How can we empower our students to engage critically with our course materials?
One of the most exciting results of teaching–but most challenging to achieve–occurs when students are able to express curiosity about your course’s subject matter. Check out the following ideas for using writing to encourage your students to think more critically about their work.
Tomorrow: Give your students a survey to gauge their understanding of course concepts and ideas as well as their personal interest and engagement with the course.
When you are wondering if students are beginning to grasp the concepts you’ve been tackling together for several classes, consider asking students to reflect on what interests them so far in the course, or what concepts are confusing them. Some of these informal/exploratory writing exercises might help determine if you’re all on the same page, as well as inspire classroom discussion.
What is one concept that really sticks with you that we’ve discussed so far? What concepts are confusing you?
Where do you see these concepts in action in your work and life outside the classroom? What connections do you see between this course and recent events?
Next Week: Have students apply a course concept, idea, or theory to a current event or contemporary social issue.
Discussing current events can help students to see how ideas you’re working through, which can often seem abstract in the context of the classroom, have significance beyond the class. It can also address the challenge of presenting research in your field to a wider public: how might the specialized concepts you’re discussing be presented to a ‘lay’ audience? What sorts of ethical issues do researchers need to be aware of when they are presenting their work more widely?
Sciences: Have students compare the presentation of a research journal article, a university press release on the same research project, and a newspaper article citing the press release that is written for a more general audience. How do the writers of each of the releases translate the complexities of the research for a public audience? Do they avoid pitfalls like ‘hyping’ the results, or making claims the original research can’t support?
Humanities: Have students bring in two newspaper articles addressing the same issue but from two different perspectives. For example, ask students to find two editorials addressing the topic of gender reassignment surgery from opposite perspectives so that you can facilitate a discussion of the differences in tone, style, and argumentation.
Next Quarter: Ask your students to apply a course concept or idea in a genre of writing that tries to persuade an audience, such as a policy proposal, an advertising campaign, or an op-ed.
Engaging with a different genre of writing can help students see how their work might fit into a context outside of academia (e.g. popular culture, professional settings, or personal communications). Through practice with persuasive techniques, rich vocabulary, and alternative phrasing, student can also learn how to reach a variety of audiences with their writing. Most importantly, it helps them understand what is at stake when they have to communicate their ideas to others.
Arts and Humanities: One area rich with persuasive language is the advertising industry. Tackling advertisements can elicit dialogue surrounding target audiences and stereotyping, as well as consumer behavior. Teachers interested in exploring such topics might ask students to develop a product (real or fictional) to market. They must identify their target audience, television network(s) to whom they will pitch their product, and the time slots and television shows that will yield the most effective exposure. Students write a “pitch” that uses compelling language and “juicy” adjectives in order to sell their idea, and they deliver that pitch to classmates. Some instructors may ask students to rate whether or not they would “buy” what their classmates are selling as a way to keep them engaged throughout the presentations. Discussion questions following the assignment might focus on the reasoning behind students’ choices, the greater cultural narratives at work (generalizations, stereotypes, target audiences), and the connections to other course concepts and texts.
Sciences: In order to allow students to step back from laboratory research, pull together their conclusions, and consider how to communicate their findings, students can reframe their research writing into grant proposals, acting as the researchers pitching a research grant application in terms of its relevance to specific grant criteria. As a form of peer review, they might act as members of a review board who must solicit and select which of their colleagues projects will be funded. In this case, students would have to consider how to frame their research questions to appeal to a granting agency’s funding criteria, and learn how to evaluate their colleagues’ proposals using those criteria. Not only does this allow students to learn important, common professional practices, but it also forces them to consider how to focus their research findings as they prepare to present them to a wider audience.
OSU Community Example: Justin Acome, a TA in Political Science, has his students write an assignment in the form of an op/ed, speech, letter-to-the-editor, media (book, movie, article) review, or a policy memo. Students are asked to make arguments using course material in only 350 words and without relying on jargon. Students are then given extensive feedback and required to revise their work so that it is as clear and coherent as possible. Justin explains, “keeping the texts so short forces students to make decisions about what does and does not need to be said, itself both a political lesson and an important writing skill.”
WAC Resources:Check out the latest additions to our Writing Across the Curriculum Resource Wiki: https://carmenwiki.osu.edu/display/osuwacresources/Home
More Ways the WAC Team Can Help You: See an archive of our past tip e-mails at: http://cstw.org/WAC/?cat=50. For more ideas about how you might implement writing to learn activities please contact us to schedule an individual consultation. To further our aim of facilitating dialogue about teaching writing, we offer workshops with faculty and graduate teaching associates that tackle issues involving the teaching of writing in various academic genres. We also can co-facilitate in-class presentations for your students, demonstrating innovative approaches to writing instruction and lending students strategies for overcoming challenges with assignments.
We’ll be leading four upcoming workshops Spring quarter, two through the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching (UCAT) and two through Learning Technology:
For further information, visit the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s website (http://ucat.osu.edu/participate/ftad_events/ftad_events.html).
For further information, visit Learning Technology’s website (http://lt.osu.edu/calendar/).
We hope you’ll join us.
Let us know how we can help. Contact us by phone (292-9650), e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or through our website (http://cstw.osu.edu/wac).
Have a great quarter,
The WAC Team,
Dr. Chris Manion, WAC Coordinator
Lindsay Bernhagen, Comparative Studies
Mara Gross, Art Education
Katie Linder, Women’s Studies
Deborah Petrone, Education: Teaching and Learning
Courtnie Wolfgang, Art Education