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Susan Miller-Cochran

Why WID?

Posted by Susan Miller-Cochran Expert Aug 6, 2018

[This post was originally published on September 21, 2015.]

 

Next month, the book I co-authored with Roy Stamper and Stacey Cochran, An Insider's Guide to Academic  Writing will be released. [Editor's note: The Insider's Guide to Academic Writing is now available, and the second edition is due out this Fall.] The three of us will be blogging in our new Bits blog “Teaching Writing in the Disciplines” about how to teach with a writing in the disciplines (WID) approach in foundational writing courses, which is the approach of the text. We hope this blog can be a space where we explore methods of teaching and practical classroom activities and approaches.

 

[Photo: Macmillan Learning]

 

When I first arrived at North Carolina State University nine years ago, I joined a First-Year Writing program that was launching a relatively new curriculum that focused on writing in academic disciplines. I had never taught first-year writing as writing in the disciplines (WID), and I was skeptical: how could a teacher with a background in English teach writing in other disciplines? I was no expert in writing in biology or nursing or math or psychology or any other field other than rhetoric and composition. What in the world would I teach my students?

 

We talk about imposter syndrome a lot in academia. I experienced a pretty severe case of it at that moment. Not only did I feel unqualified to teach the first-year writing course, but I was supposed to start directing the program the following year.

 

I began thinking of all of the reasons why a WID approach seemed challenging:

 

  • Faculty comfort level: Wouldn’t many of the writing faculty feel uncomfortable about teaching writing in other disciplines, just like I did?
  • Challenges of transfer: How would students transfer knowledge into their other classes? Would they be transferring inaccurate knowledge about genres in other disciplines?
  • Stigma as a service course: Would teaching a WID approach make first-year writing even more of a service course with no real rhetorical, disciplinary content of its own?

 

What I didn’t realize at that moment was that the most effective ways of teaching a WID approach in a first-year writing course do not solely emphasize mastery of various disciplinary genres. Rather, they draw on the disciplinary expertise of the writing faculty teaching the courses, focusing on rhetorical principles and understanding the context for writing. The rhetorical context in a WID-focused course just happens to be writing in different academic disciplines. Students are engaged in close, rhetorical reading of writing in different disciplinary areas.

 

They aren’t memorizing formulae for writing across the college or university. They’re learning to ask smart, rhetorically-focused questions about what writing conventions are followed in a specific field, how arguments are shaped, what evidence is used, what questions are asked, and what methods of inquiry are most common.

 

Students would leave my first-year writing class better prepared to write in contexts outside of my class because they would know what to pay attention to—even as they encountered contexts we never discussed in my class. And as the icing on the cake, if I could help them understand what they were learning in my class and how it would help them in the future, I could imagine an increased potential for student motivation.

 

Once I realized that I could take what I knew about writing and rhetorical context and apply it to a WID context, my list of reasons not to teach a WID approach were immediately countered by arguments for why it was a great idea:

 

Why not?

 

Why WID?

Faculty comfort level

>

Rich, meaningful application of rhetorical principles

Challenges of transfer

>

Potential for transfer when taught from a rhetorical approach

Stigma as a service course

>

Student buy-in and motivation

 

What I can claim after directing a program for eight years that used this approach is that students understood the potential for transfer of what they were learning. When they saw the curriculum, they understood that they would be learning something different from (but hopefully building on) what they learned in high school. Faculty invented a range of ways to approach teaching WID that emphasized some of their passions and interests. And best of all, our program assessment demonstrated that students were mastering the rhetorically-based student learning outcomes for our first-year writing courseA program director can’t ask for much more than that.

 

What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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As a writing teacher, my number one goal is to see students succeed. I live for those moments when students write something that brings them pride, when they connect with a community or idea that resonates with them, or when they realize they can do something they thought was impossible. These are the moments when I see the rewards of teaching reflected through my students.

 

College and university administrators also place a high premium on “student success,” even naming entire offices or divisions after that goal. Yet, administrators are often looking at specific data when they talk about student success—things like grades, retention, and graduation rates, to name a few.

 

While some of these metrics might seem like impersonal numbers when viewed from a distance, my instructional evidence of individual student success and university measures of student success aren’t really that far apart. In some ways, they are two sides of the same coin. When I encourage students to find solutions to writing problems on their own and they succeed, they develop skills of persistence that will help them later in college. And if students begin to develop a set of tools in my class that will help them tackle tough writing projects later in other classes, they will have a better chance of success.

 

I have become increasingly convinced that a focus on Writing in the Disciplines (WID) in writing courses can be a powerful tool to partner with other efforts on campus to build student success. WID helps students think about the transition from their prior writing experiences to college and beyond, and it asks them to think about their future college and career aspirations. In other words, WID can help them transition to college and begin to explore and identify with a future major and career. 

 

The transition to college can be a challenging one. Vincent Tinto, a researcher interested in what helps students succeed as they make that transition, has written extensively about three stages that he identified that students go through as they adapt to college: separation, transition, and incorporation (Tinto, 1988). At the separation stage, students might feel disconnected to prior communities and commitments, and successful students move through a transition stage and then find a way to connect themselves with new communities in college (incorporation). Our goals as educators is to help shepherd them through that process.

 

Think about the kinds of assignments that are common in a WID approach and how they might help students work through these stages:

  • A Literacy Narrative: When students write literacy narratives, we can give them the space to think about the process of separation and the transition they are making to writing in college
  • A Literacy Profile: A literacy profile of a professional or a scholar in the student’s field of study can help them make a connection to someone who can mentor them in the kinds of writing they might be expected to do in their field
  • An Annotated Bibliography: Compiling a list of sources that document what others have written and said about an issue can help a student figure out how to enter the conversation.

 

By helping students build connections between the content in their writing classes and their future majors and careers, WID helps students with the process of transition and incorporation. As writing teachers, we can be partners in a campus-wide effort to give students the tools they need to succeed.

 

These are just a few sample assignments. What other assignments can you think of that would help students move through the three stages of separation, transition, and incorporation? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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I’ll never forget how I felt the first time I had to write a paper on the results of an empirical study in graduate school. Even though it was a small-scale study, I had never written anything like that before. I had all kinds of questions: What is a “lit review”? What do they mean when they say to “write a methods section”? Am I really supposed to talk about limitations of the study?

 

Take a moment to think about a time when you had to write something in a genre that was new to you or unfamiliar to you:

  • How did you feel?
  • What did you do?
  • How did you figure out what was expected?

Our students often experience this unfamiliarity, too. My goal as a writing teacher is to find ways to help them successfully respond.

 

One of the best tools I’ve found to help students ask the right questions as they enter new writing situations in school and beyond is to help them explore the writing of different disciplines and professions. And if students are learning about writing in the disciplines and asking questions about the rhetorical context of their writing, this helps them develop critical literacy.

 

Critical literacy encourages students to analyze and question what they read and write, consider multiple perspectives, and understand how an author’s values, subject, position, and purpose shape a text. When students understand how to analyze the rhetorical situation of a text, they begin to ask questions that develop critical literacy.

 

From its roots in the work of Horace Mann, John Dewey, and Paulo Freire, a major component in critical literacy has been to create more access to education. The work of teacher-scholars in community colleges and open admissions institutions—exemplified by Mina Shaughnessy’s ground-breaking work in the CUNY system in the 1970’s—has shown us that we not only have to consider how to increase access to education, but we must also consider what we do in the classroom once students have access. The traditional model of teaching writing as a way to help students fit into the status quo and become more “cultured,” which emerged at Harvard in the 1800's, is inadequate. It grew from an elitist view of education.

 

But as Ira Shor (1999) reminds us: “Standard usage, rhetorical forms and academic discourse make democratic sense only when taught in a critical curriculum explicitly posing problems about the status quo based on themes from the students’ lives (and experiences).”

 

If we are to teach students about the rhetorical situations of their writing (and the writing of others) and to embrace writing as socially situated, we should examine in depth with them the academic literacies we are asking them to practice and master. We don’t do them justice if we only ask them to challenge the status quo (culturally) while writing within a status quo (academically). I’ve become increasingly convinced that this is what we do when we teach a politically or culturally themed course that asks students to question power dynamics and political processes but requires them to do so in “standard” academic forms without asking them to question and analyze the ways they are writing and the choices they make as writers.

 

Teaching a WID-based approach can take many forms, however. Two popular ones are to either have students write about and analyze writing in a range of academic disciplines and professions, or to have students practice writing in varying disciplinary genres. I generally focus more on the first approach but mix in a little of the latter.

 

Of course, no pedagogy is neutral. And in my years of teaching a WID-based approach, I’ve seen WID become a bit authoritarian by treating disciplinary writing as fixed and genres as templates for writing. In many ways, this isn’t any different from formulaic current-traditional approaches to writing. By contrast, when teachers use a critical approach to WID, they ask students to:

  • Explore their own experiences and make connections to the writing they are analyzing
  • Investigate disciplinary conventions and values, including how they change, how people learn them, and how to identify expectations
  • Question expected academic norms, understanding where they come from and why they exist

 

So, what might this look like? What are some assignment ideas you have for helping students develop this kind of critical literacy through WID? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?

Think about a time—maybe as a student, a teacher, or another environment—when you had to write something in a genre that was new or unfamiliar to you.

  • What did you do?
  • How did you figure out what was expected?

 

I’ll never forget how out of place I felt in my first graduate seminar in applied linguistics. I had done my undergraduate work in literature, and I didn’t have the first clue about how to structure a graduate seminar paper that reported data I had collected. I tried to write something that looked like the thesis-driven essays I had learned to write as an undergrad, and I was stunned by the grade on my paper and the comments about cryptic things like “a literature review,” “a methods section,” and “limitations of the current study.” I was a fish out of water.

 

Many of our students will experience this feeling at some point in their undergraduate careers, or perhaps in their professional lives after they leave our classes. Yet, as Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak point out in their book Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing (Utah State UP, 2014), students who have been successful writers in school are reticent to change up what they’ve been doing. If it’s worked well thus far, why change course?

 

My goal as a writing teacher is to make sure that my students have a set of effective tools to help them figure out what to do when they find themselves in unfamiliar writing territory. But if they haven’t yet realized that they will be called upon at some point in the near future to write things that don’t look much like five-paragraph essays, my first job is to help them discover what professionals write in their areas of interest.

 

When I taught a first-year writing course this summer using An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing, I asked students to do a couple of assignments at the very beginning of the course that introduced them to writing in their majors and future professions:

  • An interview. I ask students to interview an upper-level undergraduate or graduate student in their field of study to ask them about the kinds of writing they do and how they learned what was expected. I used to ask students to interview a faculty member, but sending dozens of first-year students out to interview faculty across campus can make you unpopular quickly, even though you have the best of intentions. Students learn a great deal from speaking with others in their field of study, and their interviewees have an ethos that you, as a writing teacher, don’t necessarily have.
  • A rhetorical analysis of an article. One of the major projects in my course is always a rhetorical analysis of an article written by someone in their field of study. I ask students to try to find a piece written by one of their professors. I encountered an interesting challenge this summer with a student of dance, who couldn’t find a scholarly article by one of his faculty members. We found several reviews and other pieces they had written, though, and so he was able to think about the various kinds of writing his faculty members do. He also made exciting connections between dance and the composing process.
  • A rhetorical analysis of other writing assignments. I also like to have students analyze writing assignments they are completing in other classes. They can learn a lot by looking at the expectations of assignments in different fields of study and by comparing what they bring to class with the assignments from their classmates. I wrote more about this activity, introduced to me by Rachel Buck, in “Low Stakes Writing in a WID-Based Curriculum.”

 

Giving students the opportunity to hear about writing from professionals in their fields of study is invaluable. Of course, hearing from faculty members on their own campus is very effective, but it can be time-consuming to build partnerships with colleagues across campus. The videos that accompany An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing in LaunchPad Solo give you the opportunity to introduce students to writing in different fields from professionals who do that writing on a regular basis.

 

What are some other ideas you have about helping students understand the different contexts in which they will be asked to write in college and beyond? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?

When a program or an individual teacher initially makes a turn toward focusing on writing in academic disciplines, inevitably it involves rethinking how the course progresses. Often we immediately think about the big, high-stakes assignments first:

  • What major assignments am I going to give students?
  • Will I need to rethink the kinds of writing projects students do in my class?
  • What assignments can I adapt from my previous curriculum?

 

It’s also important, though, to think about how to support students through low-stakes writing assignments and activities. The work that students do every day helps them build toward the bigger assignments in the class, and often a change in curricular focus means rethinking some of the kinds of go-to activities teachers use to support student work in the course.

 

I argue that we should also be asking these kinds of questions about how to support students in everyday, low-stakes assignments:

  • What kinds of meaningful exploratory activities support understanding writing in different disciplines?
  • What kinds of low-stakes activities anticipate and help students work through places where they often struggle with a WID-based approach to writing?

 

I thought I would share a few low-stakes assignments that I have found to work when introducing students to disciplinary genres and writing about the disciplines.

 

Writing mini-academic literacy narratives

Have students interview each other and write mini-literacy narratives about how they have learned what they know about academic writing. This can be a fun, low-stakes way to begin to understand what your students bring with them to class in terms of prior (academic writing) knowledge.

 

Analyzing writing from other classes

Ask students to bring in writing that they have done for other classes to analyze how they understand the expectations, similarities, and differences in writing in different subject areas. One of our graduate students at the University of Arizona, Rachel Buck, has collected data about how having students analyze the assignment sheets from other classes can help students understand how disciplinary writing varies. See also Dan Melzer’s outstanding study of writing assignments across the curriculum.

 

Translating a scholarly article into a new form

An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing provides an example assignment for having students translate a scholarly article into a new form or genre. Consider having students translate the article for social media as a low-stakes assignment. A more intense assignment might be to translate the article into a press release or a news story.

 

Playing around with citation styles

Instead of asking students to memorize citation styles, I ask them to analyze the style guide to understand how it works. Then we talk about how citation styles reflect different disciplines. I might ask students to role-play scholars from different disciplines to argue for some of the idiosyncrasies of their styles or stump each other with sources that are difficult to find in style guides.

 

Are there other approaches you’ve considered for teaching a WID-based curriculum? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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A few teachers have asked me what the best way is to use An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. Kate Lavia-Bagley, an NC State Senior Lecturer and the author of the Instructor’s Manual for An Insider’s Guide, maps out a few different approaches and includes possible syllabi to use for courses. What I’ve found over the years, though, is that various approaches to first-year writing courses that focus on disciplinary writing really boil down to two options. Both can be very effective depending on the expertise of the teacher and the objectives of the writing program in which the course is taught.

 

  1. Writing in the Disciplines: practicing the kinds of writing students will likely encounter in different disciplinary contexts
  2. Writing about the Disciplines: analyzing the kinds of writing students will likely encounter in different disciplinary contexts

 

A teacher using the first approach, writing in the disciplines, might have students walk through the disciplines, writing something from a humanistic perspective, a social science perspective, and a scientific perspective. Students might practice common genres found in a particular discipline and imitate the conventions they discover. Jessica Saxon’s blog posts about her experience teaching WID for the first time generally follow this approach as she has her students try out writing in different disciplinary areas.

 

A teacher using the second approach, writing about the disciplines, might focus more on analysis of disciplines and disciplinary writing. Students might write a rhetorical analysis of a scholarly article, or they might compare scholarly and popular articles about the same study. They might write an academic literacy narrative or compare articles on the same topic from different disciplinary perspectives.

 

Of course, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Some of the best first-year writing courses I’ve seen combine these two approaches in innovative, imaginative ways. Here are two assignment sequences that illustrate the back and forth nature these courses can take:

 

  1. Academic Literacy Narrative
  2. Analysis of a Scholarly Article
  3. Writing a Lab Report
  4. Reflection on Academic Writing and Disciplinarity

 

  1. Research Proposal
  2. Interdisciplinary Annotated Bibliography
  3. Research/Lab Report
  4. Reflection on Academic Writing and Disciplinarity

 

I’ve used the second approach several times with great success, sometimes adding a comparative rhetorical analysis. Are there other approaches you’ve considered for teaching a WID-based curriculum? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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Saxon_airport+selfie+2014.jpgGuest blogger Jessica Saxon is a faculty member at Craven Community College in New Bern, North Carolina, and she teaches composition and literature courses. A former WAC coordinator at Craven, her primary interests are WAC/WID programs and creating partnerships with other community colleges and universities. She is also pursuing a PhD in narrative theory and nineteenth-century British literature at Old Dominion University.

 

This post is the third in a series. View previous posts: First Time WID Jitters and My Comfort Zone and Natural Sciences and My Magic Bullet

           

I am nearing the midway point of my semester in ENG 112, which means I have to plan the upcoming social sciences unit. When I was building the course in August, I was not sure what I wanted to do in the social sciences section. When I created the course calendar, I used a generic “research paper” marker throughout the unit. “Social sciences, something, something, research, APA, something interesting” was still all I had figured out for the unit until just a few weeks ago. Between talking with my colleagues in the social sciences and reading through An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing, I finally have a plan and a project: a social sciences theory evaluation with primary and secondary research.

 

Creating a new assignment can be daunting. While I borrow liberally from my colleagues and from textbooks, I also want the assignment to be uniquely my own and to work for my specific students and institution, which means that I revise or redo assignments every semester. Sometimes I only make small changes. But other times the changes are pretty radical. Creating the theory evaluation assignment—even with the support from colleagues and An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing—has been challenging, and I am sure that as I get into teaching the project I will have to make some adjustments. But here’s what I’ve got so far:

 

The Assignment and Schedule

Students are asked to choose a theory from a social science field. I encourage them to choose something from a social sciences class they have already taken. But I will also be supplying them with a list of possible topics in case they get stuck. They will have to find at least four secondary scholarly research sources on their topics, and they will also have to conduct some form of primary research (documenting their personal experiences, interviewing someone, surveying a group, or observing a group). Their final project must be at least six pages of essay with title page, abstract, and references in APA format.

 

In their essays, they will have to explain their theory, discuss the research on the theory, and apply the theory to their own experiences and/or the experiences of others. We will also work through various ethical concerns with primary research (such as the privacy of participants).

 

Students will have the month of November to complete the project:

 

10.29

Writer’s Journal #12: Writing an Argument

Introduction to Social Sciences Writing and Theory Evaluation Paper

11.3

Writer’s Journal #13: Primary Research

Introduction to Primary Research Skills

11.5

Process Assignment #12: Theory Evaluation Questions

Theory Evaluation Questions Workshop

11.10

Process Assignment #13: Theory Evaluation Sources

Theory Evaluation Sources Workshop

Introduction to Formal Outlines

11.12

Process Assignment #14: Theory Evaluation Outline

Theory Evaluation Outline Workshop

11.17

Process Assignment #15: Theory Evaluation Draft 1

Theory Evaluation Draft Workshop 1

11.19

Process Assignment #16: Theory Evaluation Draft 2

Theory Evaluation Draft Workshop 2

11.24

In-Class Work on Theory Evaluation and Theory Evaluation Self-Reflection 

Theory Evaluation Paper (Due by the End of Class)

Process Assignment #17: Theory Evaluation Paper Self-Reflection (Due by the End of Class)

 

Reflections

I still have a few weeks to tinker with the theory evaluation paper and the social sciences unit. I think I have a solid foundation for the project. However, I have never written one of these papers before. I have experience with every other writing genre/project that I have assigned for this class. This project is truly a step into the unknown for me. But I think I have a strategy for tackling the unknown: I may try to write my own theory evaluation with my class. In completing the project with my students (ideally working a few days ahead of their schedule), I may be able to see potential gaps in my assignment or lesson plans and be able to address the problems before my students get to them. Plus, I think it might be interesting to let my students see me working alongside of them—it might open up occasions for larger discussions of writing processes.

 

Of course, what sounds like a great idea in October may fall apart in the harsh realities of November. Other classes will need to have assignments graded and classes taught. This ENG 112 class will still need feedback on their journals and process assignments. Administrative reports for other projects I work on will have to be written as well. So while I might not actually be able to write the whole theory evaluation paper with my ENG 112 class, I’d like to at least make it halfway through the process with them.

 

How do you approach creating a new writing project assignment? What resources do you draw on when creating assignments? How often do you revise or create assignments for a class? Have you ever written a paper with your students in order to test out your assignment? If so, how did students respond? And did it help you improve your assignment?

 

Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Or share it with others and start a conversation? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

Saxon_airport+selfie+2014[1].jpgGuest blogger Jessica Saxon is a faculty member at Craven Community College in New Bern, North Carolina, and she teaches composition and literature courses. A former WAC coordinator at Craven, her primary interests are WAC/WID programs and creating partnerships with other community colleges and universities. She is also pursuing a PhD in narrative theory and nineteenth-century British literature at Old Dominion University.

 

This post is the second in a series. View the first post: First Time WID Jitters and My Comfort Zone

 

We started the natural science unit recently in my ENG 112 class. Strangely, I am much more excited about this unit than I was about the first unit in my home discipline (humanities and literature studies). We have been talking about annotated bibliographies, scholarly and non-scholarly research, APA formatting, and possible research questions for students’ natural sciences annotated bibliographies. And, having learned from my modeling mistake in the humanities unit, we will be constructing a sample annotated bibliography in APA style together in class while the students are also working on their independent projects.

 

I teach APA style in both the natural sciences unit and the social sciences unit. However, An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing has section on CSE (Council of Science Editors) for instructors who would prefer to use CSE for the natural sciences unit. I have decided to teach APA in the natural sciences as well as in the social sciences because (1) faculty at my home institution in the natural sciences use APA instead of CSE or another documentation style, and (2) the majority of students at my home institution have more experience with MLA than APA and therefore need additional instruction in and practice with APA style. You should, of course, use the documentation styles most appropriate for your students and your home institutions.

 

The Assignment and Schedule

Students are asked to create an annotated bibliography in APA style on a topic related to the natural sciences. They are responsible for selecting a research topic and creating focused research questions. They cannot, for example, research global warming; instead, they must narrow the topic to something along the lines of researching the melting of Greenland glaciers or sea level rise in the eastern American states or shifting weather patterns in Southeast Asia.

 

Their annotated bibliographies must have (1) at least three academic, scholarly science journal resources and (2) at least three lay, non-academic, non-scholarly magazine (including magazine-like website) resources. Each source’s annotation must include summary, analysis, and comparison, and each annotation must address the source’s appeals to logos, pathos, and ethos as well as the source’s intended audience (including the context and purpose of the source). Each annotation needs to be no less than 160 words.

 

Students have the month of October to complete the project:

 

10.1

Writer’s Journal #10: Arguments and Research Planning

Introduction to Natural Sciences Writing and Annotated Bibliographies

Introduction to APA Conventions and Paper Formatting

 

10.6

Writer’s Journal #11: APA Style

Introduction to APA Style In-Text Citations and References

 

10.8

Process Assignment #7: Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources 1

“Multiple Ebola Virus Transmission Events and Rapid Decline of Central African Wildlife” (available through ProQuest Central)

Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources Workshop 1

Sample Annotated Bibliography Workshop 1 for “Multiple Ebola Virus”

 

10.13

No Class – Semester Break

 

10.15

Process Assignment #8: Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources 2

“Smuggled Bushmeat Is Ebola’s Back Door to America” (available through ProQuest Central)

Annotated Bibliography Questions and Sources Workshop 2

Sample Annotated Bibliography Workshop 2 for “Multiple Ebola Virus” and “Smuggled Bushmeat”

 

10.20

Process Assignment #9: Annotated Bibliography Draft 1

Annotated Bibliography Draft Workshop 1

 

10.22

Process Assignment #10: Annotated Bibliography Draft 2

Annotated Bibliography Draft Workshop 2

 

10.27

In-Class Work on Annotated Bibliography and Annotated Bibliography Self-Reflection 

Annotated Bibliography (Due by the End of Class)

Process Assignment #11: Annotated Bibliography Self-Reflection (Due by the End of Class)

 

 

Reflections

As I said in my previous blog post, I have been nervous about teaching this WID course for the first time. What do I know about science? Or about scientific journals? Or researching in the sciences? Or about APA style? Well, it turns out I know quite a lot already thanks to my own general education courses and to my general interest in science news. But more importantly than that, I know quite a lot about rhetoric, and that, in turn, gives me an entrance into natural sciences writing and researching.

 

I told a group of students in my college’s Scholars in Engineer and Sciences (SEAS) program that rhetoric was their magic bullet. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but it is not entirely untrue. With a firm understanding of rhetorical strategies and situations, a student can begin to pierce complex texts for classes and projects. It gives them a vocabulary for understanding disciplinary writing styles, research expectations, and even citation formatting. For example, in my ENG 112 class today, we went over APA style expectations and paper formatting: avoiding first-person, headers, title pages, abstracts, and so on. During our discussion of why first-person works well in humanities projects but typically not in natural sciences and social sciences projects, we linked issues of voice back to formatting: MLA wants your name in the header, but APA couldn’t care less about your name in the header, much like it doesn’t want first-person references to yourself in the body.

 

The natural sciences project will be centering on rhetorical strategies and contexts. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this project might be a better first project than the literary analysis paper. This annotated bibliography gets students to work with scholarly and non-scholarly sources and makes them select (and narrow) their own topics. Plus it directly reinforces the discussions about rhetoric that we have during the first two weeks of the semester. I may have to revisit the structure of the course the next time around.

 

How do you approach natural sciences writing and researching in your WID classes? Do you uses CSE, APA, or some other documentation style in your natural sciences unit? At what point in the semester do you tackle the natural sciences? What’s the rationale for its placement in your schedule? What sorts of natural sciences projects do your students do?

 

Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Or share it with others and start a conversation? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

Earlier this month, Macmillan released our book An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. Stacey, Roy, and I have been responding to several questions since the book’s release about how to teach a WID-focused foundational writing course effectively. One of the questions I hear most often is:

 

How do you help writing teachers feel comfortable with teaching a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) course, especially when those instructors primarily come from English?

 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of the challenges to teaching a WID approach is the faculty members’ comfort level with the approach. For many, it feels like a departure from what they are used to teaching in a writing course. But the first step to helping teachers feel comfortable with a WID approach is helping them draw on the strengths they already possess to help students analyze and understand writing in a variety of contexts. It’s just that in this case, the rhetorical contexts are academic, cross-disciplinary ones. The second step is providing solid, ongoing professional development to help them develop expertise that will strengthen what they’re doing in the course. In this blog post, I provide a few suggestions from an administrative perspective about how to begin taking those two steps.

 

DRAWING ON EXISTING STRENGTHS

One of the break-through moments for me as Roy, Stacey, and I wrote our textbook was realizing that the importance of close observation in academic inquiry provided a connection across disciplines. Observation is one of the cornerstones of much academic inquiry, including textual analysis, a practice nearly every teacher in English is familiar with. In literary studies, careful, critical observation is essential to close reading. In the sciences and social sciences, observation is essential for collecting primary data. Therefore, careful attention to observation and what it looks like as disciplinary inquiry can provide a common thread for teachers and students.

 

I try to encourage teachers to introduce students to a range of ways to observe texts, drawing on their existing strengths in critical inquiry and textual analysis. As students hone their observational powers, they can also be encouraged to think about how those skills of critical observation can transfer across disciplines and into other contexts.

 

BUILDING RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS

Depending on the backgrounds and experience of the teachers in your writing program, a variety of ongoing professional development opportunities can help them continue to develop expertise in several areas:

  • in academic writing to draw on real examples of writing in various disciplines
  • in writing studies and rhetorical principles to help students practice rhetorical analysis of academic texts and ask important questions to understand disciplinary genres
  • in transfer of knowledge to use the knowledge they are building in your course as they encounter writing in other academic and non-academic contexts.

 

The following list offers some suggestions for providing these kinds of opportunities:

  1. Start a reading group for teachers in your writing program where you can read and discuss current work on disciplinary writing, academic genres, and transfer of knowledge.
  2. Consider highlighting the work, writing, and research of faculty on your campus by incorporating their work into low-stakes and high-stakes assignments in your writing program or compiling a reader (online or in print) of faculty research to give examples of different disciplinary genres.
  3. Host a panel for your writing faculty where you invite faculty from other disciplines to talk about their writing and the writing they assign in their classes. 
  4. Develop partnerships with faculty across disciplines. One of the most innovative I’ve seen is the SWAP program developed at North Carolina State University by Susanna Klingenberg to bring STEM graduate students into writing classes and writing faculty into STEM classes.

 

What are some other ideas you have about supporting faculty as they teach a WID-based curriculum? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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Saxon_airport selfie 2014.jpgGuest blogger Jessica Saxon is a faculty member at Craven Community College in New Bern, North Carolina, and she teaches composition and literature courses. A former WAC coordinator at Craven, her primary interests are WAC/WID programs and creating partnerships with other community colleges and universities. She is also pursuing a PhD in narrative theory and nineteenth-century British literature at Old Dominion University.

 

This is my first semester teaching ENG 112: Writing/Research in the Disciplines, a writing-in-the-disciplines (WID) class in the North Carolina community college system (NCCCS). This is the first of a series of blog contributions will be reflections on my initial experiences tackling ENG 112 this semester. Even with well over a decade of teaching experience in the NCCCS, learning to teach a WID course has been daunting—but it has also helped to reinvigorate my pedagogy. My approach to ENG 112 this semester was to start the class with what I know (humanities writing and research skills) in order to have time to pick the brains of my colleagues and create units on areas I have less experience with (natural science and social science writing and researching skills). This first blog explores the humanities unit and its literary analysis paper—a unit that turned out to be harder than I had expected.

 

The Assignment and Schedule

Students were asked to write a three-page researched analysis of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Lottery,” “Everyday Use,” or “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” In addition to citing the literature, they had to find and use 2-3 scholarly sources in their essays; they also had to use MLA style. They had the entire month of September to work on this project; the assignment was given on September 1 and due on September 29.

 

The class is a scaffolded class with several informal journals and workshops to help students move through the writing process: 

 

9.1

Writer’s Journal #5: Literary Studies

Introduction to Humanities Writing and Literary Analysis Paper

9.3

Writer’s Journal #6: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Analysis 1

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” (handout)

Creating Analysis and Research Questions

9.8

Writer’s Journal #7: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Analysis 2

Process Assignment #1: Literary Analysis Questions

Literary Analysis Questions Workshop

9.10

Writer’s Journal #8: MLA Style

Introduction to MLA Style research and Documentation

9.15

Writer’s Journal #9: Research Hunt

Process Assignment #2: Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited 1

Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited Workshop 1

Research and Documentation Workshop

9.17

Process Assignment #3: Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited 2

Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited Workshop 2

                                                                                          

9.22

Process Assignment #4: Literary Analysis Draft 1

Literary Analysis Draft Workshop 1

9.24

Process Assignment #5: Literary Analysis Draft 2

Literary Analysis Draft 2 Workshop

9.29

In-Class Work on Literary Analysis Paper and Literary Analysis Self-Reflection 

Literary Analysis Paper (Due by the End of Class)

Process Assignment #6: Literary Analysis Self-Reflection (Due by the End of Class)

 

 

Reflections

My personal comfort level with the content of the unit may have worked against me in this unit. Perhaps my anxiety over the later units on natural and social sciences (What kinds of assignments would I give them? What research sources might work well? Why, oh why, are APA running headers so hard to make in Word?) lulled me into a false sense of security over my humanities unit. Whatever the reason, I forgot to include two key elements the humanities unit: modeling and conferencing.

 

The next time I teach this course, I will be reserving two days for one-on-one conferences with my students about their drafts. By sandwiching the instructor conference between a peer workshop on the thesis and works cited and one on a revised draft of the essay, I hope to capture my students at that critical moment when they have a (nearly fully?) draft of the paper and a firm topic but when there is also still time to pull a quick turn on drafts that have gone off the rails. I will also be including a sample student literary analysis for class discussion—perhaps even two sample papers (one from the textbook and one from a previous semester of my own class). The students need to be able to see examples of finished literary analyses in order to help them better understand the work of their own essays. Moreover, the students need to have one-on-one time with me early in the semester; these individual conferences can especially help those who do not wish to ask for help in public spaces like the classroom.

 

But overall, the unit went rather smoothly, especially as I began to correct for my early errors in modeling and for the lack of conferences. In order to work in some last minute modeling and conferencing, I cut my draft workshops in half; the class spent 30 minutes in the two peer drafts workshops (rather than the full 75 minutes), and the last 45 minutes of class those days was spent with volunteers putting their draft up on the projector. In these projector conference workshops, the volunteers would ask questions about their drafts and talk through the problems they had been encountering, and the class and I would help the volunteers work through their questions and problems. While students are sometimes reluctant to volunteer, once the class sees the quality of feedback being produced by the group (and starts to see how their problems with the paper are similar to the ones being discussed in a volunteer’s paper), I wind up with more volunteers than I have time to work with (which in turn gets these students into my office…of their own free will!).

 

What did you do in your first WID course? What was your approach to the schedule and assignments? How did the successes and shortcomings of that first semester shape your WID course into a more effective and engaging course in later semesters? Share your answers, comments, and advice in the comments below.

 

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Susan Miller-Cochran

Why WID?

Posted by Susan Miller-Cochran Expert Sep 21, 2015

9780312566760.jpgNext month, the book I co-authored with Roy Stamper and Stacey Cochran, An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing, will be released. The three of us will be blogging in our new Bits blog “Teaching Writing in the Disciplines” about how to teach with a writing in the disciplines (WID) approach in foundational writing courses, which is the approach of the text. We hope this blog can be a space where we explore methods of teaching and practical classroom activities and approaches.

 

When I first arrived at North Carolina State University nine years ago, I joined a First-Year Writing program that was launching a relatively new curriculum that focused on writing in academic disciplines. I had never taught first-year writing as writing in the disciplines (WID), and I was skeptical: how could a teacher with a background in English teach writing in other disciplines? I was no expert in writing in biology or nursing or math or psychology or any other field other than rhetoric and composition. What in the world would I teach my students?

 

We talk about imposter syndrome a lot in academia. I experienced a pretty severe case of it at that moment. Not only did I feel unqualified to teach the first-year writing course, but I was supposed to start directing the program the following year.

 

I began thinking of all of the reasons why a WID approach seemed challenging:

 

  • Faculty comfort level: Wouldn’t many of the writing faculty feel uncomfortable about teaching writing in other disciplines, just like I did?
  • Challenges of transfer: How would students transfer knowledge into their other classes? Would they be transferring inaccurate knowledge about genres in other disciplines?
  • Stigma as a service course: Would teaching a WID approach make first-year writing even more of a service course with no real rhetorical, disciplinary content of its own?

 

What I didn’t realize at that moment was that the most effective ways of teaching a WID approach in a first-year writing course do not solely emphasize mastery of various disciplinary genres. Rather, they draw on the disciplinary expertise of the writing faculty teaching the courses, focusing on rhetorical principles and understanding the context for writing. The rhetorical context in a WID-focused course just happens to be writing in different academic disciplines. Students are engaged in close, rhetorical reading of writing in different disciplinary areas.

 

They aren’t memorizing formulae for writing across the college or university. They’re learning to ask smart, rhetorically-focused questions about what writing conventions are followed in a specific field, how arguments are shaped, what evidence is used, what questions are asked, and what methods of inquiry are most common.

 

Students would leave my first-year writing class better prepared to write in contexts outside of my class because they would know what to pay attention to—even as they encountered contexts we never discussed in my class. And as the icing on the cake, if I could help them understand what they were learning in my class and how it would help them in the future, I could imagine an increased potential for student motivation.

 

Once I realized that I could take what I knew about writing and rhetorical context and apply it to a WID context, my list of reasons not to teach a WID approach were immediately countered by arguments for why it was a great idea:

 

Why not?

 

Why WID?

Faculty comfort level

>

Rich, meaningful application of rhetorical principles

Challenges of transfer

>

Potential for transfer when taught from a rhetorical approach

Stigma as a service course

>

Student buy-in and motivation

 

What I can claim after directing a program for eight years that used this approach is that students understood the potential for transfer of what they were learning. When they saw the curriculum, they understood that they would be learning something different from (but hopefully building on) what they learned in high school. Faculty invented a range of ways to approach teaching WID that emphasized some of their passions and interests. And best of all, our program assessment demonstrated that students were mastering the rhetorically-based student learning outcomes for our first-year writing course. A program director can’t ask for much more than that.

 

What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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