Sunday, April 1, 2012

In conclusion, the end. Or, how do you freakin' teach conclusions?

I admit it: I hate writing conclusions. Often I just stop or trail off and submit the essay without any conclusion at all, because I am so sick of the article and don't want to bother to figure out how to sum up a big complex argument. Sometimes I end with a really punchy closing line, journalism-editorial style, rather than anything that wraps up my argument and points out to further implications.

And if I hate writing conclusions, I think I hate teaching conclusions even more. I just went back through my folders and flashdrive files from the past couple years of teaching comp and can't find a single thing on conclusions --- no handouts, no powerpoints, no directions to students. I probably just didn't really bother teaching them at all.

Now, when you teach the first semester of comp, there is so much to cover, and the students (at least here) need so much repetition on what is a claim vs. what is a factual statement, or how to structure a paragraph, that I think it's ok to skip something like conclusions or have the students patch something together on their own. But I'm having huge troubles filling my second-semester comp class schedule.

First of all, I had to have a graded assignment back to them by "early grade reporting time," which means I really compressed a lot of the prep assignments. And in order to get the proposal draft on the early side of spring break (so I had time to grade grade grade), I compressed a lot of the writing process steps even further. Now it seems weird to go back and re-teach stuff that they pretty much got the first time around.

Second, I modeled my schedule off of the one schedule the adjunct comp coordinator was willing to pass along to me, which means my stuff came due much earlier in the semester than everyone else's. (meaning my fellow postdocs.) He has them all present their finished research papers at the end of the semester, but then also has them return to the anthology and present on readings for a week. That just seems like silly filler at this point.

My officemates and such just got their proposals and are spending the next few weeks going over how to turn the proposals into the longer research paper. I've already done that, and drafts are due next week, the research paper the week after that. So I have all of this week to "fill" as well as all of the last week of the semester. This week says we will go over APA and documentation styles, but I already did that when I ran out of stuff to go over last week.

So, help. Anybody got helpful guidelines on how to teach conclusions? Any suggestions for filling a week or so of MWF classes for students who have already got down the basics of research and writing? Someone suggested grammar exercises, but while each of them have a few (different) major grammar troubles, that seems like pure punishment on them this late in the semester.


Sapience said...

I sometimes have my students read this before we start working on conclusions. Once they've read it, I bring in examples that come from a lot of different types of sources: from scholarly work, journalistic work, a recent project of my own (usually something still in progress, and with some flaws), and student papers from past years. I provide the intros with the conclusions so students have a sense of what the paper claimed it would achieve. Then we spend a couple of classes walking through and analyzing how these conclusions work, what they're doing rhetorically, etc.

Usually, the things my students pick up on or that I focus their attention on are 1) how the conclusion emphasizes the "so what" of the project; 2) how the conclusion synthesizes rather than simply summarizes what has been presented in the body of the paper; 3) how some papers use the conclusion to point in the direction of new ways of thinking that would build off of the work done in the paper, but that the paper doesn't do itself; 4) how conclusions "echo" but don't repeat the introduction.

Then we go back to that original site on conclusions, and talk about the different techniques, where successful conclusions we've looked at break the "rules" in the website and why they do, what rules seem to be broken only rarely, etc.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Screw conclusions. I say, cancel class for the week and have mandatory conferences in order to help them for 15 minutes per person with their drafts. If they don't come, count it as an absence and move on.

How's that? And no, I'm not April Foolin'.

Psycgirl said...

I have no guidance! I just wanted to chime in and say I also hate conclusion (both writing and teaching)

Stacey said...

Thanks for the Conclusions link, Sapience. But yes, I do what Fie does: conferences. 95% of the students take advantage of that opportunity.

The other thing you could do it discuss/practice how to USE research in their writing without losing their voice. I've been focusing on that more lately, and the papers are sometimes actually a pleasure to read rather than a cut and paste job. To me, that's more important than the conclusion... (where I often recommend two common strategies and leave it at that---circular return to intro, or call to action).

Sisyphus said...

Wow, I finally got some blog comments! Whoo hoo!

Ive already done a couple rounds of conferences and have no urge to do them again --- particularly because we have used the same topic for their annotated bib, project proposal and now research paper and I'm pretty sick of their topics. ;)

I can't just straight-up cancel things since they have started doing up-and-out classroom observations of the adjuncts --- and found horrible horrible practices. And canceling like the last whole month of class for "optional individual conferences" was one widespread pattern. So I need to not look too much like the adjunct pool right now. I should post on this.

I could bring in models and dissect them, I guess --- I've been bringing in lots of student sample writing and feel like I have killed an awful lot of trees this semester. Maybe have them all bring in the anthology on Wed? That runs the risk of them learning writing styles I don't want them to imitate, since so many articles are short newspaper opinion pieces. But I bet I could work something comparative up on this. Hmm...

Horace said...

Re: Conclusions...While I don't usually use a lot of literature in rhetoric-based composition classes, this is one place where I find them really useful, in part because we've stopped connecting literature to composition so thoroughly.

That is, I bring in a collection of great final lines from both poetry and prose, like two pages of them. I have them read over them and mull over them quietly for a bit, and then ask them which ones they find really awesome, and ask them to articulate why...the idea is to first defamiliarize the idea of an ending from the act of writing a paper itself. If they think of the *idea* of ending, separate from ending *this paper* (an act so often wrecked by a combination exhaustion or frustration), they/we tend to reach moments when the sense of an ending (and the many possibilities for ending effectively) becomes clearer.

Then, either in class or as homework, I have them go back and rewrite the concluding paragraph of their last paper as "inspired by" one of those literary endings. The results are sometimes parodic ("Shantih, Shantih, Shut UP!" is still on the facebook wall of one of my students), but they break many students out of their "restate, summarize, stupid rhetorical question" rut that I find it pretty effective.

anthea said...

Oh, I love writing conclusions since it is here that I can really argue my case in a paper. But I do admit that they are hard to write.