Posts Tagged ‘What is Academic Writing?’

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What is Academic Writing? Part Three

posted: 1.30.13 by Barclay Barrios

In this series of posts, I’d like to think about student responses to a first day writing sample that asked “What is academic writing?” (broadly, of course, for IRB-related reasons).  Though the sample size is really quite small I think these students nevertheless reveal some of what many students bring to our classrooms.

One of the things that students bring, represented in many of the responses, is a particular understanding of the form of academic writing, an understanding created through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) or (more specifically) the FCAT, Florida’s mechanism for complying with that federal legislation.

These responses were easy to spot because they emphasized not just the form of academic writing but a very specific form—and a very formulaic one.  The students who presented this view of academic writing indicated that it has an introduction, a conclusion, and a thesis. [read more]

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What is Academic Writing? Part Two

posted: 1.23.13 by Barclay Barrios

Grammar was the most prominent (if somewhat disheartening) theme in students’ first day responses to the question “What is academic writing?”  However, surprisingly, the second most mentioned feature was citation.  That one really caught me by surprise.

I guess I am so surprised because citation seems to be a particular Achilles heel for students.  They seem to have little sense of what it is or when it’s needed.  Given that citation is, I think, a kind of disciplinary “secret handshake,” a way of showing that you are a member of a particular discipline and belong there, it’s not all that surprising that first year students would know so little about citation.  I’m just glad to know that it exists at all.

In fact, that’s the approach I’ve adopted to teaching citation—starting by making sure students know it exists.  I only teach my students three things about citation.  I don’t “teach” them MLA citation (even though we use it in our class) because, first of all, students are going to end up in many different disciplines with many different citation systems.  There’s a good chance they will never use MLA again.  Besides (and secondly) citation systems change.  Teaching the intricacies of one instantiation of one citation system will end up useless knowledge—if not the next semester then certainly some day.  No.  I tell students they only need to know three things about citation:

  1. It exists. In class we discuss what this means.  Basically, students need to understand that if they are using words or ideas from someone else there needs to be a citation. [read more]

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What is Academic Writing? Part One

posted: 1.16.13 by Barclay Barrios

Each semester, I administer a writing sample on the first day of class.  It is completely superfluous.  While other institutions might use a first day writing sample as a diagnostic to confirm or revise placement, my institution is barred by state law from any sort of remediation so placement isn’t an issue.  Still, the writing sample gives me a quick sense of where the class is as a whole, helps me quickly identify students who might need extra support, and provides an introduction to the theme of the class through a response to a quotation from our first reading.

This year, instead of crafting a prompt from our first reading I decided instead to simply ask students, “What is academic writing?”  I figured the responses would serve some of the same purposes.  But it also seemed like a particularly appropriate question because this semester I am teaching the first course in our writing sequence, which most students take in the fall.  I was hoping to reveal any hidden assumptions about the course students might have, particularly since this population tends to be especially at risk of failing (since most of them didn’t pass the course in the fall).

The results of the sample weren’t particularly surprising, though they were revealing.  I’d like to discuss them in this series of posts (broadly, of course, for IRB-related reasons).  Though the sample size is really quite small I think these students nevertheless reveal some of what many students bring to our classrooms. [read more]

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