Posts tagged thesis statements

Forthright Thoughts about My Students Writing Assignments

I gave my Academic Reading and Writing students a 15 point quiz last week knowing full well that those who had done their discursive essay assignment for me would probably do well on the quiz.  I got some very forthright answers which were quite revealing to me about what is REALLY going on in my classroom.


First of all, in our classes we have a wide range of abilities and talent for writing with our Kazakhstani students.  One student wrote: “Firstly, very difficult it’s this subject in general.  For me difficult part its essay, because I can’t write in Russian, here we must write in English.  And I couldn’t understand some rules because I miss some lessons, but it’s my problem.”    Yes, this fellow missed the first six lessons and must have known the cutoff to show up for my class just in a knick of time otherwise he would have gone the way of “administrative withdrawal.”  So we either have lazy students or those who enter our university without any writing strengths at all.  The onus should NOT be put on us as teachers to catch them up in only ONE 16 week writing and reading course!!!  Our classes meet 150 minutes a week or in other words, two hours a week if they show up late to class, which they usually do.


On the other hand, I have very good students who have been to the States or elsewhere and have been exposed to more writing in English. Somehow they were able to fill out the application for exchange programs and get letters of recommendation from their English teachers.  They are the ones who are confident in writing in Russian and consequently their English skills in writing are also very good.  For the future, I would recommend a kind of “Honors program” as they use in universities in the United States so that we could really work with the top students and not feel so guilty of leaving the likes of the first student behind.  I cannot make up for what he did not get in writing from his Kazakh high school experience or the fact that he was admitted to our university with low scores in the writing test.


Next, we are expected to cover just two essays (discursive and problem/solution) with our dear Kazakh students exhibiting all levels in the same classroom, high, middle and low.  The two essays we cover in just ONE semester are very sophisticated forms of writing even for native speakers of English.  Discursive essays alone require the students to use critical thinking skills by finding pros and cons of an argument.  However, on top of that we are expecting them to find journal articles to buttress their points.  Their reading comprehension levels in some cases are very low, in other cases, they have trouble finding relevant journal articles because they lack the vocabulary to use synonyms that would yield better hits with searching on the research databases.  Keywords are the key.


Not only the above, we want our students to understand from what they read in the textbook that in-text citations are important but with the APA formatting that is difficult as well.  Once I gave my students an example from my masters level students, they were able to produce for me what I wanted with their discursive essay assignment. Otherwise, my students had no clue as to what I expected when I told them to use quotes around what an author writes and insert that into their discursive essay.  An example of their confusion came through in the 15 point quiz I gave them, “It takes a lot of time to find the quotes of authors, which will be parallel or be the same with your statements arguments.” What do the students do?  They zero in on the actual quotes from the articles they are reading and then use THOSE quotes and that is why their Works Cited page looks so funny. That is how complicated it gets, I have used my nonverbal straightjacket example to try to get my point across about what is happening in this one semester reading and writing course.  I would not want to write this kind of essay with all the rules we set down for these novice and inexperienced students, especially since it is in their second or third language.


Finally, after the mid-semester break I will indeed use this same 15 point quiz format to see if my students really understand about in-text citations, etc. That alone is confusing enough when doing it properly with APA formatting style. As if we haven’t had enough to throw at them the first 8-9 weeks of the semester, I will move into Title page, running head and the Works Cited page when I introduce the Problem-Solution essay for the final 6-7 weeks of our semester.  Of course, I will keep working on their outlines and thesis statements.  Always a stumper, even for your average American students in composition courses, thesis statements!!!  I hate to think that we will release these Kazakh students to the real world of academia and they will think that all thesis statements will look like the one we drilled into them concerning discursive essays.


In conclusion, our students NEED examples of the brand of discursive essay we are requiring to look at, a kind of “security blanket.”  For our mid-term writing exam we are only expecting them to write or type a discursive essay in 250-500 words in 50 minutes.  We are asking a LOT of some of our Kazakhstani students.  Our mid-term break or otherwise termed “Reading Week” (i.e. break from our teaching responsibilities) will not come soon enough. 


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My Kazakhstani Students’ Difficulties in Writing Academic Essays

Question:  What are the most difficult parts of writing an academic paper for this class?  Why?


The hardest part, as always, is the start, the first step.  It is very important to come up with a good thesis statement that is why it is so hard.  But after you’ve done this, the writing of the article itself is not that difficult.  Because by thesis statement, you’ve already structured your essay.  You just need to explain your arguments.

The next difficult step is to find articles which would support your opinion and choose quotes from them in order to make in-text citations.  That’s because you need to look through so many articles, decide what words to use and how to put everything together.

Also, the conclusion part is very important, so you need to spend time on it.  In order to make the final sentences sound convincing.


I like writing and compositions, but here we need to write academic writing.  So we must look up for academic articles from research databases; sometimes it tends to be problem with keywords.  Then if you find them, you need to read all of them.  You face new words or terms that you’ve never seen or heard before and need to work on them.

And other details like “in-text citations” and APA style, etc.

Anyway, I learn, practice and do my best.


APA style, because for small mistakes you lose points ;-(  APA style is very difficult!

To find article, because we sometimes use wrong keywords.  To begin writing essay, I always have this problem because sometimes it is difficult to write thesis statement without Thesis Statement Builder.


It was somehow difficult to understand how to write essay (where to put in-text citations, how to put them)  Also, I was confused when dealing with discursive essay before you sent an e-mail with an example.  All in all, the difficulties were with organizing the paper.  But now I think I get it!


First, finding articles.  It takes a lot of time to find a proper article with information you need, you are looking for.

Second, reading and combining the information.  You have to work a lot to understand those articles, make an outline and combining the information.  You have to change the author’s words by using synonyms.  Sometimes difficult to find articles that support your ideas.

But in general, if you have time, and you know how to organize the essay, it is not so difficult to write it.


The thesis statement is the most difficult part.  But using the “Thesis Statement Builder” it is much better and easier.  Sometimes there are topics like “smoking” or “using computers” which have more cons than pros.

Sometimes it’s very difficult to find the appropriate article…sometimes the articles are too long and there are other graphs and tables which confuse the reader.  But on the whole, it’s not so difficult.  The most important is to know what you are writing about and to clarify all pros and cons to make your essay clear and easy to understand.


From the research sites like Ebscohost, we can find a lot of different types of information with different size and volume.  So, sometimes when we want exact information for our topic, I feel confused because most of the articles go in the wrong way. (i.e. you start looking at articles for early human development but the research site gives you so many articles that at the end you choice one of them.  But this article will be about today’s techno world affect on a person’s life!  Where is the word for “early human development?”


The most difficult part for me is that we have too much assignments for such a short time.  Doing this type of assignments really takes a lot of time, I mean: searching for an article, finding which you really like, writing review.  It would be much easier if we had more time to do this.

Also, I think that it would be much better if we had an opportunity to choose topics ourselves, I know that is almost impossible, but still it will involve students, because they will choose what they are interested in.  Or maybe it is possible to give us a list of topics, so we can choose one of them.




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Computer “illiteracy” is NOT about grammar!!!

Lately the vocabulary list to my teacher’s reportoire has been “Keywords” and “research databases.”  For years I’ve been instructing first year composition students on the virtues of “thesis statements” and “working bibliographies.”  One of the students whose thesis statements I checked yesterday, while conducting classes in the library’s Computer Lab, was writing on the topic of “computer illiteracy.”  She had inserted in her thesis statement, without having done any exploratory searches on EBSCOhost, ProQuest or J-Stor about how grammar is not being used correctly while using the computer.  Oh, does she have a LOT to learn when it comes to what real “illiteracy” is about.  Essentially, it is not about grammar but about properly using the computer tools to GET to the original journal sources.  “InfoLiteracy” is all about knowing how to access the exact information that you need from scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.  (Caveat:  I don’t agree with all journals and their thrust but at least there is an author’s name next to the article titles, whereas you won’t often find that on the Internet by doing a simple Google search.)

I’m having an American friend of mine give a talk next week titled “Desparate for Relevant Articles in Kazakhstan!” He did beta testing for J-Stor years ago since he knew he needed to access information for his doctoral program while living in Central Asia.  He has lived in Kazakhstan for 12 years and knows the Kazakh language.  He is deeply invested in the life here and knows painfully well that it is too difficult to bring books or journals to the “ends of the earth.”  The next best thing is to read information that others have authored on any given topic on your computer.  This means that it has nothing to do with grammar and everything to do with spelling the keywords correctly while reading material so you can get better ideas for even better, informed searches. 

Obviously the teaching methodology of post-Soviet teachers still embraces grammar and translation based instruction when teaching English. However, when teaching computer skills, it is all about taking risks while making mistakes on the computer.  You learn by doing.  So too with being literate in English, it should mean being able to read and write.  That is only accomplished by DOING!  Learning to talk means taking risks and sorting out the grammar but TALK!!!

Therefore, I’m excited to see the eyes of many Kazakhstani students opened up to the world beyond their borders of Kazakhstan and to witness that they are eager to learn.  Once they see that they can be “literate” with accessing information from the research databases, I’m hoping they will be literate enough in English to write about their wonderful country so that others from the outside will know what a great land this really is!!!

So, to the Kazakh teachers who remain “computer illiterate,” they do so to the detriment of their students who are like sponges and want to learn.  These same teachers are usually the same ones who turn a blind eye to plagiarism.  This disease will dissipate if they get their young charges turned on to the power of using strong “keywords” and finding topics they are passionate to read about and then write on as it relates to Kazakhstan.  A dearth of information about Kazakhstan prevails because noone is writing about it.  Those best to write in English about this country are Kazakhstanis who know Kazakh AND English!!!

Some of the dissenters who are against the forces of “InfoLiteracy” would have held the “Industrial Revolution” at arms length if they lived back in those times.  Computer literacy is NOT about grammar but about knowing how to access key information!!!  InfoLiteracy will not be going away unless someone pulls the plug on all our computers world wide. 8)

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