Skip to main content
Humanities Libertexts

5.3: For the Instructor

[ "article:topic" ]
  • Page ID
    7154
  • Appendix B

    What makes this book different?

    This book is designed for a Mastery Learning environment. Mastery Learning is based on the assumption that all students can learn, given the proper time on task. This means that different students “master” different tasks at differing rates and with differing ways of processing. This should be obvious: each student learns at a different pace and with different learning styles. Mastery Learning also implies that learning content is made up of small enough “chunks” that students may master them a few at a time.

    This kind of learning environment has never lent itself to the academic writing classroom. For one thing, how can we have 30 or more students all writing at different rates? How can we give all students the practice they need (on different skills) and ever make progress as a group? How can we teach to 30 different learning or processing styles as well? What kind of small “chunks” are there that students may master before can make progress on their own, and how do we monitor and assess these chunks?

    It should come as no surprise that Mastery Learning and the writing process as most of us know it are difficult to merge into a workable curriculum. The reasons for this are complex. For one thing, a teacher must break writing down into small chunks and then ask writers to master each item. In other words, the teacher “prescribes” a framework within which to write, something antithetical to the idea of writing for most people.

    Another problem with smaller elements is that most people assume writing is made up of sentences and paragraphs, and so emphasize practicing these. However, nearly everyone will tell us that good writing is not accomplished by sentence and paragraph practice. The problem here is that sentences and paragraphs are orthographic in nature, or printing conventions. Once students master sentence and paragraph construction, they do not seem to have mastered writing, at least beyond the sentence and paragraph.

    How do we fit Mastery Learning into the writing classroom?

    In order to use Mastery Learning, an instructor should identify small chunks of writing as elements of modes or rhetorical patterns. To do this an instructor must first see written language not as orthographic but as rhetorical. In other words, we must think in terms of elements and modes rather than sentences and paragraphs.

    Most of us are aware that certain phrases or words tend to indicate what mode or pattern we are reading or writing. Most of us know when we are being told a story, or when we are in an argument, or when we are given directions to a destination, without having to be told ahead of time what pattern to expect. This is because there are key words and phrases that tell us whether we are in narrative, argument, or process. Once we know the pattern, we can identify some phrases that make up that pattern, and we can show our students these patterns.

    This brings us to the problem of being prescriptive, or “telling them what to write,” or “filling in the blanks,” and so on. This can be overcome by putting the key phrases in elements of patterns into a heuristic, or a series of leading questions. By incorporating key phrases into open-ended questions, students are led to use the same or similar phrasing in their answers. Questions also give students the option of answering using their own similar phrasing, or simply answering without the aid of key phrases.

    The heuristic questions also allow a teacher to provide example answers using these key pattern phrases. From example answers, a template can be easily constructed. Weaker writers tend to use templates and examples until they get the hang of it. Better writers tend to use the heuristics. Their answers may be as short as a sentence, or they may be as long as the series of paragraphs that answer the two questions in bold, above.

    Who is this book for?

    This book is aimed at first-year college writing students, but we have found it very useful in developmental and even second-language applications. It is also useful for dyslexic writers and others who learn or process language differently. We have had great success too with upper-level writers who need a guide for longer papers and other writing projects. In other words, this book is:

    $$\begin{split} \text{Primarily Aimed At} \quad \rightarrow \quad & \text{First-Year College Writers} \\  \text{Very Useful For} \quad \rightarrow \quad & \text{Developmental Writers} \\ & \text{Dyslexic Writers} \\ & \text{Second-Language Writers} \\ & \text{Writers With Alternative Learning Styles} \\ & \text{Anyone Who Needs A Guide For Long Papers} \end{split}$$

    What are the benefits or advantages to a Mastery Learning writing classroom?

    • There is no plagiarism
    • Students work on their own, at their own pace
    • They collaborate naturally
    • They spend most if not all of their time in class writing
    • The teacher almost never has to read/grade papers outside of class
    • Students are less interested in their grade and much more interested in writing
    • The students get their papers back the same hour they submit them, or at the next class session at the latest
    • Students are eager to revise their work
    • They want to have a maximum rather than a minimum length to their writing
    • Without the teacher assigning it, students do homework on their own
    • The teacher does not have to teach the writing process, audience, usage, structure, organizing, MLA format, grammar, group collaboration, peer editing, voice, conventions, and so on.
    • No formal lecture is required on the teacher’s part
    • While students write, the teacher may stroll around the room, waiting for students to ask individual, specific questions about their writing
    • This kind of classroom management is easy to learn and apply, especially for first-year teachers, GAs, and so on.
    • Students come to class early and are reluctant to leave
    • They learn to adapt to changing research demands, resources, and documentation
    • Instead of a rubric, students work from (and are assessed by) checklists
    • They find it easy to apply what they learn in this class to other classes (across the curriculum)
    • They find that what they say is important
    • Many of their writings are of publishable quality
    • They develop inquiry as a habit of mind before they leave the course
    • They see the teacher as an ally
    • They see academic and literary prose more clearly and critically
    • They leave the course eager to write authoritatively for other instructors and on their own
    • *Most of them earn an “A” for the course

    How This Book Works

    When we look at a pattern for writing, we tend to see the things that change, rather than the things that stay the same. To illustrate, I highlighted the words in the sentence below that give it meaning:

    A sandal is a kind of shoe that has only straps and a sole.

    The sentence above is an example pattern for “classification” or “definition.” It works because other meaningful words may be substituted into the pattern:

    A dachshund is a kind of dog that is shaped like a wiener.

    However, this book focuses on the pattern words rather than the meaning words; all the questions, templates, tutorials, and examples call for the writer to practice the pattern words that all academic writers accept. Using this book will help the writer see and use the patterns to help him or her say what needs to be said. In other words, the pattern looks like this:

    A sandal is a kind of shoe that has only straps and a sole.

    Or,

    A dachshund is a kind of dog that is shaped like a wiener.

    The sentences above serve as examples and a template for a sentence-sized “classification” or “definition” pattern. A tutorial might look like this:

    A sandal is a kind of shoe that has only straps and a sole.
    \(\uparrow \quad \quad \)   \(\uparrow\)   \(\qquad \qquad \uparrow\)
    Word/Term   Category/Class   Difference from other things in the category or class

    A question that prompts such an answer will look something like this:

    What are you defining, what kind of thing is it, and how is it different from other things in the same class?

    Using the words in bold in their answer, but replacing the other words with new ones, helps students practice the patterns (words in bold), practice inquiry (applying the question to an assignment or problem), and think about each question/answer, yet answer in their own unique way and at their own pace. It also allows them to answer in class while you are there to help them, particularly in a computer classroom.

    A Writer-Editor Relationship

    The best way to approach a class with this book is to establish a writer-editor relationship with your students. In other words, treat them in the same way that you will be treated by the editor of a journal: Call for papers; give parameters; establish submission deadlines; require peer review; edit the work as it comes in (rather than grading it); return to writers for corrections; have them resubmit; edit and return. The most sensible setting for this process is a computer classroom.

    Let Writers Write

    Insist that class time be used for writing. Unless everyone is having trouble with the same thing, or you need to make announcements, avoid speaking to the whole class at once. This will take some practice – lecturing is what many of us have been taught. Encourage your writers to ask for help from you directly and individually.

    What To Do During Class

    If no one needs help, edit the pages already submitted and return them. If no one needs help and there are no papers to edit, relax, wander around, and enjoy a beverage until you must help or edit. Our classes look more like a writing center than writing classes.

    Teachable Moments

    When you edit their papers and expect changes to be made, most students will understand and make those changes. However, some students will not understand what you want them to do. This is when you may individually teach that student that particular lesson. This is very efficient and effective.

    Edit Checklist

    When each writer finishes a section, direct him or her to the Edit Checklist. You may change or delete or add anything on the Edit Checklist. However, insist that every item on the list (or your list) is addressed before assigning a grade. We require that the writer use the checklist, then hand the paper to a peer to use the checklist as well.

    Insist on Peer Review

    Ask each student to submit each writing to a peer reviewer. The peer reviewer should use the Edit Checklist and ONLY the Edit Checklist. You can be responsible for anything else. We hand the paper back to students if we find errors from the Edit Checklist. I circle the first few and then give back the paper. Ask them to edit according to the Edit Checklist until they have done so.

    Focus on Answering Prompts

    The prompts for each pattern are designed to elicit answers that flow from one to the next without any more effort than simply answering the questions in complete sentences (usually just one-sentence answers are required). No extra lessons in transitions are needed because transition phrases are inherent in the question/ answer process. Watch that prompts are answered specifically, and that students understand the nature of each prompt (some prompts can be ambiguous).

    Keep a Portfolio

    Every draft of every assignment should go into a “portfolio” for submission at the end of the semester. Students keep these with them in a 3-ring binder. You collect these for a grade (you may collect them halfway though the semester and assign a grade if you wish). Of course, since you have “edited” all assignments, you will only have to read the final assignment for assessment.

    Note

    If a student writes answers to each prompt in class for each pattern to produce a draft, you edit it, the student revises it in class, and you ask students to keep all drafts in a portfolio, this will eliminate plagiarism.

    Do not correct WHAT they say; correct HOW they say it

    Remember that you are teaching them patterns for academic writing. It is not important in practicing academic writing what they say (even if we know they are wrong); what is important in practicing academic writing is how they say it. Trust that the questions and answers in each pattern will direct writers to some workable conclusion. Even in the Personal Writing section, focus on the structure (questions/ answers) rather that the content and you might be surprised by their creativity and depth of thought.

    • Was this article helpful?