I’ve been talking about this synthesis essay for a few weeks now, and as the students get close to actually starting this, I thought today would be a good day to provide the actual prompt so they can start thinking about the final few pieces in these terms. I didn’t want to do this at the beginning of the unit because then the whole unit would be about the essay, rather than experiencing the readings on their own terms. Additionally, I wanted to continue work on understanding rhetorical strategies and appeals, which also would have been hampered by the looming essay. However, now that they have been in the unit for a couple weeks, it is time to start thinking about this. Additionally, the prompt echoes the essential question of the unit of whether the American education system serves the goal of true education, requiring students to define “true” education for themselves. Baldwin, Emerson, and Wallace all define this in their own ways, so the context is right, too. This won’t take too long; I will hand out the assignment sheet and read through it, emphasizing that their argument is central—they are using at least three sources to support it. I will also explain that we will look at a model on Monday of what the essay looks like as part of the writing process (so they shouldn’t panic!).
Today we’ll continue with Emerson; the discussion yesterday was a strong one, and I feel like it would be of great benefit for them to hear each other’s connections—it will help provide clarity for forging connections between the writers and their own views on education. This particular activity will also practice synthesis skills through listening.
The students will work in pairs (the students in this class are on relatively equal footing in their participation, so I’ve been letting them choose their own pairs. . . which ends up whoever they’re next to; I may mix this up just to mix it up. If the class was of a different make-up, I may make the groups myself, or even make groups of threes if not everyone did the assignment). One student will read their piece out loud to each other. The partner will listen carefully, and ask clarifying questions if necessary, because their task will be to explain what their partner was thinking about. After all students have read, we will come back as a whole class. The writer will read the quote they used, then the partner will explain their thinking. During this part I will ask other students to jump in as they listen to explain their own partner’s thoughts if it is connected to what they are hearing. In this way, students are continuing to think about how ideas are connected to each other, and how to synthesize information to build unique ideas.
Next Steps: tomorrow we will turn our attention to David Foster Wallace as he kind of bookends some big ideas concerning true education with Matthew B. Crawford from the beginning of the unit. Prior to Emerson I had assigned students questions from the textbook, and in reading them and receiving feedback from students, I’ve realized that I was giving them too many questions (the last few were far less detailed than the earlier ones). So, in an effort to put quality in front of quantity, I had students get into six pairs (if I had a larger class, I would still have six groups), and assigned each pair two questions they will be the “experts” on. I also assigned everyone the last question in the text, which asks students how they would explain the main point of the speech in ten words or less—this is a great question that pushes them to practice strong word choices and precision writing.