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Considerations for Using Student Samples

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Many writing and speaking instructors rely on student samples or model texts as a foundational element in their pedagogy. 

Using Samples

If you use exemplars in your teaching, you would probably find that close analysis of these sample texts may:

  • Reinforce effective practices of rhetorical analysis for your students
  • Clarify their understanding of the assignment and its learning objectives
  • Help your students develop strategies that they can apply to their own text production
  • Invite your students to think creatively about how they themselves might compose their own essay or presentation, especially if the samples demonstrate a variety of approaches to the same assignment. 
  • Create opportunities to practice analysis, commenting, and feedback practices that can be directly applied to peer feedback sessions throughout the quarter.

However, there can be cause for caution in integrating sample materials into your class; if not framed productively, samples or models can be understood by students as the “template” for their essay or presentation.  Such an approach might mean that your students simply try to mimic or imitate the sample, rather than developing their own voice, argument, and structure.  While the classical practice of imitation has its place in the writing and speaking classroom (see for instance Edward Corbett’s piece on “The Theory and Practice of Imitation in Classical Rhetoric" and Cassie Wright’s Copy & Compose activity for working with style), in reference to sample materials, it is best to create activities around them that create a sense of possibility and invention, rather than closing down options.

Best Practices

Here are some suggested best practices for using model materials in your own classes:

  • Never share a piece of student work, even for pedagogical purposes, without that student’s permission, ideally in a signed document.  This consent form was designed in consultation with VPUE 4th floor to be adaptable for this purpose. 
  • Introduce model essays as possibilities, not as templates, for good writing.  Allow students to engage with them critically and, if possible, choose more than one model so as to show a range of approaches and encourage your students’ own creative thinking
  • Design activities that contextualize analysis of the models in relation to the assignments rubric so that students understand the texts in relation to learning objectives and outcomes rather than in terms of subjective response.  
  • Avoid using negative examples drawn from student work
  • Consider carefully when in the process you want students to look at samples.  For instance, many instructors only share models after students have written their own drafts so that take-aways from working with them inform revision rather than the original moment of invention.
  • Determine when to share and analyze and entire model essay or presentation, and when to focus in on only an individual part. 

Ideas for activities

  • Analysis in relation to parts of the rubric (divided into groups)
  • Writing a conclusion, introduction, or title
  • BEAM analysis of source use in a particular paragraph or set of paragraphs
  • Re-writing a paragraph or paragraphs to a different audience, with a different rhetorical appeals or strategies, or with a different level of decorum
  • Reverse outlining