Academic writing is boring

Memorable teaching moments are usually authentic

It’s funny how some of our most memorable teaching moments are the most authentic. I remember once, I was teaching an entry-level psychology class. One of the exercises I use is to have students look at five different types of sources. Typically, these include a few academic papers, an article from Psychology Today, a newspaper article and an article from a website. I then get the class to review the different sources in groups and tell me whether they are academic or popular resources based on a guide created for our library. In one of these classes, I gave students an article titled “Breaking up in emerging adulthood: A developmental perspective of relationship dissolution”. 

One of the assignments I use in first-year classes.

I asked the class, “Do you think this is academic? Or popular?” 

One student said, “it’s boring, so I think it’s academic.”

The whole class erupted in laughter, the professor (who I adore working with) also laughed about the student’s comment. The comment wasn’t snarky, or mean-spirited. It was an authentic view from a first-year student, into the conversation about academic writing. At this point, some might struggle to connect authentically with the comment. Instead, I took this as an excellent opportunity to draw the students into a conversation about the nature of academic writing. 

I was happy with this student’s comment and without missing a beat, I went with it. “Excellent! You raise a very compelling argument as to why you think this article is academic. I think you are correct.” I don’t think the student was expecting that. “What makes it boring? Is there another word other than boring we can use?”

“It’s long, it has a lot of text, and there are no pictures. Maybe not boring, but hard to read.”

“Great observations! The language that the article uses is very specific to the discipline that the article is written for. That’s because these articles are written BY experts FOR other experts.” I looked out at the class, and they were genuinely interested. “You say there are no pictures, what about page 67?”

“That’s a chart! Not a real picture.”

More laughter.

Generating conversation

This one interaction opened up the floodgates for students having a conversation with me. I broke down a wall using humor and accepted what the student said. What started as a simple, innocent comment, allowed students to be comfortable with telling me how they feel about information.

There is nothing boring about authentic conversations in the classroom!

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