By Caitlin Holmes
Caitlin Holmes is the Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at George Mason University. She blogs regularly about teaching here at thewritingcampus.com. You can reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. José Bowen, President of Goucher College and author of Teaching Naked, came to George Mason’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence on September 18-19. During his visit, he led a 4-hour long workshop and then delivered a keynote presentation. During his presentations, Dr. Bowen spoke passionately about the importance of integrating technology more effectively into and out of the classroom as a way to encourage student accountability for learning and – most importantly – to transform the classroom into a site of thinking, not just knowledge acquisition.
As an attendee of both Dr. Bowen’s workshop and keynote, I came away filled with ideas about how to implement his “Teaching Naked Cycle” into my writing classroom. As a Writing Across the Curriculum faculty member, I was reminded of the extent to which our values are shared with those advanced by Dr. Bowen. WAC believes that writing is a way to discover, reflect, practice skills, and learn from mistakes. Dr. Bowen’s workshop especially offered new ways to bring these values to bear in my classes, but – given the point that I was at in the semester – I knew it was a bit late to adjust the entire direction of my course.
I recognized that a variety of Dr. Bowen’s classroom activities could immediately help my students engage with reading and discussions more effectively. I had assigned a valuable article to my Advanced Writing (ENGH 302 – multidisciplinary section) students for the Wednesday following Dr. Bowen’s workshop. The article – “The Language of Psychology: APA Style as Epistemology” by Robert Madigan, Susan Johnson, and Patricia Linton (1995) – articulated how APA style actually shapes student thinking. However, the article was dense and had difficult vocabulary. I had also made the misstep of assigning it along a difficult work on the rhetoric of citation by esteemed rhetoric scholar Robert Connors (1998).
First, I took Dr. Bowen’s suggestion and told students how I wanted them to read the articles. Bowen’s workshop and keynote reinforced the importance of giving students a way of reading – not just highlighting or getting through the words, but actually approaching a text with a goal in mind. For the Connors article, students needed to skim it and look at the pictures, noting where citations actually took place in the images over time. For the APA article, I told students to read for the main claims about why APA style is important.
Students came prepared with the documents on their computers. After a quick refresh on upcoming assignments, I pulled the Connors article up on the projector and asked students to identify the major ways that they saw citations changing over time. We looked at the pictures in the article, and I asked students to identify what they saw as the major changes. As a follow up question, I asked students, “Why do you think the author of this text put the citation or annotation there? What is at stake rhetorically?” A discussion began to evolve naturally out of students’ own comprehension and into a comparison between their disciplinary styles and historic citation practices.
An especially interesting moment arose when students realized that they could not identify a citation for Glossia Ordinaria, which was published in 1528. Debate arose about what textual notations indicated citation or annotation, and – as discussion evolved – students began to offer suggestions about what might clarify the use of citation and annotation in the text. The failure of their earlier knowledge allowed them to challenge and generate, moving beyond the need to cite to the ways that citation can be persuasive.
The next step of the lesson required that students get into groups to look at different disciplinary sources – largely scholarly articles – and rhetorically analyze a citation of their choice. Groups received texts from biochemistry, information technology, psychology, criminology, and history (a good representation of majors in the class). Students presented on one citation to the entire class using the document camera, and they had to answer the following questions:
• What is gained by structuring a citation this way?
• Judging by this citation, what do you think the discipline values?
Students were able to make thoughtful inferences about the discipline’s values. From biochemistry (which never uses a cited author’s name in text and therefore does not value interference with the logic of the sentence) to history (which offers fully elaborated footnotes to share further information that is not in the line of argument but shows the author’s awareness of the field), each group provided some sort of inference about the discipline from a single citation.
From there, I wanted students to make the cognitive jump from speculating about a discipline to thinking about how writing informs practice within a discipline. The Madigan, Johnson, and Linton article articulated how APA informs psychologists’ practice and research, but I feared that students would get bogged down in the language. By encouraging them to read for particular concepts, they came prepared knowing the main claims of the article. The next step, as Dr. Bowen reminded us in the workshop, was to “test” by having students evaluate which of these claims was the most important.
I put the following statements on the document camera:
Which of the following reasons would the authors of the article argue is the most important function of APA style?
1. to protect against plagiarism
2. to reflect the changing nature of participants in psychological studies
3. to give the reader a better idea of the information to come in the article
4. to conceal disagreement in scholarship
5. to not overstate findings
6. to show how research fits into a larger body of studies
7. to project an air of objectivity
8. to reason empirically about human behavior
I asked students to write a brief response, and then we shared our answers collectively. It was fascinating to hear how students organized, grouped, and justified their answers. I had been hoping most would choose #8, but many of them chose the concrete strategies that came earlier in the article. Knowing that the title of the article presented APA style as “epistemology,” I asked students if any of them had looked up a dictionary definition of “epistemology.” Not one student had tried to figure out what it meant.
I had students open their laptops and find definitions. Once students understood what “epistemology” was (with a few jokes about “the study of pissed”), they recognized that the first seven claims were in fact supporting the final claim of the essay. Each of the statements, from plagiarism prevention to seeming objective, are important to APA style and psychologists’ research practices, but APA – the authors argue – is much more than that: it is a way of shaping our thinking as researchers.
As homework, I asked students to write a brief paragraph to identify the style of their discipline and what they could infer about its values given that style and citation structure. What does that discipline want a student to change about his or her thinking? How is writing in that discipline informing practice? I put this short writing assignment down in their participation grade, which is worth 15% of their final grade.
Overall, I found several ways to easily integrate Dr. Bowen’s “Teaching Naked” method into my classroom without going through many curricular changes. In working through spur-of-the-moment homework based on the discussions from classes, students have started coming more prepared and ready to talk. In other words, I am trying to adapt to their needs rather than imposing a series of lessons on them.
I would like to thank the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence for bringing Dr. Bowen to Mason’s campus. His workshop and keynote were a jolt to my teaching practice, and I look forward to integrating more of the concepts I learned into my future writing courses.