How Teaching and learning are connected

how teaching has changed and how teaching facilitate learning and how does teaching and learning go together
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Published Date:03-07-2017
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RITING MATTERS W• DEAR COLLEAGUES, Sketched out below are some brief thoughts about matters to keep in mind if you’ll be teaching a course that emphasizes expository writing . These thoughts don’t claim to be comprehensive or definitive Ther . e are many useful books about teaching writing that can give you a more complete theory of writing pedagogy or fuller detail about teaching strategies (S . ome of those guides are included in our list of further resources below ) B . ut, of course, none of those books can tell you about teaching at Wesleyan in particular . Our aim is to provide a little of that kind of perspective M . ore specifically, we hope to give you some useful information about how Wesleyan students tend to view the experience of learning to write in college—about what they value, what they find challenging, what makes them anxious, what they find helpful or rewarding . We also include a few pointers about ways you might take their views into account when designing your syllabi and assignments or responding to their work . We view these suggestions as provisional and incomplete . Our intent is not to tell you how things must or should be done, but to raise for your consideration some issues that we’ve learned about from students and faculty . We think of this guide as a work-in-progress, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions so that we can draw on them to create fuller and richer edi- tions in the future . One final note This guide has been made possible b . y generous funding from the Teagle Foundation . We are grateful to Teagle for its support . Sincerely, Anne Greene Director of Writing Programs and Adjunct Professor of English Sean McCann Professor of English and Director, Center for Faculty Career Development Kate Thorpe ’06 Teagle Fellow in the Writing Programs 2 I WHERE DID WE GET OUR INFORMATION? This guide compiles ideas, tips, and advice from several sources: 1 IT DRAWS FROM A COMPREHENSIVE SURVEY on the experience of writing instr uction administered to Wesleyan undergraduates in the fall of 2011 N . ine-hundred-and-eighty-two students, or 48 percent of the undergraduate student body, returned responses to this survey . 2 IT MAKES USE OF IDEAS EXPRESSED BY STUDENTS in a series of focus-gr oup discussions held in the spring of 2012 S . tudents participating in these discussions were enrolled in courses from across the University and were at various stages in their undergraduate careers . 3 IT INCORPORATES THOUGHTS AND ADVICE FROM FACULTY members who w ere enrolled in the Teagle Seminar on the Teaching of Writing in the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2012 . 4 IT MAKES USE OF DIRECTOR OF WRITING PROGRAMS Anne Greene’s experience working with Wesleyan faculty and students and draws from the conversations she has had over the years with writing tutors and mentors who have worked closely with students on their writing for courses . If you are interested in seeing the full results of this survey, please contact Sean McCann at 3 II WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OUR STUDENTS’ CHALLENGES AND CONCERNS? Students worry about many different things when it comes to academic writing, of course, but our information suggests that five major issues affect a large portion of our student body: 1 LEARNING TO WRITE CLEARLY FOCUSED, ARGUMENTATIVE PROSE We take it for granted in most disciplines that you write to make a point, that good writing effectively marshals ideas and evidence in the effort to convince readers to share a view, and that in this way an essay or paper seeks to contribute to a larger discourse on a subject . For many of our students, these ideas are not intuitive, and they often find it a slow and painful process to learn to think and write in this manner . When our survey asked students what aspects of writing they find most challenging, the largest proportion of students cited the difficulties of “shap - ing the argument” (43 percent), “organizing the paper” (32 percent), or “figuring out what to say” (29 percent) I . n focus-group conversations and in discussions with writing tutors and mentors, we frequently heard that students struggle to learn how to make an argument, how to effectively draw on and organize evidence, and how to structure their essays to best develop and advance their ideas . 2 FINDING A VOICE Wesleyan students are concerned about expressing themselves as individuals I . n our survey, 66 per - cent of respondents cited “to write in my own voice” as a “very important” goal Another 24 per . cent marked it as “moderately important . ” But, justifiably or not, our students often do not think of academic writing as a venue in which they can develop their own ideas and perspectives I . n fact, they may have been taught in their high school classes or during their preparation for AP exams that academic writing should aspire to an authoritative and bland synthesis of established ideas I . n focus-group discussions and other conversa - tions, students often describe academic writing as impersonal and objective They sometimes think . they are merely reiterating other people’s views, and they worry that in writing for courses they are not able to express their own unique ideas or interests They often ar . e slow to see themselves as engaged or creative participants in a larger discourse . 4 Our experience suggests that this may be one source of common weaknesses in student writing— eg . , unwieldy syntax, o . veruse of the passive voice, an inclination to grandiosity or sweeping abstrac - tion I . n such writing, students may be trying hard to sound—as they think they should—like a person who doesn’t have a point of view . 3 UNDERSTANDING EXPECTATIONS What does the professor want? That question is on the minds of many of our students when they write, and a large number of them claim not to have clear ideas about the answer I . n our survey, 41 percent of the respondents said they were unfamiliar with what their instructors expect I . n focus-group discussions and other conversations, students often express uncertainty over what individual professors want or remark that they do not fully grasp the way goals, methods, and styles vary across disciplines . 4 MANAGING THEIR TIME In our survey and in focus-group discussions, students referred frequently to the battle against pro- crastination and to their challenges managing their workload . Students who enroll in several courses featuring extensive reading and writing (and who sometimes have many substantial assignments due at once) often find time management especially challenging They expr . ess great appreciation for assignments that are designed to help them organize their time well . 5 WRITING IN A SECOND LANGUAGE Twenty-nine percent of the students responding to our survey say they are writing in a second lan- guage and find the experience a “moderate” or “significant” challenge S . ome of these respondents are probably native English speakers who are referring to the papers they write for language courses B . ut it is worth keeping in mind the diverse backgrounds of our students and the significant number who speak English as a second or even third language S . uch students may arrive at Wesleyan with different expectations and writing conventions than our other students . 5 III WHAT DO STUDENTS VALUE AND WHAT APPROACHES DO THEY BELIEVE HELP THEM DEVELOP THEIR WRITING SKILLS? 1 STUDENTS VALUE GOOD WRITING HIGHLY. THEY WANT TO BE CHALLENGED AND TO IMPROVE THEIR ABILITIES. Survey results, in addition to conversations with students, suggest that the great majority of Wesleyan undergraduates view skill in writing as a central accomplishment of a liberal education E . ighty-two percent of the respondents to the 2011 survey viewed “to write effectively” as a “high priority” or “the very highest priority . ” When we asked students about the particular skills they hope to develop, 49 percent said that it was “very important” to “write effectively for other specialists in a scholarly disci - pline . ” But 65 percent said it was “very important” to write clearly about academic subject matters for a “general audience,” and 74 percent said it was “very important” to be able to synthesize and clearly articulate ideas and information that they might encounter in a wide range of fields . In focus-group discussions and other conversations, students repeatedly stress their desire to become accomplished and effective writers, and they frequently express appreciation for instructors who challenge them and demand that they hone their skills . 2 STUDENTS VALUE INSTRUCTION AND ASSIGNMENTS THAT EMPHASIZE THE PROCESS OF WRITING In focus-group discussions and other conversations, we heard often that students are especially grateful for assignments and approaches that emphasize the process, in addition to the product, of writing . They often express appreciation for staged assignments that help them manage their time (eg . , a . research paper assignment that includes interim sub-assignments such as statement of topic, reviews of the literature, hypothetical thesis statement or introduction, required drafts, etc) . . But, in addition, students frequently emphasize the value of assignments and pedagogical approaches that help them to understand that writing ability develops through practice, repetition, 6 and revision S . tudents frequently single out for praise courses that include frequent short writ - ing assignments And they often appr . eciate when instructors make time in class, even briefly, to discuss writing They str . ess the value of comments on papers that treat student writing as work-in- progress, and they praise instructors who encourage or, especially, require that students confer with the instructor on their work . 3 STUDENTS YEARN FOR CLARIFICATION AND ILLUMINATION In our discussions with students, we found that they are often grateful for instructors who can clarify the writing skills that a particular assignment, course, or discipline demands S . tudents value, for example, faculty who provide clear and concise guidelines about what they expect in an assignment . They also express strong appreciation for faculty who provide model papers S . uch a paper might be, for example, an exemplary work published in your field . But students often claim that it is particu - larly helpful to see examples of student work Especially when pr . ofessors take the time to go over the strengths and weaknesses of the models in class, students often find the experience of poring over other people’s writing to be very useful . Students also told us that they are grateful when professors clarify what sorts of thesis state- ments are discipline-appropriate or when faculty identify the types of questions that papers in a field attempt to answer, as well as appropriate source materials and citation styles . 4 STUDENTS ARE MOTIVATED BY SUBSTANTIAL RESPONSES TO THEIR WORK (and annoyed by responses that seem to them inattentive or pro forma) In our conversations with students, we heard time and again that they deeply appreciate substan- tive responses to their work that attend to both the content of ideas and the clarity of expression . Although they differ in their preferences for how such feedback should be communicated (through marginal comments, head or end notes, or conferences), students consistently emphasize how impor- tant rich feedback is to their development as writers B . y the same token, students are easily irked by responses that appear inattentive (such as check marks in the margins followed by “well done” or “weak paper” as the only end note) . 7 IV LORE, TIPS, AND ADVICE Below is an incomplete and provisional list of suggestions based on advice from our faculty colleagues, writing mentors, and tutors . 1 GENERAL TIPS ON TEACHING WRITING •  ACKNOWLEDGE THE CHALLENGE As it is for many of us, writing is difficult and often anxiety provoking for many of our students . (Thirty-four percent of the respondents to our poll noted anxiety as a challenge in their writing) . Many of them, however, don’t realize just how commonly shared is the struggle to write well . Nor do many understand that good writing is typically the result of long effort and patient revision . Often they think they suffer alone, and they frequently imagine that good writers just pour out brilliant prose in the first draft . (By the same token, some students who believe they are already gifted writers think that whatever they do must be good and are easily injured when they’re told their work can improve .) So, anything you can do or say that emphasizes the sheer challenge of writing can be useful . You might talk about your own writing process, or you can remind students that even the most renowned professional writers get copyedited, if they’re lucky As one faculty member told us, “ . the difficulty of writing should be emphasized as a necessary part of the process, as should the value of the investment . ” •  TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE WRITING WORKSHOP Frequently in our conversations, students and faculty alike emphasized how helpful it can be for students to get advice from more experienced peers Consider encouraging students to call on the . tutors at the Writing Workshop, or consult with Anne Greene about arranging for a dedicated tutor to be assigned to your course . Tutors also are available to work with students who speak English as a second language and with students who have learning disabilities . •  LOOK FOR WAYS TO CHALLENGE AND STIMULATE YOUR STUDENTS Students often told us they would rather be asked to work hard than to receive an “easy A . ” Think about ways to challenge your strongest students, as well as less accomplished writers, with demanding assignments and substantive and constructive criticism . 8 Students who receive high grades on papers are sometimes frustrated when they don’t see com- ments that explain what they have done well They would like to kno . w what aspects of their writ - ing—in addition to their arguments or findings—are impressive S . uch comments help them to understand their strengths as writers and can motivate them toward future achievements . 2 DESIGNING ASSIGNMENTS •  HELP STUDENTS UNDERSTAND YOUR EXPECTATIONS Whenever you create writing assignments, keep in mind the “Four Cs,” as defined by Linda Simon of Skidmore College Ar . e you being Clear, Complete, Concise, and Candid about what you want from your students’ work? Think carefully about what you want to read in terms of argument, structure, evidence, intended audience, style Ar . e these expectations being effectively conveyed to your students? •  CONSIDER ASSIGNMENTS THAT HELP STUDENTS MANAGE THEIR TIME AND UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS OF WRITING Look for ways to stage and stagger assignments, so that students can get frequent feedback and so they will not succumb to their tendency to procrastinate . Consider requiring drafts or partial drafts of essays (eg . , a draft intr . oduction, a draft first sentence, a provisional hypothesis, a definition of the problem), so that students will think of themselves as working to develop and improve a piece of writing—rather than as dumping a hastily assembled product on your desk . Tell students that the quality of their drafts will be a factor in the final grade . Consider asking students to engage in writing exercises that help them to see how their work can be developed and improved F . or example, ask students to construct outlines of the drafts they have completed, so they can perceive the structure of their work and ways it can be altered; ask them to propose plans for revisions they might make to an essay . Our experience, as well as conversations with students and faculty, suggests that, although requiring drafts (or similar staged assignments) can require greater time and effort from the instructor, it can pay off both in better quality work from students and in fewer cases of plagiarism As one faculty member told . us, “working through drafts is the most effective, even if not the most efficient, writing-teaching tool . ” 9 •  CONSIDER INCLUDING ASSIGNMENTS THAT HELP STUDENTS SEE THEMSELVES AS CREATIVE AND PERSONALLY ENGAGED Just as students appreciate assignments that emphasize the process of writing, they also value assign- ments that develop their skills in different styles and formats or that vary the rhythms of the semes - ter . Look for assignments that may seem to students to break the mold of academic prose—eg . ., assignments that ask for reflective or creative writing or that ask students to bring specialist expertise to a general readership . (Courses that include a unit on writing for broader audiences may be included in the curriculum for the Writing Certificate; please contact Anne Greene or see the Writing Programs web site for more information) . 3 RESPONDING TO STUDENT WRITING •  STRIKE EARLY In conversation, students often describe a sense of shock at getting back the first assignment of the semester and facing the realization that they will need to adjust and improve their work They ar . e grateful when instructors assign a paper early in the semester, so they can get this initial hurdle over with and still have time to ask questions and improve . •  BE CLEAR . . . AND, WHERE POSSIBLE, SUBSTANTIAL Students sometimes describe themselves as struggling to decipher and interpret faculty comments B . e sure your students understand the goals and methods of your comments on papers (eg . , tell them in . class or in a handout or posting the ways you respond to student writing and why) . Consider using electronic versus handwritten comments . Typed comments are typically more time-consuming than handwritten notes B . ut they are often clearer to students and more substantial . They may also be useful for your own record of student progress O . n the other hand, many students find an instructor’s handwritten margin notes a sign of personal attention . Consider taking advantage of word processing tools (eg . , . “track changes,” special fonts such as strike- through, marginal comments) to show students how passages of writing can be revised and improved . One faculty member told us that students in her class were more likely to revise “when they saw from my own editing how easy it was to rearrange small sections of text to sharpen their arguments . ” But, be wary of overusing “track changes . ” Students can “accept all” rather than making revisions themselves . When offering comments that might seem cursory, explain what your check marks or abbrevia - tions mean E . ven formulaic phrases like “good point” or “nice idea” can convey the valuable sense that you are engaged and paying attention M . ark particular phrases to help the writer locate the passage you are praising . 10 •  BE DEMANDING . . . AND COACH, DON’T SCOLD Students consistently told us that the most helpful comments on papers are those that address the writer as someone working to develop and improve her work They w . elcomed responses to papers that showed strengths and weaknesses and that pointed out ways to improve S . ome students told us they are grateful for faculty who comment at length on drafts, even if the instructor then goes on to write cursory comments on a final product . In that light, you may want to address student writing in the mode of coach or editor rather than as judge B . y all means, hold your students to high standards B . ut help them see how they can meet those standards, and keep in mind that your comments do not need to justify your grade or express your frustration . The most useful comments may tell the student what to do to improve rather than show her where she has failed . •  DON’T OVERDO IT Don’t think you have to edit every sentence in an essay or explain every place a paper needs more work F . or your own sanity, and for the learning experience of your students, it may be helpful to limit your responses I . f you are reviewing an essay for grammar and style, for example, you may want to focus your attention on one or two paragraphs of the paper B . ut, make sure your students understand your approach S . tudents can be easily annoyed if they have the impression that you are not attending to all of their work . •   MEET YOUR STUDENTS Students often tell us how valuable—eye-opening, even transformative—they have found it to meet with faculty to discuss their writing B . ut some also have acknowledged feeling hesitant about approaching their professors Consider r . equiring a short meeting with your students . Like requiring drafts, meetings with students can be a time-consuming strategy B . ut even very short conferences can be productive I . n such a meeting, you can clarify your own goals and expecta - tions and identify the places where student writing is weak or strong . But, you can also help your students understand their own work O . ftentimes, just asking students to explain the ideas they were trying to express or the goals they were pursuing or the places where they think an essay succeeds or fails can bring them a deeper and clearer sense of what they need to do to succeed . 11 4 GRADES AND PLAGIARISM •  GRADING Please note, we’ve chosen to say very little about grades in this guide B . ut do be aware, your students have strong feelings about grades and would like you to be conscientious and transparent about how you grade S . tudents tell us they are powerfully motivated by grades, and they are eager to know what they can do not only to improve their skills as writers in general but to earn higher grades for par- ticular courses . When responding to student work, it may be helpful—where possible—to be clear about the difference . Also, many students have come to Wesleyan from high schools where they have excelled, and they may expect to receive high grades . Your students may assume that they begin an assignment with a grade of 100 percent and are downgraded for errors I . t can be challenging to convince them that high grades in college are an achievement rather than a starting point . •  PLAGIARISM Students tell us that they believe plagiarism occurs for a few main reasons: because of poor note tak- ing habits, because of ignorance of academic norms and citation methods, and, most significantly, because of panic . You may be able to head off plagiarism, then, by countering these dangers B . e sure students are aware of your expectations about documentation and that they’re familiar with citation methods . Look for assignments that are hard to plagiarize—eg . , staged assignments r . equiring drafts or other preparatory work, or unusual or idiosyncratic assignments that are specific to your course and not widely reproduced . And consider talking to students about what to do when they’re feeling frantic . They may come to you and ask for help instead of plagiarizing . The anti-plagiarism software turnitincom is av . ailable through the Wesleyan University Library . For help with turnitin, contact Reference Librarian Kendall Hobbs at khobbswesleyanedu . . 12 V FURTHER RESOURCES 1 WESLEYAN WRITING PROGRAMS • The Teagle Initiative: • Information for Faculty Requesting Course Tutors: • Writing Workshop General Information: • Information Regarding Mentoring Program: • Thesis Mentor Program: • Anne Greene, Director of Writing Programs, can be reached at:, or by phone at ext. 3604. Her office is 207 Downey House. • Writing Programs Fellows can be reached at:, or by phone at ext. 2440. The office is 103 Downey House. 2 OTHER HANDY ONLINE RESOURCES • Harvard Writing Project Publications: Includes detailed writing guides for students of various disciplines, including social anthropology, philosophy, psychology, East Asian studies, performance studies, art, religious studies, and the life sciences. There’s also a guide (towards the bottom) to writing with Internet sources that looks potentially useful. • Princeton’s Guide to Teaching with Writing (Kerry Walk, former Director of Princeton Writing Program): A very useful, general guide that emphasizes specific methods for engaging students in the writing process, particularly through working with peers. Walk offers suggestions for assigning cover letters and multiple drafts, and for conducting peer collaboration/workshops. A special chapter on teaching with writing in science and engineering courses (p. 47) briefly gives advice about assigning and responding to writing in the sciences. 13 • Online Materials for Faculty (Dartmouth): A range of materials developed by Karen Gocsik, Executive Director of the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Dartmouth: while some are Dartmouth-specific, most are widely applicable to the teaching of writing more generally. Materials in the following categories seem particularly relevant: pedagogies (teaching issues of argument and research, for instance); methods (such as assignment development and suggestions for linking reading to writing in courses); and a Teaching Forum for further ideas, handouts, and sample assignments. • “Helping Students Write Better in All Courses,” Barbara Gross Davis, available on University of California, Berkeley web site: A chapter from Davis’s book Tools for Teaching, which offers useful suggestions for teaching writing, especially for instructors of non-English disciplines, as well as helpful further resources to consult. • Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford: While not writing-specific, this site includes a variety of teaching resources on many different aspects of teaching, including course and syllabus design and suggestions for evaluating students. • For further online resources related to the teaching of writing, see: • For a list of online writing resources for students, see: • National Council of Teachers of English Guideline on Some Questions and Answers about Grammar: This site offers a clear and useful explanation of why grammar matters and how to help struggling students understand it. 14 3 SOME VALUABLE TEXTS: WORKS ON THE TEACHING OF WRITING AND ON THE CRAFT OF WRITING, AND GUIDES FOR STUDENTS AND OTHERS •  RESOURCES ON TEACHING WRITING • Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” When a Writer Can’t Write: Studies in Writer’s Block and Other Composing-Process Problems. Ed. Mike Rose. New York: Guilford, 1985. 134–65. Available at: • Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. • Cioffi, Frank. The Imaginative Argument. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. • Goldsmith, Kenneth. Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. • Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2010. • Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors & Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. • Simon, Linda. “The Papers We Want to Read.” College Teaching 36 (1988): 6–8. • Sommers, Nancy and Laura Saltz. “The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year.” College Composition and Communication 56.1 (Sept. 2004):124–149. Available at: • Zawacki, Terry M, and Paul M. Rogers. Writing Across the Curriculum: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2012. •  WORKS ON THE CRAFT OF WRITING AND GUIDES FOR STUDENTS • Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990. • Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. New York: Harper, 2011. • Hacker, Barbara and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. 7th ed. New York: St. Martins, 2010. • Strunk, William, and E B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999. • Williams, Joseph M. and Gregory G. Colomb. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 10th ed. Boston: Longman, 2010. • Zinsser, William K. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. 15

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