Ask the Students

This article, “The Emic view of Student Writing and the Writing Process” , attacks the writing crisis from the opposite end from WAC. See, while WAC focuses on how the teachers teach writing, Hass and Osborn focus on what the students say about writing. Hass and Osborn suggest that using this theory, teachers can create better writing assignments that help the students learn more.

What Hass and Osborn did was they recruited around 73 students to answer a questionnaire of five questions that relate to what  the students’ thought was their best paper. The authors found five themes or criteria that the students used to “grade” their papers: personal engagement, commitment, collaboration, systematic approach, and external confirmation.

What surprised the authors was the fact that one of the most frequent criteria was the student’s interest level in the assignment. Either the student had a passion for the subject or they saw the importance of it. Then, they worked harder and spent a lot more time on it than otherwise. Frankly, it surprised me they were surprised by this.

This reminds me of what a lot of y’all said about math, how the teachers refused to tell you why learning math was important to life. It makes so much sense! If the person doesn’t have an interest or a reason to be interested in a topic, then he or she doesn’t care about that topic.

Also, if the student is interested in the topic, then all the rest of the criteria follows. If they are interested, then they are committed to it. If they are committed to it, then they follow a more systematic approach to completing the assignment. If they have a system to work within, then they find others to collaborate with. Often these collaborators are in the same system, like friends or siblings. Once they have that collaboration, they look for feedback and external confirmation that they are the right track.

Isn’t that cool?

Published in: on June 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm  Comments (14)  

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  1. Of course, I love the reference back to why we need to be learning math. Just today I got to talk about the abstract connections between math and language symbols and why both things together help us learn to think. And interest is what matters most, isn’t it? You must have influenced my writing because I just blogged about motivation and interest but had read this post yesterday!

  2. WOW! I am also surprised that they would be surprised to know that students excelled in writing assignments that they found interesting. Where have they been? Don’t tell me they are like many instructors who assign paper topics instead of letting the students pick a topic that interests them. I know I hated writing about what the teacher thought I should writie about in school. In teaching and tutoring my students, I always stress that if given the opportunity to choose their writing topic, always pick something that they are interested in. It is easier and much more enjoyable. I always say if I can hold a conversation about it then I can write about. Many people are only going to get engaged in conversations about topics that they like, they know something about, they want to know about it, and they like it. My ideal paper would be Shoe Shopping — All the Do’s and Don’ts. I LOVE shopping for shoes — even more than for clothes. When shopping for clothes, you have to go through the hassle of going into the dressing room and getting undressed and dressed and undressed and dressed until you find the perfect fit. I would much rather slip off my shoe and try on pair after pair of sandals and heels. That would be my greatest paper ever 🙂

    • That does sound like a fun paper! Shoe shopping, I love it! My ideal paper would be about some minor, arcane and totally geeky debate question from Tolkien.
      I was surprised too! They didn’t sound like the boring instructor type, but who knows? Write about what you talk about….That’s great! You sound like a great teacher! I love Dr. W. teaching style! It’s so fun and sponantious, yet she gives out the hardest assignments. Part of that much be the personsl aspect to them. While persona is more enjoyable, sometimes you’re interesting something like basket-weaving in the 17th cen (I’m not, but I’m sure someone is!). The research for that would be hard! And then try to connect it to WAC and mix it all together into a ten page paper.

  3. I was getting ready to respond to your initial post, and I just read your last reply–I had to laugh! I DO like basket weaving! Not necessarily from the 17th century, but I do weave baskets. When I weave, I’m hardcore about it, not like some basket companies that use (gasp!) METAL NAILS to hold their baskets together. Oh, no! That is cheating! No, the basket must be made completely from plant materials–wood, reeds, sea grass, etc.–to be made correctly. Anyway, I digress…

    I, too, am stumped by the teachers who were shocked that students overwhelmingly were most interested in assignments that involved their own interests. As teachers, if we don’t make the lessons relevant to our students, they won’t engage. “When am I ever going to use this?” is such a common question that teachers hear on a daily basis, that you’d think teachers would seek a way to answer that!

    I remember after teaching my second son how to convert units in home schooling, that same day my husband came home with a problem from his office. He was trying to figure out a problem with staffing, time, and pay, and since it involved changing from one unit of measure to another, everyone in the office was stumped. I sat down with my husband and wrote out a unit conversion diagram for him to follow. My son saw first-hand how his lesson that day could be used in middle management. It was awesome.

    Even if the subject is something that the student is not interested in, encourage him or her to find a connection between that and what he or she is passionate about. In exploring that connection, the student will have made a discovery and, hopefully, will have learned much more in the process. Anyone around the student will learn from the discovery as well and can add to that discovery to create something new. That’s collaboration and connection working together! Very WAC!

  4. One thing I forgot to include in my last reply (I got distracted by the basket-weaving analogy!) was the word “emic”. I saw that in the title of the essay you read, and, I have to admit, I had to look it up. Emic is “of, relating to, or involving analysis of cultural phenomena from the perspective of one who participates in the culture being studied,” according to Merriam-Webster, my online buddy! If you want to understand what is happening in a culture, it is best to start with a participating member of that culture. In other words, Hass and Osborn went to the students, rather than the teachers, to find out what was happening with the students. I think if we as teachers did that more, WE would learn a lot. Yup, there’s a lot that our students could teach us, if we’d only listen because, you know, they are communicating on numerous levels!

    • Thanks for looking that up! The article said something about it, but I forget to put it in.
      I’m glad the basket weaving gave you a laugh! I was trying to think of something hard to research, but also something known nowadays that people still enjoyed. Really, they use METAL NAILS? Wow! That is cheating! How long does it take you to make one?
      Uuh, unit measures. I remember those! Never could get them to stay in my head. I love that your husband’s work and your son’s homework blended together so neatly! Very cool!

  5. This sounds like an interesting article. I completely identify with the importance of being interested in a topic. Some of my worst writing experiences were when I was writing about something that I wasn’t even remotely interested in. It was terrible, and I cringe thinking about it. Making the learning process personal is so important!

    And while we are discussing ideal paper assignments…My dream paper would be about LOST. There are a plethora of ideas, but I would be really interested to look at all the different ways good and evil are portrayed in LOST. Who knows, maybe I will write that paper one day just for kicks!

    • I know exactly what you mean! I hate those boing writing assignments too!
      What is LOST about and how does the philosophy of good and evil enter into it? it’s sounds interesting! I heard about it, but it hadn’t really watched it.
      I’ve thought about writing a paper for just for fun too. One comparing two very different SCiFi characters and how they manage to be compelling in their own ways.

  6. As I was reading through my article, the following quote jumped out at me. It directly connects to your article! This article is discussing how the WAC program at the University of Arizona gives students the choice to do an assignment in the composition courses on a topic they are interested in. Here is the quote that I had to share with you. “Allowing them the opportunity to research a topic on which they already have some expertise also gives them a better sense of their own rhetorical agency, which has a significantly positive effect on their tone, style, and language choices.” All these ideas connect together!! I just had to share 🙂

    • Great quote! Thanks for sharing! I can certainly see how it fits! Connections, connections. Where would we be without them?

  7. I am surprised as well that they had to do research to figure out that students will write better on a topic they are interested in. I think that is one of the reasons I have enjoyed all the English classes I have taken. All the paper assignments have allowed me to be part of picking the topic. If I live long enough to get an MLA and teach 🙂 I am going to make sure that my students get as much of an opportunity as possible to pick their topic for papers, instead of being given one.

  8. I find it hard to believe that the fact students like to write about things they connect to was lost on some teachers. Shame on them, lol!

    I don’t want to take away from the truth of this statement, but I also think that, as writers, what we get out if is directly related to what we put into it. And yeah, I’d like to think even that is related to subject matter.

    Thanks for the great coverage of this article. Keep it up!

    • I see what you mean. It depends on how much time and effort we put into the paper. The topic may be interesting, but we get distracted with other things, or simply choose to be lazy and so the paper is not the best quality.

  9. Great thinking and connecting everyone. I loved reading all of these comments. Funny how one article can take us some many different places 🙂


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