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.
  • One of them is to have students submit all final drafts of their papers as e-copies in doc form. This keeps all homework submission in the same place, your e-mail box.
  • Another shortcut is the use of the track changes tool in Word. Because the final drafts are e-copies in doc form, it is then possible to use the track changes tool to respond to the drafts. This saves time by being able to copy and paste comments from one paper to the next, because a lot of the time, similar writing issues are seen across the board.
  • Another shortcut is to change the e-mail signature to something like - Hello, Attached is your paper with the grade and my comments. See you tomorrow. This makes the message personal without the teacher having to type same message over and over.
  • I've also found it useful to use a good student final draft in the class discussion, and then use what was said as the comments on his/her paper.
  • Setting a time limit is another way that can help reduce the time spent grading papers. It's easy to let time slip away while grading, but if you set a time and hold yourself to it, this can keep the grading under control.
  • Also, when there are many papers to grade, spread the grading out over a couple days as opposed to doing a marathon grading session. I've found the more tired I am, the more time it takes to grade, so I set grading time goals and try to stay within these parameters. This makes the grading time more productive.
  • An effective way of handling late submissions is to tell students who submit after the given deadline that their papers won't be returned until the end of the quarter. In the past I've found that time is often wasted in grading late papers throughout the quarter. This quarter I've designated a day and time at the end of the quarter for late submissions. I've observed that students who know their late submission won't be returned until the end of the quarter make it a point to get other assignments in on time.
  • Another shortcut I found this quarter comes from my experience as a writing lab tutor. Instead of reading students first drafts on my own prior to the writing tutorial, I ask students to bring 2 hard copies of their paper and together at the tutorial we read through the draft, discuss it and make changes on the draft together. I found this to be more beneficial in understanding what the writer is trying to say, gives the students an opportunity to display their knowledge of their topics, helps those students whose learning style is aural and causes the writing to becomes a collaborative process, where students have more ownership in what their doing.

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

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Writing Tutorials

This week we are having tutorials to discuss the critical review assignment students are currently working on.

One of the purpose of the tutorials is to meet face to face with the students to discuss problems, difficulties, questions, issues, etc. they are having with writing the critical review. Another purpose of the tutorials is to give me the opportunity to ask clarification questions about the content, and it gives them the opportunity to display their knowledge about their topic, which is also good practice.

Tutorial Observations -
  • Students are more aware of how writing is done in their fields - one student in the hard sciences commented that complex sentence structure is commonly used, whereas participles aren't - he didn't provide/show specific examples of this; however, it's important to note because it shows that students are paying attention to how language is used in their respective fields
  • Many students struggle with clearly stating the purpose of their papers - this observation is more from reading the drafts than from the tutorials, but it seems to be the most common writing issue we discussed in tutorials - the question I have is how can this be better taught prior to the students writing the first draft? or is it best taught by students writing the first draft? To write their purpose statements, I give students this sample - The purpose of this paper is to (local focus) to (global focus). Students fill in the parenthese with the missing information. It seems somewhat prescriptive, however, at least it gives them something to try on until they can find their own sentence that is a better fit for them.
  • The audience issue also came up - Who are the students writing the critical review for? Several students told me that they thought I was their audience, so they didn't include complicated or technical information in their critical reviews because they thought I wouldn't understand what they were writing about. While this may be true, I encouraged the students in our tutorial discussions to conceptualize their audience as someone who knows their field, topic in order for them to get the most out of the assignment. It seems that the audience for most of the writing done by graduate students is someone who knows the field, topic.
  • The logistics of the tutorials is often problematic, not only for this particular class but for others as well. Some students don't come on time to the tutorials. Of course, this throws the schedule off, forcing other students who come on time to wait. For the most part these students seem to be forgiving, but there are some who get upset. I don't blame them and try to prevent this as much as possible, but it doesn't always work. Also, students often miss their tutorial times for various reasons, but then show up later expecting to discuss their paper at that exact moment. Other problems that have arisen are students showing up without their papers or students missing the tutorial without reason and then wanting to reschedule. These problems seem to be persistent with scheduling tutorials. I have yet to figure out how to remedy these situations. However, it seems that those students who do understand how a writing tutorial works, see benefit in it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Summarize and Synthesize

This week the students are working on what is called a critical review assignment. They are to choose two articles from the five they annotated and summarize and synthesize them in their paper. The length of the paper is 3-5 pages.

As an introduction to this assignment, I ask students to find a critical review in their fields and bring them to class to share and discuss in their research groups. I also ask them to focus specifically on the writing template of the critical reviews they found.

Because students have a difficult time with this assignment, I have them do a mini one* first in their research groups. We meet in the computer lab on this day so students can have access to computers to type up their work and either send an e-copy or print out a hard copy. This quarter we only met one day in the lab to work on this assignment. We really needed to meet two days for students to have enough time to finish.

Students are given two short articles on the same topic, an assignment description and a writing template. They then read and discuss the articles in their research groups and collaboratively write a mini critical review per group. They hand these in at the end of class time. I look them over and then choose one to use as a good example to go over in the next class. It seems that this helps the students to conceptualize what a critical review is.

*thanks goes to my colleague, MD, who shared this idea with me

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Annotated Bibliography Showcase

Click here for a sampling of the finished product of the annotated bibliography.

Midterm Course Evaluation

With this being week 5 of the quarter, I like to give the students an informal midterm evaluation to see how things are going for them in the course. This not only gives them an opportunity to evaluate the class, but it also gives me an idea of the students' opinions of course materials, activites, etc. and helps me to see the changes I need to make to better help the students the rest of the quarter.

The questions I ask them to respond to are -
  • What's working for you?
  • What's not?
You can find their responses to these two questions by clicking on the comments link below.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Teaching Annotation

Today in class we reviewed the basics of annotation writing. We started by looking at a student sample on the overhead and discussing what the strengths were. (Click here for the student sample audio file.) We then did an activity that provided students with the opportunity to practice evaluation, which seemed to be the biggest problem most students had in the first draft of their annotated bibliographies. We first reviewed the content and writing style of annotated bibliographies (see Annotated Bibliography link for the handout). Then we went over two handouts on criteria for evaluating sources (see Evaluating Sources and Critically Analyzing Information Sources for the handouts). (Click here for the annotation audio file.) After this, students divided into groups according to their interest in the topics of three articles I found for them to evaluate. These articles can be found at the following links - postdoc; fish and hearing; and bird infidelity. Students were asked to read and discuss the articles. When they were finished doing this, they were to then summarize and evaluate the articles according to the class discussions on annotations. When they were finished, spokespeople in the groups orally presented the article summary and evaluation. Students in the other groups were asked to listen carefully to the presentations and report what and how the group evaluated the article. (Click here for the activity audio file.)

Annotated Bibliography Assignment Description -
Students are asked to write an annotated bibliography entry for each of the articles chosen earlier in the quarter for a total of five different entries. Each annotation should consist of a brief summary and a brief evaluative comment and should be preceded by full bibliographic information written in a documentation format accepted in the students' fields.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Field Ethnographers

Because of the differences of writing conventions across the disciplines represented in the 108.02 classroom, I encourage the students to be "ethnographers of their fields". I ask them to search for examples of the writing genres we practice in the course - an annotated bibliography, a critical review, and a "long paper" - read them, and look for ways they are similar and different according to the genre characteristics discussed in class. I have them discuss these in their research groups to see if students from the same field agree, then each group reports to the class on the similarities and differences. This raises the awareness of how genre specific writing is done in the various fields not only for the students but also for the instructor, which is important since my research background is in the social sciences, and the writing conventions are also different from other fields. I ask the students to submit the samples and make copies for future quarters. This is a good way to build an archive of samples from various disciplines to use as reference.
There are also several sources that focus on writing in specific disciplines. These include -
  • Writing for Computer Science, Justin Zobel, 1998, Springer
  • Writing in the Sciences: Exploring Conventions of Scientific Discourse, Ann Penrose and Steven Katz, 2004, Bedford/St. Martin's Press
  • Essentials of Writing Biomedical Research Papers, Zeiger (Ed.), 2000, McGraw Hill
  • Writing in the Social Sciences, Steward & Smelstor, 1984, Scott Foresman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Art, Sylvan Barnet, 2003, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, Barnet & Cain, 2003, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, Pechenik, 2004, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Chemistry, Beall & Trimbur, 2001, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about History, Marius, 2002, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Music, Porush, 2000, Longman
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Social Science, Cuba, 2002, Longman

Friday, April 15, 2005

Inventing the University

I've been thinking about Bartholomae's concept of inventing the university, more as it applies to "basic writers" like generation 1.5 learners, which is the focus of my dissertation. However, I also see how this idea applies to the 802 students to some degree, particularly the new students, like those I had in the fall quarter. Most were newly arrived Master's students, who had little idea of what topic they wanted to focus on and struggled throughout the quarter to find one. The finished products weren't as organized and developed as those written by the students in the winter quarter. Perhaps it was the group of students. However, perhaps it was also what Bartholomae calls inventing the university.
According to him, basic writers “must see themselves within a privileged discourse, one that already includes and excludes groups of readers. They must be either equal to or more powerful than those they would address” (p. 515). He continues by stating, “To speak with authority student writers have not only to speak in another’s voice but through another’s code; and they not only have to do this, they have to speak in the voice and through the codes of those of us with power and wisdom; and they not only have to do this, they have to do it before they know what they are doing, before they have a project to participate in and before, at least in terms of our disciplines, they have anything to say” (p. 521).
According to Bartholomae, basic writers invent the university in a unique way. This includes ... It would be interesting to see how newly arrived 802 students invent the university. What strategies do they utilize to help empower them and position themselves within the academic discourse community? What unsuccessful strategies do they try out as well? Why don't these work? Do the strategies vary according to discipline? If so, how?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Week 3 - Research Groups

Today I assigned students to their respetive research groups based on their fields of study. I've always found this to be beneficial for the students, because it provides them with a space to discuss the content of their work for the class and, a lot of time, their work for the class. It also gives them an opportunity to position themselves as experts and display their knowledge on the topic, which is something graduate students are supposed to do. Today they were to share the topic that they are writing on and solicit feedback from the other group members. As I observed the business group, I noticed that the members of the group were very supportive of what the others were sharing. They often showed this support with cries of "wow!". In the music group, they exchanged their topic worksheets, read them and provided oral feedback. Students in the group often asked clarifying questions about the topics presented. The use of research groups in the class seem to be not only beneficial in the class but also outside the class. Students from previous quarters have maintained the relationships they developed in these groups to go on and co-present and publish.

One thing I observed in regards to keeping this blog this quarter is how I'm always looking for something interesting in my classes to blog about. It seems that knowing that I want to write something interesting to share who others who might be reading my blog shapes the lens I use to focus on what's going on in the classroom.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Grammar Log

Something else that I'm having the students do this quarter that I haven't tried before in the class is for them to keep what's called a grammar log. I found this idea in an edited book entitled Linguistics for Teachers. In the section on Langage and the Teaching of Reading and Writing, Richard VanDeWeghe has a short article on the use of spelling and grammar logs. He has students use the grammar log "to chart and analyze discrepancies between personal and written grammars" (p. 369). The log is divided into three columns - the first is labeled personal grammar; the second written grammar; and the third reasons for differences. I'm having students keep something similar for several reasons. One is so they can track their progress with grammar throughout the course. Another reason is so they can see which errors they continue making. It isn't something that I'm going to collect and grade; it's mostly for students' reference. I am planning to check their work on this from time to time, just to keep them honest.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Week 2

This week in class we focused on abstract and summary writing; next week we'll look at annotations. The purpose of writing an annotated bibliography has always been confusing for students, because it doesn't seem to be as common in some fields as it is in others. In order to prepare them for this discussion, I asked them to be ethnographers of their own fields and look for examples of annotated bibs. and bring them to class with them next week. I thought it might be interesting if they shared their findings with other members of their research groups.

This quarter I'm trying something completely new. I'm having the students find a mentor in their fields, who can respond to the content of the critical reveiw and long papers. Because the class is so multidisciplinary, this has always been a challenge, even though I collect copies of and read the articles students are using for their papers. I came across this idea at an exhibitor's session given at the TESOL conference in San Antonio this year. The presenter was Sheryl Holt. She's written a book, which she was promoting, entitled Success with Graduate and Scholarly Writing. Along with her book promotion, she shared the idea of students having mentors. After listening to her presentation, I thought that the idea of mentors was such a great idea and decided to try it in both sections of 802 this quarter. However, when I introduced it to the students the other day, I became somewhat skeptical because of their response. It seemed they didn't like the idea of having to find a mentor. However, when I checked to see how they were progressing with finding a mentor today in class, there were three students in both sections who had already found one. I really hope that this works, because it seems like the students will get more out of the class if they also work with a mentor .

Monday, April 04, 2005

Course Description - Spring 2005

I am teaching two sections of EDU T&L 108.02 this quarter. This course is designed to help the graduate student to develop the skills necessary to write about and present research findings. Students learn to locate, evaluate and synthesize data from various print and online sources, employ appropriate genre and documentation conventions for print and online texts, and organize and present their own ideas and those of others in a coherent and scholarly manner. Grammatical instruction is tailored to the specific writing assignments.

Required Text - Writing Up Research by R. Weissberg and S. Buker
Optional Text - Longman Advanced American Dictionary

Specific assignments are given on a weekly basis. Students compose three major papers for the course: an annotated bibliography, a critical review of articles or short chapters from their field of study, and a long paper that students and the instructor determine best serves the students' academic needs and meets the course objectives.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


The purpose of this blog is to have a space to reflect on ESL composition teaching; tease out the issues of teaching ESL composition; find solutions to problems students face; generate activities for classes; provide feedback on activities used; recommend changes that need to be made; and use as a source of information for quarter-end self reflections.