Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dr. Jan Stirm on Word Paragraphs

As a learning tool, writing gives students practice in organizing and articulating ideas, fundamental communication skills necessary in all disciplines. Dr. Jan Stirm, Department of English, discusses how she uses frequent, low-stakes, writing assignments to give her students opportunities to develop their composition and critical thinking skills:

In my Shakespeare or Chaucer classes, I ask students to write what I call a “word paragraph” on a short passage in the text. They choose one word from the reading, and explain why they've chosen that word and why it is important in the text. The key is that it is a low stakes, fairly easy, and short (it’s only a paragraph, so it’s not very scary) assignment, and I give them lots of opportunities to do it. I like these because it allows students to learn through writing, getting them to critically think about the text as they read. As a result, I often notice a big change in in how fully a student can develop their ideas about the text over the course of a semester. I try not to worry as much about grammar or proofreading: the important piece is whether or not the student can assert an idea and helpfully support it with evidence from the text.  

Interview by: Jon Pumper

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