Unit III: Introduction and Goals of Education Inquiry

Goals of Unit III: Unit 3 is designed to build on all the writing and reading skills from the previous units. In a well-researched, supported argument, students will take a position on an educational issue of their choice. Such argumentation requires that they draw on all their analysis of texts and culture as well as the forms of critical reading they practiced in units 1 and 2. This unit, in a more direct way than the previous two, also asks them to consider how purpose, audience, and context work to influence their writing since they will be determining these elements for themselves for the first time. The goal of this unit is to provide instruction not only in academic argumentation (a frequently written paper in college) but also to help them see writing as a tool to use in their own lives to offer public opinions on issues of direct concern to them.

Writing Skills Emphasized: The academic writing skills from the previous two units--summary, focus, thesis, audience awareness, development, textual and personal evidence, analysis, exigence (so what), organization, and cohesion--will be re-emphasized here. However, the difficulty level of these elements again is raised. By being required to define their audience and context, students will be writing to a fairly unfamiliar environment. Targeting an audience that is unknown to you except through reading is the most difficult kind of writing. Similarly, the use of outside sources in this paper ups the difficulty level. While personal experience or familiar cultural texts might still be used, relying on textual evidence which has not been pre-selected or discussed is extremely difficult. Finally, modes of development in argumentation can be new, particularly the concept of appeals and logical reasoning.

Role of Reading: Reading, both in class and in their own research, serves a dual purpose here. On the one hand, much of the reading, particularly that done in class and that done for the context analysis proposal, is meant to help students form a context for their own writing. As a result, the goal of in-class reading again changes here. In the beginning of the unit, the goal is, again, not accuracy, as much as reading to define issues and positions--i.e. reading to understand the "conversation" the students will be trying to enter with their papers. In the second half of the unit and in their research specifically for their paper topics, evaluation of sources and argument becomes essential. Just as we are teaching the students not to create unreasonable, unsupported arguments themselves, they need to critically judge the sources they will be using in terms of their context and argumentative strategies. Finally, in-class readings in the end of the unit will serve as "good" and "bad" models of argumentation. Thus, three readings skills are emphasized here: reading for topic/context; reading for applicability to a given topic for use in their own writing; and reading arguments critically for source evaluation and as models.

Warning about Changes in How this Unit is Written: The first 10 weeks of the syllabus provided a lot of detail on what to do in class. In this unit, that will change. Gradually, as the unit moves on you will be provided with less and less direction for a given class period. While we may provide a few suggestions, our hope is that in this unit you will begin planning your own lessons if you haven't already done so. Each class will continue to explain the goals (i.e. why we assigned what we did) but how you get this across in class will be left more and more up to you.

Tips from Experience

Some things to expect/think about in this unit:

Students by this point in the semester are frequently putting pressure on you to let them "write about whatever I want". While you may want to give in to their desires and let them write arguments on any topic, DON'T. First, this unit doesn't work unless there is a shared topic. The skills about analyzing context, reading for issues, etc. can only be done in class if everyone is working with a similar, broad topic. Secondly, education is really broad enough to include almost any "slant" that can address a students' interest as well as having the advantage of being a key aspect of all their lives at the moment. Finally, writing about education, a public institution, helps us meet the overall course goals of seeing writing and reading as part of everyday life with public, cultural purposes as well as academic ones.

Focus, focus, focus. Students like to take on "huge" topics, not realizing that it's impossible to argue that all public colleges do X... in a 5-page paper. Bring this up as often as you can and be on the watch for it in discussions and, especially, in the context analysis paper.

Many students will be happy to see this paper because they assume that it's "just like what I did in high school." Be careful of this. Most of them will have written a research paper in high school, but typically the research paper assignment is an informative one without an audience or purpose. That is, the paper will most likely simply summarize what's known on the topic or alternatively, offer a summary of the different positions. Taking a position and sticking to it--particularly making sure the information provided is relevant to the purpose of the paper--is not something most students have had to do in their high school "research papers."