USF Writing Studio

Archive for December, 2016


Part II: Meeting the Assignment Requirements—Focusing on the “Big Picture”

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Cassie Blog Pic2By Cassie Childs, Writing Consultant

In Part I of this blog I discussed my consultation with Joe, an introductory composition student whose paper did not meet the assignment requirements set by the instructor. After asking a lot of questions and gathering as many resources as possible in the first 5-10 minutes, I have a plan for Joe’s paper: focus on “big picture” areas like the introduction, thesis statement, and topic sentences. I know that Joe has only two hours for revision and I see the instructor’s feedback particularly highlights the paper’s misguided argument and overall organization.

After our initial 10 minutes, I work with the writer on the following:

Review the assignment requirements. This step may sound familiar (and perhaps repetitive), but I hope we all agree that rereading is a worthwhile practice. Asking the student to describe the assignment from memory might not always be enough information and may even be misinformation. Whenever possible, reread the assignment description, objectives, and requirements together. Not only will this help to guide your feedback, but it will also model for the writer to reread assignment descriptions. More than once I have had a writer recognize they are not meeting the requirements simply by rereading the assignment description.

Revise the thesis statement. In many cases, a paper will drastically improve with a clear and focused thesis statement. Ask the writer to identify where he or she believes the thesis/argumentative statement is in the introduction. It may exist and need revision, or it may not be present in the paper at all. Review the assignment requirements and make sure the thesis directly addresses the aim of the assignment.

With Joe, he identified a thesis statement in the introduction, but the instructor feedback clearly stated that the thesis needed to fit the assignment requirements. We focused on revising the statement and fitting it to the assignment and the paper as a whole. It wasn’t until we read the instructor feedback, (re)read his current thesis statement, looked at an example thesis, and discussed the assignment requirements and purpose of the assignment, that Joe recognized he was in fact not following the assignment. While this was a process, and took the majority of our session, it was ultimately the most beneficial outcome and helped him to see how the other parts of his paper (the topic sentences, for example) also did not meet the requirements.

Revise topic sentences. A shiny new thesis statement deserves equally strong topic sentences. The topic sentence should present the main idea of that paragraph and should refer back to the thesis statement. I often say to writers that a reader should be able to read only the thesis statement and topic sentences to know the paper’s overall argument. Topic sentences help to organize the paper and also help a writer to see if their paragraphs are indeed focused on one main idea.

Craft a compelling introduction. Introductions are important! They tell the reader what to expect from the remainder of the paper and make the reader want to keep reading. Just as a weak introduction can negatively influence a reader, a strong introduction compels the reader to read on and learn more.

While a writer’s paper may need improvement on integrating sources and editing for style and grammar, “big picture” issues often produce instant improvement to a paper’s overall organization and focus. When a writer is faced with limited time for revision, a strong thesis statement and topic sentences provide—at the very least—the allusion of organization and critical thinking. And, I doubt we will hear an instructor complain about that!


Part I: Meeting Assignment Requirements—Maximizing the First 5-10 Minutes

Thursday, December 1st, 2016 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Cassie Blog Pic1By Cassie Childs, Writing Studio Consultant

As both a writing studio consultant and literature course instructor I am often reminded—through conversations with my colleagues or grumblings from my office mates—how much time and effort writing instructors put into developing assignments and providing materials to assist their students to succeed with those assignments. We hope the modeling, classroom discussions, example assignments, and paper outlines offer our students additional and valuable resources to independently write a successful paper, one that follows the instructions and utilizes the resources we produced.  And yet, in the Writing Studio, I often face writers whose assignments do not meet the requirements.

I have had multiple consultations with writers that resulted in returning to the assignment description itself. A recent session with a composition writer offers a case study for the way I handle the common situation of writers misunderstanding and not following the assignment requirements. This two-part blog offers some ways we, as consultants, can maximize a session with a student who needs to better understand the assignment requirements.

In Part I of this blog I will concentrate on the first 5-10 minutes of the session and how to make the most of a consultation in this initial time. In Part II, I offer strategies for consultants to use when faced with a writer who needs “big picture” help but has little time for revision.

The following scenario may feel familiar to many writing consultants. A writer—let’s call him Joe—in an introductory composition course books a session because his instructor’s feedback suggests he “see someone at the writing center for help.” My initial questions regarding the assignment and the writer’s aims for our consultation do not yield many results—he seems confused and unsure how to proceed with what he thought was an “A” paper. Joe has brought with him a full draft of his paper and substantial instructor feedback; the assignment description is also available. Though Joe tells me he wants help with “mainly grammar and style,” I can see from the feedback and assignment sheet that a larger problem exists: he is not meeting the assignment requirements; the paper does not actually follow the assignment prompt and is in fact an entirely different essay. Added to this, the student’s final paper is due in two hours.

In this situation, the first ten minutes are crucial to the writer’s success. Consultants should guide the initial time and utilize as many materials about the assignment as possible to frame the remainder of the session (see Part II).

You may do some (or all!) of the following in the first 5-10 minutes of the consultation:

  • (Re)read the assignment. Does the writer have the assignment sheet available (either a hard or digital copy)? What questions does the writer have about the assignment? What is confusing or unclear to the writer?
  • Refer to any available instructor feedback. Has the writer received any feedback on the assignment? Does the writer have access to the instructor comments?
  • Find out what supplemental materials exist. Did the instructor provide any model essays? Did the instructor provide an outline or handouts on how to format the paper and/or thesis? Are there any websites (for the course) that provide additional information on the assignment or ways to approach the assignment?
  • Discuss timing. When is the assignment due? What stage is the writer at—first draft or final draft?
  • Propose a plan. What can you realistically focus on in the remaining session time? Based on the deadline for the writer, how much can he or she revise? On which instructor feedback should you focus?

A writer may come in thinking they need only to work on grammar—just as Joe expected in our consultation—but more often than not a larger issue presents itself. In this case, acquiring as much information as possible at the beginning of the session will benefit the writer, the writer’s work, and the remainder of your session.

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