MODELING A WRITING AND RESEARCH PROCESS IN CLASS

  1. Read aloud and explain the assignment to students. Try writing a thesis or opening paragraph yourself in class—on an overhead or projected on the screen—or ask them to do it quickly and then discuss what results.
  2. Be an expert for your student apprentices.  Demonstrate how you draw on disciplinary expertise in order shape research questions and begin to investigate them by showing how one of your recent research projects evolved.  Show students what you look for when you read journal articles or analyze information.  Show them materials you have read; explain why you underline passages and write marginal notes; how you code and organize data.  By guiding your students as apprentice researchers and writers, you will help your students more quickly master the challenges of writing research projects.  Remember that we all went through a period of learning, trial and error, with expert feedback provided by our own teachers, in order to become effective writers.
  3. Explain to students how your discipline makes knowledge.  Students need to understand that the values or ways of thinking that you've learned from participating in your discipline are not arbitrary—they help you write for the members of your field and address issues the field takes seriously.  When class discussion turns toward questions that might be useful paper topics, explain to students how and why certain questions get asked in your field, and what kinds of conversations emerge most frequently.  This way students may keep these values in mind as they begin to write.
  4. Deliver writing instruction in small doses.  Students can better manage the cognitive overload of writing a paper if you offer mini-lectures on portions or aspects of the writing assignment you've given and if you time these lectures so that they occur just as students are reaching that stage of the writing and thinking process.  Returning to the assignment frequently also gives students multiple opportunities to ask questions about problems or questions they have and thus may head off potential later problems.