University of Vermont

Foundational Writing & Information Literacy

Approaches & Illustrations

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Coursework Approaches & Illustrations

ENGS 1, HCOL 85, and TAP each promote FWIL's four foundational goals through a variety of course assignments and activities.

1. Rhetorical discernment: For varying writing purposes and audiences, develop texts with sufficient detail, astute organization, and appropriate documentation, diction, and style.

Approaches that emphasize rhetorical discernment - and doing so by highlighting different audiences and occasions for academic exchange - include:

  • Peer to peer: An assignment asking students to post to a Blackboard discussion forum (a "low-stakes" writing occasion that still requires attention to appropriate amount of detail and level of formality in diction and style).
  • Insider to nonspecialists or public: An assignment asking students to explain to city officials considering land reclamation in a harbor area the potential impact on marine life, drawing on key course concepts such as fecal coliform, indicator species, and shore erosion (a writing occasion that depends on students' developing a biologist's understanding of key concepts enough to be able to explain them to non-biologists).
  • Insider to insider: An assignment asking students to write a lab report in a scientific format that critically evaluates the design and results of experiments they have designed and conducted (a writing occasion that introduces students to the elements of scientific writing)
Illustrations in coursework include:
  • In ENGS 1, students draw on research to create two essays with distinctly different audiences and purposes: a scholarly literature review to inform an academic audience about a scholarly discussion and a magazine-style feature article to draw a wider audience into being informed - and concerned about - this area of specialist inquiry.
  • In HCOL 85, a final exam question asks students to write a letter to the Honors College defending the inclusion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in a course about ways of knowing.
  • For a social science TAP, students conduct a common laboratory exercise, then complete a two-part writing assignment. The first aims at helping them write a lab report, the second encourages them to reflect critically on their lab findings and the lab report genre in light of a class reading complicating the terms and aims of the laboratory exercise.
  • A science TAP introduces students to how to write an appropriate methods section through a short in-class activity that puts students in groups to write an explanation for how to make a cup of tea using loose-leaf tea. One paragraph is selected and displayed on the doc cam, leading to a discussion of what pieces of information are necessary and which ones are not.

2. Information literacy. Access and work effectively and ethically with print and digital sources, including learning to discern searchable key words within a complex research question; distinguish between primary and secondary and scholarly and popular resources; critically evaluate sources for relevance, currency, authority, and bias; and manage and appropriately document information sources.

Foundational information literacy learning can take place through approaches such as:

  • Short assignments or "scaffolding" assignments toward a bigger project: Following a class discussion, students find a relevant news report on the topic; to consider issues of format and diction in writing a report for a nonspecialist audience, students locate and compare a scholarly article, government report, and nonacademic article treating the same topic; students keep a research log or create an annotated bibliography to keep track of and document research as part of a multi-step assignment.
  • Extended assignments: For a peer audience, students in a history class studying Progressive-era social movements work in teams to research and then teach the class about their assigned movement; for a nonspecialist audience, students in a biology class focused on food and health issues and researched and evaluated the diets of as assigned region in the world for a World Health Organization-style report.
Illustrations in coursework include:
  • In HCOL 85, students learn to access subscription tertiary sources such as Oxford Reference for course text author biographies and definitions of philosophical and literary terms. To prepare for a discussion about how academic tertiary sources differ from general dictionaries and encyclopedias, an instructor may ask students to compare the Oxford Reference entries for a figure such as Walter Benjamin with the entry in Wikipedia.
  • For a science TAP, students work in groups to design and perform a scientific experiment testing the claims of a commercial project. Prior to writing their hypotheses, designing the methods, and performing the experiment, students research the commercial product and brands that they will compare in their group project. This gives them practice finding source information, documenting the sources, and providing justification for the educated guess (hypothesis) they create.
  • For ENGS 1, students have the assignment of writing literature reviews, reporting on the scholarly or professional discussion about a question they have posed and researched. To move them beyond first finds and obvious sources and encourage flexible and effective ways of using subscription article databases, they use tools such as key word charts and research logs to track and document their searches. They are given these tools, plus the requirement of recording six distinct research sessions over the coming week and a half, before their scheduled library instruction day, so that the library instruction can be informed by the discoveries and challenges recorded in their logs.
3. Critical reading: Read critically by engaging with ideas and texts, properly summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting others' ideas while effectively integrating them with and developing one's own ideas.

Approaches that promote and assist critical reading include:

  • Short, "scaffolding" assignments toward a bigger project: Writing article or chapter summaries; analyzing a text's organization or rhetorical features; annotating a text; writing a "difficulty paper" in which a student analyzes the difficulty of a specialized text (instructor-provided or located through a library search) presents to a novice reader in this field and identifies reading strategies to work through the text.
  • Extended assignments: multi-source research projects that call on students to identify overlapping themes, shared questions, differences and debate, and trends and reevaluations across several scholars or practitioners within a field or across disciplinary boundaries; close analysis of/reflection on a single substantial text.
Illustrations in coursework include:
  • In HCOL 85, students contribute to an "annotation wiki" in which a long and challenging passage from a primary text for the course is uploaded onto Blackboard and students write their comments (in different colors) into the text itself, resulting in a richly annotated text. The exercise launches the next class meeting's discussion about the meanings and significance of this passage and its place within the larger text. It also prepares the way for class discussion about how and why to annotate, using writing (rather than passive highlighting alone) to make sense of difficult readings.
  • To help ENGS 1 students working on a research-based essay become more conscious of how, where, and to what extent they are orchestrating a conversation among others' ideas and their own, they do a three-part in-class annotation exercise, using three different colors of ink: first to identify where they are drawing on and how they are acknowleding others' ideas and influences; next to identify and reflect on where they are drawing on their own knowledge of and experience with the topic; and, finally, to discern where they may be coming to a new insight or understanding that they might highlight and develop more.
  • In a Humanities TAP, the earliest readings of the semester are accompanied by a series of short reading assignments (posted to Blackboard for credit with the instructor drawing on instructive examples for class but otherwise not commented on by the instructor). Each assignment features a particular foundational skill and over time builds on previous skills: i.e., early assignments in discussing two or more texts in relation to one another or using the ideas of one text to question and counter another, and finally an assignment asking students to use the work of these texts to consider what a contemporary project in this genre might be.
4. Substantive revision: Through persistent inquiry and informed by feedback from peers and/or the instructor, compose and revise so that texts and ideas grow in effectiveness and complexity.

Substantive revision can be approached through:

  • Short assignments, discussion board posts: Students use instructor feedback and/or class review or sample papers to improve the development and quality of their ideas and writing in the next short assignment or post.
  • Extended assignments: Students use feedback on a first draft to challenge, analyze, develop, and substantiate their ideas, going beyond sentence-level editing and first-draft thinking. For a major project, an instructor might also include a second and even third draft so that each draft becomes an occasion for feedback and revision with particular goals: big-picture ideas, organization and evidence, then local or paragraph-level concerns and sentence style.
  • A sequence of reading and writing assignments that guide students through the experience of of reconsidering an earlier reading or rethinking an initial piece of writing in light of later learning.
Illustrations in coursework include:
  • For HCOL 85, students do an after-the-fact outline of their papers, producing a map of what their first draft was actually doing in order to be able to discern for themselves the problems in logic and flow that need to be revised in the subsequent draft.
  • For ENGS 1, students used scissors to cut apart a paper that they had previous handed in as a finished assignment. Then, choosing a sentence or paragraph from that paper and taping it to the top of a blank page, students brainstormed/free-wrote, using this sentence or paragraph as a starting point, in order to begin the process of substantially revising their work.
  • In a social science TAP, the instructor sets aside class time on the day s/he returns drafts with feedback. Students read this feedback and then write a revision plan, describing how they've understood the feedback, what further questions or sense they have about what this draft needs, a plan for their next steps, and goals for the final product.
  • A science TAP asks students to re-envision lab reports they have just written - reporting the results of an experiment testing the claims of a commercial product - as an informational video for consumers. The instructor does not collect initial drafts of their video scripts for feedback; instead, s/he asks the class to read an article about the dangers of "junk science" - and then revisit and revise their scripts to work against falling into junk science themselves.

Last modified February 24 2016 10:04 AM