I am in the middle of term crunch time, so I thought I would procrastinate for a bit and post a thought that occurred to me while grading final exams and preparing the course websites for the term that begins in early May.
At present my students, for their major assignment, prepare an essay proposal – a paragraph introducing what they hope to prove [thesis driven] or understand [thematic] along with at least two scholarly sources. I introduced this assignment as most of my students are not History majors, or even in the Humanities in my History of Religion courses. Most do not know what scholarly source are, or what a clear, focussed thesis or theme might be. After this, they write a 7-9 page essay using secondary sources.
This has worked fairly well, but I might have a better idea for the general class makeup of my courses – science majors, majors in Justice Studies, Media, early childhood education, etc. I will not abandon the essay as a major assignment because underlying the History essay is its long term purpose. Learning to write an effective essay teaches evidence-based critical thought. But how to do this when you cannot have a class section where you discuss this purpose, the form, the idea of a thesis statement, or theme? Well, I may in the Fall term [it is already too late for the Summer] introduce two short essays – a four pager that I will grade them on with full comments showing them where they have got it right and where they have not – then allow them to rewrite that essay for the second assignment.
Anyway I have about three months to think about this.