Sunday, September 18, 2011

Audience Exercise Whaa?

First order of business: I worked on my article for about an hour this morning, returned for a couple snatches in the afternoon, and currently have all my piles neatly organized on the kitchen table with newly-made to-do-lists and notes on each one. :) And I plan to try revising first thing after I exercise tomorrow morning! Even if it's only 30 min, I can work out a topic sentence or a couple transition passages.
Go go super Sisyphus!

Second, I tried assigning homework questions from the new comp book for almost every day (to force them to read, and hopefully read carefully enough to understand these little articles), and my students have out-stupided me, the cheeky little weasels. We had a day with horrible discussion last week, and getting to their homework, it is clear that most of them tried to answer the comprehension questions I assigned without actually reading the article!!! Geeez! I didn't like question 1 so I assigned 2, 3, and 4, and many students couldn't even tell me who the author of the article was ... the author being identified in the first question and referred to as "the author" in most of the remaining questions.

Also, if I see another paragraph burbling about "flow" I am going to smack someone. Seriously, I got sooo many homework paragraphs that read "The author organizes the information in this article from general to specific because that gives it a nice flow and makes his arguments more persuasive. I found the essay to be very well organized and persuasive. The way the tone changes between the fifth and seventh paragraphs was also important because it helped with the flow." Basically, a restatement of all the questions (without the answer to "and why?") and not a single specific noun much less an example from the article. I am giving out a lot of zero-credits and will hand them back with a stern lecture on Monday before peer review. I am hoping that they will learn and I will have less actual marking to do on the pages. Actually they are going pretty fast, I just have to take breaks like this to avoid bursting into flames from the repressed rage.

And finally, the title of my post: who bothers to do audience exercises in their comp class? I ask because one colleague had no luck last semester getting students to understand writing differently to different specific audiences, and so this colleague is doing nothing but audience exercises this first four-five weeks and that is all they are discussing in their first essay. I fail to see the point. I mean, I am only teaching them to do one thing: write academic essays. I do discuss the conventions of different disciplines and how they do research a bit, but really the only emphasis I put on audience is that they need to think of audience for their essays as if they are a scholar in that discipline and writing to other scholars and that this is a fairly formal structure. I don't spend any time having them rewrite an essay for a general newspaper audience, or to compare how they would describe a car accident to the cops vs their mom vs their best friend, or whatever. I have things way higher on my priority list --- like for example the fact that my students see nothing wrong with a thesis that reads "computers are bad, but on the other hand they are good." Argh. On the other hand, by Friday I had gotten them to be able to explain why "There are many problems with computers" and "The thesis of  my paper is the many problems with computers" are examples of bad thesis statements, so perhaps there is hope. Maybe once they start reading the essays they will be able to find examples of actual quality thesis statements! A girl can dream.

5 comments:

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Well, my first essay in 101 this time has been an audience exercise. It's not because I really think it's all that useful. It's just a way to get them writing in a non-threatening way. And it's not even an essay. It's a letter to a specific audience member. Anyway, it worked out all right, even though most of the students chose one kind of audience member, so it wasn't really that great variety I was hoping to get.

The rest of the papers are completely academic, but I wanted to get them writing something that was sort of personal and "easy" in order to show them how I grade before they're responsible for something more academic. I don't know. I'm definitely retooling this 101 class for next fall. I'm not super happy about how it's going, but that's less about the writing than it is about the reading. Hmph.

Good job working on that article! Inspiring!

Susan said...

Audience is simple. In explaining source criticism in history, we just talk about three accounts of Saturday night - for their friends, their parents, and the police account. They get it in two seconds.

Sisyphus said...

Susan, you'd think so, but no! They've done three of those exercises exactly like you list and can't get that they can't change the facts, only the way of telling. Or that "Hey Asshole," is not going to be a persuasive way of addressing a cop.

Come to think of it, though, that really explains a lot of what gets published in our local police blotter.

(And there were several angry young ladies in our office hours today complaining about getting a zero on the assignment, so I don't think it's about not trying or being flippant.)

Jess said...

I actually *don't* give them an easy, non-threatening assignment right off the bat anymore--because I grade those so much more leniently than I grade their academic writing, and I found that it *didn't* help them to understand what I wanted (only to produce stuff that I didn't want). But I think that that's a problem with me as a grader, not the practice in general.

I now give them the final exam (summarize an article in 1 paragraph, incorporating a quote which you cite and analyze, then respond to the article in a second paragraph) on the first day, grade it as though it were the final, and let them see what they don't know yet--being very clear that this grade counts for nothing and they wouldn't expect to pass their calculus final on the first day of class, so why should they do well on this?

Basically, I try to impress upon them the fact that comp is HARD, which many of them don't seem to believe in the beginning.

But this doesn't answer your question at all. Anyway, no, I don't do audience stuff--I just want them to start writing for a formal academic audience. The End. (Because the semester is only so long, after all.)

Contingent Cassandra said...

I've done audience stuff, but I teach a junior-level writing-in-the-disciplines class, so the exercise is usually, after they've written (okay, taken their best shot at writing) for an audience of specialists in their fields, I ask them to create a condensed version of all or part of their argument aimed at a specific, more general audience (informational brochure, letter to a legislator, op-ed piece, etc.). That also gives them a chance to get out of analytical mode and into the persuasive mode that many of them prefer. But I agree that with 101, the main goal is to get them to write in an "academic" voice (though, at least in my experience, the "academic" voice in 101 is often pretty different from the academic voice you'd find in, say, a journal article).

I wonder whether some of the audience problem is connected to their immersion in facebook et al., where many of them really do say the same thing to their parents, their friends, and anybody (including law enforcement) who might be eavesdropping. At the very least, I think such exercises work best when the two versions differ in some other way (e.g. length) as well as audience (e.g. email to parents, facebook update to friends).