100-Level Introductory Linguistics (Writing- Intensive)

DISCOVERING LINGUISTIC KNOWLEDGE

My goal is to show that they already know quite a lot and just don't realize it, because they don't have the technical terms. Once you have a word for something and realize this is a thing you know, it pulls it together. — Professor Iovanna Condax

I liked the semantics research paper because it gave me a chance to study the subject matter more in depth. I got to use my brain to really analyze data that I collected and had to formulate graphs to go along with it. I got a chance to really read up on semantics. — Student

COURSE GOALS

Students will gain an understanding of linguistics and be able to write about it. They will see that what they know is embedded in and relevant to their own experience; they will be unable to forget what they have learned. Students will also realize their own ability to write. They can break down the writing process and take it one step at a time. I liked that all this writing might have improved my writing ability.--Student

WRITING ACTIVITY

TOPICAL REVIEWS AND A LINGUISTIC ANALYSIS

Students may opt to write ten short essays or seven short essays and one research paper. Each short essay addresses a particular aspect of linguistics, such as animal communication, the relationship of language to women, or psycholinguistics. For each short essay, students are first given in-class prewriting exercises, or Timed Focused Freewriting (see "Related Writing Activities" below), which help students focus on specific topics and discover essay ideas.
In-class exercises are taken home, where students use them to write a first draft. Students bring drafts to the next class; the instructor organizes students into work groups in which they share their drafts and receive peer feedback. Groups of students with drafts critique each other on format: they tell each other whether they have a complete essay (introduction, examples, conclusion, etc.), explain what they feel is clear and unclear in the drafts, and see if they can see the "big picture" in each essay. The instructor may also have students write one-sentence summaries of each essay. After a group has finished the critique of each essay, student authors write notes on how they will change their own essays. The most significant activity comes when we go into groups and discuss our paper, because it helps me by giving me more ideas on how to write my paper and also what not to write in my paper.--Student

The assignments were fun and kept my interest. But we had too many. I would have enjoyed three or four longer assignments. I concentrated so much on writing that the course topics did not stay in my mind. But I began rewriting more often; I never did that before.--Student

After peer feedback, students take their drafts home and revise them to produce second drafts, which the instructor collects, reads, and marks with suggestions for improvement (e.g.: "Think about the order in which you want to present these ideas"; "Your paper needs an introduction and conclusion"). When the instructor returns the papers with comments to the students, students are again to revise, then hand in a final draft along with their original notes, freewrites, first draft, student comments, second draft, and instructor comments. The instructor reviews and grades the third drafts, sometimes pointing out discarded material that can still be used in future essays or revisions. Students who are not satisfied with their grades may request more comments, revise accordingly, and again turn in the essays, which will receive higher grades if they show significant improvement.

To students who decide to write the research paper, the instructor first gives the format required for formal linguistics papers, from title and author through references and appendices. The instructor then assigns the "Cups" project on semantics. For this project, students are given pictures of containers of various shapes, which they are to show to 25 subjects. They ask each subject to name each container ("cup," "bowl," "measuring cup," "mug," etc.), and record the subject's answers. Students summarize data on graphs, and compare and analyze the data as they apply to semantics. Students write up draft research reports and bring them to class for peer feedback from others who are also writing research papers. They turn in revised drafts to the instructor, who provides further feedback. Students then write a final draft and hand it in with all their notes and drafts. The instructor grades the research reports and hands them back to the students, who may rewrite them again for improved grades.

PURPOSE: The essays ensure that students learn fundamental concepts of linguistics in such areas as grammar, vocabulary, the relation of language changes to social process, and the manner in which linguists study them. The essays also require students to demonstrate that they have read, understood, and retained the information in their text and can quote and cite it appropriately. The research report allows advanced or ambitious students to analyze a specific linguistic concern more deeply than is possible in a short essay. The essays which we wrote on related linguistic topics were the most significant because they helped us to learn the material and at the same time improve our writing skills. The essays were directly related to our learning of the course topics. They gave us a chance to read and understand the material by relating to it through our writing.--Student

RELATED ACTIVITIES

1. TIMED FOCUSED FREEWRITING

The instructor directs students to write on a specific topic for from thirty seconds (early in the semester) up to ten minutes (late in the semester). In the section on "Language and Women," for example, students write down what they remember and observe about conversations with people of the same and opposite genders. The instructor walks among the students, observing what they write. Students then discuss, compare, and analyze what they've written in small work groups, then as a whole class.
PURPOSE: Freewriting is done before a reading assignment, allowing the instructor to draw upon students' experience and prepare them for the reading. This activity also gets students started on drafts by requiring them to write down all their ideas in class and to relate their own observations to information in the assigned reading.

2. THOUGHT-PROCESS WRITTEN RECORD

Students are required to keep a Thought-Process Written Record in which they write out what they are thinking as they solve linguistic problems provided in their text book. For each problem, they observe some data, do some operations on them, and observe the results. Ideally, students are to log in things such as: "I compared the morphological forms in column one and column two. I found [these differences] and assumed [this hypothesis] about them. After I completed my comparison, I found my hypothesis was valid." Though these "records" are not graded, they must be completed and turned in on time. Students who have not done the assignment have points deducted.
PURPOSE: The logs reinforce linguistic concepts and help students retain the information, as well as get them to complete the problems. The instructor is able to observe which students need help in linguistic problem-solving, help them improve, and teach them proper problem-solving techniques before exams. For students who are solving problems correctly, the exercises reinforce linguistic concepts as students discover them on their own.

3. OBSERVATION NOTEBOOK

On 20 separate occasions, students are to record any observations they have made about language — grammar, puns, dialect, etc. The notebook is in first-draft form when students turn it in for a preliminary grade. If it is not complete or contains linguistic mistakes, they may revise it for a better grade. Notebooks are graded according to the completeness of observations, quality of linguistic interpretation, and the clarity with which the different parts of the entry are differentiated. I liked the journal because it gave me a clearer understanding of the topic and because it related strictly to my experiences. I realized that I learned something about that experience.--Student
PURPOSE:The notebook gets students to think about linguistics on their own, outside of class. It allows them to apply their linguistic knowledge to interpret language in everyday life.

4. EXAMS

For the two midterms, the instructor requires the students to review all the relevant material. In class, each student writes an exam question. The instructor edits the questions, compiles them, and distributes the list as a study guide to the students. The instructor selects four or five of the questions for the actual exam, which requires answers in short-essay form.

For the final exam, students must solve a linguistic problem and either answer four questions or reproduce a two-page list of languages by families.

PURPOSE: The students are required to review in order to formulate and answer exam questions, thereby gaining a firmer grasp of the material.

Professor Condax comments on her class (excerpts from an interview):

When I give students a grade, I mine all the material that they have discarded and could still use and point out to them how much they discard, so they don't feel so bad about rewriting.

They can always rewrite for an improved grade because that will get the most rewriting out of them.

What I find is that with this two-step thought-process for problem solving, if I get them early, I can teach them to solve the problem; and they can't cheat or copy from somebody else. I give them similar problems on exams. My aim is to have everybody get it basically right, and that's been true ever since I've been requiring the Thought-Process Written Records, whereas maybe 50% got it basically right previously. I'd say that it does more to help the poorer students than to help the quicker ones.

Another change : I supervise three different groups at once (the research paper group, groups with drafts, groups without drafts). I couldn't have done that when I started. I feel that they do much better if they have clear directions on how to do their feedback at any given level. If I leave them on their own too soon, they tend to "talk story."

You draw on things that they already know, and once they've got their own experience on paper, you say "That's half of your paper, the other half is in your text book. Relate what they say in your book to compare it to how things seem to you from your own direct observation." I want them to learn linguistics, and to see that it's embedded in their own experience in a way that they won't be able to forget. . . . They have more material at their command if they rely on their own observations.

Many students say they learned a lot afterwards, but they sure complained along the way about having to do too much. . . . And talking about writing takes time in class. I used to cover about two-thirds as many topics as in a non-WI class, but it's gotten to be a little bit more as I get more skilled at talking about writing. It still isn't as many topics as I used to cover, but then they didn't learn them as well, so what was the use?