Category: APA and Writing

Integrating Critical Thinking in Classroom Discussions

By Dr. Everett Wade,
English Faculty, Belhaven-Memphis

Class discussions do not always come easily, especially when they focus on readings from course material. Stimulating conversation is often difficult, and students are often reluctant to engage. At other times, students are so eager to speak that the conversation is shallow and drifts off topic. Even lively discussions may lack the underlying critical thinking that is necessary for a profitable evaluation of the reading. In order to motivate discussion while avoiding these pitfalls, I use a three-step procedure of summary, analysis, and assessment. This process helps students to discuss texts in a manner that encourages critical thinking.

Critical thinking is generally defined as “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Too often, however, class discussions reverse this process, as teachers begin by asking students what they think of the reading (their judgment) and then try to work back to objective analysis and evaluation. During my time teaching, I have certainly been tempted to begin class discussions with questions that require a student to make an overall judgment on the text. The problem with this approach is that students generally haven’t had time to digest the reading material for that day. To give the proper structure to the discussion, I begin by writing three column headings on the board: summary, analysis, and assessment.

Summary

We begin with summary. How well we are able to summarize is a good barometer for how well we have comprehended a text in the first place. Furthermore, the mere act of restating the main ideas of the text often results in insights and discovery. As we summarize the reading, I let the students do the talking while I take notes on the board. It can be helpful to ask the students to provide citations for key points in the summary, e.g., “Where did the author claim that—can you give me the page number?” or “Can you read me the sentence where the author makes that claim?”

Analysis

After summary, we move on to analysis—the detailed examination of the elements and structure of the text. Although the attribution is dubious, Aristotle is often quoted as having said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Regardless of this statement’s source, its sentiment is valuable. I stress to students that when we analyze, we are holding the text and its ideas at arm’s length: we table our emotions, responses, and judgments. We ask questions regarding the reading’s context—to whom was it written, and during what time period? We also discuss the nature of the work: is it merely informative, or is it persuasive? If it is argumentative, can we find a thesis statement? How well do the author’s reasons support his or her claim? And what kind of evidence does the author provide? The answers to such questions provide a basis for the next step in our discussion: assessment.

Assessment

Having grounded our discussion in summary and analysis, we then move on to assessment—making a final judgment about the text. At this point, students may express their views more freely. What is their emotional reaction to the reading? Do they agree or disagree with the author? Discussing such observations is more profitable at this point for several reasons. For one, we have already grounded the main points of the reading, thus reducing the risk of mischaracterizing the author’s ideas. Furthermore, because we have analyzed the article, students can frame their emotional responses more critically. The process of summary and analysis enables the students not only to evaluate the reading itself, but also their reactions to it. We can judge whether certain gut reactions were warranted, or whether they break down under closer observation. Finally, students can use the summary and analysis during the first parts of the session to develop an overall judgment of the reading, thus developing their own thesis that could be used for writing a response or as a springboard for a longer research essay.

Although this three-step procedure may need to be adjusted for each course’s unique context, it provides a basic structure that ensures more substance and depth for classroom discussions. By engaging in this process, students can avoid a shallow exchange of ill-informed opinions, and instead think critically, engaging in objective analysis and evaluation of an issue before forming a judgment.

Webinar: Best Practices to Inspire Student Engagement

by Dr. Warren Matthews, Mrs. Kim Priesmeyer, Dr. Ray Smith, & Dr. John Song

Four of Belhaven’s full-time faculty came together to share their ideas on how to increase student engagement in the classroom.  Their ideas are bulleted below but the real value will come when you take the time to watch this WEBINAR.  Each one brings new insights to the subject, applying their ideas both to online and on-site courses.  If you are like me you will be taking notes practically from the first word.  This was a great webinar with some take-away for everyone.  It will also be available in the Faculty Resources area of this Blog, under Webinars

John Song, Full-time Bible Faculty, Atlanta

“My personal contributions consisted of some basic but hopefully helpful principles. The three principles were: (1) relationships, (2) relevance, and (3) reflection.”

Kim Priesmeyer, Full-time English Faculty, Houston

  1. Send out a reminder announcement sent out each week through Canvas regarding what’s due next class meeting.
  2. Spend a few minutes each night with each student giving feedback on writing (require that students bring some writing to class to review before a paper is due)
  3. List nightly objectives/agenda on the whiteboard with approx time to spend (ex:  peer review with first draft, 30 mins)
  4. Show APA videos from Resources during class so we’re all on the same page about APA

Warren Matthews, Full-time Business Faculty, Houston

  1.  Effective feedback is very important, not only in grading but also in class discussion
  2. Socratic questioning is important to add value in the classroom.
  3. In an online class, be visible on a regular basis in the classroom
  4. Share our professional experience and insights.  Give examples from real world situations that are relevant to the course.
  5. Refer to current events as appropriate to apply the theory of the classroom to the real world.
  6. Inspire students by recognizing excellence in discussions and assignments.

Ray Smith, Full-time Business Faculty, Chattanooga

  1. Use of Wall Street Journal
  2. Current movie clips representing text topics
  3. CWV – use of entire books or topics that follow the full course
  4. Technology or mobile devices – turn them into assets rather than distractions
  5. Use small groups (2 or 3) to respond to questions instead of instructor merely quoting text or giving opinion

After the webinar was over, I received this addition from Nick Walters, Adjunct Instructor

Dr. Upchurch – Thank you for setting up these monthly webinars.  Even though many of us have the spiritual gift of teaching, it doesn’t mean we have cornered the market on how to do it.  These webinars have been very helpful.

A Call for “Good Writing”

by Dr. Kotina Hall, Dean – Belhaven, Atlanta

Effective communication is a buzz word that remains the topic of discussion in every business and learning sector as the concern for writing proficiency continues to plague society. The command for effective writing should be still be held in the highest regard.  Professional dialogue and academia have discussed in great detail how the absence of “good writing” lessens the opportunity for the demonstration of clearly-organized thought, earnest critical thinking development, and strong problem-solving. Regardless of the subject matter, understanding how to articulate clearly and concisely is necessary for high academia and career advancement. As such, we must act urgently in our resolve.

While tuition reimbursement is an attractive academic magnet, the return for excellent writing extends well into its possessor’s career and civic engagement as well. “The National Commission on Writing estimates that the nation’s top companies spend more than $3.1 billion a year on remedial training. The NCW estimates that states spend $221 million on writing training each year to bring employees up to level” (teachthought, 2012).

What variables have led to the decline in effective writing? Is it because we have become comfortable speaking into devices that we disregard misspelled words or proper punctuation, all because we want to communicate expeditiously? “Have we allowed the advancement of technology to compel us to shorthand?” Perhaps we accept human mediocrity, giving way to allowing machines to do the work which we previously took pride in completing. Technology will continue to advance, so what are we left to do?

It is proposed that we take our concerns by the reigns and do what we do best – elevate through instruction. Have we forsaken the beauty and fluidity of words properly and intentionally positioned on a page? Surely we have not. But if one has never explored such beauty, then one cannot imagine the power of penning such work. Resolution begins with two words: offer assistance.  It is a disservice to students when we know their writing is not acceptable, but yet we push them along. Constructive dissent must rear her head. The problem will not correct itself. Good writing is the culmination of repeated “good” practice.

This task will not be a simple one. It will require instruction to be consistent, rigid, and accompanied by high expectations to yield greatness. We must ready ourselves! Our change will create uneasiness and reveal accusations that we are harnessing a fossilized culture. Such expressions must strive to make our instruction even greater.  We must be diligent to show that “good writing” fosters dedication, strong work ethics and moral aptitude.  Balance must exist, too. Even so, while writing is necessary, we must be ever so careful to make it appealing and fun.

History has shown that the legacy of “good writing” never dies. “Good writing” shapes learning and invites critical thinking, leaving room for transformation. So when do we begin? The time is now. We model by offering our assistance. In doing so, our immediacy will solidify and re-establish writing as the ultimate model of erudition.

3 New Google Drive Features Teachers Should Know About

I know some of you are using Google documents for collaboration purposes with your students and I thought you would find this article from Educational Technology Interesting.  I particularly like the first feature which allows for easy inclusion of citations in the documents.

Check out the article: 3 New Google Drive Features Teachers Should Know About

Strategy for Using Peer Reviews to Improve Student Papers

By Kim Priesmeyer
Full Time Faculty, Belhaven Houston

As an instructor who assigns a lot of writing, I’m always looking for ways to engage students in peer review.  However, just telling students to “peer review each other’s papers” can be unproductive, or even worse, dull.  Typically, students don’t know what to do with those papers, and comments can be uninspiring.

One way to bring energy and effectiveness to the process is something called Round Robin Peer Review (also available on the Faculty Resources tab under “Other Resources).  It’s pretty easy for any instructor to use, and it can be modified for any assignment depending on the requirements.  It keeps students and papers moving, and it gives peer reviewers a specific focus.  Here are the basics:

  1. Pass out the peer review form and have each student write his name at the top where it says “writer’s name.”
  1. Tell students to pass their paper and their form to the right. They should now be holding someone else’s paper and form.
  1. Inform students that they will be given 10 mins. to critique just the first category on the peer review form. Set a timer.
  1. When the timer goes off, students will pass the paper and form to the right. The next peer reviewer will critique only the second category for 10 mins.  And so on…

Ways to modify for your course:

  • Change the categories to peer review
  • Set different time limits for each session
  • Provide critique expectations (for example, I might require a three-sentence critique minimum)

Ways to coach students before the process begins:

  • Model the process with a couple of volunteers
  • Provide examples of “critique” comments that are specific and useful
  • Tell students it’s OK for the peer reviewer and writer to communicate during the process
  • Prepare students for constructive criticism: it’s not about complimenting each other; it’s about improved writing
  • Tell students they’re not required to make suggested changes, but they must at least consider them
  • Give students permission to write on each other’s papers; peer review isn’t always neat and tidy

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts.  You can email me at kpriesmeyer@belhaven.edu

APA & Writing Across the Curriculum

by Everett Wade, Ph.D

To ensure the academic integrity of student papers, it is imperative that instructors require proper citation of sources and correct formatting. Despite its value, APA formatting can be a challenge for students to learn, and similarly difficult for instructors to teach.  (This blog is a follow-up to a webinar led by Dr. Wade on this subject.  The webinar can be viewed at this LINK.)

In teaching APA, it is important to spend time in class walking students through formatting process in a hands-on manner. APA formatting is complicated, and students often feel intimidated by the expectation that they learn such a comprehensive method of formatting. It is therefore imperative that teachers stress the basics of APA without bogging students down in its intricacies. My webinar provided instructors with a concise PowerPoint presentation for reviewing the essential elements of APA formatting. In this same vein, I presented an in-class citation exercise that walks students through the process of developing their APA references page.

Although formatting  contributes to a relatively small portion of students’ grades on an individual paper, grading for correct use of APA can be time-consuming for instructors. In my webinar I provided two checklists to aid instructors in their grading process. The first gives a rubric for grading APA, while the second provides instructions on how to grade for grammar. These checklists not only help instructors to streamline their grading process, but also can be a great resource for students as well. These tools will aid in ensuring that student essays in all of Belhaven’s courses are written well and properly sourced.

This links for the documents mentioned above are available on the webinar site (see link above).  Also if you would like to know more or have other questions, please email me at ewade@belhaven.edu.

Plagiarism: Preparing Your Students to Avoid It.

by Kim Priesmeyer

We’re all writing teachers, even if you teach business, history, or psychology, because we all assign papers in our classes.  Therefore, we will all be called to help students identify and use sources well in their writing.  The challenge is that many of our students are unprepared for this task, and they need our guidance.

First, provide as many guidelines as possible for their papers that require sources.  Take class time to teach students how to write an outline of their ideas, how to search for sources using the Belhaven databases, and how to use turnitin through Canvas as a “test drive” for their writing.  My webinar discussed how to implement structure into the research process so you’re setting up students for success.

Also, share important “tips of the trade” with students using the handout I’ve designed.  Many of our students don’t know how to select material to cite or how to integrate source material into their writing.  These are universal skills that students will need in every college course they take, so practicing this in class is time well spent.  Most of our students want to become better writers and want to use sources accurately and effectively, so taking a few extra steps can help students achieve success.

You can find the webinar Kim presented on this topic here: Plagiarism: Helping Your Students Avoid It.

Kim Priesmeyer, M.A.
Associate Professor of English
Belhaven University, Houston Campus