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Journal Article

From Conception to Performance: How Undergraduate Students Conceptualise and Construct Essays

Jennifer Campbell, David Smith and Ross Brooker
Higher Education
Vol. 36, No. 4 (Dec., 1998), pp. 449-469
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3448209
Page Count: 21
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From Conception to Performance: How Undergraduate Students Conceptualise and Construct Essays
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Abstract

Interviews with forty six undergraduate students enrolled in either first or third year of a Bachelor of Education explored how they conceptualised and undertook an essay writing task. The conceptual structure of their essays was analysed using the SOLO Taxonomy. Comparisons between students who wrote essays of differing levels of complexity revealed that there were major differences between students at every stage of the essay writing process. Compared to students writing essays with simple conceptual structures, students writing more complex essays engaged in processes of reconstruction rather than "knowledge telling", put more effort into finding references, used organisational systems for integrating their notes according to topics or themes, built "arguments" rather than presented "information" when structuring and drafting their essays, were concerned with improving ideas and arguments as well as mechanics when revising their essays, had a more sophisticated understanding of the concepts underlying the assessment criteria, and expected and received higher grades. The results suggest a developmental process in underlying conceptualisations of both the body of knowledge forming the content of the essay, and the essay writing processes themselves. As such, attempts to improve students' essay writing skills need to shift from a focus on discrete skills to an emphasis on the relationship between students' understanding of the content and their ability to write about it. As part of the writing process, students need help building understandings representing the body of knowledge they are writing about, and this help needs to be geared to their current level of operation.

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