Successful Transition to College: Writing Assignment for First Year Composition

Background

More people are dropping out of college than are graduating, especially in public colleges and universities. A student’s chances of success are affected by motivation, study skills, persistence, learning styles and abilities, social factors, family background, economics, social integration, extracurricular involvement, student services, and governmental support. How can we help more students transition successfully to college?

Your Task

Drawing on readings, freewriting activities, class discussions, reading forums, homework assignments, presentations on student services, interviews, research, prewriting activities, and worksheets, write a thoughtful 4-6 page essay in MLA format, giving specific advice to a specific group to increase college success rates in a unified thesis statement, backed up with careful reasoning and supported with many, many, facts, statistics, examples, details, anecdotes, summaries, paraphrases, and quotes. The thesis should come in the form of a positive call to action. Think “Who should do what?” Make the thesis more sophisticated by adding a concession, a reason, or a manner to accomplish the goal.

Your thesis should answer one of these questions:

  • What specific advice would you give a particular group of students to help them succeed academically in college? (Note: “students,” “college students,” “college resources,” and “student services” are all too general.) Example: Single mothers should take advantage of the day care services at San Francisco State so they can focus on their studies.
  • How can specific groups at San Francisco State improve student services to help students succeed academically? (Note: “SFSU” is too broad.) Example: Although the Disability Programs and Resource Center offers excellent support, the department needs to shift their focus from “learning disabilities” to “learning differences.”
  • What should specific politicians do to help students succeed academically in college? (Note: “The government,” “the California government,” and “the U.S. government” are all too general.) Example: The governor of California needs to increase the budget for public colleges in the state by 15% to help them offer more social programs, since increased social integration will help more students succeed.

Authentic task: As you are writing, think about how your argument can increase college success rates. Keep in mind that at the end of the semester, you will adapt your revised essay into another format, like a letter, which you will deliver to your target audience in an honest attempt to persuade them.

Pointers: Use words and phrases like “should,” “ought to,” “need to,” “have to” and “must.” If you have several suggestions, combine them into a single, unifying idea. If it is not something someone must do (such as “somebody should change their attitude”), change it to make it a call to action (somebody must do something). If it is a negative (“somebody shouldn’t do something”), make it positive (somebody should do something. Make the thesis more sophisticated by adding a concession, a reason, or a manner to accomplish it.

Assessment

Students must meet these basic requirements before I will read the paper:

  • Multiple drafts must show substantial development and improvement.
  • The writer must reference at least one article we have read this unit and at least one other article or chapter from research through the library, respected news source, or college-affiliated website.
  • The writer must include information and quotes from an interview they conducted with a senior student, recent graduate, teacher, worker at a student service, administrator, or public official
  • The writing must be clear, specific, detailed, and relatively error-free.
  • The self-assessment rubric must be filled out with detailed strategies for improvement and strengths.
  • The paper must be posted on Turnitin on iLearn.

The paper will be assessed according to the following criteria:

Strongly disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly agree
The thesis, which is one arguable idea, gives specific advice to a specific group as a positive call to action, either a specific group of students, an individual or organization at the university, or officials.
Topic sentences connect to the thesis with keywords or synonyms, but are more specific and cover all points in the paragraphs and do one of the following: address the problem, explain part of the solution, discuss student services, give reasons to support the thesis, or address counterarguments.
Every claim is backed up with substantial evidence with correct MLA citations and works cited. The relevance of evidence is explained.
The writing is clear, specific, detailed, and relatively free of grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes.

A superior paper will:

  • integrate multiple perspectives, offering concessions to other points of view.
  • demonstrate high levels of critical thinking, analyzing quotes for assumptions and implications.
Due Dates

Group presentation on a student service or college resource:

Transcript of the interview with a senior, recent graduate, teacher, worker at a student service, administrator, or public official.

4-5 pages of prewriting of your choice:

Worksheet for the Succeeding in College Paper:

Intro. and first body paragraph (the problem paragraph):

First draft:

4 Copies of Second Draft for peer review:

Polished draft in a folder with required materials:

Readings for This Unit

I introduce the unit with a matching exercise from the following article. Students match obstacle with solutions:

“The Dropout Dilemma: One in Four College Freshmen Drop Out” by Jonathan Whitbourne

Principle readings:

6 Reasons You May Not Graduate on Time (and What to Do About It)” by Meredith Kolodner

‘I Won’t Give Up’: How First-Generation Students See College By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS (Includes a section on SFSU!)

“Why We Quit” by Yvonne RaleyFile (From Scientific American, but I can get you the pdf)

Other readings on Succeeding in College (I do this as a jigsaw readings. Students must choose one article about a group they belong to and one about a group they do not belong to, then they discuss in groups of people who have read similar articles, then different articles)

“Gender in the Classroom” by Deborah TannenFile

“Boys vs. girls: What’s behind the college grad gender gap?” by Anne FisherURL

“LGBT Challenges in Higher Education Today: 5 Core Principles for Success” by Jeffrey B. TrammellURL

“Succeed in College as a Learning Disabled Student” by Delece Smith-BarrowURL

“Tips for students with disabilities to increase college success” from DO-ITURL

“Supporting Muslim Students” by Allen Kenneth SchaidleURL

“The Color of Success” by Eric A. WattsURL

“Barriers to Academic Success: A Qualitative Study of African American and Latino Male Students” by Nina L. DulabaumURL

“Investing in Higher Education for Latinos: Trends in Latino College Access and Success” by Michelle Camacho LiuURL

“A Closer Look at Asian Americans and Education” by C. N. LeURL

“ESL Student Success Stories at Bergen Community College” By Marilyn Pongracz

Alternative readings: “Student Fear Factor,” “Mindset,” and “Grit”

“The Student Fear Factor” from The College Fear Factor by Rebecca D. Cox

Mindset: Ch. 1 and 1st Half of Ch. 2

Mindset: 2nd Half of Ch. 2 and Ch. 3

Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals by Angela L. Duckworth, et al.

 

Worksheet for the Successful Transition to College Paper

I. The Thesis

A. Review the writing assignment. Ask questions in class, post a question on the Q&A forum, send Ron an email, or visit him during office hours

B. The pieces of the thesis

Drawing from the readings, the reading forum, class discussions, our wall of obstacles and strategies, and the prewriting activities, identify one specific problem that causes students to drop out of college.

Problem:

 

Try to make the problem more specific:

 

Name a specific group of people that you would like to advise. This is the “Who cares?” of your paper, the intended audience. (If you direct your essay to different groups, it will end up being unfocused.)

 

Target audience:

 

Try to make your target audience more specific:

 

Give some specific advice to solve the problem you listed above. (Make sure your advice is broad enough that you can break it down in subcategories, but narrow enough to cover thoroughly in a paper.)

 

Advice:

 

Try to make your advice more specific:

 

 

C. The Working Thesis: Put the pieces above together to form a thesis. The thesis should come in the form of specific advice for a specific group. Think “Who should do what?” Use words and phrases like “should,” “ought to,” “need to,” “have to” and “must.” The thesis should answer one of the following:

 

What specific advice would you give a particular group of students to help them succeed academically in college? Example: Single mothers should take advantage of the day care services at San Francisco State so they can focus on their studies. (Note: “students” and “college students” are too general.)

How can specific groups at SFSU improve student services to help students succeed academically in college? Example: Although the Disability Programs and Resource Center offers excellent support, the department needs to shift their focus from “learning disabilities” to “learning differences.” (Note: “SFSU” is too broad.)

What should specific officials do to improve help students succeed academically in college? Example: The governor of California needs to increase the budget for public colleges in the state by 15% to help them offer more social programs, since increased social integration will help more students succeed. (Note: “The government” is too general. Who exactly can make these changes?)

 

D. Improving the thesis

Simplify your working thesis to make your wording more simple and direct:

 

If you have written abstract advice (such as, somebody should change their attitude), make it a concrete call to action, a change of policy or behavior:

 

If you have written negative advice (somebody shouldn’t do something), change it to positive advice (somebody should do something). It’s easier to follow advice when somebody tells us what we should do rather than what we shouldn’t do:

 

If you have several suggestions, combine them into a single, unifying idea.

Check: (Answer these questions with a yes or no and a brief comment. If any answer is “no,” go back and revise  your thesis.)

Is the thesis debatable? Yes, but kind of obvious too?

Do you name a specific group of people and give specific advice?

Is the advice in positive form, a call to action?

Is the thesis a single idea, rather than a list of ideas?

Is the thesis simple and straightforward?

 

II. Title and introduction

A. Catchy title: Try one of the following methods: Say exactly what your paper is about, for example, “Succeeding in an American College as an ESL Learner.” Imagine your paper is a movie, a song, and a rock group. For instance, Movie: “Super Student,” Song: “Together We Graduate,” or Rock Group: “Study Buddy.”

 

 

 

B. Introduction: Try using this guide to write your introduction. Please note this is only a suggested structure.

 

Hook: Try one of the following methods: a startling statistic or statement, a quotation, a brief anecdote, or a rhetorical question:
Introduction to the issue: In one to three sentences, briefly explain what the main obstacle is for a particular group:
Introduction to main source material: Give title, author, some information about the author, and a brief summary or quote from one of the readings from this unit, which is relevant to your issue:
Bridge to the thesis: Make a transition from the source material to your thesis:
Thesis: Restate your thesis:

III. The Problem Paragraph(s)

Make some informal notes here to help you write your problem paragraph or paragraphs, following the T.E.A. format. (If more than one paragraph, make notes on separate sheet.)

(T) Topic sentence: What point do you want to make about your target audience and the problem?
(E) Evidence: What evidence demonstrates that this problem is worthy of attention? List two to five specific pieces of evidence (facts, statistics, examples, anecdotes, quotes, paraphrases, and summaries) to support your point.

a. Evidence:

b. Evidence:

c. Evidence:

d. Evidence:

(A) Analysis in concluding sentence(s): How does this evidence support the point you are trying to make? Tie your explanation back to the topic sentence.

Check: Write “yes” or “no” and a brief comment to each of these questions. If any answer is “no,” you must change your notes until it is “yes.”

Does the topic sentence name a specific target audience. (“Student” or “college student” are too general.)

Do you name a specific obstacle that holds students back from academic success?

Does each piece of evidence relate directly to the topic sentence?

Would your evidence convince a skeptical reader that there is a problem?

Do you explain how the evidence supports the point you are making in the concluding sentences?

IV. Solution Paragraphs: Break up your main advice into 2-5 paragraphs, explaining your solution in detail.

T: Solution Paragraph #1: Topic sentence(s) (Make sure to tie the topic sentence back to the thesis with keywords or synonyms.)
E: List evidence:
A: Concluding sentence(s):

Check: Does your topic sentence fit with your main thesis?

Does every piece of evidence fit with the topic sentence?

Do you have sufficient evidence to convince a skeptic of your point?

T: Solution paragraph #2: Topic sentence(s):
E: List evidence:
A: Concluding sentence(s):

Check: Does your topic sentence fit with your main thesis?

Does every piece of evidence fit with the topic sentence?

Do you have sufficient evidence to convince a skeptic of your point?

T: Solution paragraph #3 (optional): Topic sentence(s):
E: List evidence:
A: Concluding sentence(s):

Check: Does your topic sentence fit with your main thesis?

Does every piece of evidence fit with the topic sentence?

Do you have sufficient evidence to convince a skeptic of your point?

Note: If you have more solution paragraphs, take notes on separate sheet

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