Exploratory Essay: Sample Assignment Sequence

Exploratory Essay:  Sample Assignment Sequence

Initiating an Inquiry into Technology

Goal for unit:

To identify a technology that presents an
intriguing question, one that students can investigate in a variety of
ways for the entire semester. The essay will serve to pose their question, through personal
observations and stories and through consideration of one of the essays.
Read two of the following Presence of Others essays on science and technology,
most likely Rifkin, Oppenheimer, J. Q. Wilson, Samuelson.

The focus of this entire unit is to get students
to raise questions instead of jumping to answers, to become invested in an
inquiry into technology that will last a semester–and not get old.
The primary evidence will come from their own experiences and
observations, but students will be expected to consider part of one essay
as well.
Day 1.

Introduction to the unit.  Students can brainstorm/list
topics/thoughts about technology and do some focused freewriting, all with the
purpose of finding a topic of interest. This could also alter the choice
of essays assigned from Presence.  Students can share and
respond to ideas in Blackboard.  As a way of introducing these
essays, students could be introduced to the art of skimming for a purpose:
to find a topic of inquiry for the semester.  Homework:
Read essay in technology unit (probably Wilson).  Respond by making a
response in Blackboard.  Also in Blackboard, write a
brief nonfiction story or detailed observation that in some way seems
important as you think about the technology they’ve tentatively chose.


Students are introduced to some processes of
generating language:  listing, freewriting, double-entry journaling.

Day 2.

Students practice reading their and others’ writing
with the purpose of discovering an engaging question about technology.
First, in groups of three, students reflect on the possible meaning of
each of their stories in Blackboard.  Then the groups share their
discoveries with the class, always moving in the direction of finding
questions.  This process will probably need to be modeled by the
instructor.  Discuss Wilson essay first to capture the general
argument and evidence, then consider the questions it explicitly or
implicitly raises.  Homework:  Students read another
essay in the technology unit, this time of their choice and respond (1) by
summarizing in 100 words or less and (2) using double-entry journal
technique in Blackboard, especially using it to raise questions.

The key to this day is to transform experience
into wondering, not answers.  Ultimately, this entire essay may
become the introduction to the final essay of the term

Day 3. 

Work on communicating the essence of an essay to
someone who hasn’t read it.  This involves figuring out what is
critical to include and articulating the
summary in a
concise, even elegant way.  In new groups of three, in Blackboard,
students share their homework assignments and add to each other’s
questions.  Discussion regarding how they’re coming along with
finding a question they’ll willingly pursue for the semester. 
:  Write another nonfiction story or detailed observation
that makes your technology question more compelling or that alters it some.

Day 3’s focus is two-fold:  to learn to
summarize effectively for an audience unfamiliar with what they’ve read,
and to read a published essay on their topic for a specific purpose:
discovering or refining their question.

Day 4.

Instructor models how students can read the new
story in relation to the original story as a way of complicating the
question being asked, or complicating the way the question is being
asked.  Then students work in pairs or groups of three.
Afterwards, students can do some focused freewriting to arrive at their
best version of a question and to consider which pieces that they’ve
written so far might go in their essay and in what order. Homework:  Write first draft of exploratory essay,
including Works Cited page and metatext.  See
essay prompt.


This assignment is tricky because they have to
find a story that does not simply provide evidence for their way of
thinking about technology but raises a question.  In other words,
they need to search their experience for a perspective that challenges or
complicates their initial perspective.

Day 5.

Instruction based upon common problems noticed in
first drafts (possible through pre-class preview of drafts by instructor).
Instruction on peer review, along with
questions for peer review,
to precede
peer review work via Blackboard and in person. 
:  Write second draft of essay, including new metatext.

It’s possible to quickly look through Blackboard
before class to get a sense of what students will need to work on.


for using computers in the classroom.)
Day 6.

Editing work on second draft, including in-class
exercises based on sentences copy and pasted by instructor from drafts in