INKSHED XXIII May 6, 2006

Brock -- (NOT) Learning to write in criminology

I think it's very important to use academic articles as reading materials, as both Cathy and Brock have demonstrated. It allows the students to experience the genre they are learning, while reading a textbook exposes them to a different genre than that they are expected to write in. It brings to my mind the idea of the (?) of practice: through readings, analyzing and connecting on each other's reflections, students start to form their own community of learners who speak the same language (shared genres).

Sometimes we "misread" student actions as resistance when often it is not knowing or understanding.

There's a terrific use of the Internet in the on-line assessments, especially in their anonymity. Bravo, for toughing out the stodgy easy judgments and holding out for something better. -- C Creed

Key to peer evaluation anonymity does seem to be essential; however, when peer evaluation is not anonymous it can have the benefit of making the evaluating student responsible for his or her comments.

Is involvement self-selected and/or are numbers restricted? Also, did the students realize your implicit purpose, or did they still believe that this was a "music course"?

"Mutual socialization by the student" -- leaderless group theory or Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing consent and a hidden agenda.

It was also interesting to observe -- in my classes -- that the dominant "in-class" folks were also dominant in the written segments.

They do feel they belong to "My Space", popular music, and other communities of discourse that they're familiar with, and may resent (without even being aware of it) having to cede that territory to academics, even though they themselves aspire to become their own conquerors. I'm rambling big-time here but am wondering if this is at all a factor to consider in student resistance. I couldn't agree more that thoughtful use of on-line interaction/discussion . . . plays a significant role in effective peer-based teaching. It's also a means of mutual enculturation. Effectively, they persuade each other into understanding what genre membership means -- and of course, they share and build upon knowledge, which is a significant motivator for learning. -- Amanda

I'd forgotten how resistant 1st year students can be to the academic mode, particularly when it's applied to subjects that they have an informal but intense feeling for. It's interesting and ironic that their resistance actually helped to create an online community, and that Brock didn't need to intervene. I'd like to know more about the connection or similarity between the in-class and online discussions. -- Geoff

As we discussed yesterday, Brock's experience points to the power of structured student interaction around the course tasks, and in particular the position outcomes stemming from having fellow students act as a real audience. I'd be interested in knowing from Brock ways in which it is appropriate and helpful for the course professor to interact in the relationship.

How do you get students to effectively learn to peer assess? Is there an abuse of the anonymity? How do you make it work? -- Miriam

I think many first year students are skeptical about post-secondary education for good reasons. Others, by contrast, feel understandably intimidated by the mystification of the academic language still perpetuated in universities. Brock points out that many students lack the "cultural capital" (parental support, etc.). Lack of confidence can be a huge barrier to acquisition of academic literacy. -- Patricia

Besides the wonderful clarity of Brock's presentation, the most striking thing here for me was the nature of that peer reviewing. I expect (and usually see) perfunctory faux-English teacher commentary, sometimes including expressions of agreement. I can get (sometimes) dialogic and thoughtful responses like this, but usually it's pulling teeth. (Response: I've had very positive experiences with peer comments.) I wonder what enabled this and what role the anonymity played in it. I also understand it inter-relates to what was said at the beginning (Mary Lea!) about the role of this discourse in maintaining and creating identity. It it's anonymous, how does that impinge on this? It certainly changes the way I react to the first two blames. (Response: In my experience anonymity makes comments more honest and free.)

My biggest challenge has been selecting a topic or theme that captures their imagination/interest. I've given up trying, kudos to Brock for his success with this challenging audience. (Response: Or is academia to recognize topics/themes that engage them and be enabled to teach to those areas while still balancing academic rigor.)

It seems to me that a kind of coherent set of practicing regarding teaching writing is emerging in the Canadian context. Features involve: 1) seeing reading as centered, 2) bring reading into writing, 3) creating community of readers and writers, 4) taking communicative skills/techniques seriously.