Designing Assignments for ENWR Class


(Based on an article by Jon D'Errico and June Griffin)
 
All ENWR students are novices at reading and constructing college or professional-level academic arguments. Novice writers are hampered by a fairly predictable set of problems:


*They aren't sure what a good paper looks like. They read relatively few models (textbooks and occasional articles), and even in the models, they often can't recognize which features they should imitate.

*They can't imagine any readers other than their instructor, and they rarely understand what their instructor is interested in.

*They don't know enough. They possess relatively few facts about the discipline they want to write in, and they don't appreciate what makes a good problem or question to tackle in an academic essay.

There are some straightforward ways to deal with these problems when designing assignments:


Provide model papers, good and bad.


As a class, talk about what distinguishes good writing from bad. Use sample student writing as well as more professional/academic pieces.
 
Identify specific audiences.


Begin with non-academic audiences (for example, instead of asking students to write about a painting, ask them to write to a museum board explaining why they ought to bid on the painting at auction; instead of asking them to write about genetically-modified foods, ask them to write to the European Union's commission on agriculture. As a rule, it's easier to write for knowledgeable readers than to uninformed readers, and for a single reader than to multiple readers. When you move on to academic audiences, explain what that academic audience is interested in learning.
 
Break essays down into smaller stages.


A finished essay requires many smaller tasks: understanding the reading, formulating a question worth asking, supporting a claim with reasons, accumulating evidence, learning the language of the discipline, citing sources. Novice writers need to work on these matters separately. Create small assignments designed to tackle specific aspects of essay writing, and check in on student progress (either by reading and responding to individual assignments, or through class workshops). Some stages leading up to an essay are:


* reading summaries
* a list of similarities or differences between two authors/ideologies
* a list of questions based on the readings
* description of why a question would be of interest to the audience
* an outline of reasons and evidence
* annotated bibliography
* introduction
* draft
 
Include revision.


Allow writers to respond to comments, yours or their peers'. See workshopping for advice on soliciting productive peer comments.
 
Choose frequent short writing assignments instead of periodic long assignments.
These assignments allow novice writers to build up their skills. Short writing assignments include:

* discussion questions
* reading summaries
* annotated bibliographies
* outlines
* lists of evidence for or against a position