When a student asked, “How many sources do I need?” history Professor Leah Shopkow took the question seriously, transforming her teaching. In an article she wrote about this assignment transformation, Shopkow explains how she went from answering, “It depends,” to truly teaching her students what historians do when they write.
Unaware of the forms writing can take in different fields, many students tend to write the same way for every course. As an example, let’s look at the ways Dr. Shopkow structured her students learning, in order to teach them how historians read and write.
First, Shopkow had to decode reading in history–to explain how a historian reads. She assigned students to write weekly article reviews on a single topic that would make up part of a micro-history (a short, specific research paper) later in the course. The review article rubric, part of which appears below, shows students how to go beyond the facts and how to see arguments about the past, their context, and the author’s positionality.
From expecting students to intuit critical writing skills, Professor Shopkow designed a series of assignments to stage the work, and to provide pacing, regular feedback, revisions, and the development of ideas. In addition, she changed the grading of her students’ framing of arguments and use of evidence. The students who kept up with the steady assignments achieved better results, as demonstrated in the following figure.
Teachers in other fields may find Shopkow’s project useful in teaching students the form writing takes in their disciplines. The CITL Campus Writing Program can help you spell out critical reading and writing in your discipline rather than having students intuit them.
Shopkow, L. (2017). How many sources do I need? History Teacher. 50(2), 169-200.
To find out more about the question students ask that signal they do not understand the nature of reading, writing, or other mental moves in your field, read Middendorf, J., & Shopkow, L. (2017). Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks: Decode Your Disciplinary Critical Thinking. Stylus: Sterling, VA.