Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom: Angie's Adventure into College-Ready Writing

Part I

March 11th, 2016 This month I am starting the dreaded research unit (well, dreaded for my students, not for me--I mean until I have to correct them). Every semester I ask myself how I can do it better. How can I better show them how to incorporate quotations that are credible and effective? How can I better build their research skills? How can I push them more, help them more, engage them more?

As part of the College-Ready Writing Program, I am reading the book Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts by Joseph Harris. In it, he breaks down the moves an author makes when writing academic texts. One move is "forwarding" ideas by adding in outside evidence. He says that “a writer forwards a text by taking words, images, or ideas from [outside sources] and putting them to use in new contexts” (37). As an author (or a student writing a research paper), using forwards helps you to “shift the focus of your readers away from what [the outside source] has to say and toward your own project” (38). This is something my students struggle with. I often see the outside evidence as the main focus of their paragraphs. I want to change that. I want their ideas to shine, not someone else’s.

Harris goes on to say that there are at least four ways of forwarding (39):

  • Illustrating: When you look to other texts for examples of a point you want to make.
  • Authorizing: When you invoke the expertise or status of another writer to support your thinking.
  • Borrowing: When you draw on terms and ideas from other writers to use in thinking through your subject.
  • Extending: When you put your own spin on the terms and concepts that you take from other texts

I like these terms because they are more concrete. I can point to an essay written by professionals and talk about how the outside sources make one or more of these moves. One of the examples I am going to use is from the essay “The Singer Solution To World Poverty” by Peter Singer. We read this essay as a class a couple weeks ago. In it, Singer borrows a hypothetical situation from Peter Unger. Once Singer establishes the situation so we understand it, he extends it by putting his own spin on it. Singer uses it to make his own point about charity.

These terms will give my students a purpose behind their outside evidence. It will put in checks and balances. They can stop and ask themselves what move their evidence is making and if that move is the right move or if it is helping their own ideas and moving their argument.  

On paper, this seems like a good idea, so I’m going to try it (well, my student teacher is going to, which poses a whole new set of problems). A current list of possible outcomes: students don’t get it because I have confused them by adding these words; in a state of frustration, they throw relatively cheap Chromebooks across the room breaking them to pieces; my student teacher storms out of my room and abandons the profession; I have awful nightmares of my teeth falling out because I am so unprepared to teach a new idea that I wake up to find I have actually torn my teeth out!

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.


Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2006.

Reminder: Sunday, May 1st: Deadline to apply for the College Ready Writers Program Advanced Institute. The NWP would like an updated timeline and list of participants by April 15th, so if you are planning to apply, please let Kelly Sassi know by April 15th.