Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Teaching to Write

A week ago, we held a writing workshop for our undergraduates. It was mandatory for any of them wanting to do a senior thesis next year, and optional for anyone who just wanted to get some tips. I led it, because I actually enjoy doing this kind of thing. I've been thinking quite wistfully about how many mandatory freshman writing courses at UR were taught by graduate students from all sorts of departments.

At the moment, I'm mildly obsessed with it. I went home from the workshop and tweaked my presentation extensively. I did it again when our current honors thesis student gave a practice defense, since many of the same organizational points apply. Now I'm reading the assignments we required of the prospective thesis students, with the presentation again open as new issues come up. I think I'm about to create a checklist resource for writing, because the biggest problem seems to be that no-one reads their papers once they've written them. That's the lazy editing process, which we as grad students want to avoid (it means we have to do that basic editing instead).

I'm impatient to get to give my new and improved workshop. Maybe next semester's TA will be a lab class where I can spend one session impressing upon my students the importance of writing, if only to get good grades out of me. After reading one assignment - from a student I know has written better - I almost want to make them sit through Version 2.0. At the least, I think I'm seeing a "revise & resubmit" in the next week for all three of them. The ability to make sense of reviewer's comments and decide which to follow is, after all, one of the critical skills they will need as thesis students, so naturally we should test them on this as well...

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