Fakultær pulje til decentrale aktiviteter og tiltag under De Studerende i Centrum

    Activity: Talks and presentationsGuest lectures, external teaching and course activities at other universities


    Instructional support in the classroom
    through Writing-to-Learn activities

    Jesper Tinggaard Svendsen, ISK
    Steven Breunig, ISK

    We are applying for support for a project that is directed towards teaching courses for the Bachelor in Danish, specifically the subject course Media Communication and Media Analysis, and the graduate degree in International Business Communication (IVK), specifically the subject course Strategic Writing and Communication. Both courses are taught here at Odense campus.

    Defining the problem
    More than knowledge about a subject, the ability to acquire scientific methods and use them for regulating their own learning process is the key to academic success (cf. Scardamalia and Bereiter 1987 and 1991 on learning writing and text comprehension). Unfortunately scientific methods, which include writing extended argumentative and persuasive texts, remain implicit in classroom instruction. Therefore many students may be working hard, but they may be working hard on the wrong problems (cf. Linda and Hayes. 1980).

    Our experience from the classroom is that students are given a reading syllabus that may include various, separate textbooks and/or a series of academic articles. Then the students are typically expected to familiarize themselves with the content of each of the reading materials, yet without seeing how the authors build up their arguments and how the issues and problems may support or question an overall thesis. Mature and experienced students may be able to synthesize the ideas, but less experienced students, which includes those that are still struggling with academic proficiencies and scientific methods, gain only a superficial understanding or what is called “surface learning” from this type engagement with texts. They are learning information, but not how knowledge is created and tested.

    Activities: Writing-to-Learn with Formative Feedback
    Our efforts will be directed at two levels, 1) the explicit problem-solving activities regarding a thesis and argument structure while teaching in the classroom and 2) the students’ writing to learn activities.

    Concerning the pedagogical design of the teaching, there will be an emphasis on the various stages of a problem oriented approach. Part of this emphasis will include being very explicit about which questions are being examined, which role theory and method plays in the argument, as well as how these elements can be used on different forms of data, including other texts and theories.

    As a mean for making the scientific approach more explicit, our plan is to carry out a writing-to-learn activity as a form of learning strategy for the students to acquire content knowledge as well as train their analytical abilities by working with various forms of data, while providing explanations and interpretations of the data (cf. Keys 1999). The writing to learn activity involves having the students write argumentative and persuasive expository texts while they begin reading the syllabus for the course. In this way, the activity of writing supports their reading.
    The purpose of having the students begin their writing as they begin reading the course material is to train them to read and write for arguments (cf. Chambliss 1995). This way they are not reading merely for information, but practicing the process by which new knowledge is created as well as furthering their own thoughts on the material. During the semester, the students will also receive feedback on their work as their ideas are forming, meaning they will receive “formative feedback” (Means 2006). In contrast to summative feedback for assessment, the formative feedback they will receive is designed to further their thinking on the issues as well as the formation of their argumentative and persuasive texts (Willingham 1990).
    As a pedagogical strategy in general, the writing-to-learn activity, with formative feedback, is designed to contribute to “deep learning” (cf. Sawyer 2006) by getting the students to synthesis ideas through their own writing practices as they are reading and participating in classroom discussions. Thus, in addition to acquiring knowledge, students learn to construct arguments that they can communicate and support.

    Broadly speaking, writing-to-learn is a learning strategy that resembles the research process, whereby researchers and scholars investigate a thesis, while reading and writing interchangeably, as well as observing and interpreting data. Thereby, writing-to-learn engages students in authentic practices of scientific inquiry (cf. Sawyer 2006). By engaging students in authentic practices of research in the classroom, instructors, as researchers, may also find it more relevant to apply their own theoretical and methodological experience.
    Overall, by making the scientific approach more explicit and by using the writing-to-learn activity as a pedagogical tool helps to involve students in developing their own knowledge and analytical abilities, while helping them see how their work may contribute to knowledge of a content area. In this manner, writing-to-learn initiate students into a knowledge creating culture (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2006).

    The subject Media Communication and Media Analysis is a fourth semester course at the bachelor level and teaching is held 2 x 13 hours.

    The subject Strategic Writing and Communication is a seventh semester course at the graduate level and teaching is held 3 x 13 hours.

    For both subjects, we will present the idea of writing to learn as a supplament to other classroom activities, such as lectures, group work, e-learning and so on. During the presentation of the writing to learn activity, it will be pointed out that writing can be used not only for testing acquired knowledge but also that writing can function as a tool for acquiring knowledge and creating new knowledge.
    We start by assigning a thesis to the students that they have to argue for and against. The thesis is one we provide for them. It is expected that they develop this thesis further on their own. The purpose of assigning or presenting them with a thesis is to help them read more strategically for the claims and support made by the authors of the texts assigned in the syllabus. After three sessions, the students turn in their writing to learn essays for individual feedback. The reason that the formative feedback is individual is to meet them at their individual zones of proximal development (ZPD). The feedback is designed to further their thinking about the issues at stake and guide them to continue the reading of the syllabus in a more strategic fashion in which the students read for cues in the text in which authors make their arguments. Before the semester is completed, the students turn in a second draft of the same writing to learn essay for further formative feedback. It is expected that all the essays by the students will be different, depending on how they have supported and questioned their own constructed thesis, which has developed over the semester in an exchange between their writing and reading activities. It is important to stress that the feedback they receive will focus on how they construct their argument and how they convey ideas and problem issues, as well as their rhetorical strategies for doing so. In this way, we make scientific thinking and methods more explicit.

    The Project in relation to the Faculty’s focus areas
    By making a pedagogical design that explicitly demonstrates the components of the scientific approach, the project supports the general goal of raising the academic level of our students. In addition, there is a specific focus on supporting the transition of students without an academic background into the culture of university work and life. In This way, the genre conventions that are familiar to students with an academic background become more visible for the students without an academic background. Finally, the focus area of developing pedagogical strategies and creating new learning forms that will activate the students in the classroom will be met by practicing the scientific approach via writing to learn activities.
    In order to stress that the project’s problem and focus area crosses different educational studies in the Humanities and different levels of education, the pedagogical design will be conducted for the degree Bachelor in Danish and the graduate level at International Business Communication (IVK).

    Resources applied for
    We are requesting extra confrontation hours. The extra hours will be used for the development of the pedagogical design, as well as carrying out the different forms of advisement and feedback. In addition, the extra hours are to be used to write a report that will include our experiences with the project and recommendations for further development. We are requesting two extra confrontation hours for developing this pedagogical tool. For Media Communication and Media Analysis, 2 x 13=26 and for Strategic Writing and Communication, 2 x 13=26. This means for us as the instructors that for next semester Media Communication and Media Analysis receives 4 confrontation hours in total, and Strategic Writing and Communication receives 5 confrontation hours in total.

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    Flower, Linda and John Hayes. 1980. The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical problem. College Composition and Communication. Vol. 31. No. 1. 21-32.

    Keys, Carolyn. 1999. Revitalizing Instruction in Scientific Genres: Connecting Knowledge Production with Writing to Learn in Science. Science Education. 83. 115-130.

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    Scardamalia, Marlene and Carl Bereiter. 1987. The Psychology of Written Composition. New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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    Schunn, Christian D. and John R. Anderson. 2001. Acquiring Expertise in Science: Explorations of What, When, and How. In Designing for Science: Implications From Everyday, Classroom, and Professional Settings. Kevin Crowly, Christian D. Schunn and Takeshi Okada, eds. LEA: London. 83-114.

    Willingham, Daniel B. 1990. Effective Feedback on Written Assignments. Teaching of Psychology. Vol. 17. No. 1. 10-13.

    Zimmerman, Barry J. 2002. Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview. Theory into Practice. Vol. 41. No. 2. 64-79.
    Period15. Nov 2012
    Held atUkendt, Denmark