Archive for the ‘assignment’ Category

How do you use Twitter in your classroom?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

So I’ve been working on the assignments for my Grant writing class this fall and paying close attention to how I set up the twitter since it is entirely new and I’ve never taught Grant Writing before, as the most I’ve done is led some mini-lessons, so this will be new.

I figured there are two ways I can approach and use Twitter in this class that I think could work out well considering past experience with Twitter in the classroom:

  1. Have each student create an individual account where they follow organizations who promote or work with issues the student is interested in. For example, if the student is interested in looking at gender issues for their final project, they could follow organizations related to gender, such as gender in education and so on. They would do this throughout the semester, engage in a number of tweets and retweets, and be graded on elements of consistency, engagement and design. This is a brief overview of the assignment I have written up.
  2. The second option involves a group twitter profile that they create for the Mary’s books proposal. The Twitter would represent their company and they would tweet about their projects, such as Mary’s books, follow relevant organizations and basically this would be a type of fictional account, since the company does not really exist. And i imagine that there may be a group in the class who wishes to create a twitter presence anyway if we are already using Twitter. There is always one group that really enjoys this project and does a lot with it, or at least this is true from what I have seen in the class.

While I think #2 could be fun, I ultimately choose number one because when I took this class as a student, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my final project. I was new to my program. I had no remote idea of what I wanted to pursue for a dissertation. At the same time, I wanted the project to count for something beyond the class, which sadly didn’t happen, but that is mostly my own fault. So my main motivation for writing out the assignment related to number one is because of my own experience and the fact I have thought way more about option #1 than number two. Plus, I’ve had students do similar assignments in my Business Writing class and in my Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class.

But my questions are how do you use Twitter in your classroom and do you have any feedback for the ideas above? I welcome any suggestions or further ideas. Thank you. Below is the assignment I have created, so feel free to use it in your own classes if you think it sounds interesting:

Twitter Assignment

Genre and Length: A social media profile to be completed throughout the course. 16 tweets/retweets total plus appropriate design and followers/follows

Due Date: The final exam time, TBA. Please email your twitter profile address to me or follow me on Twitter at @adventuresinphd

Assignment Description: You will be asked to first create a Twitter profile ( for use in following organizations related to your social, political, and personal interests and other non-profit entities and/or people who are involved in non-profit organizations you are interested in to learn more about issues, discussions, and other information relating to your interests. With this assignment, you will be required to tweet relevant material that is related to these interests or goals. This means you will have to do some research on your own to learn more about these interests and/or find relevant news articles. You will also have to retweet your followers as well if something they tweet is relevant to your own interests, goals or motivations. I ask that you follow at least 10 organizations/people/etc, but you may follow more. I ask that you have at least 16 tweets and retweets meaning 8 tweets and 8 retweets during the semester, but you may have more. Each tweet and retweet should be relevant to your goals and motivations, which should be outlined on your short profile biography.

Purpose: Doing this will provide an excellent opportunity for you to see conversations regarding your interests that are happening now. Also, this may help to give you ideas for your final project. Also, using social media for organizations is very important, and I believe this assignment will give you good examples of how organizations use social media and get some practice doing it for yourself.

Rubric: Twitter Assignment


  • Tweets and retweets are 16 in total
  • Tweets relate to interests student chose to focus on, as reflected in 140 character bio
  • Student has followed at least 10 relevant organizations or people
  • Student has included other media when relevant, i.e. multimodal elements with video, pictures, or other links.

/50 points

Design and Consistency

  • Twitter profile has a professional design that is appropriate to the subject at hand
  • Tweets and retweets took place at different times throughout the semester, i.e. student didn’t do a number of tweets or retweets in last days or weeks.

/20 points



  • Student shows an engagement with the audience and has an awareness of the audience in terms of organizations, tweets, retweets, tagging, design, etc.

/30 points

/100 points total

Disclaimer:  I place a lot of emphasis here on engagement, precisely because that has been my biggest concern in grading Twitter profiles. Students often don’t show any engagement–they just make sure they have the required amount of tweets, retweets, and followers and that they use multimodal elements. So if you do decide to teach Twitter, I would put emphasis on seeing how students are engaged in the task at hand, and you can do this simply by looking at the contextual/content quality of the tweets, who the student follows, if the student engages with their followers, if the student just did the required work in a week or so, and so on. I know the term “engagement” may be somewhat open ended, and I did my best to explain it in the assignment sheet and rubric, but just be open to the importance of emphasizing the quality of the work and not just the content of the work. Realize as well that you will need to emphasize this in class quite a bit and describe exactly what you mean by engagement to them and give them some good examples, via your own twitter profile and/or other twitter profiles.


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.

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.

End of the semester reflection

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Today I finished the final grade calculations for my two sections of Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This means that I basically double checked my grades to make sure they were accurate. Overall, I am very happy with the performance of most of my students this semester. In fact, I didn’t have anyone fail, much less get a D, as long as one student did drop, as I suggested he do during midterm. But honestly, I’ve never had a semester like this one where everyone, I feel, did a competent or better job. Sure, some students lagged and didn’t work very hard, and those were the students who received grades in the C range. But a teacher gets those students every semester. It seems it isn’t until the semester’s end that those students email you asking if you accept revisions, extra credit, or whatever in exchange for a better grade. It is the last-ditch efforts of bullying and bribery.

But I only received, so far, two emails like that. I am giving them the rest of the day to send any questions or complaints they have. Tomorrow morning I’ll officially submit my final grades.

Aside from the grading issue, I want to reflect on a number of things I noticed this semester. First, I’ll start with the not so great things I noticed this semester:

  • Higher incidences of plagiarism that I could not prove. I had a one student, for example, plagiarize from her textbook. Really. And because of this I couldn’t “prove” it with the typical google search and whatnot, but I knew it was plagiarized because of the tone and writing style. I asked her to revise it and she did and received a far better grade in her revision. Usually, plagiarism has been easy for me to point out. I can find it quickly and easily. This semester, not so much. And to be honest, I never kill myself over trying to prove this. If I can’t find the information quickly and easily, I simply ask students to rewrite the paper and explain my reasoning. They get that. I seldom have had problems with this policy
  • The cover letters for their portfolios were not the strongest I have ever seen, which was disappointing since I felt I had such a fantastic group of students this semester, but their cover letters in their portfolios were kind of bleh. Granted, some were well done and articulate. Some included fantastic examples. I could see who had been listening to me in class about these and who participated fully in the activity to better understand how to write these. But it was hard to get over the not-so-fantastic cover letters. And really, I blame the final project reflections on this as well as the final projects themselves since I noticed many students who made videos and used googlesites and googledocs did work on their projects up to the last minute. I think this explains the poor cover letters, in some cases. So, in reality, I kind of blame my final assignment for this.
  • The final assignment was up and down. There are some things I need to change about this which I explained here. And I stick by those reflections right now. I think by having the previous assignment has a concrete part of this assignment will help. I do not think them writing a rubric from scratch was useful. And I think the reflection needs to be taken out since it didn’t seem necessary and they could write the same information in their portfolio cover letters.

Though there were some things that didn’t turn out so well, quite a few things did. Here is a quick list:

  • Students seemed to have a greater appreciation for the assignments. The literary analysis I felt would be the toughest sell, but I had a few students take 320 previously and many of them commented on how they learned quite a bit from that assignment. 
  • Each class was a strong class, though for their own reasons. My 11am class was quiet, but their assignments were of high quality. While my other section didn’t have such high quality work, their participation was strong in class. In fact, they seemed to enjoy class more than the assignments. (haha)
  • The job packet went very well. I have to thank Josh for that.
  • Though the final assignment needs improvements, I think the students liked the fact they could take control of that. I know some students struggled with the openness of the assignment, so that is one of the things I will work on. And I think by completing the changes I discussed in an earlier post, this will happen. I also agree it needs a bit more structure in areas.
  • I also asked for more student feedback this semester in regards to grading peer review, group work, and in class participation and I think students appreciated this, even though it was extra work, and I learned quite a bit from their responses.

So, overall, I think the positives outweigh the challenges I had this semester.

But there are still things I plan to change, of course, and many of these can apply to my upcoming 320 class in the spring. For example, I plan to spend more time in class working on the rhetorical situation. I plan to emphasize audience over genre and work to make them realize that audience is often the reason for the genre and perhaps by doing this they will understand genre better. I also want to bring more creativity into my teaching and in class activities, and I already have a number of ideas for the first few weeks of class that I am excited about. I think as I continue this blog next semester, I’ll focus less on assignments and more on how those in-class activities go. That is my goal and hope for now, anyway.

Update on the revised final project for English 358

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

I may say more about this later, but after grading about half of the final projects for one of my English 358 sections, I just wanted to share a couple observations.

  1. The reflection is not necessary. Most people, if they did this at all, didn’t do a very good job. A lot of people just added this to their cover letter. Some didn’t do it at all, and I really didn’t punish them grade-wise for not doing it. I think the project itself, with the proposal and rubric, was probably tough enough, especially at the end of the semester.
  2. The rubric was still problematic, which makes me realize I do need to create a template for them or that I need to cut down on the types of assignments they can do and create one that can be used in a broader way. I don’t know why I didn’t do this the first time. What happened was I had the following: a couple people didn’t have very clear rubrics, so it was hard for me to grade them, and so I ended up revising their rubrics anyway and one person didn’t have a rubric at all. It just creates more work for me. So next time I will either create a template for them to follow or grade this using my own version and cut back the types of assignments they can do. I did, however, deduct points for incomplete, unclear or absent rubrics since I feel we did spend a fair amount of time talking about them, and even conferenced one-on-one on these documents.

Did any of that surprise me terribly? Not really. I was anticipating a fair amount of that, and so I was prepared. The the projects and portfolios overall, for what they aim to achieve, are relatively good.

I have not yet gotten to my other section, which this semester seemed like the “stronger” section for the course I was teaching. I am curious as to how their projects turned out. And I am looking forward to reading the remainder of the projects. The good news is that I can say the students actually cared about these final projects. I could tell because of the amount of work they put into them and the discussion they had about them in their cover letters. I just need to go about teaching it differently next time.

Grading the Peer Review Workshop

Monday, November 26th, 2012

It is nearing the end of our ridiculously long 17-week semester at my university and so things are starting to wrap up for my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class. They have written a professional narrative, completed a job packet, learned how to write a professional email, composed a literary analysis for non-literature majors, wrote a proposal, and completed a final project that they created from a previous assignment in a class from their major (or working on finishing that last project up). Now all that really remains is the finishing up and grading with the latter primarily being up to me, right? More or less, yes.

I do give students the opportunity to grade themselves, however. Peer Review is one of those areas where they do get a chance to grade themselves and those in their peer review group. I do this because I handle Peer Review in a relatively hands off way, especially as the semester goes on. When they first start out with peer review, I usually go around to each group and help them along by giving them prompts, questions, and other topics regarding writing to consider in the group discussions. I do this during the second peer review, but it is less in-depth than the first time. After that, I have noticed they kind of want me to leave them alone, unless they are having problems or have questions or want my feedback about something.

While I think peer review goes well for the most part since I do get good feedback about it from students, there remains the problem of grading it. I think students should always get points for something like this since they do put a fair amount of time into it. But since I treat this activity as fairly hands off, I don’t feel I am the one who can adequately assess their work without their input. So to gain their input I could do a number of things, some of which I have done before:

  • Grade them during each individual peer review. Each peer review would earn them, let’s say, 10 points or more. After each peer review, I would add up the points and grade them based on that. I have done this before and it works pretty well. The problem I saw with it is that students had little input and so I didn’t always notice who was sending their drafts on time and who wasn’t and this was even with the freewrite being a part of it. And I value grading as being as fair and thoughtful as possible and I didn’t feel it was happening as well as it could be here.
  • Have each student compose a memo about how peer review went overall and writing about the work they did for it. This would indirectly articulate a grade that I could give them. I have never done this since I do assign a lot of smaller writing assignments at the end (reflections, cover letters, memos) and had trouble imagining an extra piece of writing. Plus, as a graduate student, I have to think carefully about the work I can do at the end of the semester.
  • I have used conferences as a way to grade peer review. Each group would meet with me, talk about what went well, what didn’t, and everyone would be graded on this feedback. Usually people ended up with similar grades unless their participation was low.
  • Have them fill out a rubric for each peer review group member, including themselves, and give each person, along with themselves, a grade based upon the entire semester’s work.

The final bullet point is how I chose to grade them this time for peer review, which I also used last semester. With the rubric, I give them two criteria they can use to grade each other, though they can also as a group create their own, though most just go with what I have given them since it is pretty standard for peer review work. They then get into their groups and either agree with this criteria, or create new criteria, and then take the rubric worksheets home to grade each other individually. Within each criteria, my instructions tell me to give me some reason for a certain grade.  That is the idea, anyway.

While this obviously isn’t a perfect system, some things work well. The students do a good job at identifying what they value in their peer review group for grading each other, especially after I ask them to imagine the worst peer review situation and what could happen there. They also are relatively honest about their own participation in group work, which I found odd at first, but now appreciate because it makes grading peer review way easier.

A problem with this method is that they tend to “fluff” the grades of their peers a little bit. The good news is that the person whose grade is being “fluffed” is usually far more honest about the work he or she did than their peers. I imagine the fluffing occurs because they just don’t want someone to be mad at them or something. And when grading, I can usually pay more attention to the grade that person gave themselves than what anyone else from the group said. Either way, what i have noticed here is interesting because it was pretty much the opposite of what I was anticipating.

Seeing this one problem always makes me want to go back to the memo style of peer review grading. Problem is at the end of the semester the last thing I want to do is assign another piece of writing. Plus, with the new final project I created for the class, they already have three smaller assignments to write, which include a cover letter, a reflection and a professional email.

My question at the end is this: how do you grade peer review? What works about it? What doesn’t? I recognize there are problems with my method for grading this, so I am really curious as to what others do.

Job Packet Assignment Reflection

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

I’ve always had students in my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class write a resume and a cover letter in response to a job ad. I did this because of two main reasons 1. It is good practice for when they will do it in real time and 2. It fits the criteria for the course where they have learn about professional writing.

While most students appreciated the practice, they often gave me the feedback that they would have liked to spend more time on a job packet. I muddled over this for some time until I was talking with my friend Josh and he told me that he often has them write a research memo along with the job ad. The research memo basically functions as a rhetorical analysis for the cover letter and resume. The student details the job ad, what he or she could bring to the job in detail, and analyzes the audience and contexts of the job situation. To give you a better idea, here is the description I have about it from the assignment sheet:

Research the organization to learn more about the nature of its business, its values, its corporate structure, its history, its accomplishments and any other information that is relevant/helpful in the construction of the cover letter and résumé.  The student will then write a Research Memo that summarizes their research and provides a rhetorical analysis of the job posting that they are responding to.  The memo should be designed in proper memo format, and should run between two to three pages in length.  A copy of the original job posting you are responding to should be included with this document. This should be 2-3 pages, single spaced and have all the conventions of a memo.

By adding this component, I found that students did the following:

  1. They spent more time, overall, on the project. This just didn’t happen simply because I allowed more time for it, but also because of the added requirement. They realized there was a research component to it and so that made them spend more time understanding the potential audiences and contexts. I even had one of my students tell me, “yeah, I couldn’t do any of this last minute because of that research memo.” Thanks, student.
  2. They wrote better cover letters in general. One thing I had noticed previously was that the cover letters I received sounded generic. They lacked personality. They lacked real understanding of the organization or company. By having them write the research memo first, and then use that information to compose the cover letter, they had stronger, more detailed cover letters. I think the reason the cover letters came out sounding generic the first time was also because their is a specific formula that tends to work for writing cover letters and so a student may think, oh, ok, formulaic writing when really it is much more than that.
  3. Some students claimed they enjoyed writing the research memo and even said they would do it again. This shocked me, to be honest, at first because, essentially, it is extra work plus proof of that extra work. However, one student was so enthusiastic about it that she said she plans to do it when she applies for jobs in real time. I did warn her that doing so may be time-consuming, but it would be a good idea to keep notes on hand that responded in a similar way to what I had outlined. But if she had time for such a task, all the more power to her.

I would be lying if I said I still did not receive generic sounding cover letters, however. I did get a couple of those. I also did receive research memos that weren’t well done, basically because people wrote them last minute or whatever. But, looking at the results overall, the assignment seemed to go over well and students claimed they learned quite a bit from the exercise.

For this, I actually don’t have a lot of improvements in mind, if any. I have been thinking of spending greater time talking to them about the research memo and then spending a day or two talking about the cover letter and resume. Another improvement I could make is to ask for the research memo first, grade that and give some feedback, and then have them turn in the cover letter, resume with a revised research memo to make sure they understand the assignment thoroughly. I think this latter critique might make for some stronger job packet examples. This would also be a good exercise for students to complete when teaching English 320 Business and Professional Writing this spring and I do plan to teach it next semester English 320.


Literary analysis assignment (English 358, Fall 2012) reflection

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

In a previous post, I promised I would provide reflection on the changes I made to my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class this semester. In doing this, I am working backwards with the most recent assignment reflection posted first and then will reflect on the changes to the job packet last. But in between I have the literary analysis assignment, which I briefly made mention to in the post linked above. So I will do my best to talk about the literary analysis assignment in this post, even though I am tired today and feeling that end of semester exhaustion, and so I hope what I say makes sense.

One of my English majors from my 11am class asked me why I chose to do the literary analysis assignment in 358. I didn’t really find that an odd question from her because, to be frank, she seemed bored throughout the three weeks I taught it, mostly because she has taken a literary theory course and she is in her last semester of coursework for her BA in English. She pretty much had this information down and could have given a great mini-lesson to the class on Lacanian Psychoanalysis, which is an area I am not as strong in. (I know the Freudian concepts much better, mainly because that is how I have usually approached it and I am not a Lacan kid).

In reply, I told her I taught this for two main reasons. The first reason involved the surface level analyses I see from students in my English 358 courses. While I spend a lot of time teaching analysis, and even have a course textbook devoted to analytical writing, I still notice students are not strong with analysis in my course. I felt that by teaching a literary analysis unit for non-literature majors, would be beneficial to many students. The second reason is because I think theory is important and I had noticed that quite a few theories we teach and learn about in English overlap with theories taught in many of their majors, most notably psychoanalytic approaches, queer approaches, and Marxist approaches. While I wasn’t expecting analysis at the level that a literature major junior or senior would write, I was expecting more thoughtful, analytical discussions about the book we had read for the class using one or more of the theories I taught. And I only taught theories I felt would be appropriate to the book we were reading and theories that I felt would also be overlapping with information taught in previous classes in their majors. Most of this, I think, worked out and happened. I had a number of students tell me they “had heard of” these theories in their classes before, but most often didn’t “have to directly apply them.”

As I stated previously, my 11am section did a fantastic job applying one or more of these theories and giving good evidence and analysis. While in some cases analysis could have been stronger or more developed, everyone had a good thesis statement (or at least a good focus throughout their paper, even if their thesis remained a little weak, which is slightly unnerving to know that this still happens in a 300-level writing intensive class made up of juniors and seniors in college, some of whom are graduating). Everyone in this section of the course also knew how to apply these theories to a text and used their theories effectively. While I cannot say the same for my 12pm section (one student actually started to write a freshmen level rhetorical analysis halfway into his paper), those students did all right, too. Like 11am, they also understood the theory they chose and knew at least some ways to apply it to the text, at the very least.

I do have a few criticisms of this particular unit, however. One criticism is that it is a very time-consuming unit for me as a teacher of two classes and also a student finishing up the last year of my PhD coursework. I not only had to read the novel for the class, I had to do a lot of preparation to find resources to help students not only understand the theories, but engage with them as a class. To do this, I had them read a selected Grimm’s Fairy tales, and one that had been adapted by Disney to better familiarize them, and had them in groups each day analyze that story through the theory we had looked at for that class day. For example, I had them analyze Pinocchio through Queer theory, as well as look at the He-Man intro and how that had been re-conceptualized through a Queer reading in this video. I also had them look at Cinderella through a feminist lens in groups during the class period devoted to feminist analysis. So with these exercises, I felt they had a good amount of practice in analyzing each theory.

Another criticism is, of course, some students just didn’t leave the surface level analysis and honestly, I was kind of expecting this from some of them. And it isn’t always because they don’t know it, as during our class exercises, these students said really smart things about the texts we were analyzing. They just didn’t seem to want to do it in their paper or decided to write their paper last minute (even though I required drafts of this assignment) or whatever it was. They just didn’t want to do it and I will admit that was a little frustrating, especially because I had seen them do it before. And every teacher I have ever talked to has told me about his or her struggles with getting students to actually do something we all know they can do.

When I teach this again, I am considering having students in groups give a presentation on a theory they select or are assigned and then try to teach a lesson to the class regarding that theory. Since I have so many Education majors, I think this could be a fun lesson for them to do and would give them teaching practice, even if it is teaching practice on their peers. And I could split them up so there would be a couple education majors in each group so now one feels “lost” in doing this. This would also cut down on prep time for myself, which while I finish my PhD work is something I always need to consider, not because I am lazy, but for time-management purposes.

Overall, the new assignment went over well enough and I learned a few things from it. I learned that teaching any type of theory is really a lot of work. While I knew this going in, I had no idea how much work it would be and how time consuming it would be. If I were to have them write papers again, I would also ask for a proposal. I didn’t do that this time because I had already scheduled a proposal for their final projects. But I have had students write proposals for the literary analysis before (for example, in my summer section of English 358) and the proposals I noticed always helped them to better understand exactly what they were doing before they started doing it, which is always a good thing.

In the next reflection about my class this semester, I’ll post about the job packet unit, which I taught previously, but expanded. And if any of ya’ll have any advice on teaching a critical theory unit, please share. I enjoyed teaching the material, despite the criticisms I had about it. If I didn’t teach theory, I would have instead taught a Forum Analysis, which I have taught before and always seem to get good responses from students.

The genre changing project + future revisions

Monday, November 5th, 2012

This semester I decided to do something different in my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class. Actually, I did a lot of things different in my English 358 class and most of these things went well, from what I can see. For instance, for the first time ever, I had every student in my 11am class “get” the literary analysis. I have never had that happen before, so that was cool.

For the final project in the class, in the past I have given students free range to do just about anything, as long as it is relatable to their major and they can put it either in a professional portfolio or present it at a conference. What i noticed is that no one cared. I was speaking to an audience that, while academic, did not care too much about the project. In fact, I am pretty sure I had “recycled assignments” come through my class with the final project.

So this summer I was thinking of how I could change this and perhaps even challenge the way we teach. For example, we always lump the big projects together at the end of the semester in the form of group projects, final exams, and final papers. While I understand why we do this (assessment, getting students to apply knowledge from the semester) I think we over-emphasize it to the extent that the end of the semester easily becomes one big clusterfuck of activity. And I found that some projects were just badly put together because students felt stressed out and rushed, even though I understand this is also part of “academic culture.” I also really wanted to make students more responsible for their own learning in a rather literal way, so this is why I am having them create learning goals and their own rubric.

To try and either solve these problems or accomplish these goals, I decided that students should use knowledge from a previous class, project or previous classes. I feel I had asked them to do this before, but it obviously wasn’t working. Students were not getting the point. What I came up to solve this problem was the following, along with revisions, or corrections, I plan to make for future semesters:

1. Students would bring in a previous assignment from a class. The topic or main idea of the assignment had to be something they enjoyed. We spent a class day talking about these as students introduced their former project, what they liked, and what they wanted to improve. Each student composed a free write in class, but in the future I think we should talk about this as a class.

What I would change about #1: I would ask students include these in the assignment itself just so the audience could see the previous work. I would also ask that they include it in their course portfolio. I didn’t (silly me) think of doing this for this semester, which I am regretting as this project moves along. It would be nice for me, and for them, to see these and simply be reminded of what we are doing in the first place.

2. From this previous project, I asked them to switch genres. So, for example, I had a lot of students talk about blogs they had done in previous classes. Instead of writing a blog, they could create a website in groups (I have two groups working on a website right now) or they could change the focus of the project and create another blog (I have quite a few students doing this.)

What I would change about #2: As you can see, this is not a perfect system. Not every student changed genres, but instead they changed topic, which has caused audience changes, but not genre changes. For future semesters, I would spend more time talking about genre (how genre is a social action, how genres can be manipulated, etc) though getting genre across to students effectively can be difficult since, theoretically, it is such an abstract concept. Another option I could have is not turn this into a genre changing assignment necessarily, but changing it to an alternate audience assignment. For example, let’s say a student wrote an academic essay. I could have the student take that same topic and create a trade magazine article and by doing that the audience would change, along with the genre. And by doing this, genre would maybe become something more understandable.

3. Along with the above, students have to create a rubric that I will use to grade their assignment as well as learning goals. (Not learning objectives. Because learning objectives are specific and measurable, I felt this would be difficult/problematic to teach in the time I had. I think learning goals because they are more broad would be easier for students to articulate.)

What I would change about #3: So far, this has gone all right. Students have written proposals for their projects. With their proposal, they submit a rubric. The biggest problem here is working with students to create a strong rubric. (And some students misunderstood this and used the proposal rubric as an example and therefore kind of had a messy draft). Next time, i will give them a template for this rubric that they then can revise to create their own. I was going to do this in the first place, but then didn’t because we had spent class time working on rubrics. I had wrongly figured they had gotten it, but a few of them didn’t. The good news is that so far most students have understood this, but for a few we have spent much of the conference time working on that rubric.

4. Each student will write a reflection about what they learned from the previous assignment, what they learned when they changed genres and audiences and how their learning goals were met. Since the reflection comes last, I don’t have much to say about this right now. Currently, we are conferencing on proposals and rubrics, and I am simply reminding them that hey, there is also a reflective component to this.

From what I have noticed so far, I like this assignment. I think next time I will focus more on audience than on genre, however. I think audience is something they understand far better and would give me more of a foundation to work with in regards to this present assignment. And hopefully after this semester ends, I can update you with the final results of this new assignment, as well as talk more about how the changes I made to English 358 turned out with the expanded job packet and literary analysis and critical theory for non-literature majors unit.

Normal and Rhetoric of Science

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

For what seems like an eternity, English studies has tried to adopt scientific methodologies. For example, every assignment that is graded needs to be accompanied by a rubric, which I find somewhat ridiculous, but I can’t talk about that or even really think about that, right? Of course, like any good English teacher, I still do have rubrics for my major assignments because that is what I have been taught and it also helps out immensely when students confront a teacher about a grade. We also have a little thing called “assessment” where we “assess” student writing to see how well students perform the tasks we have instructed them to do. Even though we attempt to make all these things as objective as possible, they still are inherently subjective activities. The truth is we can sit there and “do norming” all we want to try to be objective, but you will still find 1-3 people giving a student portfolio a 5, more giving it a 4, and yet even more giving it a 3. Then there will be scattered 2’s and 1’s.

Methodology is indeed wonderful, as is ideology.

In my Rhetoric of Science class, we have been talking quite a bit how science has asserted itself and essentially lorded over us. One of the ways science does this is through rhetoric and its terminology. I would argue that science has reached the supremacy it has through creating its own terminologies. One of the best examples of this is through the word “normal.”

To an ordinary person, normal is a typical word that denotes anything naturally occurring. Normal is basically a set standard, which is how the OED tends to define it. Through researching the paranormal, I discovered that the word normal became to be used quite often in order to professionalize science back in 1840. It was used to make science legitimate as a professional field of study. William Whewell back in 1840 used the term “normal” a few times in reference to the professionalization of science in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Stephen Toulmin points all of this out in his article titled, “New Philosophy of Science and the Paranormal” where he briefly discusses how science took the word “normal” and used it to popularize and legitimize their field. Toulmin also discusses that these scientists didn’t want to use the word “natural” because it was a word associated with the Romantic poets of that time period. Thus, the Romantics had a sort of monopoly on that word and the scientific community didn’t want to engage a word that was already a bit overused by the Romantic writers. Science isn’t after all literature.

The OED is also an interesting source to use to understand the word normal and variations of the word normal. What is most interesting to me is that variations of normal, such as normalize, don’t come into being until after 1840. This, at first glance, seems to further the argument Toulmin made in his essay on the paranormal and the use of the word normal. (It is also interesting to note that the word Paranormal did not exist until 1920. Supernatural was often used to describe anything paranormal, and that word first arrived in 1530.) Now, I haven’t looked further into this to see what contexts the word normal and variations of it played into, but considering what I read so far, it seems likely that the first variations of normal were used by those in the scientific community.

Either way, this speaks for the power of terminology. It makes me think of how when I was writing my Philosophy of Teaching I was told to basically construct terminology (though explain those in some way) in order to somehow stand out. At first this sounded terribly unethical–making up words to sound smarter? But, considering how science has manipulated terminology in the past, it isn’t like it hasn’t been done before. And considering the way society sings the praises of science (or Science), it may not be a bad idea for us in the humanities to do the same. In this sense, we can learn a lesson from science, even though I do feel science also subverts us in other ways, though to administrators, those ways make us more powerful.