Author Archive

Finding a Voice

posted: 4.21.14 by Nancy Sommers

Voice is that elusive category we talk about with students—“find your voice,” we urge, as if they left it somewhere, in a dresser drawer, perhaps, or as if they could purchase it on Amazon.  But there is no lost and found drawer for voice, no way to shop for it, or seek it out.  Voice is something students have to write their way into, something that takes practice and play, and numerous attempts while listening for their own idiosyncratic take on the world. 

Teaching creative nonfiction this semester has given me an opportunity to talk more about voice, something that too often seems missing from the over-crowded academic writing class, with its rush from analysis to argument to research writing. There’s plenty to teach about voice in academic writing, especially its absence in stilted, dull prose, or its presence in particular genres, but, unfortunately, in first-year writing the subject of voice often takes a back seat.  A creative nonfiction course is over-crowded in its own way, as we move from one assignment to the next, practicing dialogue and crafting scenes in one exercise, handling the passage of time with back-stories and reflections in the next, and always reflecting on what draws us into the world of the essays we read or those which students write. Voice is center stage in every discussion about subject, style, shape, and narrative technique; it is always on the page and in our workshops as students figure out who they are—and who they want to be—in their own narratives.

One way to approach the elusiveness of voice is by not talking about it at first. Instead, I talk with students about the ways in which all good creative nonfiction—and all good academic writing, too—has, at its center, a writer trying to figure something out— struggling with a problem,  a dilemma or contradiction—a “not knowing” which gives the writing its reason for being. As students plan their narratives, I ask them to write from curiosity:  What is it you want to understand—what doesn’t make sense—what pieces don’t fit together?   These questions and the spirit of exploration they engender don’t guarantee that students will write their way into an engaging, compelling, genuine voice, but they encourage them to write away from certainty and cliché, and into complexity.

In writing creative nonfiction, students discover a freedom of form that often leads to the kind of explorations that bring them closer to a voice they recognize. In handling the passage of time, for instance, they often need to question the reliability of memory—a subject in itself– or think against themselves and test assumptions in order to see perspectives other than their own.  Or in wrestling with the complexity of family secrets, for example, they often need to interview relatives, examine evocative photographs and objects to understand the personal and historical back-stories behind these secrets.  It requires plenty of practice and play to be comfortable on the page, and doesn’t happen with a single assignment or writing course, but when students explore a question or problem that really matters to them, they start listening for their personal, quirky, idiosyncratic take on the world.

Dear Readers:  How do you talk about voice with your students?  What exercises or assignments help your students find a comfortable voice on the page? Please share your ideas by leaving a comment below. 

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Our Teaching, Ourselves

posted: 2.13.14 by Nancy Sommers

Dear Readers: Here’s a question for you:  How do we reinvent ourselves, semester after semester, to keep our teaching fresh and new?

This is a question I’m pondering as I mentor new teachers, their passions palpable, their enthusiasm unbridled; they can’t imagine a more perfect calling than teaching writing. I ask them to reflect on what brought them to education, and I find myself asking, after thirty-some years of teaching, what has kept me here? How do I find those corners in myself, year after year, that rhyme with my students—and subject matter—and that keep me passionate about teaching?

Flashback to my first teaching experience: I imagined teaching to be nothing more than bringing my love of Walt Whitman to students, eighth graders brimming with the rhythms of Chicago’s urban life. I thought the only way to love Whitman was to read poetry outdoors, to luxuriate in the grass, marveling at the conjugation of the color green.  My students, though, had no desire to celebrate leaves of grass.  They had plenty to say, their bodies electric, but I wasn’t listening to the call of their stories. Looking back, I realize how much of the year was a song of myself, more soliloquy than an exchange of voices, more my performance than theirs.

Nancy Sommers, circa 1978

It took a decade or more for me to understand that teaching requires both humility and leaps of faith—and, most importantly, the willingness to listen to and learn from students—a back and forth exchange that comes from helping students to give voice to their own ideas, and not impose passions, literary or political, on them.

What I learned from my students, when I started listening, is how to write— a preposterous claim, I suppose, since I’m the one who is supposed to be the teacher.  But their struggles to revise and my difficulties responding to their drafts revealed my own limitations as a writer and provided a subject to write about. It started with revision, watching students sabotage their own best interests as they moved words around, their successive drafts weaker than their first.  I started researching and writing about my students, their questions and challenges, curious about why some prospered as college writers while others lagged.  My students gave me a subject and, in doing so, invited me to join them on the page, not as the critic in the margins of their work, but as a fellow writer, compassionate and less judgmental.

These days I consider myself as much a writer as a teacher, although there are plenty of years in which the balance between teaching and writing is lopsided, the teaching taking precedence, and I need to write my way back to balance the equation. Humility comes from teaching writing as a writer; and a loss of certainty comes, too.  I am less likely to impose my interpretation upon a student’s draft and more likely, as a fellow writer, to recognize vulnerability, especially when students are asked to put their first drafts aside and start anew.

Each semester I am inspired by my students’ stories, their writing struggles and successes as they compose essays about complex subjects that matter to them.  Helping students develop as thinkers and writers is a calling, one that is renewed each semester by students. I can’t imagine work more important than this.

Dear Readers: Whether you’ve been teaching writing for two years or thirty-two, how do you keep teaching fresh and new?  Share your stories and ideas below.

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A writer’s habits

posted: 10.1.13 by Nancy Sommers

October, 2013

I recently surveyed more than 1,000 first-year writers at 35 colleges and universities in preparation to revise The Bedford Handbook. The survey respondents helped me see that developing effective habits of mind—curiosity, engagement, responsibility, and reflection—is just as important to students as developing writing skills. Writing skills are important, of course, but by themselves such skills are insufficient if a student isn’t curious to seek entry points in a research conversation or isn’t engaging other writers in the conversation.

In my own classes, I’ve started to tell students “Good academic habits make good college writers. Welcome to class.”  And I talk about my writing habits, especially those that motivate me when words and ideas aren’t easily flowing and I find myself staring, unhappily, at a blank computer screen.

One of my pre-writing habits is what I call, for the lack of a better term, rehearsing—finding a way to talk about my ideas, even in their inchoate form, with anyone I can elbow into the conversation. Before writing a first draft, I try out ideas, frame them, find words to explain them, and hear myself think in the company of potential readers.  Nothing is more helpful, when starting a new project, than seeing the reactions of my interlocutors. Do their faces go slack when I speak? Do they lean away and stare at their watch or computer screen?  Or do they lean forward, smile, become animated, urge me on, and offer a counter position? I want to engage with readers right from the start of a project to rehearse possible directions and to shape possible arguments and rhetorical appeals.

To help students develop the habit of engaging with readers, I pair them with writing partners to try out ideas, to see perspectives other than their own, and to discover questions they might consider, and why these questions may matter.  Such pre-writing sessions with peers help students approach writing assignments with the habit of mind of “giving and getting”—that is, giving an interesting twist or angle for consideration, and getting insight into a reader’s concerns about the topic. Such sessions also help students learn how to pose questions and to anticipate counter positions, key elements in framing arguments. Rather than staring at blank computer screens as they plan and draft their papers, students benefit from hearing the voices of potential readers, voices that might encourage them to believe they have something to say to readers who want to hear from them.

Dear Readers: Rehearsing is a writing habit I offer my students.  What are some of your writing habits? And how do you pass them along to your students? Share with us by posting a comment below.

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Use a handbook. Start a habit.

posted: 8.13.13 by Nancy Sommers

Hello, dear colleagues.

I send all good wishes to you and your students for the new academic year. I’m often asked these two questions at the start of the semester: What are the best ways to introduce a Hacker/Sommers handbook? and What activities might help students develop the habit of using a handbook?    

Most students enter writing classes uncertain how and why a handbook will help meet the new expectations of college writing. If we don’t explain how we expect students to use it, both inside and outside of class, they might assume that the handbook is a recommended text, not required—and they may not understand that the book’s advice and resources are essential for their success as college writers.

Yet as teachers we know that the more students rely on their handbook, the more effective they will become as writers, not only in first-year writing, but throughout college.  I articulate this principle on the first day of class—everything you need to become a successful college writer in any course is in this handbook; become friends with it. I’ve learned, though, that this principle is a well-intentioned abstraction unless I require students to bring their handbook to each class and give them specific reasons to open it—questions to answer or problems to solve—and show them how the book is designed for them. I want students to start asking questions about their writing and to learn how to find the answers in their handbook. One of my oft repeated queries in class is—Where in your handbook will you find the answer to that question?

What follows are several activities, all collaborative, that I use at the beginning of the semester to introduce the handbook:

  • The revision memo. Students read and review a draft written by a former student.  In peer groups, students discuss questions such as: What are the draft’s strengths and problems? What specific revision strategies will improve the draft’s readability, and why? Where in the handbook might the student go for advice?  In a brief memo, collaboratively written, students recommend three or four revision goals and use the handbook’s language to explain, for instance, how to develop a stronger thesis statement, unify paragraphs, or punctuate run-on sentences.
  • The scavenger hunt. Students are paired to complete a scavenger hunt to locate key coverage in the book—coverage that matches the course goals and assignments. The search actively encourages students to navigate the handbook’s index, menus, charts, and checklists—hubs of information—and find specific help before they need it.
  • Decoding expectations. Students work together to annotate the first assignment—or the rubric for the assignment— to include cross-references of the pages and sections of the handbook they will need to successfully write their papers. Students are asked: What do you need to know how to do to complete this assignment? Where in the handbook will you receive guidance?  For instance, assignment criteria might include defining purpose and audience, writing an introduction, summarizing a source, or proofreading for accuracy and correctness. This exercise also helps students learn to carefully read assignments and rubrics to understand expectations.
  • Leading the class. To reinforce the idea that the handbook contains vocabulary that is useful for talking about about writing as writing, students are asked to teach a handbook lesson to their peer group. Students choose their lesson—how to analyze a Web source, or how to replace passive verbs with active ones—and use the handbook’s language and examples for their lessons.

The goal of these exercises is for students to start the work of the class while they become familiar with their handbook and, in turn, become more confident, independent writers. And becoming confident, independent writers is, after all, one of the best outcomes we can desire for our students.

I am eager to hear your ideas and activities for introducing your Hacker/Sommers handbook. Please  leave a suggestion or two below with the rest of us!

All best wishes,

 

 

 

 

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Writing about Objects

posted: 4.24.13 by Nancy Sommers

“We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.”  Sherry Turkle

My students are writing about objects, and so am I. These are ordinary, everyday objects—a recipe, book, bus ticket, or piece of clothing—objects that evoke a network of questions and associations, reflections and ideas. Writing alongside one’s students is a humbling process.

Here’s how my draft starts:

      It all begins with an ordinary Maxwell House coffee can. Nothing unusual, except an oddly-shaped piece of masking tape affixed to the lid: SPRITZ COOKIES 5/19/2003.  It is winter 2013; the cookies have been in this can, in my Mother’s freezer, for ten years. This is the last batch of cookies she will ever make, having declared herself, at age 88, too old to bake.  I didn’t tell my parents that I took the coffee can and brought it back to my home in Boston. I knew that my mother would say “No,” she might need the cookies at some point, as she usually responds whenever we want to take anything from their home.

Why a coffee can? Well, it has a hold on me, and I want to figure out why. Writing from not knowing, with a question to answer, a problem to solve, is a good position for a writer. After ten years in the freezer, the can is rusty around the edges, its masking label stained and discolored, my mother’s evocative handwriting blurred and deteriorating.  It is an object, in the words of Sherry Turkle, to “think with” and think about; it contains stories, and stories beget stories.

I ask students to write about evocative objects because it is a way for them to bridge the personal with the academic.  Nobody has written about these particular objects before; no pre-ordained theses limit their interpretations. To start, they need to observe closely, pose questions, and anchor ideas in the concrete. And, then, they need to become cultural historians, investigating and interrogating as they ask questions to which they don’t have immediate answers—who made their objects, and for what reasons, and why these objects matter. As they move from description and narration to analysis and reflection, they learn to “think with” their objects.  And they move outward to interdisciplinary inquires because suddenly they need to consult sources to learn more about their objects. The objects may be ordinary but what they make of them is not.

I’m not sure where my draft is leading, but already I’m part of a noisy conversation: my coffee can has summoned other objects—cookbooks, photographs, postcards— and these objects are conversing and conspiring. I hope this happens for my students, too, as their chosen objects lead them to observations and questions and to ideas that matter to them.

Dear Readers:   How do you help your students bridge the personal with the academic? Please share your stories and ideas.

With all good wishes,

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Between the Drafts, February 2013

posted: 2.19.13 by Nancy Sommers

Dear Readers:  Here are questions I’ve been thinking about:   How can I help my students write their way through college and into the world as citizens who engage in public debates and persuade their readers? And how can I help bring bookish terminology such as ethos, logos, and pathos to life for them?

My response this year has been to assign the op-ed, an opinion piece that invites students to enter public debates about issues important to them. The op-ed requires a concise, focused argument that is audience-driven and that anticipates and acknowledges readers’ counter positions.  And in formulating their argument, students need to ask the challenging and necessary “So what?” question—why would readers care about this issue and the writer’s particular argument?

Before students write their op-eds, they need to do what academics do—research—and study the conversation around their topic. They need to ask What has been said and by whom? And What ideas or questions are missing from this debate? They need to understand their topic sufficiently well so that they can discover what has been overlooked and what evidence might be debated.  Suddenly, the rhetorical appeals seem real and relevant.  In an op-ed, the writer’s ethos shapes the debate and gives readers a reason to trust the balance of logical and emotional appeals on which the argument rests.

One of my requirements is that students research the print or online publications where they intend to send their piece. They need to imagine themselves in conversation with the readership of specific publications and understand both the readers’ expectations and the publication’s conventions. All the lessons about audience and purpose come into focus because in order to publish an op-ed, the writer must respect the readers’ point of view, account for disagreements, and determine what evidence may be persuasive for their specific audience and purpose.

Students find the assignment challenging.  They are accustomed to offering their opinions casually on Twitter or other social media, and they are surprised to find how difficult it is to write something officially called “an opinion piece.” But in writing an op-ed, they do more than offer an opinion; they construct a focused, reasonable argument, include convincing evidence, and conclude within750-1000 words. The benefit for instructors? No jargon or wasted words, no excess information, no unnecessary sentences. And no space for sweeping introductions such as “Since the dawn of mankind….” or “In today’s society…”  From their first sentence, students must articulate that they have something important to communicate and motivate readers to continue to read.

If you’re interested in learning more about the op-ed, here is a link to The Op-Ed project a venture that asks “who narrates the world?” and is dedicated to increasing “the range of voices and quality of ideas” heard in public discourse. This Web site includes excellent materials and advice about how to write and publish an op-ed.

Dear Readers: Have you asked students to write op-eds? Or have you found other assignments to help students develop their public voices?  Please share your stories and ideas.

With every good wish,

Be sure to continue to visit hackerhandbooks.com for teaching ideas and materials.

What’s new this semester? Scavenger hunts for all Hacker/Sommers handbooks and companion material for Responding to Student Writers .

 

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Designing Thoughtful Writing Assignments

posted: 11.20.12 by Nancy Sommers

What makes a good writing assignment?  We know that thoughtful papers come from thoughtful assignments, but why do some students run with our assignments, surprising us with interesting insights and careful research, while others, like Bartleby the Scrivener, simply “prefer not to?”

Assignments work on multiple levels, especially in a first-year writing course, when students, as apprentices, are asked to think about big, complex ideas, and asked to do so as if they were experts on these topics.  We’ve learned that assignments work best when we work backwards, asking, What must a student know how to do in order to successfully write this assignment? And when we sequence each assignment to give students time to practice skills, one lesson at a time, and provide opportunities for students to try out ideas and receive feedback in low-stakes writing exercises.

But how do our best pedagogies square with students’ learning? When speaking with college students about writing assignments, I often hear their uncertainty about what their teachers are asking them to do:  What counts as a good thesis? What kind of evidence should I use? How can I say something different from what my source already says? And what criteria will be used to grade my paper? Viewing assignments through students’ eyes shows us both the complexity of what we are asking them to accomplish in a single assignment and the challenges they face as apprentices trying to simultaneously develop expertise in new subjects and new methods.

During my travels this semester, I came across engaging assignments at the University of Mississippi and Tacoma Community College. These assignments provide opportunities for students to enter public conversations as fellow participants, with something to gain and much to give.

In the University of Mississippi’s Foundations for Academic Success Track (FASTrack) program, students take a research-writing course focused on the theme of community. Each of their assignments asks them to solve community problems and enter debates that demand real, immediate solutions.  The course culminates in the $100 Difference Project, which asks students to research a community problem, investigate organizations which attempt to address that problem, and propose how the organization might use $100 to make a difference.  In completing this assignment, students not only develop their authority as rhetoricians, but also use their research skills to make something happen in their community.

The second assignment, from Tacoma Community College, asks students to assume the role of mediator for a current social or ethical issue that the class has studied. To do so, they need to research the background and context for the debate, listen closely to various arguments in the debate, acknowledge the legitimacy of each side’s claim, synthesize the commonalities and differences between sides, and present a workable compromise.  To understand what it would take to achieve compromise, students must move beyond either/or thinking and engage with competing sides in the debate, find common ground by being sympathetic and respectful to opposing views, and  use their synthesis to work in the territory of compromise and reconciliation.

Dear Readers: What makes an engaging assignment for your students? Do you give students opportunities to enter real civic or academic debates? Please share your thoughts and assignments with fellow readers.

With every good wish,

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Building Reflection into The Writing Course

posted: 9.18.12 by Nancy Sommers

Greetings, Dear Readers:

Here we are—at the start of a new academic year—and, like our students, ready to see what the year will bring.  For faculty in the University of Mississippi’s Center for Writing and Rhetoric, the year began with these welcoming words from Center Director, Professor Robert Cummings:  “First-year composition is the beginning of something new: the college experience.”

That something new—the college experience—and, even more specifically, college writing—can be hugely overwhelming if students aren’t given opportunities to reflect, to question and evaluate what it means to become a college writer.  We know reflection helps students understand both what they are learning and how they are learning; we also know that such reflection is a writerly habit that takes plenty of practice and is not something students naturally know how to do.

From day one, the Mississippi writing program asks their students to practice being reflective writers as part of their college experience, to stop and think about their expectations for themselves, their teachers, and their courses.  Ole Miss students are asked to compose reflections (print, audio, or video) throughout the writing course and about every aspect of their learning—how their papers evolved through the drafting process, how the peer review process influenced particular decisions, how they focused their arguments for a particular audience or genre, or how specific research practices shaped their ideas and arguments.  Showing students how to evaluate what they are learning helps them transfer their learning from one writing assignment to the next.

One of the most effective ways to build reflection into the writing process is to ask students to compose a Dear Reader letter or a writer’s memo to accompany their drafts. Students might be asked to reflect about specific questions they are asking about their ideas, about the challenges of writing in a particular genre, or about where they might focus their attention if they had two more days to write their draft. For instance, if students have been asked to write an argument, they might be asked to reflect on the specific expectations of the genre—a debatable thesis, evidence, counterargument, etc.—or about the challenges of establishing their ethos or analyzing their sources. These reflective exercises help students evaluate their learning and provide us with a glimpse into their writing processes.

I wrote about the Dear Reader letter and about the interplay between students’ reflections and teachers’ comments in Responding to Student Writers, a new book published by Bedford/St.Martin’sThe book is a free resource for you and your colleagues, written from one fellow teacher to another. This book offers my thoughts about the vital role response plays in students’ learning and my reflections culled from responding to many thousands of drafts—probably more drafts than anyone is supposed to read in a lifetime.

I would love to hear from you, dear readers: How do you help your students become reflective writers?  How do you build reflection into your writing course?  Please share your ideas and teaching stories.

With every good wish for the new academic year,

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Becoming a College Writer: Learning to Revise

posted: 1.30.12 by Nancy Sommers

How do first-year college students revise?  This is just one of several questions my colleagues at Bedford/St.Martin’s and I wanted to explore in our survey of over 1000 students from thirty-six colleges and universities.  Seeing revision through the eyes of students reveals the gaps between teachers’ expectations and students’ practices and explains why students’ revised drafts, no matter what we’ve said in the classroom or written in the margins of their papers, too often remain rough drafts.

What did we learn from students’ survey responses?  Well, not surprisingly, many of the  responses confirm our assumptions that first-years don’t see the global possibilities of revision, but instead conceive of revision merely as moving words around, fixing errors, “going over” and “cleaning up”—a separate stage at the end of the process, requiring “perfecting” and “polishing” what has already been written. And the responses confirm students’ anxieties about making changes. As one student put it, “Revising is hard because you don’t know if the changes that you make are going to be better than the original choices.”

But consider the implications of these three representative responses:

“When I’m asked to revise, I feel as if I’m being asked to revise myself.”

“When you revise, you are forced to think in ways you did not before.”

“Sometimes the first draft blocks a way of seeing something new.”

These responses remind us of the vast leap our students need to make to become confident college writers—to see revision as a normal part of writing, not as a punishment or as an indictment of their character—and, then, the even huger leap to see revision as a way to reconsider or re-think the subject matter of the draft.  As teachers, we can correct and edit, suggest and implore, put students in small or large peer groups, but if students see revision as a threat to themselves and to their own identities, they will continue to see change as a loss, as if something is being taken away from them, rather than as opportunities to re-see and re-imagine something new.

The truth about revision, as the survey respondents recognize, is that it takes patience and practice to gain the necessary detachment and critical distance to see beyond words already written. A first draft often blocks “a way of seeing something new,” which is why student writers, like all writers, benefit from revising in the company of readers. And revising, as students understand, requires that one be open to change, which isn’t easy for first-years who are being asked to move away from either/or ways of thinking and to consider new ideas and practices.

Becoming a college writer is an apprenticeship, a slow one that doesn’t come about in one paper or one semester. And the survey responses remind us why students need considerable practice and repetition before revising becomes a comfortable habit of mind.

To help your students see the possibilities of revision, especially those provided through peer readers, you might want to show them a wonderful new video created by Suzanne Lane at MIT, No One Writes Alone: Peer Review in the Classroom, A Guide for Students.

What one piece of advice do you offer your students about revision? Or what advice helped you learn how to revise?  Please share your advice and ideas.

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Thinking about The Research Paper

posted: 11.16.11 by Nancy Sommers

Let’s start with a virtual show of hands:

How many of you assign a traditional research paper?

Now—how many of you are questioning its role in first-year composition?

Last month I had the opportunity to speak at the Maryland Statewide Standards for College English conference about the research paper. As I began thinking about its history and role in first-year writing, I decided to do what most of our first-year students do when assigned a research paper—go straight to Google.  Google delivered 464 million results in .25 seconds, with abundant entries and links to companies that promised “non-plagiarized” “customized” research papers—24/7—“satisfaction guaranteed.”

The research paper has become a contentious issue in many first-year composition programs. On one level, critics of the assignment argue against it because of the ease of buying papers and the ease of accessing, cutting, and pasting sources from the Internet. And on other levels, critics argue that students are so overwhelmed by the process and often do such a lousy job that it is time to declare the death of an artificial genre that has outlived its usefulness. Even the New York Times, in its online opinion page, has taken up the question—Is the research paper outdated?—debating the role of the traditional research paper in the Age of the Internet. Yet before we write an obituary for the research paper because of students’ difficulties with the genre, we need to acknowledge the enormous challenges students face as novice researchers.

This fall, my colleagues at Bedford/St. Martin’s and I surveyed over 1000 students—some of them your students!—about becoming college writers, including the challenges of writing research papers.  The principal challenge identified by students is locating good sources; the second challenge is figuring out what to do with the sources they’ve found.

To my mind, these findings suggest that the research paper remains an important assignment in students’ progression as academic writers.  In a world dominated by the Internet, where information and misinformation are easily accessed with one click, the composition class offers an interlude of instruction, nurturing students’ abilities to read, question, and evaluate sources—in other words, to think critically and independently—as students and informed citizens.

The problem of the research paper is not the paper itself; the problem, too often, is its place at the end of a course and the breadth of skills we presume to teach in a single paper.  We call it—TheResearch Paper—giving it a prominence and starring role, but don’t always adequately prepare students with the necessary skills that such an assignment demands.  We ask students to converse with sources, but how will they strike up a conversation on a topic without the confidence or expertise that makes it possible to ask interesting questions and recognize authoritative sources.  And when students haven’t had a semester’s worth of practice reading sources, arguing with and against them, we shouldn’t be surprised if they cut and paste—plagiarize—and submit papers that do not guarantee satisfaction for either students or instructors.

One method for building students’ confidence and expertise is to organize first-year writing courses around a flexible, capacious theme—“Immigration in America,” “Food and Culture,” or “Contemporary Theatre”— and give students multiple assignments exploring this theme in depth, while they figure out what to do with the words and ideas of others—their sources. Students flounder less, as we all do, when we learn to ask questions, enter debates, and stake claims in topics we know something about.

No composition course, no single pedagogy will always produce “satisfaction guaranteed,” but theme-based composition courses give students advantages they lack if they are asked to invent topics and find sources on themes their course has not explored. When students develop their authority in both content and method, they enter public conversations as fellow participants, with something to gain and much to give.

What questions are you asking about the traditional research paper?  What challenges do your students face writing researched essays?  Please share your ideas and teaching stories.

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