A recent discussion on the WPA list concerning documentation styles made me think of some essays my students wrote recently. With Joe Harris and Patty Ericsson, I (I think I’m reading them correctly, but with Joe and Patty, one never knows) don’t really spend much time with documentation style. Along with teaching the more or less decontextualized research paper, this is wasted instruction and really not a whole lot of fun. They all use Easybib, but as Joe said–who cares? At most, our students might have to use a particular documentation style in other classes; if other teachers think documentation is important, they can use their class time teaching students about commas here and there. Actually, I do spend a little time on this, but it’s minor–somewhere in the orbit of the ablative absolute.
I think research is important, but as I have probably written elsewhere in this blog, I like to naturalize research. Students are doing it all the time–they just don’t know how to link it to the kind research we do–the kind very few of them will ever be doing in the post-collegiate lives.
I’m going to print a research paper from one of my students below. I have the students first write essays telling the rest of us about their (the writers’) previous writing experiences and their attitudes toward writing and themselves as writers.
These quick essays are fascinating to read. Students like to write them; they like to read them, and I like to read them–so that makes it a pretty good writing assignment. In addition, we all learn more about learning –and not learning about writing. We write these essays in class–about 15 minutes. They are remarkably good essays for coming right out of the students’ brains.
Then we read and write back to each other. I really like doing this. I also ask them to take notes when they see something interesting that they can use for the next essay–which is to generalize about students’ experiences with writing.
For their next class, I ask them to take about thirty minutes and write a brief essay generalizing from their own experiences and from what they have read from others. This, of course, is research–going outside your head to check with external sources. The students have never considered something like this is research–or the results of their investigation, reporting what they learned, as a research paper. It is, however, my kind of research paper. When YOU think of it, it’s not that far from the kind of research I and many of my friends on this list do.
Link to what I asked the students to do:
As far as documentation, I tell the students that it’s kind to tell your readers where you got your information and let them know how to find it themselves. In the essay below, we didn’t need to document because they all knew the writers and where to find the specific essay on our Blackboard site.
I like what Kiera did in her essay (30 minutes, but I suspect she might have taken longer–I’ll ask her). I like how she takes her generalizations and moves outward or upward to theorize. She worked from her own experience, generalized from others, and let her mind go, theorizing about the function of writing. Nice.
From reading my classmates’ reflections on their writing experiences, it seems a general trend that most prefer to write with a type of “freedom” (Nicholas), with “no restrictions or limits” (Ksenia). Lydia mentions her love of writing stories to make herself laugh, and Chris Z. mentions the thrill of storytelling, with “barriers lifted”. Most of us have experienced the joy of writing, the satisfaction of creating a secret world or reflecting on the one we live in with no one to judge or stop the flow from heart to pen to page.
However, it also seems that many of us have certain prejudices against writing, some stubborn psychological aversion which tells us that we cannot write properly. We “worry people are not going to understand” (Chris J.). We continue to mark our writing mentally with the red pen of our teachers in high school, rating ourselves as “average” (Branston). These red markings may have damaged our view of what writing is, Zoë notes.
Kaila claims that there are too many structured papers demanded during high school, while Michael says he enjoys these types of more straightforward papers. Stephanie found her overall writing education to be “nourishing” to her personal growth.
There seem to be some discrepancies about who we write for, and why we write. High school has taught us “how to write”, but what is the value if we have no desire to write? We must look at finding a balance by both writing for necessary assignments and also recreationally for ourselves and loved ones. I think we could also compartmentalize. If we think of academic writing as having to do more with skill than personality, we will feel less vulnerable about criticism of our academic writings. If we think of casual, creative writing as having to do more with personality, we may be more open to share with others through this medium.
We all agree that writing is necessary for our future careers, and this class seems to be a positive start to changing our perspective on the purpose of writing. If we learn to trust our writing more, as Bransten achieved, then we can come to know and trust one another, too. To know someone through writing, and to reveal oneself through writing, is a powerful tool. I do think the word “trust” is key.
Some of us have already taken steps toward becoming comfortable with our own writing. David was insecure about his writing abilities, so he joined the school newspaper to work on it. Sam discovered a passion for historical preservation and how this relates to writing and reading. Dr. Peckham versed himself in grammar and abandoned his romantic notions to discover the fulfilling reality of being a writer. He “ended where [he] wanted to be”.
All of us are on a path to realizing how writing can enrich our lives by connecting us with one another and understanding more about our chosen career fields. If we make the choice to get past our existing ideas of writing, negative or positive, I think we will discover new types of writing that work for who we are and where we wish to go.
Going from here:
The next obvious assignment (or series) is imagine and construct some kind of survey, distribute and analyze it; do some internet research on specific issues that come out of these exercises; look in the library databases for readable (i.e., not written by rhet/comp scholars–with some exceptions here and there) essays on the subject; then write up singly or in groups the results of what they have learned. At that point, I would like to have them tell readers–like readers of this blog–where they found the information and how the readers could find it also.The would need some kind of documentation.