Beyond the Formula: Encouraging College Freshmen to Think Outside the Box
As college instructors, we’ve all seen it. The look of dread on student’s faces when we approach the research paper, the argumentative essay, or the exploratory paper. For the most part, this can’t be helped. As college freshmen, their job is to learn the foundational skills that will not only help them succeed in their college career, but hopefully into their professional one as well. However, most students enter college having learned certain “rules of thumb” that helped them survive the writing process in high school. What do I mean by “rules of thumb?” Certain tried and true tactics such as the five-paragraph essay, the thesis-at-the-beginning-rule, or revising the paper the night before the due date. Students used these methods successfully in high school and assume it works for college as well.
As a TA, I have a unique perspective into the freshman composition class, and let me tell you, I’ve seen a lot of students who are blindsided by the fact that these “rules of thumb” must evolve in college. Since I am closer to their age than their professors, I have had students confide in me their fears about these new types of writing that college expects of them. In “Rediscovering the Kernels of Truth in the Urban Legends of the Freshman Composition Classroom” Thomas Lovoy examines some of these “rules of thumb” and what we as college instructors must do to encourage our students to adventure beyond the formulaic writing steps that these students have come to know and trust.
Admittedly, some of the blame is on ourselves. Lovoy writes, “As we teach the same key concepts, year after year, it can be too easy to allow our lessons to fall into a lethargic routine of tips, almost like advertising slogans” (Lavoy 11). Freshmen composition teachers can fall prey to rehashing the same material from high school without thinking of new ways to engage the students in the writing process. So what kinds of help can we give? We can encourage students to write beyond the standard five paragraphs, and instead, we can show them how to adventure into writing without putting a set limit on the ways to get their information across in an interesting, relevant way. We can also give them ways in which they can revise their paper by being more invested in the process. These ideas are just a few of the ways that we, as composition teachers, need to revitalize our teaching methods and truly engage with what the student needs to learn. That is our job, after all.
What do we have to lose? We might just teach them something.
For more information on encouraging students and specific tips on writing, see Thomas Lovoy’s article “Rediscovering the Kernels of Truth in the Urban Legends of the Freshman Composition Classroom.”