WR122 is an course in argument, style, and research. One of the most difficult aspects of teaching argumentative writing is getting students to re-think what it means to “argue.” The in U.S. most people view arguments within the framework of a war metaphor. This sets up writers to think that their “goal” in argumentative writing is to “be on target,” “shoot down others’ ideas,” “prove their ideas are the strongest,” and “win the argument.” This mentality does not lend itself to quality academic arguments, especially for beginning college writers, who have not had enough time and experience arguing or sufficient exposure to the various arguments surrounding a topic/field to “beat” other writers/arguments within the field.
So the first thing I do in all my argumentative writing courses is work with students to redefine argument–to think of it more through metaphors of conversation, dance, dialogue, collaboration, and learning. I begin this process by showing them Daniel Cohen’s TED Talk “For Argument’s Sake”. Then students read and discuss Rebecca Jones’ OER article “Finding the Good Argument or Why Bother With Logic.” Finally we discuss some of the ideas that George Lakoff and Mark Johnson raise in their book Metaphors We Live By. After we’ve look at all these texts together, students work in small groups to “map” argument using a metaphor other than war. Though this process we, as a class, create a body of language that we can use to talk about argumentative writing in the course through lenses other than that of war and battle.
This iteration of the course is a majorly revised version of the WR122_H course I taught in Fall of 2013. The Fall 2013 course was the first time I’d included ePortfolios as a major component of WR122_H, marking a major shift in the way I’d taught the course during the 2012-13 academic year, when ePortfolios were not used in the course. Adding an ePortfolio to the course required a significant, holistic shift in my pedagogical approach to the course. While the Fall 2013 section of the course went remarkably well considering this significant change, there were certainly still some areas of the course that didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I had planned that this would be the case from the start of the course, and documented areas of frustration and confusion that were experienced by my students as well as by me throughout the course.
During the Winter 2014 term, when I was not teaching the class, I took an opportunity to significantly revise the course in direct response to the student feedback I’d gotten during the Fall 2013 iteration. Once I had a draft of the revised course completed, I asked some of the students who took the class with me in the Fall if they would be willing to meet with me, look through the new materials, and give me additional feedback as I finalized revisions on the course. To my delight, three of my students, Doug, Dakota, and Tj, agreed to meet with me. Together we went through the course materials, discussed the revised version of the course, and brainstormed additional changes that would be needed to make the course stronger. We also worked together to revise the grade breakdown for individual assignments in the course.
The course, as it will be taught in Spring 2014, is far more cohesive and better suited to an ePortfolio framework than the Fall 2013 iteration, thanks in large part to my students’ willingness to share honest, open feedback with me during the course in the Fall and the time, energy, and careful consideration Doug, Dakota, and Tj put into helping me re-think the course.
While the course goals, readings, and overall material covered in the course remain the same, the assignments, grade breakdown between individual assignments, and how the ePortfolio is used in the course have changed dramatically since Fall 2013. The writing assignments throughout the course now build upon each other, culminating in a final essay that asks students to bring together all of the research they’ve done over the course of the term into one cohesive argument. The annotated bibliography has been expanded, and it, along with the Contact Zone Analysis, have replaced what had been a second, separate essay. And finally, in the Spring, all materials will be submitted for peer/teacher response and assessment through students’ ePortfolios. This will help integrate the ePortfolio more fully into the course and help students understand much earlier in the process why ePortfolios are important to the course, the Honors Program, and to their future academic and career success.
I’m excited to teach this new, improved version of the course, and expect that students will learn even more this term than they did in the Fall.
It was quite interesting to teach this iteration of the course. I think that the revisions that Doug, Dakota, and Tj helped me make to this course significantly strengthened the the course, especially the overall cohesion of the assignments.
The Annotated Bibliographies students wrote for the course were far higher quality than the ones submitted in past iterations of the course. The sources students found were strong and gave them insight into their Contact Zone and the depth of the author, audience, source, and language analyses students composed for their sources far exceeded my expectations and helped give students a detailed context for Essay 2.0.
ePortfolios also seemed more effective this term. Structuring the class so that the ePortfolio work was more integrated into the course work and offering ePortfolio workshops in class helped ensure that students were working on their ePortfolios continually throughout the term rather than waiting until the last moment. I think it also enabled students to better understand why ePortfolios are part of their work in this course, which in turn helped keep them motivated to work on them throughout the term.
While I do think that Essay 2.0 has been effective in helping students really connect their research and ideas throughout the term in a meaningful way, I think this assignment needs further tweaking. Having students revise the Contact Zone analysis as part of their intro section to the essay worked quite well I think. As did the shift away from having students focus specifically on language use in the contact zone to having them focus on the importance of their person/event in the contact zone. What I’m not sure worked so well was having the revisions of Essay 1.0 be s separate section of the essay. As I’ve worked with students I’ve discovered that it makes far more sense for many of the students to include sections of their Essay 1.0 in their introductions to Essay 2.0. It was also somewhat confusing for students to have a new claim in the section section of the essay but be revising the claim in Essay 1.0 in the third section. I haven’t quite figured out what to do about this, but I’m hoping that talking with students who took the course this term will help me figure it out!