Adrienne Jankens

"Good learners, like everyone else, are living, squirming, questioning, perceiving, fearing, loving, and languaging nervous systems, but they are good learners precisely because they believe and do certain things that less effective learners do not believe and do." -Postman and Weingartner (31)

Sample Student Assignments


Project 2: I-Search on Questions about the Discourse Community

In this essay, you will select a question or set of related questions on the use of communication in or the functions of your discourse community, and will work through primary research to begin to find answers to these questions. We will be using Ken Macrorie’s “I-Search” method to work through the process of composing the essay. The I-Search, that is, is a process of researching a question, but also refers to a particular form of writing, one that is based in questions, rather than answers, and which centers on a narrative of research (we will unravel this a little more in our class discussion).

The I-Search paper will be 1500-2000 words long, in MLA format.

How do I begin?

  • To start, review the questions you have included in your responses so far, and consider which discourse community you would like to work on learning more about this semester (you will write about this d.c. for this paper and the next one, the analysis paper, and potentially beyond that).
  • Group related questions together, and spend some time brainstorming any other related questions. These research questions will guide your inquiry: the reading, research, and writing you do for the paper.

What does the paper “look” like?

The I-search paper is a narrative of sorts, describing your search for answers to your research questions. Macrorie lists four parts of the paper, though, as he notes, this is flexible:

  1. What I Knew
  2. Why I’m Writing This Paper
  3. The Search
  4. What I Learned

In this way, the introduction begins with what prompted the questions you’re asking, and the paper moves on from there, in narrative fashion. The writing you did for Reading Response #4 (Macrorie and Postman and Weingartner) may help you get started, but you also might more formally write about what you knew about the topic and why you’re writing the paper.

The body of the paper, then, is the narrative of your search for answers and your reflection on the process and use of methods. I often suggest that you begin with the source that is “closest” to you, the one that is easiest to access, and see where the information you find there leads you. However, you might also have a more concrete research plan in place when you begin.

You will use primary sources for this paper, things like interviewing, observation and field notes, surveys, other documents from the context you’re studying. What you choose in terms of methods and sources depends, of course, on your research questions. We will work through some readings and mini-presentations in class in order to learn more about these kinds of methods.

The conclusion of the paper is likely going to be different than the traditional conclusion you may be used to in academic writing. While you may be able to summarize what you’ve learned, it’s also just as likely that you will be left with more questions, or will have gone done an unsatisfying research path. This is also worth writing about, as you are nevertheless learning about the research process, and can always carry your inquiry forth in a future paper.

Sample Student I-Search Projects


nadine c isearch

david c isearch

Collaborative Evaluation/Proposal

In this project, you will collaborate with 2 to 3 other students on projects that evaluate a need for change or intervention within a familiar discourse community, and will write a proposal developing that plan for intervention. These evaluation/proposal projects will be 2000-2500 words.

To complete this project, work through the following steps with your group (see course schedule for specific due dates):

  • Determine means of exercising collaborative writing practices in your group (i.e. how you might use technology like Google docs or wiki, or how you will optimize in-class and out-of-class meetings).
  • Identify a meaningful issue or area in need of change within a community in which your group members have voice or some relative expertise.
  • Develop a working bibliography of texts you may use to research the issue.
  • Through research (primary and/or secondary), establish this issue or need for change exists within the community.
  • Write annotated bibliography entries on sources, which you will use to explain sources to other members of your group and begin developing your draft.
  • Through research (primary and/or secondary), develop a proposal for addressing this issue or need for change, including concrete explanations and evidence for what your proposal is, why this proposal addresses the issue, what benefits your proposal will provide, how your proposal will be implemented, what obstacles your proposal may face, a refutation of these obstacles, and a call for action
  • Define key terms of your topic to help you make your argument.
  • Draft your essay collaboratively, using Google docs or another collaborative interface.
  • Use MLA format for in-text citations and works cited page.
  • Bring a complete draft to class for peer response.
  • Develop a presentation (in whatever genre your group deems appropriate) that you will use to explain your proposal to an audience, and to participate in a Q and A session. Use the class’s feedback to think about what revisions, if any, you will make when and if you move forward with proposing your solution.
  • Revise and edit your writing into a polished final draft of 2000-2500 words, double-spaced (Times New Roman, size 12 font, MLA format).

In the evaluation (which is the introduction to the paper), you will work through the following points:

  • Describe your stake in the particular community you will be evaluating, your stance as a member of this community. In short, who are you within this community and why do you care about it?
  • Using your own observations and research, describe the specific community you are writing about, giving your audience (the class, at this point, as you acquaint us with the issue you will be developing over the semester) key information like:
  • Using thoughtful, credible research and your own experiences and observations as they are relevant, explain the issue you see in the community and the various perspectives on the issue (who believes different things about how this issue should be handled?)

From here, you will move on to develop your proposal. The evaluation serves as a discussion of the issue and a lengthy, developed introduction of your proposal. That is, it sets the stage for what you are proposing.

As you move into the proposal, expand on the following, providing evidence where needed to support your claims:

  1. The proposed idea
  2. Why the idea should be implemented (how it addresses the problem you’ve explained in the evaluation)
  3. What the benefits of this idea/change would be for the community/communities addressed
  4. How the idea will be implemented
  5. What obstacles the proposal may face, either in terms of implementation or opposition
  6. An addressing or refutation of these obstacles/opposition
  7. Conclusion summarizing your argument and/or calling your audience to action

Sample Collaborative Student Proposals

Project 3 Proposal (PCAT Test Prep)


Defining Detroit

DLW *This project was translated into a three-part presentation for the Rushton Undergraduate Conference in 2014. The proposed project was actually implemented on campus in Fall 2014.

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