Your goals this week are to facilitate students’ field research and to discuss strategies for writing the explanation. Remember that next week is fall break and that when students return from fall break they will be workshopping their explanations. Because of this, you might devote some class time to drafting introductions. Otherwise, students may return from fall break having forgotten about their research and having to draft their explanations rather hastily.
Introduce interview and questionnaire techniques
Discuss the advantages and potential pitfalls of interviews and questionnaires using pages 279-282 in the PHG to guide a discussion. See if students can produce or add to the following points:
Provide you with more control because you’re there to guide the discussion (you can ask interviewees to elaborate on their answers and you can clarify confusing questions for more accurate responses).
Provide a more comfortable atmosphere for raising personal questions
Lend themselves to witnessing body language (you can note which questions interest your interviewees and which make them nervous).
Produce more responses
Are easier to tabulate numerically
May lead to more honest responses since writing is more anonymous than talking.
Discuss audience. Students should question a range of people in order to make their interview or questionnaire results the most meaningful. If, for example, a student is inquiring into how students incorporate church into their lives as college students, they need to talk to people from a variety of churches as well as people who don’t attend church regularly if at all.
Discuss effective questions. Use the PHG and the points below to guide this discussion:
Effective survey questions will:
be clear and focused
be shaped for a target audience
avoid confusing or ambiguous language
be respectful and somewhat objective
take into account different uses for open-ended and closed questions
avoid skewing responses or leading respondents
Most importantly, effective questions will address the writer’s purpose, which in this case is to find out what people know and think about the topic at hand. In other words, interviews and questionnaires will give students a sense of the conversation surrounding their topic.
Be sure students understand the importance of a questionnaire’s design: if it looks confusing or overwhelming, or if it is difficult to understand where and how to respond, it probably won’t work very well.
Practice interview and questionnaire techniques
Allow students time to draft potential interview questions or questionnaires. As students work, offer to address their questions and concerns one-on-one.
After students have completed a draft of their questions, have them exchange drafts in pairs or groups. Refer them back to the criteria established earlier to provide some useful feedback. Put some workshop questions on the overhead to guide students’ feedback. Before students provide feedback, they need to tell each other what their purpose is for the interview or questionnaire.
Interview and Questionnaire Workshop
Will these questions lead the writer to a better understanding of the existing knowledge and opinions about their topic?
Which questions will most effectively help the writer accomplish his/her goals for this interview or questionnaire? Least effectively?
Are there more questions that you think the writer should include?
Where might the writer improve tone or clarity?
For questionnaires, comment on the overall design: would this questionnaire overwhelm you if you were asked to take it?
Discuss the explanation’s writing situation and brainstorm explanation strategies
Show the assignment sheet for the Phase 2 explanation on the overhead, and ask students to take out the assignment sheet for the explanation they’re working on now. Compare the writing situations. You may end up with a list like this:
Phase 2 Explanation
Phase 3 Explanation
Subject: food ethics
Purpose: to objectively report on research
Audience: this class
Genre: forum posting
Author: you, as a peer
Purpose: to objectively report on research
Audience: incoming students
Genre: [brainstorm possibilities with your class]
Author: you, as a more experienced peer
The purposes are very similar: students need to write objectively, explaining what questions they asked and what answers they found. The major difference is audience. Ask students how they will write differently for incoming students than they did for their peers. Student have a choice of genre here—they may write letters, make informational brochures or posters, etc. They need to decide what will work best given their topic, research and audience. If a lot of their research is visual, for example, they may choose a more visual genre.
The point of this discussion is to prompt students to make some of their own deliberate rhetorical choices. They should be ready to do this, given all of the emphasis on rhetorical situations in phases 1 and 2. They’ll need to make even more of their own choices in the public argument, so it’s good to practice some now.
Read and discuss sample explanations
There are pros and cons to this activity. Discussing samples with your students can help as you brainstorm strategies for the explanation. Be careful about letting the samples become “templates” for students, though. At this point students should be able to talk about samples in terms of the writers’ rhetorical choices. Try to keep the discussion focused on rhetoric, and remind students that the strategies the samples use aren’t the only way to accomplish assignment goals. You might ask students to propose alternative audiences or genres that the sample writers might have considered.
Draft explanation introductions
Once students have had a chance to gather strategies for writing the explanation, give them time to begin a draft. Encourage students to stop at a place where they know what they want to say next, so when they come back to the draft, they’ll be able to get right to work.
Homework for Week 13:
Finish your field research.
Begin drafting your explanation. A draft will be due after fall break for workshop.