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Synthesis of Theory and Practice

(CCT694/5, Fall 99, Sp 00, F 01, Sp 02, F 02, Sp 03, F 03, Sp 04, Sp 05, F 05, Sp 06, F06, F08, Sp11, Sp13, Sp15, Sp16, Sp17, Sp18)

(9/99 -- see appended 9/01 update and 06/11 update)
Initial Goals
The Synthesis seminar provides a structure within which students get faculty and peer assistance and support in completing the written product of the synthesis project or thesis by the deadline. Because of the small class size and the progress students have already made over the summer, I am making time during class for them to step back and review their work in light of the "phases of research and engagement" that I introduce in the Practicum course (CCT698; see 2. above). My goal is to show that reflection and dialogue is valuable for clarification and more efficient writing, even when the product deadline looms.
I also want to wean students from relying on their faculty readers to do detailed copy-editing, a relationship between student and reader usually gets in the way of dialogue around the content and overall organization of the synthesis. I will provide encourage them to pay for assistance from some outside party, skilled in manuscript editing.
I am teaching this course this semester as an overload, and hope that my experience will stand me in good stead in the spring when more students are enrolled.

Challenges and Responses
The tension between product and process is evident at the outset. I want the students to revise what they have written during the summer and strengthen their exposition, but how far can I push this without their feeling I do not support their work? My initial response is to avoid detailed comments on the text, but to talk with them about what is distinctive in their projects and reflect back to them in an organized form what they say and what I discern. Eventually, however, I expect that their space for significant revision will disappear and I will work more on their terms.


The tension mentioned above persisted during the Fall 99 semester, but the Spring semester worked well. Let me summarize the differences, which resulted in the contrasting student evaluations:
Fall 1999                                      Spring 2000                                    
Previous instructor had mapped out a tight,    Syllabus gave more liberal target dates        
product-oriented set of deadlines for          allowed for completion of a capstone           
submitting a thesis.                           synthesis.                                     
Students began semester with substantial       Students began the semester with evolving      
investment in text already produced and        projects, expecting but not insisting on       
their eye on graduation in time to get         finishing in the semester.                     
salary increases.*                                                                            
Students had not taken the Practicum with      Students had taken the Practicum with me and   
me.  They wanted me to show them how to fix    had a sense of clarifying for themselves       
problems I saw in their text, as if these      their direction, conceptualization, and        
were simply expository problems.               exposition through dialogue around writen      
Course taught as an overload.                  Course taught with experience of previous      
                                               semester under my belt.                        
All students finished.                         Students did not all finish.                   
Pilot self-evaluation of product and process   Students provided goals at start of            
goals as way to document CCT program's         semester.  Self-evaluation translated into a   
effectiveness.  Grade determined by            grade.                                         
I ended semester resolved to insist on         I ended semester more relaxed about students   
CCT698 completion before synthesis.            not finishing during one semester.             

* One student, who undertook her synthesis mostly at a distance, did not fit this description.

Nina Greenwald was the Synthesis instructor for 2000-1. I supported her by sharing my syllabus and experience, producing a revised guide for completion of a synthesis, arranging an alum to assist as editor/writing coach, and acting as an advisor or reader for some students' projects. Unfortunately, with my increased workload in spring 2001 I was not able to keep up with all the synthesis work submitted to me for comments.

Future Plans
This academic year Nina and I are co-teaching the synthesis both semesters (albeit as an overload for both of us in the fall) and hope to catch up so most students can graduate in a timely fashion. We also have to explore how to adjust in response to the elimination of course release for the CCT Program Director. (In the past this course release had allowed the Program Director to spend the time needed outside class working with syn/thesis students.) Because a project synthesizing theory and practice has been central to the CCT experience, we do not want to recommend to our CCT colleagues that the syn/thesis requirement be reduced to the capstone portfolio required in some other programs. Instead we plan to be strict about completion of the CCT698 report and synthesis proposal before enrolling in the synthesis seminar, and about students arranging editorial assistance.

In Spring '11 the first hour of the seminar took the form of a writers' support group, with a 5-phase format (freewrite, check-in dialogue, write to synthesize what's emerged, and closing circle). Daily writing entered the picture after I was introduced to this during a week away early in the semester. The experience of the 5-phase format and daily writing led me to design a new syllabus with a view to running the synthesis online at some point in the future.
(1/13) New structure implemented.
(9/15) The Spring 15 seminar brought in 8 students over the internet using google hangout for Writers Workshop discussion, Support breakout groups, and one-on-one meetings with the instructor. Under that structure (preceded by weekly 30-minute meetings over the winter break), 7 of the 8 students completed their syntheses during the semester.
(8/17) The challenge that emerged this last spring, was that, when students have a complete draft and there is still time to do more thinking, reading, and revision, how to get them to take this opportunity.
(8/18) The dialogue hour format this year and last has not led to discussions as active as in previous years. Will consider using breakout rooms to seed discussion in future.
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