Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From Lemons to Lemonade

Every year I am required to advise a graduating group of students on their senior project. Basically, they must produce a group paper based on some kind of research. I always try to encourage my students to make this to make this more of a research project- in which they can explore questions they may have, express their opinions or insight or to learn more about a particular topic of interest. In this way, the project will become more meaningful for them. This seems to work much better than writing on some dead guy or some such similar topic; I find that with such topics, students are prone to simply regurgitating a list of facts and statements, and taking the easy wasy out, in other words, plagiarizing.

The entire process is certainly quite daunting for students who have barely even honed their essay writing skills. Individually writing a paper in English is challenging enough, nevermind attempting to write a paper when there are 5-6 people involved in the process! English is their second or third language; many native English speaking college students still struggle with the process of essay writing.

Honestly, I find most students to be poorly equipped for the task at hand. Their writing skills leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes it seems as though they've forgotten the rules of grammar and the mechanics of a sentence. Why are their writing skills really so poor? Have they compartmentalized what they have learned in grammar class and completely forgetten how to apply the rules of grammar to their writing compositions? Have they had enough time to develop their essay writing skills? Are they just plain lazy? Or are they being thrown prematurely, like a fish out of water into this?

So far I've supervised three senior project groups. Over and over I've had to deal with things that seem so basic like how to quote and reference sources and issues of plagarism. I don't know how they've gotten thus far without having learned such things. It makes me wonder what they are being taught in their writing classes...

When I decided to take this year's group under my wing, I knew that I'd probably have my work cut out for myself. I knew that it would be a challenge, and hoped it wouldn't be too much of an exercise in frustration.

A few weeeks ago I discovered that my current senior project group didn't know the basic structure of an essay or even how to write an outline! Silly me, how could I assume that they'd come to me already having learned these basic skills?

I tell you the logic or lack there of around here is unbelievable. How could students wihout these basic skills be expected to produce a paper?!

After advising them for about 2 months, laying the ground work, helping them to organize their thoughts, and telling them how to write an outline, they've finally actually started putting their thoughts into an outline form. That made my day. I can see some progress and direction now!


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