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 1900sOnce 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.
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.
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.