I do a disservice by grouping general thoughts about students' work over the last three weeks into a single entry. However, a multitude of demands on my time don't allow for much else. I've been asking a lot of students as of late and they've fulfilled my requests, yet all time allows is a lone, meager blog post to acknowledge and reflect. Of course, each undergraduate student received a quick progress report with more tailored details about how I see their recent work. I won't divulge such specifics here for a variety of reasons, instead taking a broader view, a longer picture of what's happening. So, let's begin…
Students don't like writing. To be more specific, students don't like academic writing. They see it as jargon, unnecessary, verbose. "Why should/would anyone write like this?" they ask. Such a question ties into not only important considerations of audience and purpose but it also remains a persistent, existential query for me as a teacher of writing. I don't discourage a question like that, instead encouraging students to ask by way of assignments like Pop Up Scholarship. And, more often than not, what comes out of such an assignment are the above criticisms. Rare is the question one of content; almost always is the question one of performance, of presentation.
Variations of these questions also appear in upper-level and graduate courses, often with the same focus. Rather than discussing the argument put forth or the ideas presented, upper-level and graduate students address an assigned article from points of analysis literary and/or rhetorical. Their approaches are more deconstruction than New Criticism, more feminist and Marxist than reader-response. "If we can summarize an academic work in 50 words or 140 characters, why can't the original author?" they ask.
I don't know if such inquiries are standard in college-level writing courses, but they seem to be in mine. I structure my courses to be spaces not just for writing, but critiquing writing. I don't want students' blind or blithe acceptance of the tenets of academic writing. Yes, I hope for them to grasp the nuances of what it means to put together a scholarly piece of writing, but I also hope for them to remain critical in the process. Besides, I'm not exactly the biggest fan of academic writing myself. There's an insurgent aspect to my pedagogy, I suppose.
Again, this is part of the reason for assignments like Pop Up Scholarship that ask and encourage students to change, comment, pick apart, and even poke fun at academic work. It's also part of the way toward foundational awareness, whether it be academic writing, videogame studies, or digital rhetoric. The first eight weeks or so of each course are strikingly similar in this regard. After the break, after having gained awareness if not knowledge of what's involved, students have the freedom for more individual exploration. Given students' reactions to freedom and open-endedness of certain assignments already undertaken, I expect there will be some accounts of stress post-break.
I know that not all students are comfortable with the class structure. I know some would be content with or even prefer that I just give them information, straight from the scholarly horse's mouth. I know there are many reasons for this desire, too, but my general response to the majority of direct questions asked of me is this: I don't have all the answers, but I'm here to help you seek them, to offer perspective on what you discover.
Contrary to what students might think, some of the best class sessions are those facilitated by fellow students. Even somewhat disastrous facilitations, like the one in #112CWR this week, can be instructive in myriad ways. This has me thinking about implementing less formal, straightforward groupwork in my courses. Rather than group facilitations, perhaps future courses will have discussion leaders, those who post the first and second online entries related to a week's readings for others to read and respond to. Students tend to like groupwork about as much as they like academic writing anyway.