Friday, April 24, 2009

Richardson, Dennis J. "Protracted Peer-Reviewed Writing Assignments in Biology"

Richardson, Dennis J. "Protracted Peer-Reviewed Writing Assignments in Biology: Confessions of an Apostate Cynic of Writing across the Curriculum." Writing across the Curriculum. Ed. Mary T. Segall, and Robert A. Smart. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2005. 44-56.

Dennis J. Richardson, in the beginning of his chapter, provides a humorous look at the unfortunately all-too-typical approach to writing: “For years I relished lamentations shared with fellow biology teachers over the abysmal state of student writing. It’s the same old story. We assign a term paper: due at the end of the semester, typed, ten pages in length, doublespaced, a minimum of five references. The students wearily trudge through the assignment and ultimately turn in a seriously deficient document, to put it graciously. Then, the excruciating process of evaluation begins. After the third glass of scotch, one encounters the challenge of reading yet another paper that appears impenetrable to constructive criticism. Finally, there are the students’ moans as the papers are returned. they walk away tossing their papers at the wastebasket, contemplating yet another affirmation of their writing deficiencies, and I head off to the lounge to share my grief over the deteriorating state of western civilization due to student apathy and lack of basic English skills” (44). Fortunately, as Richardson knows, there are better ways to deal with such issues. As he points out, “I learned to my surprise that many of the perceived problems with student writing were in reality a result of pedagogical shortcomings of an assignments” (44). By using a process approach to writing instruction such as requiring students to turn in a rough draft and setting up a peer review process, Richardson found that he “was amazed at the increase in quality of student manuscripts” (49).

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