Teaching Writing 5
Writing 5 is, for most Dartmouth students, the first exposure to the demands of college writing. While many students are competent high school writers, most do not yet understand the demands and conventions of academic prose.
Most students entering your Writing 5 understand what a thesis sentence is. They grasp the general rules of paragraphing. They understand the sentence and its boundaries—though they sometimes run on, and they often make the mistake of putting their most important ideas into dependent clauses. Incoming students make grammar errors that we might classify as annoying—that is, errors that don't interfere with a reader's understanding but that reflect a less-than-careful writer. Although your students shouldn't need formal grammar instruction, they will need you to point to persistent errors and to insist that these errors be addressed.
Your students will also come into Writing 5 with certain habits that you'll want to break. Most common among these is the dreaded five-paragraph theme, in which students begin with a generalization, posit a thesis that has three points, craft three paragraphs to illustrate these points, and then conclude by making another generalization (or reiterating the one with which they began). Instructors beware: even longer papers of ten or fifteen paragraphs may be based on the five-paragraph-theme model. This approach to writing doesn't often produce good papers as students let the form dictate their thinking, rather than letting their thinking dictate the form.
A second habit that you'll want to break is your students tendency to nominalize—that is, to turn verbs into abstract nouns in order to sound more academic. Students might write "It was not the intention of the Russian ambassador to bring the negotiations to a conclusion," when "The Russian ambassador did not intend to end negotiations" might be better. Nominalizations make sentences less clear because the bury actions—which should be in verbs—within nouns, making it difficult to pick out the actors in sentences. Moreover, nominalizing leads to several bad habits, including a tendency to use the passive voice or to overuse "There are/It is" constructions. Students mimic this habit because they have seen it in academic writing, but we should break this lamentable cycle. A few lessons in the elements of style will help students to build sentences with actors as subjects and with good, strong verbs.
The list of goals for Writing 5 is long. Instructors are expected to introduce students to the conventions of academic discourse. They will sharpen students' critical thinking skills. They will introduce students to research by creating an assignment that requires students to find, evaluate, use, and cite secondary sources. Most important, they will teach their students to write.As in the other first-year writing courses, teaching writing will not depend simply on assigning writing—though writing will be assigned, and often. Instructors will frequently conduct writing workshops, confer regularly with students about their writing, provide careful and thoughtful feedback, and make good use of the collaborative learning and active learning ideas described throughout this website. For a more thorough description of the program's expectations, please see Writing 5: Guidelines for Faculty. We hope that you will especially note the following:
- Plan to spend substantial class time on student writing. Don't allow course readings to crowd out discussion of student work. Treat student work as another text for the class, using it as the basis for in-class writing workshops. See Conducting Writing Workshops for proven strategies.
- Require (and allow ample time for) revision. Most experienced writing teachers know that students learn to write not simply by writing, but by rewriting. Studies show that student writing improves when they are asked to work out the problems in an existing paper, rather than applying the instructor's comments to a new writing task.
Most students are enthusiastic about Writing 5—after all, they selected your section from the many listed online. Accordingly, their expectations are high.
- Students expect the classroom format to be discussion-based, rather than lecture-based. They want a class that is intimate not only in size but in character.
- Students want feedback from you on their writing. You should respond not only to the content of the writing, but also to its structure, form, and style.
- Students expect that you will return their papers to them in a timely manner, so that they have sufficient time to absorb and incorporate your comments before the next paper is due.
- Students expect that you will be accessible to them. They expect you to be available to meet with them in conference and in office hours throughout the term to discuss their progress. They also hope that you will respond to their emails.
- They don't realize it, but your students need you to show them where their existing models of research and writing, which they have inherited from high school, fail. Until you can demonstrate to them that their existing models are inadequate for academic purposes, they may resist your efforts.
- Once you've shown them that their existing models won't work, students will want you to inspire them to explore new models and to support them while they do. They'll want you to remain engaged with them as writers and as thinkers, so that they in turn can do their best work in your course.
If you have questions about teaching Writing 5, please contact Karen Gocsik, Executive Director of the Writing Program.
Last modified: Sunday, 30-Sep-2007 12:42:27 EDT
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