Teaching Writing 5
What can you expect of your students?
Writing 5 is, for most Dartmouth students, the first exposure to the demands of college writing. While many students are competent high school writers, most do not yet understand the demands and conventions of academic prose.
Many students entering your Writing 5 know what a thesis sentence is. They have been exposed to the general rules of paragraphing. They understand the sentence and its boundaries—though they sometimes run on, and they often make the mistake of putting their most important ideas into dependent clauses. But even though students enter Dartmouth familiar with these terms and concepts, they cannot perfectly implement them. Even students who have done well in high school will have to adjust to this new intellectual community and its practices.
Moreover, though Dartmouth students are quite bright, many will enter your Writing 5 classroom with habits that you may want to break. Most common among these is the five-paragraph theme, in which students begin with a generalization, posit a thesis that has three points, craft three paragraphs to illustrate these points, and then conclude by making another generalization (or reiterating the one with which they began). Instructors beware: even longer papers of ten or fifteen paragraphs may be based on the five-paragraph-theme model. This approach to writing doesn't often produce good papers - students let the form dictate their thinking, rather than letting their thinking dictate the form.
A second habit that you may want to break is your students tendency to nominalize—that is, to turn verbs into abstract nouns in order to sound more academic. Students might write, "It was not the intention of the Russian ambassador to bring the negotiations to a conclusion," when "The Russian ambassador did not intend to end negotiations" might be better. Nominalizing leads to several bad habits, including a tendency to use the passive voice or to overuse "There are/It is" constructions. To be fair, students mimic this habit because they have seen it in academic writing, but we should break this lamentable cycle. A few lessons in the elements of style will help students to build sentences with actors as subjects and with good, strong verbs.
The point of these examples is to suggest that it is important to understand the writing, reading, and thinking habits that students bring with them to your Writing 5. If you understand your students' habits, you can help them form new ones.
What does the Writing Program expect of you?
The goals for Writing 5 are ambitious. Instructors are expected to introduce students to the conventions of academic discourse. They will sharpen students' critical thinking skills. They will introduce students to research by creating an assignment that requires students to find, evaluate, use, and cite secondary sources. Most important, they will teach their students to write.
As in the other first-year writing courses, teaching writing will not depend simply on assigning writing—though writing will be assigned, and often. Instructors will frequently conduct writing workshops, confer regularly with students about their writing, provide careful and thoughtful feedback, and make good use of the collaborative learning and active learning ideas described throughout this website. For a more thorough description of the program's expectations, please see Writing 5: Guidelines for Faculty. We hope that you will especially note the following:
- Plan to spend substantial class time on student writing. Don't allow course readings to crowd out discussion of student work. Treat student work as another text for the class, using it as the basis for in-class writing workshops. See Conducting Writing Workshops for proven strategies.
- Require (and allow ample time for) revision. Most experienced writing teachers know that students learn to write not simply by writing, but by rewriting. Studies show that student writing improves when they are asked to work out the problems in an existing paper, rather than applying the instructor's comments to a new writing task.
What do your students expect of you?
Most students are enthusiastic about Writing 5—after all, they selected your section from the many listed online. Accordingly, their expectations are high.
- Students expect the classroom format to be discussion-based, not lecture-based. They want a class that is intimate not only in size but in character.
- Students want feedback from you on their writing. You should respond not only to the content of the writing, but also to its structure, form, and style.
- Students expect that you will return their papers to them in a timely manner, so that they have sufficient time to absorb and incorporate your comments before the next paper is due.
- Students expect that you will be accessible to them. They expect you to be available to meet with them in conference and in office hours throughout the term to discuss their progress. They also hope that you will respond to their emails.
If you have questions about teaching Writing 5, please contact Christiane Donahue, Director of the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric.