This week has been a transitional week where students are working on their synthesis essay as I introduce the new unit on gender. I saw some panic in the students’ eyes yesterday as I was reminding them of their need to finish reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed for tomorrow, so today I will give them a good chunk of the class to read—many students in the last week or so have been commenting on how much they are liking the book, so I’m going to assume that they have been swamped by work since the quarter ended last Friday and have simply not gotten as far as they would have liked to.
Before reading, however, I do want to revisit their synthesis essays, and more specifically, the model from the textbook The Language of Composition 2e (pg. 165-166). After reading all of their drafts and talking to many of the students individually about their paper (I will talk with the rest while they read today), I realized some common flaws I among most of them that I want to clarify (one of them being to follow the model! It was quite clear when reading their essays that only three of the students took my advice and had the model next to them when they were writing—hopefully they will get the message this time that it is okay to use a model when writing in a new genre the first time, since most have to scrap a lot of their draft). The major issue was that students were basing most of their essays on their own opinions rather than entering a conversation about the issue by leaning heavily on relevant evidence from their resources and using them as jumping off points for their own central ideas and perspectives. Given this, I will put the model on the Smartboard and do some direct instruction by specifically noting the annotated sections of the model, most of which identify how evidence from resources are being used to develop the argument.
Additionally, this will help focus on a couple of other writing elements—providing context for the resources and writing quotes within sentences. I realized while reading their essays that identifying the author wasn’t enough for full rhetorical effect (since this is an essay genre I have never taught, I’m learning right along with the students!); they needed to provide some context of the occasion in which it was written to show authenticity and perspective. For example, many students quote Ralph Waldo Emerson in making a point about present-day education. The fact that he was writing about these issues in the early part of the 19th century is of particular relevance, so students should note that in their writing. Similarly, writing that the article Wrong Answer: the Case against Algebra II was published in Harper’s Magazine in September of this year (2013) has stronger rhetorical value for ethos and for showing it is a current argument than simply identifying the author’s name. The model also has examples of this (i.e. “according to two studies published in the journal Psychological Science”) that I can show students as a demonstration (I've included one of my student's essays with the cited resources highlightedSythesis draft sample 2 resource highlights.docx--I realized when reading that adding a phrase or clause of context for each piece would add to the argument, rather than just stating the name and title, which assumes the audience knows the work).
Finally, a syntactical issue I’ve noticed in a number of papers is the use of a quote from a resource as a sentence by itself, rather than including the quote as part of a sentence. The model has examples of the quote being used as a direct object of a clause, as well as examples of the quote being integrated into the syntax of the sentence. So I will point these out as well to show the proper way syntactically to use quotes.
After working with the model synthesis essay again, I will give the students the rest of the class period to read Wild and work on writing their Reading logs for Wild.docx while I meet individually with the rest of the students to conference about their essays.