115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Prompting Thoughtful Student Response

Nathalie Joseph, University of Southern California
Norah Ashe-McNalley, University of Southern California

Student journals provide authors with real world motivation to explore complex subjects. Students are an underrepresented group in academic thought; their ideas are often delegated to the classroom and rarely made visible. Through thoughtful revamping of our prompts, preparation of classroom work with an eye to publication can produce better student writing and better pedagogy.

Proposal: 

Student journals provide authors with real world motivation to explore complex subjects. Students are an underrepresented group in academic thought; their ideas are often delegated to the classroom and rarely made visible. Preparing classroom work with an eye to publication produces better students and better pedagogy. Giving students the opportunity to write not just for the classroom, but for publication, changes their thinking and their work. Thoughtful revamping of our prompts creates opportunities for students to engage meaningfully in these processes.  

University-level writing classes appear to be simply skill-acquisition opportunities even though they provide students with sophisticated rhetorical tools. The content of the course must also be clear as such classes often require both students and faculty to have a sophisticated command of the theoretical concerns of many academic fields. While primarily conceived as teaching towards a specific discipline, argumentative writing courses may draw students from a variety of fields, thereby requiring an explicitly interdisciplinary approach.

To illustrate effective prompt strategies, we will distribute short introductions and ask audience members to “reverse-engineer” the prompts. Typical writing prompts frequently foreground a specific set of pedagogical goals, rather than aiming the students towards an inquiry-driven thesis. In order to elicit more sophisticated critical thinking from our students, we need to be more aware of the obvious responses we inadvertently encourage. Instead of essentially framing an answer for the student, we need to guide students to ask better questions.  

Well constructed open-ended prompts will spend more space framing the audience and the context of the scholarly debate than on the framing of the question itself. Prompts that are framed as a research question, rather than asking questions that promote a canned answer, will facilitate more learner-motivated research. Relevance is a key goal for publication. Open prompts can press students to apply disciplinary and dialectical frameworks drawn from their academic studies in a real world context. This requires students to go beyond merely summarizing these concepts. More thoughtful prompt construction and keeping an eye toward publication can enhance the learning process for students as they strive toward masterful critical thinking and writing. Because this relies so heavily on a student’s ability to think critically, the resulting essay is likely to contribute original thought to an existing field.

Writing for classroom credit but with an eye toward publication also shifts the role of the student thinker. Publishing student writing not only makes their contributions to a variety of fields accessible to other students but perhaps also offers more interplay between the work of faculty and their students.