In my previous “Anti-Thesis Thesis” post, I offered some reasons why I have moved away from focusing on “thesis” in my classes. This week, I look at what happens when instructors (broadly conceived) focus on that one-sentence-at-the-end-of-the-first-paragraph-that-crystalizes-the-argument.
The form of the forensic argument is often reduced synecdochally to its “thesis statement.” As such, the thesis statement becomes a unit of measurement that indicates how well the rest of the argument will go. “Thesis” is a feature of every college writing rubric I’ve seen; “thesis” is always a separate entry, sometimes with a significant number of points attached to it on a grid. We know where that sort of thesis is typically placed—at the end of an introductory paragraph. And sometimes, when reading quickly, we probably pay much more attention to it (and the topic sentences of the subsequent paragraphs) than we’d like to admit. By assigning a thesis to the rubric, or relying on it as a sign of the quality of what’s to come, we fetishize that sentence. Giving the thesis a place of honor—and other “features” of “good writing”—means that most instructors also want to devote lessons, workshops, and handouts to instruct students on the mysteries of the effective thesis statement. To teach writing, we often break down an essay into constitutive parts and as such the thesis becomes the “quid” of a quid pro quo bid for a good grade. Or, as a character in one video puts it, “Once you have a thesis. . .you’re well on your way to a good paper” (Ergo 2010). In this way, the “thesis statement” plays into teaching-as-transaction, in which we give them the tool, and they expect a payment in return for the labor they performed with the tools. Continue reading
I may well be setting myself up for some charges of “composition” heresy: I try to avoid using the word “thesis” when I’m teaching Freshman English. Although I’ve practiced this erasure for a while, I recently made a public statement about it at our August Orientation and was interested in reactions from several who heard me. I admit I haven’t explored what’s behind some of the reactions I’ve received so far, but I invite those who have something to say about using the word “thesis” to contribute to the conversation in this blog.
In short, these are the reasons I don’t use the word “thesis” in class: Continue reading
What to do about beginnings? So self-conscious, so artificial. Well, let’s start with a word of explanation. This blog is meant as a notepad or sidebar to the UConn Freshman English Program, as a place to stash ideas, work through first thinking, or just generally rehearse pieces of our evolving catechism in short form. We shall see what comes of this. Blogs are notorious for making promises they do not keep.
What we can say for sure is that writing program work has the devilish habit of making extra time for writing (or indeed reading) scarce. Although there are about one hundred FE instructors teaching each semester at the six UConn campuses (and another hundred or so teaching the courses within high schools around Connecticut), few in this cohort would claim to have the time to do much work-related reading and writing beyond that which directly serves the immediate needs of their courses or, with TA’s, their own research. We hope that what gets posted here can be brief enough to be readable—these are not articles or chapters—but rich enough to reward this small commitment. Our goal is to create a more visible record of the kinds of thinking that circulates through the program.
Another motivating factor in our decision to inhabit this space is our ongoing interrogation of the term “composition” and its relation to writing. If, as the term suggests, composition includes the act of collecting and arranging materials, if each new composition is in some sense a composite of other materials gathered for this new occasion, then we need to give more attention to this back-and-forth between found or discovered materials and the “new” thinking these materials engender. We need, too, to provide more occasions for composing.
Basic “rules” for what is to come:
- Typical posts will be about 250-750 words in length.
- Postings will be experiments and momentary excursions. They should not be understood as the official word of the FE Program.
- Anyone who works within or around UConn FE is welcome to contribute a post. Let us know if you have an idea for one.
Find the UConn Freshman English website here.