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Habits of Mind: Designing Courses for Student Success


Julia M. Gossard & Chris Babits


Utah State University

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Somewhere on a university campus, there is a hunched figure working at a computer. The person is surrounded by books, papers, beverage cans, and writing utensils. Their fingers tap on the keyboard, intermittently coming to a stop when the person’s gaze shifts from the screen into the distance. Their torso leans forward, their brow is tense. Frequent sighing can be heard.

Did you picture a student? An instructor? When it comes to the research paper assignment, this scene could feature either of them, frustrated and dispirited. While it may be worthwhile pondering how we got here (see, for example, Freedman & DiPardo, n.d. and Murphy & Thaiss, 2020 for a historical perspective on the teaching of writing), in this chapter I describe a way out of the frustration for both parties. In a nutshell, this approach shifts the emphasis away from the traditional focus on the outcome to a more engaging and satisfying focus on the process, particularly the aspect of finding and sifting through sources. I outline the structure and rationale of a scaffolded approach to the research paper assignment that I use in a 2000-level course titled Language & Religion, which uses a sociolinguistic lens to examine the lives of ordinary practitioners from a wide range of religious traditions. This course emphasizes “diversity within each religious tradition, especially as actually practiced by various adherents” (Kuhlken, 2021, p. 216); it has no prerequisites and enrolls students of all majors and backgrounds. I describe the design and learning outcomes of the course in greater detail in deJonge-Kannan and Lyon (2023).