My summary/ responses for my presentation pieces tomorrow:
Why the “Research Paper” Isn’t Working by Barbara Fister
Fister opens with the topic of collegiate subject juggling—how students are expected to switch between the individualized dialects of different subjects with ease and promptness (depending on their class schedules). Teachers try to instill English-based skills (writing skills) and overall skills students can use to navigate college; however, there are still teachers (especially the mandatory comp teachers) are out of touch with students. They pick topics, sources and formats that are irrelevant to the student, which causes them not to disassociate from the assignment. Fister brings up a point about citing and sourcing—the meticulous process of creating a works cited page detracts from the information that source provides and the ideas that information might instill in students. Essentially that we’re killing intellectual discussion and creativity for the sake of correctness and procedure. Instead it is suggested that citation correctness should be taught at the end of academia, when students will begin writing actual research papers (what Fister calls “truly academic”) and integrating more meaningful sources. The issue with sourcing for research papers is that students are often unable to grasp the material in the first place, let alone summarize, use and cite it while trying to make it fit in with their own work. The research paper is smothering students with rules, when in “extracurricular writing” they excel due to the elimination of restrictions. The hardest part of research writing is interpreting and understanding the information. Fister ends with the suggestion that the research paper is an ineffective teaching tool and should be replaced with a more interactive system. She states that picking a topic of interest and developing skills from there is more likely to result in better researchers (as opposed to just better research papers).
This piece was interesting, and I felt that most of it was agreeable. Especially the section about the works cited pages. One section, in particular, stood out to me: “The first year “research paper” has always sent a mixed message. You’re supposed to be original, but must quote someone else to back up every point you make - while in constant fear that you’ll be accused of stealing from them.” This is so very true, at least for me. I am neurotic about my citations, completely paranoid that even the smallest mis-citation will result in my expulsion. I have always carried that fear with me. So this section I really enjoyed. Having that dear acknowledged, and for once not belittled, was nice. Also, is the idea of not being able to integrate your own ideas. That, to me is very sad and unfortunately very true. It’s as if administrators or even professors can’t conceive that students could know anything about a topic without sitting down to research it.
The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (and Why We Need to Resist) by Mark Wiley
Wiley begins by stating that high school teachers are often at a loss as far as writing goes. Many schools are underfunded, understaffed and (generally) the teachers are undereducated in effective ways to teach writing. The formulaic writing system (namely, the 5 paragraph essay, form what I understand) has become a crutch for teachers instead of a tool. The expectations placed on teachers to instruct an overabundance of students, while simultaneously squeezing in standardized test practice, essentially forces teachers into a corner where they have no other choice but to follow this formula, without any hope of deviation. However, Wiley argues that it is not the formula that is the problem, but the dependency (“pedagogical blindness”) that teachers have on it. The formula is good in that it is easy to understand and easy to teach, but there is no explanation outside of the initial lesson, and so students begin to think that the formula is an unbreakable law. Instead of the standard formula, Wiley discusses the Jane Schaffer Approach, which is significantly more detailed. Teachers like this method because it is easy to implement, ensures school-wide consistency, expedites the grading process and facilitates student-teacher communication. Furthermore, the mandatory commentary sentences help students differentiate between facts and their own ideas and how discussing facts after presenting them increases the strength of the overall paper. The biggest advantage to Schaffer’s system is that writing as a process becomes more manageable and therefore “accessible to everyone.” Criticism includes “uninformed writers” thinking this is what writing “really is” and formulaic dependency. Also is the issue of genre variety, which the Schaffer method overlooks and oversimplifies as far as writing tasks go. Wiley concludes with the use of formulaic writing in moderation and with consideration to genre.
Overall, I liked this method. I especially liked the condition that 11th graders should be taught to move away from the formula. I, too, would probably become bored by this format, had it been taught to me. I was interested in the “fear” that students would lose the motivation to shape their own papers; however, I am included to disagree with this fear. For one, writing isn’t for everyone; for students who won’t need writing as much or for those who cannot shape a paper at all, this one, very reliable method will really help them (“accessible to everyone”). For another, I feel it is a teacher’s job to help with this; if the formula is capped at 10th grade, then students should learn in their upper-classes about individualization (which combats the criticism that uninformed writers will not know what “writing really is”). Finally, I don’t think students can effectively shape their own papers if they don’t have a basic understanding of what an essay “shape” looks like. As far as the “next” step goes, the only thing left to do is to teach deviations: paragraphs that only have one concrete idea that needs more than two commentary sentences, one commentary sentence that has the strength of two, mixing up the order of concrete and commentary sentences. Wondering “what’s next?” shows that teachers are again formulaic writing as a crutch instead of a springboard. I agree that, in comparison to the flexibility of traditional essays, Schaffer essays are extremely limited; however, context is too influential to discard through comparisons. The phrase “real writers” and “real writing” is belittling to those writers who are in the process of learning. This essay is talking about students in high school, not collegiates about to graduate. All writers began with the basics and the basics as of right now are (primarily) grammar lessons and the 5-paragraph essay that is helpful to a degree, but still immensely vague. This is a good structured system that students can easily model that won’t stunt their developing skills or style. And that’s not even mentioning how hard it really is to teach students citation analysis. As a tutor, I can say this is an especially difficult concept to teach someone. Most beginning level writers don’t understand why they need to talk about a source/quote when it’s already been put in their paper. So the mandatory 3 commentary sentences can really help them fine-tune this ability. Which they will really need in college, where they will be expected to write more than just two sentences about a source. Not to mention “commentary” can be anything, and therefore is less limiting than the criticism would allow.