Teaching Graduate Students Research Writing: A Reflective Journal
Monday, January 16, 2006
Round Two
This quarter I'm once again teaching two sections of the advanced research writing course to graduate students. (The first time I taught two sections was in Spring Quarter 2005.)

One change I've already made to the course is to invite two (possibly three) guests speakers to speak to the class about topics specific to writing. The first guest speaker, a colleague from our department, is coming this week to talk to both classes about Collins Cobuild (see http://www.collins.co.uk/Corpus/CorpusSearch.aspx). The other guest speaker is the assistant director from the Writing Center on campus. She'll be speaking to the students about where to go for writing assistance after they have finished the course. (Note: The advanced research writing course is the third and final course of required ESL composition courses for graduate students at our institution. In addition, there are some elective courses on advanced academic writing (e.g., articles for publication, thesis/dissertation writing) offered in the program.) The Writing Center is a great place for students to receive writing assistance; however, many are unaware of this service. So the assistant director will be coming the last day of classes to advertise what the Center has to offer in regards to writing assistance. The possible third guest speaker will talk about plagiarism and academic writing.

An interesting (new) article I found to share with the students this quarter is -

Rymer, J. (1988). Scientific composing processes: How eminent scientists write journal articles. In D. Jolliffe (Ed.), Advances in writing research, volume two: Writing in academic disciplines, pp. 211-250. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Students in this course always seem to be looking for the magic potion to help them instantly master the ability to read and write in their fields. While those of us in the field know that we have no magic potion of this kind to offer students, we can offer them practices that will help them in becoming better enculturated into their specific and unique academic discourse communities. The abovementioned article discusses various composing strategies of nine scientists, providing students with an insiders view of what academic writing entails.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Student Presentation Observations
Last week we started student presentations in the class. Students were asked to give a 10 minute presentation on their long paper topics and participate in a short Q&A time following their presentations. I was very impressed with the quality of the presentations that have been given thus far. Almost all of the presenters prepared very elaborate PowerPoint presentations and had a handout for the audience.
A benefit of the presentations that I've observed is students who have been struggling to conceptualize the content of their long papers have found the presentations helpful because they provide them with another modality through which they can conceptualize their topics. This benefit in itself is enough to justify having student presentations every quarter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Paper-Based vs. Computer-Based
Today students completed final course evaluations with the use of WebCT, a university supported software program with a gatekeeping system. This is the technology I used in my classes prior to discovering blogs. While it offers some features that blogs don't, e.g. ease of attaching documents, it limits the audience to whoever has access.
In the past, I primarily used paper-based evaluations and found these to be adequate. However, these took a lot of class time, and students begrudgingly carried the evaluations to the office because of the inconvenience. Consequetly, during our reserved lab time today, students completed course evaluations on WebCT. This was a much more efficient way to do the evaluations. I don't think I'll go back to paper-based. However, I'm curious about evaluation content differences between paper and computer-based evaluations.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Graduate Student Research Writing Conference
The last few weeks of the quarter students will be presenting on the topics of their long papers at the Graduate Student Research Writing Conference. This is a simulated academic conference held in the classroom to give students an opportunity to discuss their research and practice presenting. A conference program lists the presenters and their topics along with an abstract of their presentations. Student volunteers are asked to facilitate the sessions. Everyone in the audience is asked to fill out evaluation sheets for each presenter.

The idea for this came from my experience teaching in China. One of my colleagues, Professor Zhu, organized a mock international conference every year for the doctoral students we taught. It was a great opportunity to give them a chance to practice presenting on their research. Professor Zhu invited guests, students' academic advisors, committee members, to attend, which made it more real for the students. A lot of the students in 802 have not attended a conference in their field or presented at one, so I thought a mock conference would be a good experience for them, to practice presenting and assist in writing the long paper.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Composition Grading Shortcuts
One of the biggest time consuming tasks of teaching composition is the grading that's involved. This is particularly true with 108.02, because of the length of the assignments and especially when teaching two full sections of the course in one quarter. Consequently, I've been on the lookout for grading shortcuts, and up to this point in the quarter, I've found a few.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
"The Long Paper"
This week we are starting work on the final assignment for the course, the long paper. One of the most common questions students ask about the long paper is - How long is the long paper? The length of the paper is 7-12 pages. Another common question is about the structure. This can take several forms - literature review; research proposal; research report; critical essay; application/policy paper. Students often have a difficult time understanding the different types of papers and which type would be most appropriate for the topic they've chosen to write on. They are directed to two sources to help them visualize. One is links for the different types of papers located at the bottom of this blogsite. The other is the course textbook. In teaching this assignment, we are using the course textbook - Writing Up Research: Experiemental Research Report Writing for Students of English by Robert Weissberg and Suzanne Buker. The chapters we cover from the book are 2 - 9. The exercises we cover are as follows:

Chapter 2 - Introduction - Stages of the Introduction - pp. 22 - 23; Order of Content - p. 24; Order of Knowledge - pp. 26-27; Articles and Nouns - p. 28-33; Chapters 3 & 4 - Literature Review - Citation Types and Order of Citations - pp. 44-45; pp. 46-49; Verb Tense and Citations - pp. 50-53; pp. 55-57; Chapter 5 - Methods; Chapter 6 - Materials; Chapter 7 - Results; Chapter 8 - Discussion; Chapter 9 -Abstract

It's interesting that students don't seem to be interested in going through all the material in chapters, particularly if it doesn't directly relate to the type of long paper they are writing. To overcome this lack of motivation, students are divided into groups according to the type of paper they've chosen to write. In their groups, they are to work on exercises from the text that directly relate to the papers they're writing. (Unfortunately for the students who choose to write a research report, they are responsible for the material in chapters 2-9 in the book.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005
Critical Review Showcase
Click here to see a sampling of the finished product of the critical review.

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