Posts tagged bibliography

Semester is FINISHED!

Rejoicing in the fact that I survived another semester of grading papers of my students…they are also thrilled to be done. However, they would not dare show that kind of glee in front of me, that I’m sure of.  I had an interesting group in my one class, one student was from India, another from Japan, a girl from China and finally, one other from Mongolia.  The rest of the class were first year Americans and they were a great group.

The one from India was my top international student, he was wonderful…always a smile on his face, a very pleasant personality. The second one from Japan always wore a scarf around his neck with his parka. I wondered if he was hiding something around his throat.  The one thing I LOVED about him was his deep laugh.  I guess I’m not used to Japanese laughing and he is a fourth-year student so perhaps he picked up other deep throated laughs from his American peers. Anyway, it was always fun to hear his laugh, he too was a very good student

The second one from Japan always wore a scarf around his neck while wearing his winter parka. It kept me wondering if he was hiding something around his throat.  The one thing I LOVED about him was his deep laugh.  I guess I’m not used to Japanese laughing and he is a fourth-year student so perhaps he picked up other deep throated laughs from his American peers. Anyway, it was always fun to hear his laugh, he too was a very good student and giving me multiple copies of papers he kept improving.

My student from China I had failed last semester and she had me again this spring. Maybe that was her mistake but I don’t think there were many other options for her. Apparently, she has some family issues back home to deal with, maybe something that happened to her in her childhood.  She is a mystery, in any case, I was sad that she did not finish the course with pulling out of all her other classes too.

Finally, my one student from Mongolia was a special case all her own.  By all outward appearances, she is very demure, soft spoken and sweet looking.  However, there is something very ugly inside of her.  She may be very smart in math but her idea of writing was to copy from sources and claim as her own.  We have the Turnitin feature for our research papers.  The first paper, she had 51% that was copied.  Generally, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe let go papers that are 10% or lower.  I asked her to re-write the paper in her own words. She did not.

By the time the final, research paper was due, she had only 200 words out of the required 2,000 words.  I had helped her find sources with using better keywords for her topic on outsourcing.  I helped her with an outline that she could work with to show claim and counterclaim for this persuasive paper.  She did not hand in by Moodle her paper and so I called her into my office.  I told her she was failing the class.

She acted surprised at this information of her failing my class. (At mid-semester I had given her a C- which should have been a clue) I said that it would not be fair to pass her if she was not understanding how to do APA formatting style or even not completing assignments.  She had not even alphabetized her bibliography which is a basic thing for any kind of formatting of resources.  She asked how my other international students did in my class.  I told her that some excelled over and above my American students, some were average and some, like her, had to take the class again.

Imagine my surprise, after I had given her the option of DROPPING my class that she sent me a very disrespectful e-mail.  She had told me that she would not be able to handle the extra course financially if she had to take Composition I over again.  I told her that after 12 credits, she doesn’t have to pay any extra money.  I don’t think she felt ashamed with failing, I really think she did NOT care about writing. It perhaps is not part of her culture to read and write and she happens to be very good in her math skills.

Her e-mail directed to me was that I should NOT fail students and that I was a bad teacher. She was going to take this case to the top level…the president of our university. Then she ended it with the “firetruck” word in describing me.  I thought at first that someone else had written this inflammatory and accusatory e-mail.  Come to find out that she took full responsibility for the wording of this message, she said she was angry.

I talked about this case with my department head and he, in turn, talked with her. He told her that she should apologize to me for her negative e-mail which he also found offensive.  I got a second e-mail from her soon afterward that I also have not responded to. She more or less wrote that she was sorry that she worded her first e-mail that way but I have to understand her culture that they get very emotional. Therefore, she was just emoting and that I should allow for that.  Again, I didn’t see her being remorseful for her action of disrespect but I’ll let it go.  I pity the writing teacher who will get her next fall.  They will have to hold her to the deadlines and not allow for her to stream in late to class.  Seems she is on her own time schedule.

Okay, I got that all written out about what has transpired over the last week.  That seems to negate the other GREAT students that I had in this particular class.  It ended well for others with As and Bs and one C.  Two other Americans either dropped or got an F grade.  So, I will have two more classes next semester and that is about right for me. I have much work to do right now with writing MNopedia articles for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Actually, that is what I should be doing right now but this has been a convenient distraction!

 

 

 

 

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Mr. Controlling Idea MEET Ms. In-Text Citation

This academic writing experience we expect of our students is as subject to crash and burn as any potential romantic relationship on our university campus.  However, in this case at our university it is inexperienced hayseed cowboy who MEETS sophisticated debutante.  The following is from my own long held convictions that topic sentences, who are first cousins to controlling ideas and supporting ideas, should remain in remedial courses for beginner students.  

 

Let me introduce Mr. Controlling Idea, he has many virtues.  His main job is to catch the reader’s imagination in the topic sentence with his singular purpose to entice them to read on. He wears a cowboy hat with complimentary boots, everything is in neutral colored rawhide.  He wears a red kerchief around his neck, he has that “devil may care” look about him because he is invincible and young.   However, if there are too many guys like him, too many Controlling Ideas, the paragraph falls apart.  

 

He may have two or three brothers, depending on the paragraph formally named as Mr. Supporting Idea I and II.  They help the reader to understand there is logical support or evidence for the control he maintains in his set paragraph or the corral.  He rides on Transition Markers, good thoroughbred horses, to alert his reader which direction he is going.  These horses names are called: Moreover, Nevertheless, In Fact, For Example, First and In Conclusion, just for example.  Mr. Controlling Idea rarely backs up his horse but likes to go full speed ahead while letting his reading audience know there may be a gallop or a simple trot in the next paragraph or two.

 

One nemesis of Mr. Controlling Idea are the occasional encounters with Mr. Logical Fallacy.  Actually, he and his cronies lurk everywhere and have no regard for the words they are surrounded by. Legions of Logical Fallacies abound and they care nothing for their dear readers, their sole mission is to lead astray. Cleverly concealed lies are their content but Mr. Controlling Idea and his brothers are able to discern who these negative forces of the essay paper are.  Logical fallacy is NO match for a truthful controlling idea who maintains law and order.

 

That’s where Ms. In-text Citation makes her appearance.  Even though she actually is a city slicker and can be quite provocative at times, she has some attraction for the man of the rodeo, Mr. Controlling Idea. Her expensive clothes are not practical and can show spots on them very easily.  If she is of the APA formatting style, Ms. Citation doesn’t really want anyone to know whether she is a female or not, she prefers last name only.  However, she DOES want everyone to know that she is wearing the latest fashion by having the most up-to-date publication.  When she looks at the tired out Chicago style, she appears uppity.  Also, she sees that footnotes of the Turabian devotees are so untidy. Ms. Citation doesn’t even try on MLA clothes, there is something so twentieth century about them.  No, Ms. Citation comes from very highbrow types, just look at her parents in the “Works Cited” page.

 

Actually, her grandparents are called “Working Bibliography” who were from the farm and never take on their granddaughter’s airs, they work quietly minding their own business.  The only way her Grandparents got to the top was a LOT of spade work, meaning they knew how to use Keywords to get their source material from the electronic research databases.  Yes, Keywords are good family friends with the Bibliographies and Citation families.  What Ms. In-text Citation doesn’t appreciate is that to make it into the essay in the first place, she has to be wanted by Mr. Controlling Idea.  His Supporting Idea brothers have to want her in the family of their sentence as well.  

 

So, what do we have in our university’s classroom with young, impressionable Kazakh students?  We have those who do not know the basics of how to write in English, they’ve been grilled in high school on how to use correct GRAMMAR. This haranguing was probably done in steady Russian. 

 

These beleagured students do not grasp the importance of what topic sentences with controlling and supporting ideas are all about.  Unfortunately, these students are expected, according to the syllabus for their one and only writing and reading course, to know how to use the sophisticated reference work of APA formatting style to help buttress their arguments in any given essay. We only teach them two in the space of 16 weeks, discursive and problem and solution essays.

Some of our students are capable of this budding relationship between the simple mechanics of essay writing and using in-text citations.  A happy marriage happens with good results if they have the grounding in Intensive or Provisional classes and in our Academic Reading and Writing courses are to fine-tune the referencing and researching fun.

 

Unfortunately, the two are not meeting each other, poor Mr. Controlling Idea and Ms. In-text Citation.  This relationship takes time, writing takes time, writing requires re-writes.  Alas, I didn’t even bring up the King of the Rodeo and that is His Honorable Thesis Statement. Stayed tuned for Part II.

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My “Soap Box” about Teaching Research Papers!

 

The mournful wail of a Kazakh student living in England grabbed my heart the other day.  I was talking on the phone to this student, (let’s call him Zed) who was under great pressure to accomplish a major economics paper of 48 pages for his “dissertation” for a bachelors degree.  He wailed, “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!”  I’m not sure which university Zed was attending in London, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that Zed was sent abroad ill equipped to accomplish what was expected in his economics department. 

Obviously, Zed hadn’t plagiarized much after looking over the text where all the articles were missing.  Zed also kept mixing up the irregular verbs of “lead” when he meant “led” in the past tense or writing “felt” when he meant “fell.”  Zed also used personal pronouns of “I” or “we” and used contractions such as “can’t” and “let’s.”  All considered errors if writing a major research paper for his British profs, especially if this is to be considered his “dissertation.”  I still can’t get over that phrase but that is what Zed kept calling it.  The title of his paper was: “Discuss the factors behind the 1992-1996 recession in Russia.”  An interesting enough topic to me since it could have parallels to what happened in Kazakhstan once the former Soviet Union fell apart.  The following is his 98 word abstract which I helped clean up:

“Currently the world community has met yet again the problem of crisis when some countries of the former Soviet Union started to experience the first steps of recession. This paper will specifically consider the past experience of Russia. When the post-Soviet republic was dismantled from the Soviet Union, it implemented reforms to move from planned economy to market economy.  However, that implementation brought the country to deep recession during a period of  6-7 years (from 1992-1996). Reasons and consequences of Russia’s recession are discussed in the paper along with the vision of political and economic processes being analyzed.”

The main problem with Zed’s text was that he did not use any in-text citations but footnotes instead.  I asked Zed over our crackling cell phones what formatting style he was using, he claimed he didn’t know.  I tried to see if his footnotes of sources matched what was in his bibliography, in some cases they did not.  The Bibliography often did not have authors’ names or if it did, they were not even alphabetized properly.  Zed had numbers next to each source up to 70 citations.  Remarkable and the bibliography had the appearance of being thorough research.  However, out of curiosity, I asked my teaching colleagues the next day about this numbering and they said in the Soviet period it was considered correct to number your sources and if you had at least 50 of them, then you were fulfilling the research requirements.  Back in those Soviet days, that meant books and not just short journal articles or Internet sources.

Another thing that was notable about Zed’s references was that he was using many Internet sources without showing authors names, where it was retrieved from and when he retrieved it.  When teaching my own composition students, I work around that problem by not allowing the use of ANY Internet sources especially since there is not usually an author’s name attached to it.  Too much junk science is on the Internet.  That is why I insist my composition students learn how to access the electronic research databases. 

If only our dear students knew that all the work has already been done for them to access the thousands of journal articles that their university has paid for through research databases such as EBSCOhost, ProQuest and J-Stor.  In some cases, someone has taken the time to scan every page, just the way it looks in the actual journal that was published on a specific date, in a particular place.  True scholarship acknowledges author, time, name of article, name of journal and page numbers.  Internet sources at the bottom of the page, such as www.gsh.ru , just doesn’t quite do it for me.  I didn’t check to see if the nine or so URL links of Zed’s were accessible to me since I had the electronic version of it.  I was too busy straightening out his grammar problems of articles, personal pronouns and irregular verbs.  To Zed’s credit, he had used his spell checker, because there were very few spelling errors until the last several pages of his paper.

One last thing that was discouraging about Zed’s economics research paper was the use of graphs and tables, he did not make reference to them in his text except to say “the table below.”  I cautioned Zed that he must be specific by writing in the text “Table 6” or “Figure 4.”  Besides that, I’m not sure where he got his material except cutting and pasting from the Internet.  These graphs and tables were obviously not his own work but he did not “fess up” where he got this material that was supposed to buttress his points he was making throughout his paper.

I felt sorry for Zed and the fact that he probably had several teachers in London who had marked up with red ink his earlier shorter, written assignments until they bled.  His English teachers have probably already written him off as “unteachable” when it comes to writing.  Admittedly, for this Kazakh student, English is his second or third language besides knowing Russian (he used about seven Russian sources in his paper but did not translate them in his footnotes).  I would strongly differ with Zed’s teachers that he is not able to learn the proper way to write a research paper, it just takes time and patience.  Zed and other Kazakh students like him, should not be beaten down for not knowing how to write in English, they should be encouraged.

I believe strongly that if the composition students are taken through the myriad of steps on how to access information and if they have an insatiable curiosity about their subject, it will seem like a wonderful and exciting project to them.  Just going through the motions and trying to fulfill the superficial “regulations” of having a thesis statement or topic sentences throughout the paper with proper citation format will make the students HATE writing a research paper.  I will not forget for a long time the sad voice in England who claimed “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!”  It seems my life mission is to change students’ voices into a happy “I’m so excited with what I found, I want to SHARE it with you!!”

As a composition teacher, I want to read good papers instead of seeing it as a task of drudgery.  I always maintain that if you are bored at teaching something, the students are bored at listening to you. If you are not enjoying teaching research papers, the students will not enjoy it either.  As teachers, we need to find out what painful steps we are expecting of our students by doing the assignment first ourselves, rather than making them do all the work.  However, if we allow plagiarized papers to come at us as the end result, we have also not done our job as teachers.  The students will go into their other classes at university or study abroad and not able to do the papers expected of them in their other course work.  Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.

 

 

 

 

 

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