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To get there, we tell our students, they’ll need a meaningful, effective, multistep writing .We ask students to begin by exploring something specific in the text, rather than a big idea or generalization.As instructors, we also have to give up some control over our assignments.
As she figuring out the story she’s trying to tell, her early drafts will most likely be incomplete, overwritten or hard for the reader to follow.
And that means she’ll have to revise and rethink and ask more questions.
The reader has learned something, precisely because the author has. In sum, the student essay falls into the same genre as the essays we ourselves write.
But what we’ve just described is a finalessay -- that is, a product.
That process is inquiry based and student directed -- it requires a student to look for a tension in the text, something strange or interesting that she doesn’t yet comprehend, and to ask questions about it.
That means she must begin by admitting, “I don’t understand” -- a daunting and difficult prospect.To take on this challenging task, students need processes and they need tools.For example, they need close reading methods, so they can make discoveries in the text and talk back to it.She’ll come to her overall claim, introduction and conclusion from her discoveries -- not the other way around.Risks and Challenges Giving students the reading, writing and thinking skills required for a process like this is, to put it mildly, challenging -- for students and instructors alike.Others advocated replacing the essay with more “real-world” forms that would force students to think in fresh ways.Although all of those arguments have merit, our own thinking on the subject is both more old-fashioned and more radical.We think the essay form is still the best way for students to think hard on the page -- but we are not fans of formulae.Instead, we’re in favor of inquiry-based learning, evidence-rich analysis and process work.(By “text” we mean a literary work, artwork, event, engineering problem -- any document or piece of art, nature or science subject to careful scrutiny and analysis.) After looking closely at that first moment and figuring out what she thinks is going on there, and why it matters -- that is, after analyzing the phenomenon -- the student may apply what she’s learned to a second moment and ask a new question.Eventually, she extrapolates, showing how what she’s learned adds up to a new way to look at a character or issue in the text as a whole.