Welcome page - Niles 2015
A Mini-Course on Academic Introductions
Link to: Design Project Portfolio page: User:Thaddeus Niles
I made this mini-course for composition instructors who are interested in instruction and evaluation that is more "principled"--i.e., based on clearer standards that can be defined and communicated. We will try to tackle one small but ever-present piece of academic essays: introductions. Our driving questions include "What is an effective introduction, exactly", and "How can I support students to reach this goal?"
I became interested in this sort of instruction as I taught college-level English language learners, who must write at a high level, but aren't always familiar with our discourse practices and therefore may not be able to rely on their gut instincts in the same way that native speakers can. My instruction frustrated them because I would highlight their mistakes, but often give poor descriptions of what they ought to be doing (for example, "Make sure you go from general to specific in your introduction...your version began too general, I'm afraid"). I also found that once students left my classrooms, they encountered expectations that I wasn't addressing in my classroom. In other words, my first mistake was teaching something that I couldn't really define, and my second mistake was assuming that instruction supported my students' true experiences beyond my class.
At the end of this mini-course, learners should notice changes that imply learning at the levels of knowledge,attitude, and behavior.
- Knowledge: teachers should know 1) what constitutes an effective introduction and 2) why the introduction matters to readers.
- Attitude or Feelings: teachers should 1) feel more familiar and confident when explaining the form and function of the introduction paragraph, but also 2) view introductions and other parts of an essay as important functional moments that address real needs of the reader. This attitude will hopefully continue beyond this course and 3) set the stage for more inquiry about what is it we do, exactly, when we read and write academic essays.
- Behaviors: by the end of the course, learners should be able to:
- understand the difference between academic and artistic introductions
- identify the parts of an introduction in a college-level academic essay
- explain the differences between effective and ineffective introductions by linking introduction content with the concerns of academic readers
- use strategies based on natural conversation/thinking patterns to generate relevant and appropriate content for introductions
- create a guide to help make more principled evaluations of introductions
Learners will also create three artifacts of their learning that they can use in their own classrooms:
- a model introduction that is specific to their area of instruction
- a guide to introductions that they can offer their students
- a grading rubric that helps teachers grade introductions in a more principled manner
The solution that fit my needs is based in genre pedagogy, which tries to describe the moves or steps present in very successful texts. This course uses this approach but doesn't actually go into depth to explore the topic of genre pedagogy, so if you're interested in learning more (for example, learning a similar system for body paragraphs or conclusions), I encourage you to explore the work of Joseph Williams, who offered a set of guidelines for college texts in his famous "Little Red Schoolhouse" workshops at the University of Chicago, and John Swales, who found patterns by examining large samples of real texts.
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