Mary Isbell Spark a Conversation

Isbell Assignment #1

When Mary Isbell, currently an Assistant Professor of English and Director of First Year Writing at the University of New Haven, was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale University, she taught Teaching English 114, Yale’s First Year Writing Seminar. “The course I was teaching was on the topic of amateurs vs. professionals across practices and periods,” Isbell explained, “but the main purpose is to teach writing and introduce the conventions of academic writing.  I used Annotation Studio to spark conversation about how the authors had used source materials in their texts.”

For their first writing assignment, students were asked to come up with a claim of their own in response to “The Amateur Spirit,” an essay by Bliss Perry.  Isbell loaded the essay into Annotation Studio, and asked students to locate every citation in the essay.  Then they collaborated to highlight every citation, determining whether it was paraphrased or directly quoted, and identifying the author of the citation.

The highlighting feature was particularly useful, Isbell noted, because it visually demonstrated to her students “how much of the essay had come from another place and how much the author was interacting with the ideas of someone else.  It wound up being really useful to reveal that the author quoted directly quite a lot.”  One of the unanticipated outcomes of this visualization was that Isbell’s students recognized from the first assignment the effects of what they called “quote-bombing,” which they deemed a less successful strategy for incorporating source material because they weren’t “getting a clear idea of how Bliss Perry’s ideas were distinct from his sources.”

This exercise “gave students really good ideas for their essay,” Isbell explained, “because they were supposed to be coming up with a claim to make on their own in response to this essay and the claim was supposed to be in response to a problem they identified.”  By working through the text, students could see how the author was using sources,and this helped students identify “a problem they could work with.”  Furthermore, this exercise with Annotation Studio sparked a conversation and introduced terms that would be used for the rest of the semester.