Changes to English 459, so far

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

I think I’ve gotten my Spring 2014 teaching materials under control. My syllabus is done, and the big thing for me this time is that I did not have to revise any syllabus policies. None! In fact, the only revision I did was some tweaking in the ways a revision is submitted. That is it! And I think that says really great things about my students from last semester.

What took the most time was revising assignments, of course. Since it was the first time I taught the class, I had no idea how I was going to respond to the assignments, as a teacher, and I had not seen students reactions to the assignments as the primary teacher. To give some background, I’ve written all those assignments as a student and I’ve served as a teaching assistant for the course, so I’ve seen a lot of this in action previously, but never had the class on my own until last semester.

And so, in brief, here are the changes I made:

  • The twitter assignment is gone. Some students really took to it and did well, but some didn’t, and so I need to rethink it. I do see some weaknesses in it, and honestly I didn’t push the assignment as well as I could have. I also should have introduced it in Unit 2. But I need some more time to think about this before I bring it back, if I choose to do that.
  • The proposal for unit 2 has been turned into a letter of intent. This made for quite a bit of revision on the assignment sheet and a little revision in the course schedule. This, like the budget workshop listed below, was done to reflect my own experiences in grant writing.
  • I’ve added some potential contacts to the interview assignment. This assignment has been probably the toughest one, since it creates the most anxiety in students as many have to do “cold calls,” and so I understand that anxiety. I thought maybe having some contacts from local nonprofits in the area to start off with may be helpful because it shows the students that I have previously contacted those entities and so they are aware of the assignment. Hopefully this will release a little anxiety for the students and lead to less last minute interviews and written assignments. I had probably 8 or 9 of those this past semester, which isn’t bad, but it was kind of a bummer for me as a teacher because I felt maybe I didn’t prepare them well enough for how much anxiety they may have been feeling.
  • I added information about sites like indiegogo and how they can help nonprofits. Because of other things occupying my time, I was not able to contact local nonprofits to ask if they would take students on for a project, but this is something I will work on this summer if I teach the course in the fall.
  • I totally redid the budget workshop to reflect my own experiences. It is easier for me to teach it this way. The first time I did it with a couple example cases went fine, but I suck in math and so need to be deeply familiar to pull that off well.
  • I added a whole lesson where I discuss what a grant writer does, besides write grants, in a very direct, explicit manner. While this exists in previous material, I don’t feel it is as bluntly stated as it could be, and I made sure this was done early in unit 1. And then, by reminding students of these needs in unit 2 before the interview assignment, it makes it clearer to the student why they are interviewing a grant writer and then hopefully releasing more anxiety. This could also help students develop stronger goals as to why they are interviewing a grant writer for the interview assignment as well.

Here are three things I am thinking about, but haven’t done yet:

  • Changing the order of assignments in Unit 2 where I introduce the interview assignment first. I am still thinking this through, but last semester it was something I was thinking of, but it might be one of those “this is the easy answer” deals and so I haven’t done anything yet.
  • Contacting local nonprofits about campaigns they are working on. I could do this later in the semester if a group of students is interested in it. It sounds last minute-like, but i think it could be pulled off. A local nonprofit I work for kind of did something similar, and so it could be done, I am thinking.
  • Having groups of students team up with a local nonprofit (this could be done with above bullet point) and interview someone from their for their interview assignment. There are some hiccups with this that I see, but I’m currently turning it around in my head.

What I am trying to show here, or one of the many things, is that teaching is an act of revision. I cannot think of a class I didn’t revise in some way for the next semester. It is constant re-thinking and re-organizing, and sometimes this also happens while everything is taking place. And I kind of like the constant problem solving and changes, if you will. As my mom would say, it keeps me out of trouble.

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