As I was reading these articles, I really struggled with Bean’s resistance against the “generic” essay topic. In the beginning, Bean claims that “because the traditional term paper assignment does not guide students toward formulating a problem, developing a thesis, or arguing within the conventions of a disciplinary genre, it often does not stimulate the complex thinking…that teachers desire” (Bean 91). Bean eventually agrees at the end of the paper, almost begrudgingly, that there are some benefits to open-ended papers. While I agree that the initial example of the instructor saying there’s a paper and not bringing it up again is not going to produce quality papers, I, also, resist narrowing my students’ scope of focus to answering specific questions, topics, or ideas.
One of the major problems with relating Bean’s ideas to Comp is that the majority of the examples fail to prescribe to the 110 guidelines in the handbook where you have to have four types of very specific assignments. A lot of Bean’s preferred suggestions are narrative based. Even the research-based papers include this personal narrative that often seems more associated with a high school paper than a college level writing. Take the nursing assignments. While the “Imagine If,” structure might be familiar to freshman, allowing them a comfort as they transition into elevated writing, I feel like having a large essay assignment (since we have to have four) being so familiar to one form and not the typical essays they will see in college becomes problematic, especially for the institutional motivations of the classroom.
As a class designed for students to learn to write across multiple disciplines in the academy, students need to become comfortable with formulating their own ideas into critical essays. While I disagree with Bean’s major claim, I believe combing the layout given on writing assignments with that of Walk can create an open-ended assignment that still gives the students some guidance. For example, you can still include the task, purpose, audience, and format (and should) on the assignment. I particularly love the idea of having the interactive components being turned in with the final draft. While I agree with Beans comment on staggering is an effective way to ensure the completion, the inclusion of the interactive material reinforces the decision to stagger the development of the paper over the course of the class, where one day you need to see brain storming, the next a thesis, and so on.
Ultimately, I enjoy the assignments Bean is creating, I just don’t feel like they’re constructive for truly developing critical thinking AND writing skills. Instead, I would rather implement some of the ideas into in class writing with the more structured expectations, allowing the students to become familiar with the form before having them try to accomplish it on their own.
While I mostly focused on Bean, Walk includes this negative attitude towards broader assignments, seen in the example given on “Southerness” in two writers. While narrowed, Walk’s assignment feels broader and framing the first assignment in a similar way might allow students a better transition from extremely dictated writing to more freedom.
And, I’d like to just clarify that I’m not saying that Bean is wrong for everyone’s classes. I just don’t feel like extremely narrowed topics are beneficial for the way I choose to teach. In fact, I’ve done in class writing assignments where they are given narrow topics and broad topics, and my students have usually done much better writing in class with the broader topics. However, this might have something to do with the students. Would the solution be to keep the assignments vaguely (or very briefly) described on the syllabus and then depending on the needs of the students changing the scope of the assignment to fit their particular needs?–Kristi