Thursday, October 26, 2017

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Teaching Source Integration in Advanced Writing: Common Challenges

After teaching advanced writing in our program for many years, I've spent a great deal of time on using outside sources, particularly summary, direct quotation, and paraphrase. We all know the challenge it is to help students realize the importance of correctly citing sources in order to avoid plagiarism. Because they often lack the language skills to write about technical topics or anything outside of familiarity, students tend to turn to the Internet for information, ignorantly copying/pasting. Getting a handle on how to correctly punctuate, complete with the author's name, and some kind of transitional introduction (According to Jones, "Bla bla bla.") can be a huge learning curve for some. Then, we push them to apply the same skills, only with the added burden of paraphrasing something in their own words - all the while maintaining the original meaning and making a grammatically sound sentence.

So, most of my instruction is spent on the thing mentioned above. But I've started noticing something. My students had other challenges. I was happy if the quote looked good, or if the paraphrase indeed looked different from the original. Then, while grading, I started to see that often, their quotes and paraphrases lacked significant integration. They seemed plopped in there. Sometimes, students ended a paragraph with a quote, just dropping it off right there.

My interest was now sufficiently piqued, so I began a large-scale review of student samples to see how widespread the problem was. Here are my notes:

1. What is the learning objective, and how do we currently seek to achieve it?

SLO: Students will be able to correctly quote, paraphrase, and cite outside sources according to MLA style

To meet this objective, instructors have generally followed these steps:
  1. Taught format and citation (e.g. how to punctuate a quote, how to introduce a quote using “According to…” or “Smith says,…”, how to cite page numbers, how to put a sentence in different words
  2. Given students practice responding to a quote (e.g. a famous quote) to practice integrating it into the writing
  3. Providing students with a reading passage relating to a particular argument essay topic, from which they can choose an appropriate quote to use as support for their idea
  4. For further practice and implementation, requiring students to find quotes/information from Internet sources to support their argument and/or give specific detail to a process description

 2. Weaknesses Noted
Students of varying abilities in other areas of writing (grammar, organization, support, etc.) all seemed to struggle with integrating the sources appropriately and effectively into their writing.
A. DQ/P often are not integrated with the sentences before and/or after. Or, the student attempts to integrate the DQ/P, but there is still a wide gap in ideas (e.g. the DQ and surrounding sentences are on the same topic, but the DQ is quite a bit more specific, but the student fails to make a clear enough connection)
B. DQ/P are not clearly explained, leaving the reader to wonder what the original source truly meant and whether or not the student understood the meaning of the source
C. DQ/P does not fit stylistically/grammatically (e.g. using a quote that includes imperatives)
 3. Analysis of Writing Samples
Passages from student writing samples, including a direct quote and sentences both before and after the quote, were examined for the three areas of weaknesses explained above. Generally, one sample per student (who completed the assignment) in the class was included in the analysis to provide a holistic picture. Below are some samples to illustrate:

Students who start thinking searching universities to complete their studies have to start thinking to improve their personality. According to Taft in his article, “Students who travel overseas learn how to embrace diversity, rather than fear or oppress it.” So, students studying at university must also learn how to adapt with people. They must adapt to different nationalities and different religions. So, that will help them in their future job… 
 Weakness A:
The student is attempting to connect the quote to her point about developing personalities. But the sentence immediately following simply gives a general paraphrase. Here, more could be said about the diversity students will face, rather than simply saying that “they must adapt.”
Many students want to be a graduate in order to get a good job, which does not mean that everyone wants to do their program abroad. Taft says, “One reason that students do not study abroad is that it is a luxury today – it is not accessible to everyone.” Studying abroad increases cost of living according to the country chosen. Today, many countries have good universities, yet those countries’ currencies also have greater value than many countries. Middle class students who want to study abroad in a good university cannot afford the amount. 
Weakness A:
The introduction of the quote is quite abrupt and unexpected. The student does attempt to discuss the relevance of the quote afterwards, but does so in a round-about way, taking several sentences to get to the point.
The first step, advertising, is truly important because it’s the first meeting point for both companies and applicants. Martin said, “Put more of the focus on what your company can do for potential employees, and you’ll attract candidates who better fit your needs.” To be specific, advertising needs to include a writing about the job description that precisely says about the information, such as salary, work time…
Weakness A, B, C:
There is little connection between adverising the position and the quote (which is about writing job descriptions). The transition “To be specific” is used incorrectly, as it is actually leading to a more general topic; again not really connected to focus of the job description. The student may not have truly understood the quote and how Martin’s suggestion would actually look like.
Most employers need to write a job description to describe what kind of job they have and what kind of people they want. As Martin said, “Put more of the focus on what your company can do for potential employees, and you’ll attract candidates who better fit your needs.” According to Martin’s article, job descriptions are the companies’ faces to candidates. If the employers do not write the job descriptions carefully, they will miss the best employees who fit their jobs.

Weakness A and C:
First, there should be more connection from the first sentence (general comment on job descriptions) and the DQ, which focuses on redirecting the focus of the job description. Second, the sentences after the DQ do not shed much light on the quote, simply repeating the main point. The DQ also is imperative, which needs some integration to make the grammar fit more smoothly. (To employers, Martin suggests, “….”)

 4. Discussion
From these samples, it seems that only 2 of 24 included effective integration of a direct quote. For more familiar topics, such as study abroad, students all seemed to understand their selected passage, but were not able to adequately connect it to their ideas. Often students should have made more of a transition from general to specific, or vice versa. For example, a student above wrote that study abroad is helpful, after which he/she quoted the article giving a very specific advantage. The student would have more successfully integrated the quote by adding an additional sentence or phrase suggesting the advantage that will be more fully explained in the quote.

With less familiar topics, such as the product life cycle and employment, some students experienced additional challenges in understanding the passage and also being able to integrate it grammatically and stylistically. For instance, in the hiring assignment, the focus is on the process more than advice, so students need to learn how to introduce an imperative or quote only part of the passage so that it will fit together better.

5. Recommendations

Instructional suggestions:
  • Show students more examples of not only a correctly formatted quote or paraphrase, but a set of sentences in which they are effectively integrated; also show less effective examples (such as the ones in this document)
  • Help students understand the purpose of using direct quotes or paraphrases/summarized information in various types of writing. For instance:

o   Statistics or anecdotes to provide evidence for an argument
o   Providing specific facts and details from a credible source or person to clearly illustrate how something works or well-known theories in the background section of a report or a process essay
  •  More work with bottom-down, intensive reading. As ELP reading courses focus on many different types of reading skills, including main ideas, there still needs to be more sentence-level work. This can be done in the writing class as well. Students need to learn to examine a passage before putting it in their paragraph by asking questions, such as:

o   In other words, what is the author trying to say here? (this question should be asked even if the intention is a direct quote)
o   What does this tell us about ____?
o   Does this sentence have the same idea as my ideas in my essay?
o   Is this sentence more general or more specific compared to the point in my paragraph (or the sentence I want to add the quote after)?
o   So, what? What are the implications? Why is this important?
o   What are the consequences of this idea?
  •           Give students direct quotes/paraphrases to practice integrating, rather than requiring them to spend too much time searching for sources on their own

Course Technicalities:
·        On the rubric, clarify the 5 points for citations (I propose that integration should be worth 3 points (fits before and after according to topic, specificity, and accurate understanding of meaning); format worth 1 point (meaning punctuation, “says/According to” type of introduction); and source attribution worth 1 point (name of author).