Archive for the ‘English 320’ Category

Things I learned from teaching Business and Professional Communication

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

I enjoyed teaching English 320: Business and Professional Communication more than I anticipated. For one, it was fun not to have to validate the usefulness of the class in some way. For example, when I teach Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences, the genres of these two fields are so different. Because of this, I do have to create a discussion at the start of that course about that fact, how the class can be difficult to teach for that reason, and then explain why I chose the genres and assignments that I did, which I usually repeat at the start of each new assignment. While I still had students telling me that “they didn’t need this course” for a variety of reasons, and there were really only two students who mentioned this at one time or another  with one who loved to remind me and the class, most students saw the value and, I think, learned a few things, as did I, so here is just a brief run down.

1. Next time I will make them do professional presentations on the parts of the professional work environment, which is an idea I stole from my friend Karen. I am doing this in my four week long English 358 right now, but I think this is an incredibly useful idea for any Upper Division writing class geared toward professional writing and communication. These presentations could include things like how to conduct a business meeting to how to dress for a job interview.

2. Focusing on the marketing project during the second half of the semester wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. When I first was learning how to teach English 320, the instructor I observed had students work on marketing throughout the semester. While it worked for him, I didn’t feel ready to jump into that and decided to teach it in the last six weeks. This worked out well. One thing I noticed, though, was some groups didn’t use their in-class group work time very wisely and so their projects kind of sucked, to put it bluntly. They had some strong areas in their planning proposals, but all together they kind of fell apart, and I think a lot of this is due to the fact that while I gave them a fair amount of group work time, the chose not to use it. I have to find ways, if possible, to make them handle this better.

3. Teaching this many different types of majors wasn’t as complicated as I thought. As long as I focused on the fact this was a class geared toward the myriad ways professionals communicate in business and on the job, and how this class wasn’t only for Business majors, things went well. I made sure to always state the reason and context for teaching what I was teaching. It seemed to work.

4. If I encounter a super resistant student on the first day, I need to shut it down immediately. Not play good listener or anything. I just need to shut that down.

5. Never, ever teach the job packet early in the semester in English 320. Just don’t do it. Make sure they understand the rhetorical situation to a T. I need to make them do the professional blog before this, because after that assignment I think more understood that. And they really did after the marketing project. So this tells me that the job packet should be taught dead last. Dead last, Jessica. Right before the portfolio, of course.

6. I need to go over the rhetorical situation more than I did. Over and over again. With English 358, I don’t need to remind them about this as much. They seem to understand it more, particularly because of the types of courses they take and the majors they have. But English 320. Oh, my. Audience, you all, audience. Context, everyone. Context.

7. While 358ers in some cases do write better, it is only because they know #6 better, or at least that is what I noticed overall.

Brief Update on Blog Assignment + Changes

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

I am officially on spring break, though of course still working. Before I left for a trip out of town, I finished grading the blog assignments from my English 320 Business and Professional Writing students. Overall, I was pleased with the work they did. To review, I’ll note the strong aspects of this assignment and what I plan to improve for when I teach it again.

The Good
I was impressed with some of the blogs. So far, this has been some of the strongest writing I have seen all semester. In some ways, I probably should not be surprised. Many of these students are very passionate and knowledgeable about their chosen disciplines and so they will often bring up these seemingly obscure facts about their fields. They will note the overlooked aspects of what their field does. They will get really into discussing why their field is relevant to society as a whole. They will do great jobs with the “so what” portion of the assignment.

I was also surprised by how well many of them created ethical arguments in their fields. While not all did a great job at analyzing each ethical argument, they all chose one and made fairly good arguments towards that ethical issue. I was very happy with these as a whole.

To be Improved
As always, analysis suffered. I received a lot of summary about articles they were to analyze. Also, some analyses of articles sounded more like reviews of articles. This is a problem others who have taught this assignment have had as well. As of now, and mainly because of time, I will not give any solutions for this, but do not think I do not have any solutions in mind.

I am going to change Blog #1, where they describe their field to an outside audience. I noticed here I had two instances of blatant plagiarism. Now, I understand online we see a TON of plagiarism. Students are incredibly familiar (as am I) with Wikipedia and often Wikipedia articles are plagiarized version of other websites that are often plagiarized versions of other sources. so this all becomes a link from one plagiarized article to another. People have asked how do we talk to students about this? The only answer I have is that we need to explicitly state, OK, I know this happens online, but we are in the context of school and academic discourse right now where such behavior is not acceptable. Please rewrite.

But back to changes to Blog #1. Because of this problem, I have decided to revise it slightly and ask students to link back to influences that directed them to their fields of study. In other words, what led them to this chosen discipline? What influences worked together to get them to choose this major?

I may ask more than that, but that is what I have in mind right now. For example, I started off my college career as a History and Political Science major. I’ve got a great memory, so History was not difficult for me and I really like reading about the past. But later I learned it wasn’t for me because 1. I could never picture myself teaching it, though arguably every now and then my history background does show up in my skills as a teacher. How could it not? and 2. I really couldn’t imagine myself as a history scholar. It was hard. I was a creative writer, and still am, at the time and I really enjoyed writing. I enjoyed writing anything and I was, and still am to a degree, highly prolific as a writer. It was this, and some push and shove from a Composition instructor and a roommate that caused me to change my major to English.

And now here I am.

So I would really love to read about how they got to their major along with their descriptions of what that major does for society. I think by adding that piece, while I am sure I will still see plagiarism, I would have people think more deeply about what led them to their present fields.

Perhaps that “answer” is a bit too brief, and too simplistic, and in some ways I think this is true. But it is a start, you all. It is a start. And some days that is the most and best we can ask for.

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.

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.