Monday, December 04, 2006

I Tried Something New!

And I think it worked!

A couple days ago, I read Addy N's comments about teaching writing in her class (which isn't a humanities class). She notes that in her field, one only uses quotations in rather specific circumstances, citing a legal document, for example. But otherwise, the writer paraphrases.

Addy's got a couple really good points there. For one, she worries that her students are only learning to write in English classes. Writing classes can contribute nicely to a student's writing, but students need to work on writing in a lot of classes, and in different fields; they need to learn that we approach writing differently for different purposes and genres. That means, of course, that people in every field have to work at teaching writing, and I know that's a pain. I know it because teaching writing isn't MY field, though I do it all the time (in my regular first year writing classes AND in my literature classes).

For a variety of reasons, including the practices in lit (we like quotations! word play, yay!), I tend to work with students on using quotations, and haven't thought as much about working with paraphrase. Except that when we use quoations, we often to lots of paraphrasing to set the scene, or to begin interpreting the quotation, so I've done it there.

Today, I had my first year students write up an example for one paragraph of their research paper. Then we talked about their strategy in presenting the example, and I had them rewrite the paragraph using a different strategy (paraphrase or direct quotation, for example), and asked them to think about how they introduced the source and such (which they need to do somehow, whether they're paraphrasing or not).

I thought that trying a different strategy would actually get them to rewrite the example, but most of them found writing a new paragraph a no-go, mostly (I think) because they feel that once they've put something down on paper, it's not worth the time to seriously rethink their strategy in that. FSM knows I've tried to teach them to take revision seriously, but I don't think I've succeeded.

Then we turned to talk about why they chose the strategies they did, and what they thought about in choosing their specific strategy. That led us (by clever professing, if I say so myself) to discussing what sorts of information we should be quoting and paraphrasing, and how that related to fields of study and genres of writing.

In our brainstorming, it seems that the humanities and law (and especially religious studies) tend to find direct quotation most useful. Sciences tend to find paraphrase most useful, except, for numerical data which they reproduce, but usually in a paraphrase.

Interesting. I hope it helps them. Their rough drafts are due Wednesday, and I wasn't overly impressed with what I saw of the "section" they were supposed to bring to class today (some looked fairly complete, but a number were single short paragraphs).


  1. Hi there- I posted a reply to your comment over at my blog- thanks for the link. I am really learning a lot from these discussions of writing in different disciplines. I think I get so buried in what I do, that I forget that the students don't automatically know how to write in my discipline(!) And I agree that students should write in more than just their comp classes!

  2. Oooh! You're making me wonder now if *that's* why my students are so insistently quote-happy! :)

  3. Anonymous5:37 PM

    PG - yes, that's exactly why! As I meet with the folks at my future employer (a writing program) I have seen that they all teach a lit-style of writing... including those that are social scientists, because they feel that's what they're "supposed" to be teaching. When I suggested we should just teach them to write the way we would actually want them to write, it was like a revelation!

    There are lots of different ways to write. Paraphrasing is a really important skill for folks in many disciplines. Sounds like you did a great job teaching it, Bardiac!