Student Voices: The Difficulty of finding a Conclusion
Beate Walter with Johanna Keese, Germany
Beate Walter works as an English language teacher at Erfurt University, Germany, where she teaches different course content on different language levels. She is particularly interested in a teaching approach that puts learners’ individual skills as well as needs at the centre and helping her students discover more about who they really are and their unique and amazing potential. E-mail: email@example.com
From Beate Walter
From Johanna Keese: The difficulty of finding a conclusion
This semester's advanced academic writing class (spring term 2012) attracted a number of students from a variety of different academic and cultural backgrounds as well as with very different writing needs and expectations. Thus, bringing the individual interests together in a suitable course curriculum and allowing the students to become a working team proved rather a challenge. My teaching objectives included raising awareness for the difficulties of the entire writing process (from finding ideas to working on the final draft) as well as encouraging commitment to the group and active interest in the work of their peers.
Course assignments included a term paper of 8-10 pages (50 per cent), a presentation of their work-in-progress and subsequent discussion (20 per cent) and three reflections on certain aspects of the writing process that the students considered worth contemplating (30 per cent).
While the course participants had complete freedom in their choice of topic for their term papers, which aspect of their work-in-progress they wanted to present in what depth and the content of their reflections, they had to take responsibility for each other's projects, including the inevitable struggles with research question and thesis statement, narrowing the topic down and giving it an appropriate structure but also writer's block, time management, and dealing with feedback.
I was amazed at the way group dynamics took their course and helped create a frame that allowed each participant to share the reasons for and problems with their chosen topics, explore alternatives in approach, structure and academic style and provide valuable feedback coming from many different perspectives, all in a caring and sharing environment.
The following reflection, written by one of the course participants, focuses on the difficulties of coming to an end when writing a term paper and beautifully illustrates the aspect of working as a team. I thought this "student voice" deserved to be heard by a broader audience and would be very interested to hear what you might have to say about it.
After writing two reflections about time management and writer’s block I was not really sure which topic to choose for the last one. I started to ask my colleagues about which problems they were facing during their writing processes. Some people mentioned that they had problems finding a conclusion. They told me that they did not know how to summarize all the research work they had done or how to come to a conclusive, clear and brief end. Talking about that phenomenon, I realized that I have got the same problem.
Normally, after negotiating my problems, e.g. linked to writer’s block and time management, it is not that difficult for me to write a term paper or an essay. An exception is the end of a paper. While writing the introduction and the main part, I have a lot of time to think about the conclusion. One might assume that I should, in the end, be able to write a good summary that would answer the research question. For me, this is, sometimes, not as easy as it may seem. After doing a lot of research work, sitting in the library, discussing the paper with some of my friends and formulating elaborate sentences, it may happen that I have got the feeling that there is no power left to finish my work.
For me, writing a summary means to rethink the whole paper. To do so, I have to discuss every part of the paper. I ask myself if one chapter was really useful, if this detail was necessary or that sentence clear enough…This examination of my paper requires a lot of energy and, moreover, I have to struggle with my perfectionism.
To overcome the difficulties in finding a conclusion, one could think that it could be helpful to write the paper (without the conclusion) and take a break. A lot of my colleagues told me that this is their favored way of finishing their academic writing tasks. They can regenerate a little bit, have time to rethink their work and, with renewed energy, write a good conclusion.
Well, doing so, unfortunately, I totally lose the contact to my work. The thoughts and ideas I have written down seem to be too far away and not really my own work anymore. There is no motivation left to finish my paper. In my case, it is useful to immediately overcome the tiredness that occurs at the end of a writing process and bring the whole project to a good end. This is the only moment where I am wholly connected to my paper and when I am able to have a holistic view on my work.
After finishing my paper, some of my friends, my mother or my grandparents proofread my paper and tell me what they think about the content, the structure and the conclusion. Reconsidering their corrections is the last step of my writing process. After that, I am able to hand my paper in.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
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