More so than I have in the past, I want next quarter to place a lot of emphasis on student reflection. I am, I think, inspired by Peter Elbow, for as he renounces our reliance on grading, he encourages an emphasis of reflection and communication with our students. I believe that in a course dedicated to an examination of the mediums through which we communicate our personal experience narratives, reflection is particularly important.
Reflection seems to have a natural connection with rhetorical grammar. The commonplace notebook asks students to reflect on grammar as it affects style and content. Today, I implemented this strategy. Students were more partipicatory (perhaps because I brought food… or perhaps because I’ve been cold-calling more authoritatively lately (more on that later!)). After asking students to read the introductory paragraph of a student-written research paper titled “Chasing the Blues Away: Antidepressant Use among Teens,” I asked them to perform the following exercise:
Where will the author go from here? Assuming that this is perfect spot to transition from anecdote/storytelling to a more formal explanation of the essay topic at hand, what would you write next? Keeping within the writer’s tone thusfar, write the first couple of sentences of the next paragraph of this research paper.
After giving students a few moments for writing, I called 6-7 students up to the DocCam to share their sentences. I asked everyone to focus on local level (or sentence-level) issues rather than global organization or content. The format went (most commonly) as follows: The student read what he/she had written; I said, “Thank You,” then posed this question to the class: “What is Kelsey (or Derek or Jesse) discussing here? How does what he/she wrote relate to what came before it? What do we know, simply by word choice (or comma placement, or sentence structure) alone?”
In the course of the period, we discussed bias (i.e. the difference in objectivity/subjectivity in the sentence “there is a growing legion of teens who are being prescribed antidepressants” versus “there is a growing legion of teens using antidepressants” and how the first places the teens as the object of “higher orders”–like doctors or psychiatrists); formality (i.e. the two-fold structure of the title clues us into the narrative nature of the author’s writing (i.e. “Chasing the Blues Away”) and the more expository, research-based elements of the writing (i.e. “Antidepressant Use in Teens”); narrative as a means of “setting up” exposition (i.e. author begins with observations about a young boy on Prozac and leads into a discussion of the “growing legion…”); and more. It was, in my opinion, one of the richest, most in-depth conversations we’ve had thus far; I attribute this mainly to my new understanding of style as it is affected by grammar. “I am so excited about this!” I told Laura. It’s an archaic truth… but small things make a big difference.