Professor Battaglia discusses how she took suggestions from the WID workshops and implemented them into the writing and critical thinking components in her course, Autism Spectrum Disorders for Speech Language Pathologists.

Dana Battaglia, is an Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Her research interests include word association and lexical organization in individuals with autism, vocabulary development and associative language in individuals with autism and language processing in individuals with autism. The course she teaches include Autism Spectrum Disorders For Speech Language Pathologists, Studies In Language Science and a Survey Of Developmental Language Disorders.

Battaglia says she decided to apply to the summer WID workshops because she really wanted to help her students improve their writing. “Our profession has very high expectations for writing. I tell my students that they need to realize that the clinical documents they write could turn up in a court of law. When it comes to clinical cases, there are times when families wind up in court. It may be due, for example,  to requesting an appropriate educational placement, requesting an increase in services, or both. I remind my students that they could have their papers subpoenaed! Everything they write should be highly professional and something they can be proud of, since they don’t know who eventually might be reading it. They come to us as graduate students who may or may not have had good undergraduate training in writing. We have to meet them where they are, and some of them need a lot of help with writing. I wanted to be more effective and efficient in assigning and responding to writing and the workshops really helped with that.”

Taking suggestions from the WID workshops, Battaglia  focused on making some revisions to the writing and critical thinking components in her 676 course: Autism Spectrum Disorders for Speech Language Pathologists.  When I asked why she chose this particular course to pilot these modifications, Battaglia explained, “A LOT of clinical application and integration of prior knowledge is necessary in this course. Also, it helps students, when they go off to their externships, to have foundational knowledge AND to be able to think on their feet. “

She was also inspired, by the workshops’ emphasis on critical thinking, to propose that her department’s annual colloquium on Academic-Clinicial Integration in CSD (held this past September) focus on the topic of critical thinking. At the event, she gave a presentation, “Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking,” in which she discussed some of the changes she made to her summer course and the outcomes.

In order to tackle the issue of critical thinking head-on in her 676 course, Battaglia spoke directly with her students about what critical thinking is and what it looks like in the context of her course and discipline–including previews of how critical thinking shows up in the course assignments and how it will be evaluated in some of the rubrics. She even added a whole module to her Moodle course on critical thinking and gave her students a pretest and a post-test in which she asked them how they would define critical thinking and what kinds of activities involve critical thinking. In the post-test, she also asked how the course had impacted their understanding of critical thinking. She shared, happily, that students’ responses strongly demonstrated positive improvements.

In a writing assignment in which students analyze changes to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) Battaglia also added a reflective component to facilitate metacognitive aspects of critical thinking. Students are asked to reflect on their own thinking and also to project how they will apply the learning in this assignment to another assignment in the course, in which they will interview a family member of a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder– an assignment that also relates directly to future applications for this knowledge, when they enter professional practice.

Battaglia described how her writing assignments evolved as she developed clearer instructions, following the WID workshops exhortations to give students very specific information that leads to more effective writing. In every assignment she now includes a detailed description of the task, the purpose, the audience and the genre. Other changes she made included breaking a larger assignment into two smaller, more focused assignments and revising her assignment instructions to be more “success-oriented,” rather than focusing too much on potential pitfalls.

Her approach to responding to student writing was also affected by the workshops, in particular, she took to heart the advice not to spend too much time correcting students’ grammar, because of the research that shows that, given an opportunity and some more general feedback about the kinds of errors they are making, students can find and  fix many of their grammatical errors. She focuses more on big-picture issues in their writing now.

“I also decided to dedicate more in class time to active learning, “ This included hands-on time with students working on goal writing–a crucial skill in their future professions. “I have a whole module on goal writing in my Moodle course, but it had not occurred to me before to devote class time to it.” In the course  feedback students noted the value of this hands-on work with goals and some indicated that they could have used even more practice.

She also incorporated a revised Peer Review component, giving her students more specific guidelines for for how to respond effectively to their peers’ drafts and she devoted some class-time to to process as well. Battaglia like the idea of giving her students an opportunity to draft an assignment, receive feedback from a reader and then revise it. “It’s not realistic,” she said, “To expect them to get it right the first time. It’s also what we, as academics, do with our writing–so it’s good modeling for them. And, it means they can get feedback, but I don’t have to read and respond to everyone’s drafts.” In the course feedback, several students expressed appreciation for the peer review opportunity and found it useful.

Overall Battaglia says she’s every happy with the improvements she’s made to the course and her assignments, based on her experiences in the WID workshops. She adds that she needs a little more data before she can make a decision about the peer review activity. “Some students’ writing was improved by the process, but it didn’t seem uniform across the board and seemed dependent on the quality of the feedback they received –which I didn’t have full control over.” Undeterred, Battaglia will refine her approach to peer review and try it again next time she teaches the course. “I plan on assigning partners next time (rather than allowing for more random groupings) and asking for an outline submitted to me prior to their peer review. Then they will share their drafts to in dyads.”

We’ll look forward to to hearing about the outcomes, there’s no doubt that Professor Battaglia will be tracking them.

This article is from the Fall 2016 edition of the FCPE Newsletter.

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