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.