Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A New Approach to a Paper Assignment

I have not had the time to blog lately about either the dissertation or teaching but I just tried something in my online early Shakespeare class that I'm really proud of and wanted to share.

I usually assign several large assignments:
  • a 2-3 page close reading
  • a 5-6 page thematic paper
  • a presentation on a single topic or theme
  • a final paper or project
I tell the students that mastering the close reading is important, which is why we spend eight weeks practicing these skills before the first paper, and the thematic and final papers build on close reading.
I also tell them that the presentation should be a way of exploring things they might want to write on later.
In the past, many students have chosen to write final papers, but I have a lot of education majors/future teachers in my classes so many in the past have elected to create lessons plans for their final projects. Honestly, the projects are always my favorite part.

This semester I noticed that a lot of students seemed to be struggling with front loading assignments on how to write a large analytical paper. So I changed the thematic paper assignment to this:
Thematic Paper Project
Directions: This paper has several parts. You will submit all of them together in a single Word document, but in this order. Please clearly title/label each piece and insert a page break between parts.
Project Piece
Possible Points
  • Annotated bibliographies of your two secondary sources
    • Proper Works Cited full citation
    • Under the citation one paragraph (6-10 sentences) where you evaluate the argument (does it agree or disagree with your thesis? How could you use this source?) and specifically refer to the article
15 points
  • Organizer of paper which includes:
    • You may use the sample provided in the course or not
    • Thesis that tells me what theme you’re analyzing in the two or more plays AND what you’re analyzing ABOUT them
    • What two (or more) plays you’re analyzing
    • Specific textual evidence from those plays that shows that theme
    • Explanation of HOW that evidence shows that theme
15 points
  • Introduction that outlines the entire paper
    • Title of paper that gives me a clue what the paper is about
    • Thesis
    • Mention of all subtopics your paper would cover
    • Conclusion
20 points
  • One sample body paragraph that includes:
    • Topic sentence
    • Close reading(s) in support of theme
    • Explanation of HOW that evidence shows that theme
    • Conclusion/transition
30 points
  • Properly formatted works cited page
10 points
  • Paper should be MLA formatted
    • 1” margins
    • Double spaced
    • Correct parenthetical citation (Author’s last name page #)
    • Times New Roman 12
5 points
  • Submitted as one document
5 points

The deadline for this is this Saturday but I've had some students submit early and a couple of early reactions. Students have done better on this assignment. I asked students to write in the submit box what they thought of this process and all said they found it helpful.
As a result I think this is what I'll do from now on. I'm also going to give my students the option to write this paper in full as their final paper if they want. I'm also going to give them the option of submitting this process for a new topic for their final.
From what I've seen, this change in assignment addresses a lot of the issues I wanted.
It still doesn't address problems my students have with the close reading- describing and summarizing versus analyzing, but I think I'll redesign some of the smaller build up assignments to do that. 
All in all I'm really happy with this and the students' reactions, so I wanted to share!

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