Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Model Body Paragraph

Long-time readers know that I occasionally blog about my teaching, and I once had an entire series on student plagiarism that I finally brought to a halt because no matter how much I complained on this blog, students everywhere continued to plagiarize, and I had to conclude, whatever Shelley might think, that bloggers, not poets, are the true "unacknowledged legislators of the world."

So rather than curse the darkness, I'm offering to light a candle by providing a little lesson in writing a body paragraph.

My Ewha Womans University students in a course labeled "College English" are using a text titled North Star 4: Reading and Writing (Pearson-Longman, Third Edition), and last week, they did an exercise on integrating two readings about animal intelligence.

The first reading was from the book How Smart Are Animals, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, a scientist and expert on animals whom you can obscurely see below:


A better image is available at her website, from which the banner above was borrowed.

The second reading was from the book Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin (with co-writer Catherine Johnson), also a scientist and expert on animals whose image is obscurely visible below:


Again, a better image is available at her website, from which this book image above was borrowed.

Anyway, in the original exercise on page 79 of North Star 4, students had to integrate material from both authors. They began by drawing upon both authors to fill in the blanks in a series of seven statements (the filled-in parts appearing in bold font):
1. Early 1900s

Gustav Wolff believed, "an animal can think in a human way." This belief was inspired by the fact that Clever Hans, at first, seemed to have understood human language and to have mastered arithmetic.

2. Oskar Pfungst's view of Clever Hans

Pfungst believed Hans did not think on his own. Instead, Hans "read" the responses of the audience.

3. Before 1960

Scientists believed that animals' reactions were based on instinct and not intelligence.

4. Current views on trained animals

Animals that are easy to train may be very intelligent.

5. Current veiws on trainability of animals

Trained animals may appear to be intelligent, but they are just repeating behavior patterns.

6. Current veiws on testing animal intelligence

When evaluating animal intelligence, we must test them in situations that have meaning to them, not just to humans.

7. Temple Grandin's view of animal intelligence

If an animal can recognize signs that they weren’t trained to and decide to act, then they are intelligent.
Once students had finished this filling-in exercise, they had to synthesize the statements. Since they would soon be writing a body paragraph on animal intelligence, I decided to have them integrate the statements above in a first draft of this assigned body paragraph. I told them to add transitional phrases and extra information to the statements above so that the synthesis would work. The result would be a series of supporting sentences that would then need only a topic sentence and a concluding sentence to fit the form of a body paragraph.

Many students didn't quite grasp the need for a topic sentence and a concluding sentence, and they handed in something like the following (albeit corrected for grammar, spelling, and punctuation):
In the early 1900s, Gustav Wolff believed, "an animal can think in a human way." This belief was inspired by the fact that Clever Hans, at first, seemed to have understood human language and to have mastered arithmetic. Pfungst believed Hans did not think on his own. Instead, Hans "read" the responses of the audience. Before 1960, scientists believed that animals' reactions were based on instinct and not intelligence. The current view on trained animals is that animals that are easy to train may be very intelligent. The current view on the trainability of animals is that trained animals may appear to be intelligent, but they are just repeating behavior patterns. The current view on testing animal intelligence is that when evaluating animal intelligence, we must test them in situations that have meaning to them, not just to humans. Temple Grandin's view of animal intelligence is that if an animal can recognize signs that they weren't trained to and decide to act, then they are intelligent.
One can see that this 'paragraph' has a number of problems. Not only is it almost entirely copied (hence plagiarized!), it provides too little information, it contradicts itself, and it lacks both a topic sentence and a concluding sentence. I therefore rewrote it as a model body paragraph:
Views on animal intelligence have changed over the years. In the early 1900s, the Swiss psychiatrist Gustav Wolff believed that animals could think in human ways. His belief was based upon the evidence of a very unusual horse named "Clever Hans" that seemed to be able to understand human language and to do arithmetic. However, a German experimental psychologist named Oskar Pfungst did not believe that Hans could truly think. By use of a "double-blind" experiment, Pfungst was able to show that Hans was instead 'reading' the unconscious 'signals' of his trainer and the audiences. From the time of Pfungst until 1960, scientists generally believed that animals reacted to training based on instinct rather than on intelligence. Since the 1960s, however, views have shifted. Currently, many scientists believe that animals that can be easily trained are also likely to be highly intelligent. But other scientists dissent from this and continue to argue that while trained animals might appear intelligent, they are probably just repeating behavior patterns without genuine understanding. Due to this skepticism, some scientists have recently proposed that if we wish to evaluate animal intelligence, we should test animals in contexts that are meaningful for them rather than for people. But we still need to have a working definition of intelligence, so the noted animal expert and scientist Temple Grandin has suggested that any animal capable of recognizing signs that it was not trained to recognize and then deciding how to act should be considered intelligent. In such ways have views on animal intelligence changed, even oscillated, but we are perhaps now closer to a more genuine, certainly more precise understanding of the phenomenon.
I then presented these two paragraphs to the entire class using the multimedia projector and went over each line to show the problems and the solutions.

I don't expect any of my freshmen students to write a paragraph as complete and correct as this one, but they appreciated being shown a model body paragraph, and it seemed particularly effective because they had already attempted to write this same paragraph on their own and could therefore see precisely where their own efforts fell short.

I'll find out this Friday whether they truly understood . . . though I half expect some students to plagiarize my model.

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15 Comments:

At 10:17 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

Effective modeling reduces but does not eliminate plagiarism. Some students either don't have the language skills or don't have the motivation to write original compositions in English. Do you include graphic organizers in your instruction? Having students condense information into a graphic organizer and then expand it into a composition should cut down on word-for-word plagiarism and to a certain extent structural plagiarism.

My school uses the Thinking Maps program, a collection of eight graphic organizers for different types of information organization: definition, description, classification, analogy, parts of a whole, sequence, cause-effect, and comparison-contrast. Using a finite collection of graphic organizers prepares our elementary students to become self-directed learners in secondary school. I have first graders who can do simple organizing before writing.

 
At 10:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, I don't have that sort of thing and can't quite imagine how it works.

Is there a website to learn more?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Model Body?"

How you got to that I don't know. While the neighbors don't describe me as a simple paragraph, they did have the pertinent part.

Plagiarism my art.

JK

How 'bout some poetry Dr. Jeff?

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, everything that I write is free verse!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Your paragraph seems unconscionably long, of the sort which was the fashion 100 years and more ago.

Couldn't you, like, cut it into three or four segments to prevent your poor students getting indigestion?!!

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Christopher, it may be long at 12 sentences, but it has tight unity and the middle sentences support its topic sentence, so I think that it works well enough.

Anyway, it has to be one paragraph because it's intended to show the structure of a typical body paragraph.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christopher,

Tis Milton Lovers here,

We do not beg to bend your ear

We grab it, twist it, sermonize our wiliest, coyote be damned

Drop a hammer on his hand.

Then, only then, take our Tums to fend off the indigestion

that necessarily follows our over-compensation.

Of certain, look for free verse from our esteemed.

(But watch for our green plopped Cran - warm and steamed.)

Watermelons and dimes you know

And old covenent promises follow

As should be expected

JK & Cran excepted.

JK

 
At 5:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There you go, free verse. Didn't cost me a scent. Or a cent.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you couldn't smell it from my last girl-friend but I try to give some advantage. (After all that was 2002 and the last time I was in Korea was in) uh... sometime ago.

Of course I don't expect this to get to your cheatin' students either but heck:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/3312596/Your-cousin-the-flying-lemur.html

Well, Korea students?

Ol' JK does what he can.

JK

(Jubilation T. Kornpone)
you'll have to ask your perfesser.

 
At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0004210;jsessionid=D4650518C32FF7F7D3E7BD4D19611F2E

Jubilation T. Kornpone

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I don't think that my students bother to read Gypsy Scholar, but I'll attempt to send them this way.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps instead of advising your friend to take up novels (to which he cries, ("I don't do fiction")

tell instead, advise, thrust if you must, read these lines contained, ride the car, cheat the friction.

Settle back and into the Times scrutinize the diction.

JK

 
At 4:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, you should be Malcolm's amusing muse.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:13 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

This is the homepage for the Thinking Maps program. It is a copyrighted program, so you're not supposed to use it unless you've been trained and if you haven't been, you wouldn't feel comfortable teaching and using all eight effectively anyway. The map types most useful for students organizing writing integrating content from multiple sources would be:

1. tree map (classification)

2. double bubble map (comparison-contrast - an improvement on the Venn Diagram as it is easier to model parallelism)

3. flow and multi-flow maps (causes and effects)

4. brace map (parts of a whole)

A comparison-contrast graphic organizer seems most appropriate for the assignment described in the post. Sometimes more than one graphic organizer can be used for a particular topic or assignment. In fact, our Thinking Maps training included an exercise in which each group was assigned one of the Thinking Maps to use to expand on one topic. It was interesting to see how one topic could be developed eight different ways.

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, thanks for that. I'm fascinated by how teaching has been transformed over the years since I was a child. I notice many changes in the textbooks that I use with my own children (compared to what I used as a child). I guess that an education major might be worth something after all.

Jeffery Hodges

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