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Writing Matters No. 11 Getting Students to Think For instructors at the University of Hawai‘i From assessment studies conducted by The University of Hawai‘i M~noa Writing Program Getting Students to Think How four colleagues changed Professor Lee’s understanding of critical thinking & writing Experienced professors of writing-intensive classes are often the best source of ideas for effective teaching. That’s why Professor Ray Lee* sent out an e-mail request for help when he felt that his writ
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  No. 11 Getting Students to Think   For instructors at the University of Hawai‘i   From assessment studies conducted by The University of Hawai‘i M ~ noa Writing Program W ritingW ritingW ritingW riting   M attersM attersM attersM atters     Experienced professors of writing-intensive classes are often the best source of ideas for effective teaching. That’swhy Professor Ray Lee* sent out an e-mail request for help when he felt that his writing assignments were comingup short.What was Professor Lee’s concern?“No matter how much I explained, I kept getting superficial reactions ratherthan engagement with underlying issues.”In this issue of Writing Matters  , we feature assignments that experienced writing-intensive (WI) instructors gaveProfessor Lee. Each of the four recommended assignments (below) integrates critical thinking with writing. Each canbe adapted to meet the needs of students in a variety of disciplines.Here’s what Professor Lee wrote about his first experiences as a WI-class instructor:The student writing in my WI class was not at the level I expected. The first two analysis essays lacked in-depth thinking. Before assigning the third analysis, I asked students what problems they wereencountering. The students explained that they had trouble understanding the assigned reading.I realized that students need help in learning to do critical, sophisticated thinking. I needed to findteaching strategies that encouraged these thinking skills. I e-mailed several colleagues for advice. Theirstrategies were different, but they all emphasized nurturing and attending to students’ “thinkingprocesses.” They asked students to think on paper first and then create a polished presentationof their “best thinking .” When course content was difficult, they coached students on how to tacklethe material. I discovered short writing assignments that simultaneously promote and expose thinkingskills.Below are the four assignments that experienced instructors e-mailed to Professor Lee. They are designed tomotivate students to think critically as they work through writing assignments. * Messages have been reconstructed to meet space requirements, and names have been fictionalized. Continued on back    Getting Students to Think How four colleagues changedProfessor Lee’s understanding of critical thinking & writing From: prof_eddy@hawaii.eduTo: prof_lee@hawaii.eduSubject: CONCEPT MAPS  I want my students to understand that each scientific experimentor theory builds upon existing information. Too often, students seeeach experiment or theory in isolation. A concept map is a simpleassignment in which students visually graph the relationshipsamong ideas. I can take one look at their concept map to see if theymapped the correct relationships.In class, I tell students to list the experiments they’ve learnedabout. Students figure out which one came first, which caused anew branch of research, and so on. Then they put the ideas into avisual “map,” either a flowchart or a tree diagram.You can assign a concept map whenever you have a set of relatedconcepts. And you can choose the appropriate shape: tree,flowchart, wheel with spokes, or geographical-type map. The finalresult is that students have an improved understanding of theconnections among ideas. I see the improvement when I read theliterature reviews and discussion sections in their reports. R. Bunsen & G. Kirchhoff (1860): developed thespectroscope which allowed more elements to bedocumentedJ. Dobereiner (1820s): stated that triads of elementsexist with similar propertiesD. Mendeleyev, J.Meyer (1870): both declared thatelement properties are functions of atomic weights;Mendeleyev created table listing known elementsand left spaces for undiscovered elementsSir H. Davy & M. Faraday (early 1800s): developedelectrochemistry and documented new elementsJ. Newlands (1864): listed elements by atomicweights and stated elements have similar propertiesat set intervals Sample concept map  : Development of the short-form periodic table of elements P I N E 4.33 M E S S A G E T E X T I N B O X  From: prof_cal@hawaii.eduTo: prof_lee@hawaii.eduSubject: ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES LIST  I push my students to search for alternatives and ask hard questions by requiring an advantages/disadvantageslist and then one paragraph in lieu of a first draft. My students have deeply held beliefs that prevent them fromentertaining different points of view—and they often fail to realize that other viewpoints may be just as valid astheir own. Some students use their first idea instead of thinking through many possibilities and selecting the bestone.My assignment is to list, in complete sentences, at least four advantages andfour disadvantages of a public policy decision. I use policies that thelegislature is currently debating so students make the connection betweencollege and the professional world.The students bring their lists to class and discuss them in small groups. I’moften surprised: students can sometimes teach each other as well as I canteach them. After the discussion, they revise their lists and then write oneparagraph that explains what position they will take when they write theirPosition Paper and why. I give feedback on the quality of ideas in the list andon the reasoning used in the paragraph. Then, they write a Position Paper. P I N E 4.33 M E S S A G E T E X T I N B O X From: prof_day@hawaii.eduTo: prof_lee@hawaii.eduSubject: “CREATIVE” WRITING  My WI class includes both written and oral debates, based on role-playingactivities. The first assignment is to write a debate/dialogue between twofictional people, one who staunchly supports an idea and one who is aknowledgeable skeptic. The dialogues are short, about 10-20 exchangesbetween two people, but students need a deep understanding of both sidesto write an informed debate.The dialogue format breaks students out of the “standard essay” routine andthey seem to be thinking more, or thinking more creatively. I enjoy readingthe dialogues more than reading standard essays. Of course, all the rules of writing apply so students are still responsible for making sure theirdialogues are clear, concise, and written correctly. They have a good handleon issues when they eventually choose a subject for their research project. P I N E 4.33 M E S S A G E T E X T I N B O X Professor Lee —Final Comments “The professors’ e-mailsopened a door in my ownthinking. I realized that howstudents think through thewriting assignment candetermine their success orfailure.“If I guide their thinkingbefore they start writing theirdrafts, I help them becomesuccessful.“Simple, short writing assign-ments that are ‘thinking onpaper’ are a window intotheir critical thinking skills.Once students are thinkinglike the professionals in ourfield, they are on their wayto becoming professionals.” For more ideas about teaching with writing, visit the M ~ noa Writing Program web site at www.hawaii.edu/mwp or contact the office, Bilger104, 956-6660. W riting M atters   No. 11 Getting Students to Think     From: prof_bay@hawaii.eduTo: prof_lee@hawaii.eduSubject: ENHANCED OUTLINE  When writing a critique of a speech or of a reading passage, the writer must heed details and recognize how theyfunction in the complete piece. I’ve discovered that I can help students slow down and observe the details byassigning an “enhanced” outline project.I provide a grid with three columns. In the first column, I break thespeech or text passage into meaningful chunks. I ask the students tocomplete the enhanced outline by filling in the remaining cells with acontent summary (column two) and their understanding of whatpurpose the content serves (column three).As a follow-up—sometimes before class discussion and sometimesafter—students write a short analysis of the probable impact on anaudience. I know my students are prepared to write a formal critiqueafter they complete the enhanced outline and short analysis. Sample enhanced outline    Section(page or timesequence ofvideo clip)Content(What?)Purpose(Why?)Openingcomments:0-6 minutes. Personalstory about  father’sinfluence onher career. Lets theaudienceknow she hasstrong familyvalues. P I N E 4.33 M E S S A G E T E X T I N B O X
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