Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom

By Barbara M. Sitko; Ann M. Penrose | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: Studying Cognitive Processes in the Classroom

ANN M. PENROSE AND BARBARA M. SITKO

Directions: Your task is to read the attached article on hurricanes and to write a paper on that topic. Your paper should be an informative essay, focused around the key issues or concepts that you think someone should know from the reading.

Alan is speaking aloud into a tape recorder as he reads his task directions and begins to work. He hesitates not a bit in responding to this assignment. He reads the three-page article from beginning to end, pausing for comment after each sentence or two: "ah, it seems like the key clue" . . . "underline that" . . . "key dates." Then he rereads the task directions, decides there are "two key issues here . . . the definition of a hurricane, the history," and proceeds to write his paper by stringing together the facts he'd highlighted under these two headings. Alan churns this one out easily, pausing during the writing process only to complain about the tedium of the task and the poor quality of his own text: "this is a terrible intro" . . . "this is bad" . . . "this paper is not making too much sense" . . . "this is so trivial . . . I hate this . . . nothing to it."

Across the hall, another college freshman in this writing study is stuck. Rob has read through the text twice, noting important facts on the first pass, much like Alan, and taking a second pass to decide what sub-topics he should include in his own paper. Rob's comments in this second pass reveal a pervasive concern with audience, occasionally echoing the task directions which note that he should focus on concepts "someone should know" from the source text: "hmm . . . that's important . . . someone should know that." At this point Rob is "trying to figure out how to start this and how to get people's attention as to why they should read something about hurricanes." A little later, the problem is compounded: "I'm still trying to find a transition between the opening paragraph of what I'm . . . you know . . . just trying to get the

-3-

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