Archive for February, 2013

Job Packet reflection for English 320

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

The first major assignment has been graded and handed back to my students. In some ways, the timing was good since there is a career fair coming up at my university and I will spend about ten minutes on Thursday prepping students for it. But I also feel that the timing of this whole assignment was off.

First of all, I’ll admit I didn’t do as good of a job teaching the research memo portion as I usually do. I say this because I could have worked a lot more with them on audience in regards to this assignment. What I should have done was get students into groups and talk about the rhetorical situation for the research memo as a group, instead of me simply giving this information to them since I don’t think all were listening and/or some people may not have understood certain concepts, such as social context and audience, well enough at this point. So I think when I teach English 320 next time, I will simply start with the marketing unit since  they will learn a lot about social context and audience in that and they simply seem better prepared for it. For example, they can all pretty much articulate the importance of marketing to me. And some of them have done similar marketing assignments before. So they simply have a greater foundation for this.

But what I discuss above is basically my reasoning for the poor timing of this assignment. They were not ready. There was not enough of a foundation. While I think of the resume and cover letter as “common” genres, many students in my English 320 class did not have a resume already composed, unlike other courses I have taught where most students have written a resume before and often have it on hand. And I had similar problems with the cover letter, though I will say that the cover letter documents went better than the resume and probably because there is a definite formula to writing them and the formula is actually fairly effective.

If I do choose to teach this earlier in the semester again (possibly because of the nearing of the career fair. It is just more convenient for a lot of students), I will simply spend a lot, and I mean a lot more time on the rhetorical situation for these documents. Usually when I teach this assignment, I do teach it early in the semester. Usually, students have some background with these documents. If not, they usually understand its premise and importance relatively quickly. I did not see that this time. And, to be honest, I was noticing it as I was teaching it, but of course one cannot go back from that. Once you put something in motion, it has to stay in motion. Otherwise credibility is easily lost.

The good news is that I did see some assignments that were well done. And quite a few students did look at the examples I provided in class and in Blackboard, as I could tell from their own assignments. But I do think this was just ill-timed, for the most part, and I went in with too many assumptions about what they should already know at this point. I need to stop making those assumptions.

On the plus side, I did and am allowing revisions, no matter what their grade was because I do feel these are important genres to learn and know. I am also taking time this week to go through their resumes one more time and make sure they are strong examples for the career fair next week. Yes, this does take more time out of my schedule, but I think it is time well-spent, especially considering the flaws I have seen in these documents, my instruction of them, and the whole timing of this assignment.

It is hard though, because as I was telling a friend today many of these students are not yet ready for the “real” world. To teach them the importance of these “real” world documents is difficult. No matter what you do to frame their importance, you get denial, ignorance, or sometimes anger. But like my friend told me, that isn’t my fault. These students have been brought up in that kind of culture and it is hard to get them out of it, if not impossible. But I have to try and deal with it anyway and hope that they will eventually learn the importance of good and clear communication in business and their profession. Right now, I don’t think some of them take it very seriously.

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Why I think (my) students don’t read assignment sheets

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

This morning while preparing my agenda for class and prepping myself to be observed by a fellow teacher, I was thinking about the three extensions I had to give on an assignment. One student’s reason made a lot of sense and I think he was being honest. The other two I am questioning, but I gave extensions to them regardless. I mean, they had asked for them in plenty of time. Why not? My rule is as long as the student asks prior to class time on the due date, I usually give the extension. If a student asks after class time on the due date, I usually consider the paper late.

I know at least one of the students who asked for an extension did not read the assignment sheet. How do I know this you ask? Well, it happened during a workshop day earlier this week. I had students come in if they needed feedback or criticism on their job packets. This student was there, though he thought we had class as he did not read the two emails I sent about this nor obviously listen at the start of class when I discussed workshop day. He also, in a non-straightforward manner, admitted he had not looked at the assignment sheet. I could tell that he had not read it since he asked questions like, “ok, so we need a job ad?” Um, yeah. And in fact, that was asked for weeks ago. He was obviously behind.

But this got me thinking about how some students do not read the assignment sheets. If they do, they read them at the last possible minute. Why, I asked myself.

So, going back to this morning, as I was thinking about this it dawned on me: I teach from the assignment sheets, for the most part. It is like the teacher who lectures from the book and the students either A. attend class and never look at the book or B. read the book and only attend class on exam days. I have a similar problem, at least with some students, in my class. While I don’t go over every detail of the assignment sheet in class (like I don’t say, ok everyone, let’s practice writing in 500-750 words in prep for your blog post!), I do teach from the assignment sheet. For example, their first blog post is an explanation of their field written for a  non-specialist audience. So we do in class work on writing for multiple audiences and how writing varies for each audience. From this, they should understand what their particular audience needs in terms of writing style and information.

So, I suppose that comes across as a big duh, oh so obvious, and yeah, I get it now. I don’t need to read that assignment sheet because she goes over it, clearly.

Now you have why I think, and note that I write I think, students do not read assignment sheets, at least in my class. But frankly, I don’t want to change the way I teach. I like my teaching methods. They seem to work, at least for me. But how do I get students to recognize the importance of taking the time to read through the assignment sheet before the last possible minute?

Any ideas about this problem are welcomed because maybe some of you are doing little tricks that I am not aware of.

Adapt, revise, adapt and revise again.

Monday, February 4th, 2013

The first thing you learn about a new class after you have watched someone else teach it for a semester is that you are not the teacher you observed. For observing and learning how to teach English 320 Business and Professional Communication  I observed Josh, who teaches Business and Technical writing at my university. While we have some similarities  such as we do not deal with with BS and are very direct in our ways of communicating with students, we also have many differences. While the similarities helped me in observing and learning strategies in how to teach business and professional writing, such as how we are both direct in our instructions and feedback, the differences have led to some stumbling blocks for me as a teacher of English 320.

The most memorable example of this occurred in class during the very start of the semester. In fact, I think we were in the first or second week of class. Josh has an activity where he has students analyze him as an audience in preparation for the professional email assignment. I also tried this, but it didn’t work as well. This is partly because I do not have the same presence in the classroom that Josh does. I do not inspire the same reactions in students that Josh inspires. Students tend to immediately respect, and perhaps feel a little intimidated by Josh pretty quickly. I do not have that ability.  What I have noticed, is that students think I might be fun to grab a cup of coffee with or share personal problems they are having. In fact, I tend to hear a lot of sob stories, which I ironically dislike hearing. I must look comforting, I guess, which is deceptive considering my true personality, which Josh totally knows about and probably could tell you some good stories about.

But the activity also failed because I have done some work to revise the assignment has a whole. The clues I gave to how to read me as an audience in the assignment sheet were almost all I needed. Thus, the activity fell flat. It fell so flat that I simply abandoned it and I moved the class onto something else.  And, as mentioned before, I don’t have the persona to carry it through. For example, when I told Josh I had tried his audience-reading activity, he did laugh a bit. I just don’t have the Josh persona or presence to carry it through, or at least not in the way he carries it through. I like the idea, so I think I just need to revise it so that it fits me a little more.

And of course, while I did some work to revise each assignment, I know there will be other revisions made in this course. I still haven’t got to the Marketing portion of the class, which I am the most curious about since A. While I have taught parts of marketing before, I have never had an entire Marketing unit and B. All my prep for this has been my own readings and observing Josh, who teaches Marketing juxtaposed with the other assignments. I chose to teach Marketing on its own, in the latter half of the semester. I felt I would not be as adept as Josh, nor have the time, to teach marketing alongside everything else. Taking classes and doing research kind of eats up a lot of time that could be spent prepping (and actually sometimes vice versa happens. I tend to spend a lot of time prepping for what I teach and TA for, which means maybe prepping more than I actually need to prep, but that is another story.)

While I enjoy English 320, I know I will feel I won’t have this class “down” like I feel I have english 358 down until my third or fourth time teaching it, or a class similar to it. That is the bad part of teaching a lot of classes at this level: it is difficult to develop that strong expertise and ethos a teacher develops after teaching the same or similar class 4 or 5 times in a row. What a professor who has taught this class for ten semesters knows, versus me in my one semester apprenticeship, is vastly different.  So I suppose that is something that while it is good to acknowledge, is also good to think about in terms of making this the best learning experience possible for everyone. And it is a hard lesson to learn when you are taught a class through observing and working alongside someone else, only to turn around and teach that class on your own. You realize you are not that other person and so you adapt, revise, adapt, and revise again.