WRITING FOR THE SCIENCES - TATTO PROGRAM
Math & CS
What follows is an outline of the discussion done in my TATTO writing for the sciences sessions. It is an outline of the types of things I like to address and does not reflect how individual sessions may vary based on comments from the students.
Assumptions about this session:
This session is about teaching - using writing. Your job as a teacher
is 3-fold: Provide information (lectures, readings, etc.), find ways
to help your students learn (answering questions, stimulating thinking)
and evaluate your students (grades, understanding their level ).
We want to use writing to help accomplish these goals. Good teaching
involves more than providing information. You should always have
an estimation of the level of understanding obtained by your
students and you should adjust your teaching accordingly. Correcting
misunderstandings early helps your students advance faster and
achieve a deeper level of overall understanding. We shall always
strive for these goals.
Much of what follows is "philosophy" and all of it results from years
in the classroom. My main assumption however, is I am here to help
students understand, not just to present material and I need to find
effective ways to accomplish this goal.
Basics Assumptions About Writing:
- The ability to think and communicate is central to all areas.
- Communication and thought take place in language - verbal, visual, mathematical - both oral and written.
- Writing (and language skills) only improves with practice.
- Of the academic skills used by students, writing is the most widely required as a demonstration of learning. At the same time it is the most difficult to master.
- Students have trouble writing because any act of sustained writing is an act of sustained thinking - and that is hard work.
Basic Principles of Science Writing:
- Purpose: to convey a single meaning without ambiguity.
- Clarity: takes precedence over being "interesting".
- Emphasis: brevity, precision, consistency, audience level, style.
- Main Task: get the facts down in a logical order.
- Style: sentence structure tends to be short and succinct. (Don't assume your students know the style you want. Let them know ahead of
time what you expect.)
What makes a good writing assignment?
- It asks students to compose whole extended thoughts about subjects.
- It asks students to address their thoughts to a particular audience. That avoids the common - "I thought you'd know what I meant" response to you afterwords.
- It allows for several drafts.
- Have assignments grow out of clear context.
- Ask real questions.
- Allow for open minded exploration on the part of the writer.
Note: Your role is to provide a writing assignment that accomplishes an
educational purpose within the course. Think carefully about
what you ask them to write keeping your goals in mind.
How should you as a teacher evaluate writing?
- Respond to content first and mechanics second.
- Possibly withhold grades on early drafts.
- Encourage students to read, critique and proofread for each other.
- Be willing to have 1-1 meetings about their writings.
Types of Writing:
- FORMAL WRITING:
Formal writing is usually used as a part of formal evaluation, that is,
with a grade attached. But it may still be viewed in various levels
of formality. Some types of formal writing are:
- papers and essays
- reports (lab or experiment reports)
- tests (or quizzes)
- INFORMAL WRITING:
Writing either not graded or sometimes not even seen by you! This
type of writing can serve several purposes: i. to make students
think about a particular idea - perhaps in a different way.
ii. to tie ideas together.
iii. to help you judge their level of understanding in a situation
where grades are not involved. Some examples of informal writing are:
- Refelctive writing:
- notes to you
- journals or logs
- stream of thought
- informal responses to your questions
- "letters home", interviews and other strange devices!
Note: these are excellent evaluation tools for you to judge where the students are in their understanding.
- Purpose: to tie things together.
- Specific Examples:
- "What was the main idea of this chapter?"
- "How do chapters 3 and 4 relate?"
- Explain this concept in your own words.
Note: This provides a less threatening environment for lower skill or "quiet" students.
You can use reading techniques to evaluate as well. Here I am
thinking of evaluation more in terms
of "knowing where your students are in their understanding" rather
than grading. These things can be done in 5 minutes or less at the end
Ask them to tell you things like:
- What is the most important (or most difficult for you) concept
in this chapter?
- Explain to me what methods you would use to attack this problem?
- Write a letter to the author critiquing the text!
- Interview the person next to you about what he or she finds most difficult about this course.