A few weeks ago I raised the question of whether the institutions could work together to improve the synergy between English departments in college and secondary education. Even though this week’s readings were supposed to shed light on this, most of the guidelines ended up leaving me a little perplexed, since they were all recommending the same things: critical thinking/rhetorical knowledge/conventions/processes. It appeared clear to me at this point that it is not a lack of clear regulations that creates a divide between secondary/post-secondary education.

In her comment to Giselle’s post, Kristi suggested that we should share with our students some of these goals, to make sure they would get a better understanding of what is expected of them – however, although they seem to speak clearly to the bureaucracy, I am sure they would appear daunting in the eye of most of our students. I believe “apprehension”, a word employed repeatedly in Addison and McGee’s article,   is a key term for us, and I am afraid that sharing those goals without proper stigmatization would exacerbate the issue rather than solve it.

Futhermore, the similar taxonomies employed in all the documents we looked at reminded me of Micciche’s article and made me wonder whether a radical reevaluation of those could be beneficial –  for example, what if “conventions” were not approached as such, but treated as part of the critical thinking/rhetorical knowledge process instead?

I find it hard to chime in when it comes to what’s required in high school classes in terms of writing, as my memories of my year as an exchange student in Seattle ten years ago are not too vivid. I do not remember writing much for my actually English classes, but I remember that our Senior Project consisted in a quite consistent research project. I was able to retrieve the guidelines for it online –

The senior project at Sumner High was designed in the late 1990s by a steering committee of six teachers and the school principal. Several adjustments have been made to the process since then, including having staff advisers support five or six students throughout the process.

The requirement consists of 15 hours of work on a project of the student’s choosing, a portfolio to document the process and an eight- to 10-minute presentation before a board made up of staff and community members.

Each student is provided a senior project manual at the beginning of the year, detailing the purpose, requirements and process. A copy of the manual is available online at the school’s Web site (www.sumner.wednet.edu) The manual includes timelines, forms, worksheets and examples of the criteria the board uses to judge each project.

Research time is provided during the school day. Writing labs offer on-going support and computer labs are open after school to assist students who do not have access to that technology.

Following the final presentation, students are allowed the opportunity to redo work through a provisional pass and specific instructions for improvement, as long as those changes can be made within a one-hour time frame. (Source: Courier-Herald: http://www.courierherald.com/news/protesters-angry-at-senior-project/ )

Aside from the poor support some of us were getting from our advisors (which really represented an issue because our classes were not really preparing us for this kind of project either), I remember most of my peers and I walked away with a sense of fulfillment from this initiative. I wonder if framing writing as the final stage of a tangible process (any kind of activity that requires active and critical thinking) could help us make writing less intimidating in the eyes of our students.

According to the Addison and McGee, most students interviewed reported that they enjoyed writing for their own personal goals but disliked assigned school writing… well, on my first day of class this semester I asked my students what their relationships with writing was, and I got completely different responses. Although what I got ranged from “It’s boring” to “I hate it”, most of them said that they only ever perceived it as a school assignment and would never think of engaging with it on their own. Also, unsurprisingly those who said they didn’t have a particularly good relationship with it are not necessarily less proficient in it than those who said they do. At the end of the semester I will be posing the same question, hoping their answers will make me feel like I did my job and defeated at least in part the abovementioned apprehension.

 

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3 Responses to

  1. Alex Radison says:

    I had a similar experience as you in the honors program here at Queens, where I was given freedom to choose my project and complete it how I saw fit. Never before had I been so engaged in my academic writing; in fact, before that, I can’t think of a single essay I wrote that I actually cared about… All I wanted was my A and to move on to the next class. I didn’t care about writing what a professor wanted to see, I wanted to write about what interested me. I think this speaks to the divide between faculty and students that you touch on in your last paragraph.

    Looking through the goals for student writing, I can’t help but wonder if we are speaking to the students, or speaking to ourselves… the goals sound straightforward enough to me now as a grad student, but I can imagine a freshman undergrad (especially those not planning on majoring in English) looking at those goals and going all glassy-eyed as they skim over it and retain nothing. Perhaps we need to rethink our learning goals in order to speak to the students–why should an economics major care about “becoming fluent with the elements of academic writing, including thesis, motive, evidence, analysis, and style?” Of course we know why that’s important, but we need to communicate that in a way that makes sense to each particular student as well. Otherwise yeah, most students are simply going to think that writing is a boring thing that they have to do in order to pass, rather than an essential skill that can aid them in many areas of life.

  2. First, sorry for the late/scattered post! Second, I wanted to respond to the apprehension of student writers in the Addison and McGee article and to the idea that the writing goals are daunting to students and note that as the instructor, I saw those goals as daunting as well, and felt tremendous apprehension at being responsible for communicating those goals and translating them into classroom practices. I’m thinking that “framing writing as the final stage of a tangible process” of active/critical thinking could indeed make writing less intimidating for our students, but also for me as the instructor. Thinking of writing as the final stage of a process, or the natural extension of a process of critical thinking would potentially make writing seem more achievable to students, because rather than an entirely new skill, it would be simply a translation of a skill they’re already working hard to develop regardless of their major (I think). And it feels like it would make it more achievable to teach because it would be easier to translate, and because potentially, or ideally, students would be less resistant/apprehensive. I’ve been trying to hammer in the idea of writing as a process, but perhaps if students are thinking of critical thinking and writing as two separate processes, they’re less willing to engage fully in those processes, but thinking of those as parts of a single process might allow for more willing and devoted engagement.

  3. In her comment to Giselle’s post, Kristi suggested that we should share with our students some of these goals.

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