Teaching students to transfer composition lessons to other writing

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polly_mer:
Background: I'm most of the way through grading a stack of research papers and I'm probably going to cry if I encounter another N pages of something resembling

Since the beginning of time, water has been wet.  Wet water is the best kind of water to drink.  From lakes and rivers, to oceans and even faucets and Mountain Dew, water is all around us and most of it is wet [1].  The topic of this paper is cardboard boxes and how they tend to disintegrate when placed in wet water.

Cardboard boxes are boxes that are made of cardboard.  Cardboard is a substance that tends to disintegrate when placed in water, particularly water that is wet (aka liquid water, although solid water also exists as does water vapor and steam [2]).

According to EzineArticles.com "[t]he first commercial cardboard box was produced in England in 1817 by Sir Malcolm Thornhil and the first cardboard box manufactured in the United States was made in 1895."  Knapp goes on to mention that children love cardboard boxes as toys [3].  I remember my first box at age 5.  It was great, until we left it out in the rain and the rain (aka wet water) ruined it because cardboard disintegrates in wet water.

<remainder of the paper drawn directly from the "History of Cardboard Boxes" article with numerous mentions of where water is found, how wet it is, and, if I'm lucky, a solid page directly from the class notes on the science of water with heavy emphasis on the fact that water is a polar molecule that forms hydrogen bonds>

[1]  US Department of Labor, <some webpage that does indeed mention that water is wet because it's relevant to an OSHA concern>  [Access date: the day the paper was due]
[2]  Wikipedia Water(data page)  [Access date: the day the paper was due]
[3] Knapp, Tom "The History of Cardboard Boxes" http://EzineArticles.com/709353 [Access date: a month before the paper was due]

I know that my colleagues over in composition and other writing-intensive classes don't teach students to write this way.  I also know that my colleagues spend a significant amount of time on how to select good sources.  The only lesson I can see that my students retained from writing class is citation.

Question 1: I have decided to cancel the lab next week and do a peer-editing workshop because that will be far more helpful to the students in the long run.  What I'd like from you folks is help making a list of questions that will guide students to see what is wrong with that style of writing and what can be done instead.

Question 2: I'd also like feedback on my proposed procedure of having all students bring two fresh copies of their papers and pass around the papers to get comments from at least two peers.  The papers were to be 4-6 pages of text, but most papers are closer to 3.75 double-spaced pages with some pictures.  Therefore, I think 2 hours is enough time for students to review at least two papers each. 

The students will get back my comments at the end of the workshop and have a week to resubmit the papers for 100 points out of the original 400.  The paper was supposed to be a one-shot deal and the required trip to the writing center that all students made was supposed to reduce this situation, but somehow that didn't happen.  I am unwilling to either just record a stack of 200's or allow for a complete revision to get the full four hundred points for people who slapped together crap at the last minute, but I'm open to suggestions on whether 100 points for the revision is appropriate.

Key point in why I like to think I'm doing what's best for my students, not being soft; affirmation or mackerel slaps appreciated: My motive in allowing a revision for points is to keeping the currently-C-for-overall-class-performance students motivated and able to continue to earn a C at the end of the class.  Mathematically, the 100 points for a revision works, but I worry about continuing motivation on these students who are earning C's only by effort.  We have a test next week and the final exam two weeks after that.  I don't want students to give up instead of continuing to do the things that will earn a C at the end of the semester. 

On the other hand, the revision is an assignment that wasn't on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester.  However, we have no more homework assignments (unexpected for the students because of the way snow days worked) and we would have had a lab report due for the lab that the peer-editing workshop will replace, so the time outside of class should have already been allocated for doing written work for this class.

marigolds:
Quote from: polly_mer on April 11, 2013,  8:04:18 AM

Since the beginning of time, water has been wet.  Wet water is the best kind of water to drink.  From lakes and rivers, to oceans and even faucets and Mountain Dew, water is all around us and most of it is wet [1].  The topic of this paper is cardboard boxes and how they tend to disintegrate when placed in wet water.

Cardboard boxes are boxes that are made of cardboard.  Cardboard is a substance that tends to disintegrate when placed in water, particularly water that is wet (aka liquid water, although solid water also exists as does water vapor and steam [2]).

According to EzineArticles.com "[t]he first commercial cardboard box was produced in England in 1817 by Sir Malcolm Thornhil and the first cardboard box manufactured in the United States was made in 1895."  Knapp goes on to mention that children love cardboard boxes as toys [3].  I remember my first box at age 5.  It was great, until we left it out in the rain and the rain (aka wet water) ruined it because cardboard disintegrates in wet water.

<remainder of the paper drawn directly from the "History of Cardboard Boxes" article with numerous mentions of where water is found, how wet it is, and, if I'm lucky, a solid page directly from the class notes on the science of water with heavy emphasis on the fact that water is a polar molecule that forms hydrogen bonds>

[1]  US Department of Labor, <some webpage that does indeed mention that water is wet because it's relevant to an OSHA concern>  [Access date: the day the paper was due]
[2]  Wikipedia Water(data page)  [Access date: the day the paper was due]
[3] Knapp, Tom "The History of Cardboard Boxes" http://EzineArticles.com/709353 [Access date: a month before the paper was due]



So the paper is supposed to be about water, not cardboard?  For this kind of disconnected, simplistic, and wandering writing, I would focus the draft workshop guide sheet around the central idea; around the paper's analysis/how each point connects back to the point they are trying to make; and around transitions.

Something like:
1. What is the main idea/central point of this paper?  (I often add directions like "skim the whole paper through once.  Turn it over and don't look at it again. In your own words, write down what you think the main thrust/ central point of the paper is here in this blank.")  This can help the writer see that they are wandering away from what *should* be the thing they return to throughout.

2. Use a highlighter. Read through the whole paper again carefully. Any time a sentence doesn't follow from the one immediately before it, highlight that sentence.  (These can be from logical jumps, omitted evidence, lack of transitions, or the wandering problem; you might try to have them write a letter in the margin identifying WHICH problem each highlighted sentence has if they're good writers except when they're writing their own papers.)

3. Each paragraph should have a central organizing point which is clearly linked back to the main point the paper as a whole is making (which should be what you wrote down for question #1.)  For each paragraph, summarize the point or thrust of the paragraph in the margin in 3-7 words.  If the author has connected the paragraph's main idea back to the paper's main idea, make a large check mark under the summary.  If the author has not connected it back, circle the entire paragraph.

Doing this will probably take each student 45 minutes per paper.  If this is the first draft workshop, and if they are not already experienced peer reviewers, you might need to adduce carrots and sticks to the act of giving thoughtful, considered feedback in some way.  I often have the author turn in the marked-up copies of their drafts along with their final versions, and "grade" the feedback.  People who gave crappy feedback to their partners get a certain amount knocked off their own final papers.  (This is why having 2 students critique each paper is a good idea; people are likely to get at least one set of helpful feedback this way.)

I'm glad that you're reinforcing this! 

Long term idea: since it's a small school, maybe you could partner with a comp teacher and share assignments?  The writing they work on in the comp class would be for something they are doing in your class, and the research and lab stuff they do in your class can form the basis of other writing assignments in the comp class.   

mended_drum:
Did your student take comp at all?  One of the problems I run into frequently is the student who AP'd out of 100-level English classes and has not learned to move beyond the 5-paragraph, "From the beginning of time," essay that worked in high school. 

finallydone:
Quote from: polly_mer on April 11, 2013,  8:04:18 AM

Background:
Key point in why I like to think I'm doing what's best for my students, not being soft; affirmation or mackerel slaps appreciated: My motive in allowing a revision for points is to keeping the currently-C-for-overall-class-performance students motivated and able to continue to earn a C at the end of the class.  Mathematically, the 100 points for a revision works, but I worry about continuing motivation on these students who are earning C's only by effort.  We have a test next week and the final exam two weeks after that.  I don't want students to give up instead of continuing to do the things that will earn a C at the end of the semester. 


Don't think of it in terms of this.  What you are doing is allowing students to learn how to WRITE EFFECTIVELY.  That is important regardless of the discipline.  It reinforces that writing is not just something that needs to be done for English classes, but that effective writing is important across all disciplines.  I wish more of my colleagues in non-humanities disciplines would take the time to do this with their students.  So bravo!

I second the use of highlighters for peer editing.  I use a similar technique and it really helps students to see their errors in bright colors.  Students can often pick out the errors on other people's writing more easily than their own so that properly guided peer review can be very helpful to them.  I usually have students write a response to me about how they will improve their own papers based on what they noticed and marked in their peers' papers so that they make the connection between their own habits and others.

Also, yes, have 2 reviewers per paper to increase the odds that each student will get decent feedback from at least one person.

dr_alcott:
I like the advice so far, especially from Marigolds.

Polly, have you shown them a sample paper yet? If not, and if you can make the time for it, begin the class with a model peer review session with a sample paper. I did this yesterday, and here's what I had students do:

1. Highlight the thesis.
2. Highlight the topic sentences (or find the implied main point) in each paragraph.
3. Evaluate each paragraph for focus and support.
4. Identify two strengths in the essay.
5. Identify two areas that this writer should address in a revision.

Then we all talk about this together. Then they're ready to go on each other's papers.

Sometimes, I'll also have students highlight all the quotations (in a different color) so that they can easily see whether they're using enough (or too many) and how successfully they're integrating those quotations.

FWIW, depending on the level of students and the stage of the writing process, I would not have them proofread for grammar errors, particularly when most students need to concentrate on global issues rather than sentence-level ones. Students get caught up in playing a "How many errors can I find?" contest in sentences that may well get cut from the paper anyway.

For your question 2, Polly, yes, two hours should be enough time. I almost always find that my students rush through the process and need to be reminded to slow down and be thorough.

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