Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What *are* we preparing them for anyway?

I was excited by the student projects that Jody Shipka describes in her article. I would love to implement a similar assignment in a future RHET class, and I readily accept that this sort of project teaches students the same writing and research skills that they will need for other, more traditional writing-based assignments. However, like Calgary, I do have some reservations regarding the idea of a class that is wholly based on this multi-modal task-based framework, and would therefore like to consider the integration of a project like this into a more traditionally writing-based class. After all, aren't we preparing our students (or at least trying to prepare them) for the writing they will encounter over their college career? And isn't it only fair that we give them a chance to work on the more traditionally-structured academic writing that they will be asked to produce while the teaching focus is on their writing? For instance, when I am grading literature essays, my feedback is geared toward the student's skill at literary analysis, and while the student's skill at writing will inevitably inform the final grade, it's not what I'm teaching. The composition class, then, is a one-semester chance to give the student's writing skills the attention they deserve without taking away from important discipline-specific teaching and learning. I've noticed that my students this semester seem to respond very well to the example essays in the etext; I suspect having a model of the kind of work they are being asked to produce gives them confidence in their own ability to produce, as well as reassurance and guidance.

None of this is to say that I think we should coddle them by teaching them from within their comfort zone only. In fact, I can see the huge benefit to forcing them outside of their comfort zone by assigning the very assignments that Shipka describes (what would a prompt for this sort of assignment look like, by the way?), which require students to consider their goals and rationalize their process in a way that many academic essays may not. But if the skills they gain through these projects are the skills that they will continue to use in their careers as writers, wouldn't it also be useful to make the transition of these skills to more traditional writing assignments a focus of the class by including them in the syllabus as well?

Even if it teaches students all they need to know about the process of writing, a multi-modal task-based assignment isn't going to give them practice with the weird and wonderful quirks of academic writing (and hey, maybe that's OK?), but if students are going to be faced with academic writing later on, should we ignore the opportunity to let them work on it while their writing skills have their instructors' full attention?

Also (this isn't totally unrelated), here is a great Onion article in honour of student evaluation time.

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