teaching and self-awareness in the development of her/his writing both inside and outside the classroom. Included in the reflection is a brief discussion about areas in her/his writing that have improved and areas that need more improvement. Essentially, I believe that through the practice of pre- and post-writing workshops, self awareness and self teaching develop and thus, can transfer to other areas of academic experiences.
As a side note:
I have already integrated a form of transfer I discuss in the previous paragraph into my curriculum in the form of a grammar guide. Entitled “Teach Me Grammar Guide,” this assignment requires students to choose a grammar topic that represents a problem area in their writing. They are to research the grammatical rule, generate examples of sentences that violate the rule, and correct those same sentences using the rule. The final aspect of the assignment is that they present their research to the class in a form of a teaching lesson. My hope in creating this assignment was that it would give them the skill to recognize areas in their writings that were problematic (of course an initial recognition is generated from overarching problem areas I see in a given class) and next, get them to do the work on their own, within the parameters I set, to research and correct those problem areas.
Of course, I have not perfected it; however, I do get positive feedback about the assignment from students -both past and present.