Archive for the ‘Working with Sources’ Category

Horizontal divider

Are indexes obsolete?

posted: 1.29.15 by Andrea Lunsford

A posting on the Free Library Blog recently caught my eye, particularly the following paragraph:

Most students also don’t know that many books are indexed. Thus they are unaware that the nature of the assignment might not require that they read the whole work, but rather that they use the index to find the relevant sections which address their own topic. As long as they understand that context matters and learn to read efficiently within a work, they need not be defeated by hundreds of pages of text. Without these skills, it’s a safe bet they haven’t been introduced to bibliographies, chasing notes, or any myriad of other useful appendixes at the back of the book. (See What students (and often their teachers and their principals) don’t know about research and an enriching liberal education.)

Students don’t know books are indexed? [read more]

Comments Off on Are indexes obsolete?
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Handbooks, Working with Sources
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Horizontal divider

“The” Research Paper

posted: 11.22.11 by Steve Bernhardt

During an informal discussion in our department the other day, a group of writing teachers were talking about the genres we assign in first-year writing. Of course, the genre of “the research paper” loomed large, and I wondered out loud if the definite article signaled some special generic status—some sort of reification or calcification. I think it does.

There are other ways to talk about this assignment, including simply “a research paper,” or better yet, “a researched paper,” or “papers that use research findings to make their arguments.” These rephrasings move us toward the indefinite or newly known, and they move us from nouns and noun substantives toward more reliance on descriptive or verbal phrases. That last rephrasing really tips the scale, as it invites reflection on what “research findings” are, where we find them, and how we use them. But any of these alternative locutions would free up some of the presuppositions behind the genre, offering a bit of breathing room for determining exactly what is expected.

And students do arrive with their own expectations. A surprising number of my first-year students had written “the research paper” in high school, typically in their senior English class but sometimes, too, in history or social studies. They know the genre is mainly about compiling a lot of source material and then somehow organizing it into a long paper bracketed between a title page and a list of references. They are pretty sure it is double-spaced. They also know it is not “the five-paragraph essay,” a much less intimidating and more practiced genre. [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Research, Working with Sources, Writing Process
Read All Steve Bernhardt

Horizontal divider

Attention to Detail

posted: 11.8.11 by Steve Bernhardt

[See also Doug Downs’ take on this topic—a happy coincidence, entirely unplanned.]

My Intro to Comp students are working on annotated bibliographies this week, using styles appropriate to their disciplines (MLA, APA, Chicago, CSE). I know some instructors prefer that everyone work with MLA and hope that whatever students learn will transfer to disciplinary standards sometime in the future, but I find that students are motivated to learn the expectations of their disciplines. A few of the students’ questions in class the other day established that some of them have paper assignments in other classes, and those classes expected Chicago style in one case, CSE in a second, and APA in a third. I suggested that we might as well concentrate on learning what they are likely to need. Writer’s Help is turning out to be a great resource, as students can go to the different models and figure out how to apply the information to their particular source information.

This kind of work, which calls for attention to detail, is really quite technical. Students need to determine exactly what kind of source they have, find their way to a matching model, and then apply it to that. Even if all the source information is at hand, getting citations correctly formatted is a challenge: name formats, colons, spacing, italics, capitalization, parentheses, periods, commas. Can we focus on details, notice tiny differences, work toward utter consistency? Because this attention to detail forms part of my instructional goal, I don’t encourage students to head immediately toward citation generation software sites, though we talk about them and identify some good ones. [read more]

Comments Off on Attention to Detail
Categories: Research, Working with Sources
Read All Steve Bernhardt

Horizontal divider

Learning to Question the Answers

posted: 4.15.11 by archived

We’re about a month from the end of the semester, and in the first-year composition world that means we’re deep into research paper time. I just got a batch of short research assignments back this week, and it has me thinking about how students use research sources.

I’m intrigued by the work that Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson are doing with the Citation Project to collect and analyze student use of sources. Their preliminary findings indicate that “Of the eighteen student research texts we studied, none included summary of a source, raising questions about the students’ critical reading practices. Instead of summary, which is highly valued in academic writing and is promoted in composition textbooks, the students paraphrased, copied from, or patchwrote from individual sentences in their sources.”

This is an enormous research project whose results will undoubtedly have many important, practical implications about how we can best teach research. But my concern right now is much simpler: why do my students have such trouble understanding the concept of in-text citation?

For the short group assignment, each student wrote one paragraph that had to include at least two sources. Despite (or because of?) my incessant chant that they must include in-text citations, approximately 80 percent of the rough drafts did not include parenthetical notation of any sort, and another 10 percent or so used a non-MLA format. So what’s going on?

Tentative explanations. Because of the complications of MLA guidelines, perhaps I put too much emphasis on citation form instead of fully explaining a citation’s purpose. The primary problem wasn’t that citations were formatted incorrectly but rather that they were totally absent. After thinking more about it, I wondered if perhaps the fundamental issue (and one I hadn’t articulated in quite this way or thought about enough) was students’ relationship to texts. [read more]

Comments: (1)
Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas, Working with Sources
Read All archived

Horizontal divider

The Great Challenge

posted: 12.22.10 by Barclay Barrios

The assignment sequences in our program follow a general pattern: the first paper works with one author, the second paper with two, the third paper with three, and the fourth paper with two. That third paper is always a challenge for students—they just start to figure out how to work with two texts and suddenly we’re asking them to work with three. But I think it’s an important challenge. In asking students to work with three authors we give them a first glimpse of how knowledge is produced throughout the academy. As they move into their majors and disciplines they will often be asked to work with multiple sources; this third paper assignment gives them early practice with those skills.

We also try to broaden the scope of this assignment to move beyond the texts of the classroom and back into the world in which we live. What does such an assignment look like? Well, here’s the one we came up with this past fall:

HIV/AIDS continues to be a global epidemic. In “AIDS, Inc.” Helen Epstein examines HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Africa, finding that not only are conversations about the disease important but that certain kinds of conversations are particularly essential. To what extent can her insights be used to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases here in the United States? Using all three essays we’ve read so far, write a paper in which you propose strategies for halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in the United States and across the globe. [read more]

Comments Off on The Great Challenge
Categories: Working with Sources, Writing Process
Read All Barclay Barrios

Horizontal divider

Inviting the Personal

posted: 11.19.10 by archived

Most of my traditional students had been writing five-paragraph essays for years: no first person, thesis in the first paragraph—the removed and the impenetrable. So while they may have thought that the move from writing to proclaim to writing to explore sounded exciting at first, they soon discovered that learning to explore their own opinions and experiences isn’t just a matter of having the freedom to say what they think; it’s a matter of taking responsibility for the complexity and thoroughness of that thought.

After a semester of discussing what it means to write a complex essay, we arrived at our last reading, Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Her work was broken into sections, but the components of personal experience and the larger questions of language, culture, and sexuality were almost impossible to tease apart.  Those elements were constantly influencing one another, sentence by sentence, segment by segment. We looked at examples of paragraphs my students had written that did something similar. What is the impact of allowing the personal to inform your position?

For their essays, I asked students to use their own experience (or that of someone they knew) to illuminate a larger social issue that was important to them.  The challenge I posed was to move elegantly between the personal issues and the social issues, to ultimately make them inseparable. [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Pitt Instructors, Ways of Reading, Working with Sources
Read All archived

Horizontal divider

Image and Inquiry in Ways of Reading

posted: 11.11.10 by archived

As I read the anonymous student evaluations made from l800px-Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_021ast spring’s section of Seminar in Composition, one particular comment almost made me laugh out loud. Prompted by the question, “what suggestions do you have to improve this course?” one student wrote that over the course of the semester, we had, it seemed, looked at “too many pictures of naked people.”

How many naked people add up to too many? Just about half of the staff syllabus I used in my second semester as a graduate teaching assistant at Pitt relied on two of Ways of Reading’s most revealing selections. Linda Nochlin’s intellectual romp through eighteenth-century representations of (nude women) bathing and Susan Bordo’s sexier exploration of culturally constructed commercial masculinity at the end of the twentieth each furnish liberal images to complement their scholarship. These texts served as cornerstones for a course aimed at exploring issues of identity through the ways we see, and engaging with images seems key to thinking about sight, both literally and metaphorically.

Two pedagogical threads, then, emerged for me as I reflected on our classroom work in the context of the anonymous student’s final comment. I was interested in the comment’s focus on the images themselves—it wasn’t that we’d read or written too much about naked people, it was that we’d seen too many representations of them. This, to me, is rather one of the strengths Ways of Reading offers as a textbook—eight of the twenty-one excerpts and essays that compose it include paintings, photographs, advertisements, or figures. Authors read culture through the image: photographs from Palestine drive Edward Said’s “States”; prison diagrams punctuate Michel Foucault’s “Panopticism.”  It’s as if the collection emphasizes the intertextuality the editors encourage composition students to explore—when we write, as published authors write, we must take into account what we see around us, the images and objects constituted by our world. And it is through careful attention to representation that critical questions can emerge. [read more]

Comments Off on Image and Inquiry in Ways of Reading
Categories: Pitt Instructors, Ways of Reading, Working with Sources
Read All archived

Horizontal divider

Thinking Gray

posted: 12.9.09 by Barclay Barrios

I recently chatted with a group of teachers at a nearby institution who were going to test the readings in Emerging, Appiah’s “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice.”  One of the things we talked about is that students always want to flatten what they read, a particular problem when it comes to essays with subtle and complex ideas like Appiah’s.  After reading these selections, students will want to say, “We should all just get along,” or “We just need to talk more and that will solve things.”  And, yes, those reflect Appiah’s ideas.  But things are not so simple, so black and white.  Sometimes the challenge of teaching writing is getting students to think gray—to deal with the messiness of complexity, and to think their own way through it.

I shared with those teachers some of the techniques I use to get students thinking gray.  For example, the class will gravitate to certain sections of an essay or certain quotations; these will probably be the key sections of the reading, but they will also probably be the ones students “get.”  I try to direct students to the ignored parts of an essay.  If a section feels unimportant, then why is it there?  What does it do for the argument?  Along these lines, I ask peer editors to find quotations from the essay that challenge a student author’s argument.

But sometimes the best way to think gray is to pay very close attention to the text.  That was my suggestion for Appiah.  Students will want to dismiss him as all “kumbaya” and “Let’s all get along.”  But then I direct them to a small but crucial quotation from Appiah’s text: “Cosmopolitanism is the name not of the solution but of the challenge.”  Asking students to explain what Appiah means, to account for this quotation within his larger argument, to see cosmopolitanism as both a challenge and a solution… that is the stuff of thinking gray.

What are your methods for engaging students in a “messy” reading?

Comments Off on Thinking Gray
Categories: Argument, Critical Reading, Critical Thinking, Emerging, Rhetorical Situation, Working with Sources
Read All Barclay Barrios

Horizontal divider

The Super Secret Formula: Still Super If Not So Secret

posted: 11.6.09 by Barclay Barrios

When I think back on all of the little class activities I’ve developed in my time as a teacher I don’t think any have spread or persisted as much as the Super Secret Formula.  It’s on my mind because one of our former teachers (now in Georgia pursuing her PhD) mentioned using it with success in a recent e-mail.  That same week the waiter at my favorite breakfast place (who also happens to be a freshman at school) also mentioned loving it.

So what is the Super Secret Formula?  Well, simply, it’s

Cl > I > Q1 > E > T > Q2 > Ce

Students start their paragraphs with “Cl,” a sentence that states the claim of the paragraph.  Then with “I,” they introduce a quotation from the first author, adding a sentenced that explains it (“E”).  The next sentence makes a transition (“T”) to a quotation from a different author, “Q2.”  Finally, students take a sentence or two to explain the connection between the two quotations (“Ce”) and how it supports the argument they’re making in the paper.

The concrete structure of a “formula” provides a good scaffolding for students to build a solid paragraph that works with quotation use but the risk is, of course, that all their paragraphs will becomes (literally) formulaic.  When using this exercise, I start by having groups use the formula to make a sample paragraph.  Then I challenge groups to come up with other formulas for working with quotations.

This is my Golden Tool of my Lore Bag—it always seems to work and students love it.  I think of course they love having a concrete pattern and set of instructions to learn how to think connectively and thus to synthesize while working with quotations.  But I always find that taking the writing class out of the writing classroom has some near magic effect.  There’s something about a scientific-looking formula that taps into some other region of students’ brains and bypasses any anxiety they may have about writing.

So, still super if not so secret.

(If you’d like to see more ideas for working with quotations, read my older post “5 ways I help students to work with quotations.“)

Comments Off on The Super Secret Formula: Still Super If Not So Secret
Categories: Assignment Idea, Integrating sources, Student Success, Working with Sources
Read All Barclay Barrios

Horizontal divider

Supporting Scholarly Research with Free Sources

posted: 9.17.09 by archived

As an adjunct with no R1 institutional affiliation, I have found it hard to research the past couple of years. When I was only teaching at a community college, this research was even more difficult because I did not have access to the majority of scholarly journals in my field. At first, I focused on teaching and did not notice this deficiency; however, as I sought to return to the world of research, this gap became obvious. Fortunately, social networking, peer exchange, and the Web provide some viable work-arounds for adjuncts in similar situations: those who cannot afford individual subscriptions to academic journals or services, who teach for institutions with minimal academic resources online, or who are between jobs.

Rather than attempt a comprehensive list, what follows is one of my research processes — and it is a process that has served and continues to serve me well. I have used it when I had access to a good research library and when I was without one. I would rather develop research skills and resources that work in times thick as well as times thin. If you have developed other work-arounds that are effective, please share them in the comments.

The first obvious source is Google Scholar. It ranks the relative scholarly importance of articles by showing how often they are cited. Additionally, Google Scholar provides a list of related articles; this can be almost as good as an annotated bibliography. It is also useful for identifying patterns. Sometimes this has led me to discover related articles in free, online, and open access scholarly journals.

Once potential sources and leads are identified, I move to Google Books. I follow the leads there, locate the books, and find out just how much of the materials I can read online. Unfortunately, it is not possible to copy and paste from Google Books; however, viewing is better than having to buy pricey texts, and it offers you a chance to at least look at them. On top of that, it provides an opportunity to review the working scholarly bibliographies and lists of works cited so that if and when you do hit an open window for materials, you are prepared with a list of goodies to go find. Be sure that you save these books to your GBooks library so that it is easy to relocate the texts.

Finally, I go to ScribD. The site hosts a number of scholarly books and articles, and I download them without hesitation. When I have a book-buying budget, then I will purchase the books. At this point, my budget is limited, so I do what I need to do in order to further my scholarship. Additionally, by downloading a PDF, I can use Adobe Acrobat, mark up my own PDF, and keep my notes stored — all without killing trees or paying $230 for a single book. If texts from academic presses are more reasonably priced, like some of University of Chicago’s books or MIT’s books, then I am certainly happy to buy them or pay for a digital download. Ditto on the academic articles.

While ScribD certainly does not have all the materials that scholars need, you can get a lot of material. I also find a lot of interesting and semi-related material in the sidebars which, like YouTube, show related or potential articles of interests. This sort of incidental or coincidental discovery has led me towards a number of useful sources. For example, when I was researching “Biopower” and “Foucault,” Eugene Thacker’s work was listed in a sidebar. I followed that link and discovered his text The Global Genome. From that developed a new area of interest for me: the rhetoric surrounding genetic capitalism and development. I have spent hours and hours researching a topic that I happened to bump into in a sidebar.  Thus, the peer-exchange nature of sites like ScribD offer the additional benefit of numerous potential paths/distractions/leads to follow — something that can be more intense than straight research in a library’s online or physical resources. Unlike looking at books in similar locations, sites like ScribD enable intersections with ideas based on the user who posts the content as well as the content’s key words.

Finally, be sure to network with people in person and online. Perhaps one or several of them will share their PDF library or access with you. It may be a long shot, but you never know until you check. Fortunately at key points in my intellectual development, people have passed along vital PDFs which reshaped my thinking and theorizing.

As an adjunct, we have far fewer resources than many graduate students and most full-time faculty. This means we must adapt, adopt, and innovate to continue our research. The Web can facilitate this.  Hopefully the peer-exchange and social nature of the Web will also cultivate the development of research work-around strategies that bolster our academic work while avoiding the costs of information access.

Comments: (1)
Categories: Adjunct Advice, Finding Sources, Gregory Zobel, Professional Development & Service, Research, Working with Sources
Read All archived