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Scaffolding Assignments: The Habits Redux

posted: 7.20.12 by archived

Before I get into specifics of assignment design, I just wanted to mention a couple articles I’ve come across that respond to the habits of mind that have been on my mind this summer:

  • Clancy Ratliffe  at CultureCat blogged about how the habits of mind described in the Framework could be aligned with WPA outcomes;
  • The most recent issue of College English includes a symposium on the Framework, which seems to have excited quite a bit of not-entirely-positive feedback.

I’ve been thinking lately about how to structure a series of assignments “inspired” by the habits of curiosity, creativity, and persistence.

  1. I usually begin the semester with the generic “writer’s autobiography,” asking students to tell me and the rest of their classmates something about their history as a writer, how they assess themselves, what writing they do now, and what they hope to get out of the class. As a first informal assignment this fall, I’m thinking of asking students to write about how they are curious and creative and persistent (hereafter C, C, and P); this may have involved learning about dinosaurs or experimenting with make-up or practicing one’s foul shot. I will also ask them to comment on whether and how this connects to their experiences as a writer. This will be an informal first post on their individual blogs set up this first week of class.
  2. From that first post (or other ideas that come up as they read the posts of their classmates) students will write a memoir of an experience of curiosity or creativity or persistence (or an experience where they failed to summon these habits). I will encourage fleshed-out scenic writing, focusing on one experience or a series of snapshots, followed by a reflection about what that experience might illustrate about C, C, and P. (These essays will be cross-posted on individual blogs and one of three group blogs set up to facilitate connections across classes.)
  3. During class time, students will split into groups depending on which habit they chose. These groups will brainstorm associations about their habit and look at the student essays on their group blog to see how these experiences connect and how they might be grouped and classified. What questions might one pose about these habits? (Here we will discuss how to generate questions, open vs. closed questions, and what makes a “good” question.) Students will then work together to post their brainstorming results on the C, C, or P group blog.
  4. Also during class time, after a brief intro to a simple digital story-telling tool like Animoto , students in these same groups will create a 60-second video that illustrates or explores something about their habit—defines it, illustrates it, looks at its processes, and they will then post this on their group C, C, or P blog. Classes will vote on best video for each habit, and I will interview winning groups about their process, recording and posting the interviews.
  5. Next, we’ll look at some articles about C, C, and P. I’ll provide a list of various sources (from newspapers, Wikipedia, other blog sites, general interest periodicals, academic journals) and ask students to evaluate these articles: what can they tell about where these articles appeared, the authors and audiences and purposes, how would they evaluate the articles’ usefulness and credibility. (I will try to keep my mouth shut initially, instead of launching into my usual spiel about relevance, authority, bias, and currency.) In groups (based on their habit of choice) students will construct a Google Docs chart to record the characteristics they discover, and they’ll reflect on this activity in a post on their individual blogs.
  6. I’ll “edit” this list of articles down to three or four for each habit, including some rather challenging academic articles. After a short demonstration of dialectical note-taking, I’ll assign a pair of students (or so) to each article and ask them to read the article, dividing the work in whatever way they wish, and to construct a joint set of notes and then to each write a one-page (or so) summary of the article, both to be posted on the appropriate group blog.
  7. For a second formal essay, I’ll ask students to start with some question connected to their habit: what are its advantages or disadvantages; how is it best fostered, or how can it be killed; does it have types or stages; how can it be defined. I’ll invite them to connect personal experience to public idea, weaving together some information from several of their colleagues’ memoirs with at least one of the articles I’ve selected to explore their chosen question, approaching the essay in a sort of I-search mode that records the process of their thinking. (I’m not sure how much I’ll say about writing with sources ahead of time here, if anything.)

I anticipate that this sequence will form the first third of the course as a sort of “tasters’ menu” of the course as a whole, allowing me/us to touch on the following: connecting the personal to the public and the specific to the general; practicing strategies for reading and researching; building familiarity with technology and collaboration; developing the ability to reflect on one’s thinking as we practice the habits we’re thinking and writing about.

Please feel free to comment below on the specific sequence I propose, or offer your own thoughts about and experiences with scaffolded assignments.

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Categories: Holly Pappas
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