Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Moment of Morning Insight

I woke up this morning with some belated insight.

Yesterday, in my drama class, we discussed the short writing assignment they're doing in response to the performance project. One of the students asked what she should do is she just had too many ideas and couldn't organize them. I said that it sounded like she was still in the brainstorming process, and should work through on organizing with a bubble map or something. I said something about what they'd learned in composition (except by class name/number around here). They looked befuddled.

Another student wanted to know exactly what I wanted with the assignment (there's a written assignment, but I'm guessing it's not specific enough for her).

When I woke up this morning, I realized there are a bunch of first semester students in there, students who either haven't taken comp yet because they didn't get in, or who have like two weeks of comp under their belts.

Yeah, I'm slow like that.

The course is numbered at the sophomore level, but it's a GE, and it's fine for first year students. It's just right, in fact. But I have to give them some more help and support in writing their papers, and for some reason I just didn't realize that to build it in. Of course, this isn't supposed to be a "writing class" and so it's set at 37 students. But if I don't help and support their writing, I'm going to end up reading a lot of papers that could be a lot better.

I'm imagining a lot of faculty members across campus do the same sort of thinking: writing skills/process is taught in comp and I don't need to do it. And indeed, even if I spend some time on writing, it won't be the same as a comp class (nor should it be), but it will help. Perhaps a difference is that I know a fair bit about teaching writing, so I have resources that a lot of faculty don't.

I sent the class an email this morning telling them that we're going to work on paper stuff on Monday, and that the paper won't be due until Wednesday (thought if someone wants, s/he can turn it in on Monday).

Then on Monday, we're going to do some listing, freewriting, bubble-mapping, and talk a little about what a thesis is and why many profs hate five-paragraph essays.


  1. Anonymous8:37 AM

    As someone who teaches more comp classes than lit classes, I thank you. The more such skills are reinforced in "content" classes the better for us all.

  2. My freshman-level history course has three workshop sessions to teach them research, writing and revision skills. I probably should have scheduled at least one or two such workshops in my huge sophomore survey since I'm already getting panicky emails about the one paper they have to propose and write during the term.

    Carving out time for a few such exercises as you're describing would be a good model to follow. Thanks!

  3. As someone who assigns writing to 50 student sections, I figure this out last year (finally -- after 5 years!) and started doing three "developmental" assignments before the first paper. The first is a pro/con brainstorming kind of paper on their question, the second is an annotated bibliography and the third is their draft. For big classes I only read the first two -- their peers read the drafts.

    I've found that their papers improved significantly. I moved the process up this semester, on the theory that their other writing assignments would benefit from learning the process. We'll see...