At last month's CCCC 2016 meeting, I participated in a workshop devoted to assignments and activities that help integrate a Handbook into our teaching. I learned a lot from those who were there—they were full of great ideas for imaginative ways to engage students in becoming friends with their Handbooks.
I kicked the session off with a couple of my own favorite strategies, one of which I call “Tools of the Trade.” As I compose my syllabus, “Tools of the Trade” appears at least once a week, notifying students that on that particular day they are to come to class with any and all questions they have about the writing they are doing—and with their Handbook. I allot between 15 and 30 minutes for this session and I (or a student) put the questions on screen as students call them out. We then work in pairs, with our Handbook, to answer the questions (for the last few years, many many many of their questions have to do with documentation—no surprise there given the proliferation of kinds of sources!). The team that comes up with the best answers in the shortest amount of time explains their search method, and I usually give a silly prize of some kind. I find that after just one or two such sessions, students really loosen up and ask more and better questions—and get more and more familiar with their Handbook. A second idea I shared was what I call an “annotated and detonated bibliography.” When we are working on research projects, students follow the guidelines and advice in their Handbook to prepare a brief annotated bibliography—usually of three sources that they find most useful to their projects. But some years ago, I added a twist, asking students to also write an annotation for one source they decided NOT to use: that’s the “detonated” bibliographic entry. In explaining why they decided that this source was not appropriate or helpful for their project, they do some good critical thinking—and sometimes, after their analysis, find that they were wrong about this source and that it deserves a place in their project after all.
Jeanne Bohannon from Kennesaw State shared some other good ideas. She asks her students to do an analysis of several pieces of their writing—early in the term—and to identify at least five problem areas for them. (To help prepare for this, she has students take the diagnostic quiz associated with the “Top 20” mistakes in my Handbooks.) They then write a blog post describing their own problem issues—and keep it at hand throughout the term, using it to check against drafts as they go. Jeanne’s students also use their Handbook in working on collaborative projects, including a Women in STEM wiki.
Stephanie Vie from the University of Central Florida had still other ideas. Given that I’ve spent a lot of time lately studying and understanding the new MLA guidelines for documentation, I especially liked the approach she takes in asking students to compare citation styles and to ask how those systems reflect the values of particular disciplines. Why does the date come up front in an APA citation, but not in an MLA one? This and other questions lead students to see that documentation systems are not simply arbitrary “rules,” but that they embed the ideology/values of their fields within them. After this discussion, Stephanie challenges her students to a contest: working in teams, they see who can “translate” an APA citation into an MLA—and vice versa—the fastest and most accurately. Winners get a “free homework” slip for a prize, which students covet! I also loved Stephanie’s “bad presentation slide” assignment. Students use the guidelines for how to prepare effective slides in their Handbook to create the very worst slide they can possibly come up with. These become the source for a lot of fun and laughs—and also as examples of what NOT to do in the slides they prepare for their own presentations.
There were lots of other ideas tossed out by participants, and I came away impressed with the thoughtfulness of everyone involved. It took me years to learn to teach with my Handbook rather than simply “assign” and then ignore it. The teachers in this workshop had all made this transition, and I expect they did so a lot faster than I did!