Posts Tagged ‘assignment’

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Thinking about Research in the Disciplines

posted: 5.25.11 by Barclay Barrios

I have come to believe that quite often students don’t know how to connect the work we’re doing in the classroom to the work they will come to do in their disciplines and majors. So this semester, I’ve crafted a disciplinary research report assignment to address just that disconnect.

The assignment is fairly low stakes writing in the context of our course, but it does give students a chance to see how research and researched writing happens in their chosen field. They discover that MLA isn’t the only citation system in the world. They realize that sometimes three, five, or even seven authors will work together on an article. They find out that some fields use a lot of jargon.

But they also see that across all the disciplines, ideas matter. What matters is the ability to apply, connect, assess, test, extend, modify, or refute those ideas. I tell students that the whole purpose of any theory is to predict or explain reality. And when they read in their disciplines, I think they really start to understand what I mean.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Research
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Twitter Me This

posted: 5.11.11 by Barclay Barrios

As I indicated in my last post, my assistant Mike Shier has developed what I think is a genius use of cell phones in the classroom. He has the entire class establish Twitter accounts and then follow everyone else in the class. What he ends up with is a super-mobile, super-light virtual classroom.

Mike will ask students to Tweet questions about the new reading, offering a starting place for class discussion.  He’ll have them Tweet the arguments of their papers for quick, mass-class peer feedback.  He’ll have them Tweet the most persistent error students found while reading peer’s papers in peer review.

I have to admit I’m envious that he thought this all up. Twitter is perfect: you don’t need a computer, just a cell phone that can text. The 140-character limit encourages conciseness. The whole system is simple to use. And students actually enjoy it.

I’m going to be adopting this system for my class this summer. I find other systems, like Blackboard, clumsy, clunky, and cluttered. I’m ready for something lighter, smaller, easier. I’m ready for Twitter.

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Categories: Barclay Barrios
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Writing Beyond Stereotypes

posted: 5.9.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

3925729921_53a3ea1e6eFor many years, I assigned written self-assessments at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester in the Basic Writing course. I invited students to focus on their own strengths, areas for improvement, what they felt they had learned, and how their writing demonstrated what they had learned.  Such assessments, I suggested, could help to build students’ confidence in their writing skills, which could enhance their ability and their desire to write.

However, after reading Geoffrey Cohen’s article, “Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap,” I decided to try something a bit different. Geoffrey Cohen and his research team found that a values intervention can serve as a powerful antidote to stereotypes and can help to sustain student achievement. Learning, as defined by this research, becomes possible—and powerful—for students as they become aware of their own values, and how those values connect to success in high-risk academic situations. Values intervention works by reminding students what is important to them—where they come from, what and whom they love, why they have succeeded in the past.  In addition, the students also learn still more purposes for writing: to intervene against negative stereotypes, to remember their strengths, and to focus their attention toward success. Here is the prompt I created after reading Cohen’s article (students responded in class near the end of the semester):

Reflect on the following prompt with at least 2–3 pages of writing.  The idea for this prompt is taken from, “Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap,” an article published in Science 17 (April 2009) by Geoffrey L. Cohen, Julio Garcia, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Nancy Apfel, and Patricia Brzustoski. Their research investigated the connections between writing, values affirmation, and school success. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Developmental
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Tips for New Teachers #2: Thinking About Writing Assignments

posted: 5.5.11 by Andrea Lunsford

We all probably remember writing assignments we wish we hadn’t been given.  In middle school, my English teacher assigned me to copy out every alliteration in “Evangeline” (!!) and then write a paragraph about why I did or did not like them.  In graduate school, one of our assignments came in the form of one word:  “Tragedy!”  I don’t remember doing well on either one of these exercises.  What, I wondered, were these teachers up to?  What did they want me to do?

Perhaps because of my own experience, I am pretty cautious in designing assignments for my students.  Here are the guidelines I set for myself for each major assignment:

  • Why am I asking the students to do this assignment?  Can I explain to myself and to them what’s in this assignment for them as well as for me?
  • What will it take to do this assignment well?  How much time, for example?  Will research be necessary and can it be accomplished in time to meet the assignment deadline?  What steps do I expect students to take–and how can I model those steps for/with them?
  • What will I need to provide to get the students ready for the assignment?  I almost always build in short brainstorming activities, for example, that help me know what the students know—and don’t know—about how to do a good job on the assignment.
  • What are my expectations in terms of length, structure/genre, format, use of sources, and so on?  When are drafts and final versions due—and are these deadlines reasonable?
  • Can I do this assignment myself?

[read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea
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Looking for Essays and Assignments!

posted: 5.2.11 by archived

In today’s blog post, instead of offering something, I’m going to ask for something. What a rip-off, I know!

I am the coauthor, with John Ruskiewicz, of How to Write Anything with Readings. We’re currently working on the second edition of the book, along with a special electronic version.  We’re reaching out to instructors and to students—whether you have used the book or not.

We’re looking for additional assignments and student essays, and hope you might be willing to share some of the teaching materials you have used, along with some of the student work from your classes. Here are the specific types of assignments we need:

  • Profiles
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Abstracts
  • Speeches
  • Blog Posts
  • Podcasts/Webcasts
  • Brochures
  • Pamphlets
  • User Documentation/Instructions
  • Process/How To
  • Mission Statements
  • Business Memos
  • Progress Reports
  • Poster Presentations

Also, we’d like student essays in the following genres: Causal Analyses, Reports, Literary Analyses, and Rhetorical Analyses.

If a student essay is included in the new editions, Bedford/St. Martin’s can pay the teacher and the student $100 each. We can also offer $50 for any syllabi that we use. We won’t be able to use all of the content we receive, but will try to use as much as possible.

Our goal here is twofold: help one another become even better teachers, and reward excellent teachers and students. We’re eager to see both your assignments and your students’ work.

Thanks in advance for any materials you can share. If you have any questions just let me know.  You can e-mail materials to me at

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Categories: How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage
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More Sample Work: Student Progress

posted: 3.30.11 by Barclay Barrios

I chose Cranachan’s third paper (in response to the assignment I shared previously on this blog) as an example because it represents the kind of progress students can make in one semester. Until this point in the semester, Cranachan had struggled with his papers.  My end comment on his second paper read:

You’re doing some good work here with quotation—you do a pretty good job connecting the essays in each paragraph. Keep that up as you move forward. What you need to work on is argument. Your argument is pretty much the same as Appiah’s, so I don’t see you adding anything new. At the same time, each of your paragraphs seems to repeat the same idea without building up a central argument. For your next paper, focus on argument. A clear, strong argument will help you structure your paragraphs, which will lead to a much stronger paper.

Despite its errors and weaknesses, then Cranachan’s third paper represents real growth in his thinking and writing. He was able to learn from my comment on his second paper to make a stronger argument for this paper. That central argument helps the entire essay: the paragraphs are more focused and have a logic to them that builds with the overall argument.

It’s nice to know that sometimes students do read our comments. And it’s certainly nice to see them improve.

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Categories: Emerging
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Assignment: Naming and the Rhetoric of War

posted: 3.29.11 by Traci Gardner

110319-N-7293M-003Twelve years ago, we were reading and watching news stories about “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo. Overwhelmed with the need to do something in response, I turned to writing and came up with Ten Rhetoric of War Writing Projects.

Those writing prompts came to mind recently when the United States launched Operation: Odyssey Dawn. It wasn’t that the United States was involved in yet another military action. It was the name. Where do they get these names, and what on earth are they thinking when they choose them?

A couple of days later I got my answer in Wired’sWhat’s in a Name? ‘Odyssey Dawn’ Is Pentagon-Crafted Nonsense.” Despite conjecture to the contrary, military officials say the name is meaningless. It’s just a code name created according to a formula that was developed in response to public relations problems caused by mission names in the past (like “Operation Killer” in Korea and “Operation Masher” in Vietnam).

The name Operation: Odyssey Dawn is not without controversy, however. Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC’s The Last Word criticized the name and launched “Rewrite Operation: Odyssey Dawn,” asking viewers to suggest alternatives. The video segment below explains the military’s system for naming missions, and touches on the difficulty of choosing names for anything:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

[read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Teaching with Technology, Uncategorized
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Using Pop Culture to Hook Students on Poetry

posted: 3.15.11 by Traci Gardner

3418717701_d2276363e8_mNational Poetry Month is still a few weeks off, but I feel like talking poetry. Recently, Holly Pappas asked about strategies for discussing poetry with general education students. The answer I’ve stumbled upon is to use pop culture to hook students on reading and discussing poetry.

Like many teachers, I’ve struggled when helping students to analyze poetry. I think the problem is fear. I’m afraid I won’t be able to convince them of the beauty and delight a poem can hold, and they’re terrified they will never be able to find the secrets hidden in those poems.

I address those fears directly by having us read and discuss Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry” together. The juxtaposition of the speaker’s playful intentions and the students’ torturous interrogation perfectly mirrors our situation. With a little luck, students see themselves (and me) in the poem, and we’re off to a great start.

The pop culture connections come next. I share a favorite Dr. Seuss book with the class, asking them whether the book qualifies as poetry. A rousing discussion follows, touching on nursery rhymes, rhyming jingles, and song lyrics. We return to the Collins poem. None of them feels like beating a confession out of Dr. Seuss or the latest pop diva, and they can make observations about themes, images, and rhythm and rhyme easily in this context. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Listening to Learn

posted: 3.14.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

How and why do developmental writing instructors make connections between the known and the unknown? I ask because of the seemingly implausible world and national events that have unfolded since the beginning of this new year. I wonder how to make to sense of these changes through writing. Even my usually reliable laptop freezes at the prospect of such a daunting writing task.

“Listen to music,” my friend Jeremy suggests. Jeremy is a professional writing tutor who worked with my developmental writing classes several years ago. He taught me that music that we love and that is familiar can provide a means for learners to create connections to unfamiliar material. Shannon Carter also makes a similar point about music in her book, The Way Literacy Lives: Rhetorical Dexterity and Basic Writing Instruction.

So I began to surf YouTube, and before long I found a link to Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” Perfect, I thought. Tupac’s music belonged to the students from my first teaching job after graduate school. I worked at a community college in a large northeastern city that had fallen on hard times in the mid-1990s. At first I knew barely anything about Tupac or his music. But in 1994, Tupac was shot five times and students in my developmental writing class argued fiercely about gun violence and Tupac’s attempted murder.

This is argument,” I suggested to the students. “What you’re doing with speech—that’s also possible with writing!” Their response was that if I really wanted to hear argument, I had to listen to Tupac.

I understood that I did need to listen—and to learn. The students brought Tupac’s music to class. They explained why his work was so important to their generation—so important to them. “Times are hard,” the students said, “and Tupac knows it. We face so many obstacles. Tupac reminds us that we still need to stand up—not to give up.” [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea
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Teaching the Protests in Wisconsin

posted: 3.9.11 by Barclay Barrios

The showdown in Wisconsin over proposed legislation affecting public employees and unions has dominated the news lately. There are several essays in Emerging you might use to bring these issues into the classroom:

  • Kenji Yoshino, “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights.” Yoshino’s explicit concern is developing a new model of civil rights that encompasses all groups instead of rights assigned to individual groups, but students could use his analysis to think about economic rights in the context of the Wisconsin protests. In particular, Yoshino argues that change should happen not through the courts but through conversations, which could offer students a way to think about how to resolve similar domestic political conflicts.
  • Thomas Friedman, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention.” Friedman proposes that global supply chains promote peace, since countries embedded in the same supply chain won’t risk their positions in that chain by going to war. He suggests that globalization has a stabilizing effect on geopolitics. But the Wisconsin protests highlight in part the local effects of living in a flat world. Yes, China and Taiwan won’t go to war because of the role they play in the global economy, but what about the costs to our own domestic economy? Looking at budgetary issues can give students a place to push back against any rosy picture of globalization. [read more]

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Categories: Emerging
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