Archive for the ‘grants’ Category

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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What I learned from teaching Grant Writing (so far)

Monday, December 16th, 2013

All final projects from both of my sections of Researching and Writing Grants and Proposals have been read, responded to, graded, and sent back to the student. I can say that most of my students rocked these final projects. Not all, but most. And I’ve learned some important things along the way, but by no means is this a comprehensive list:

  • I’m definitely turning the proposal assignment for unit two into a letter of intent. How many LOIs do I write as a grant writer? Probably more than I write grants, or that is how it sometimes feels. Because of my (limited) experiences, I think this is a pretty important genre.
  • I won’t leave the final project as open as I did this time. I feel pretty comfortable doing this because of my past work with similar open-ended projects and teaching remix projects, and I know the professor who I TA’ed and took the grant writing class with did the same, but I don’t think I’ll keep it as open as I did this semester. I’ll still give them ample opportunities, but there will be a few more rules this time around. Even so, I did get fantastic final projects, so it wasn’t a failure. I just want to narrow things down a bit more for the future.
  • I would love to throw in something like indiegogo or gofundme or similar sites, but so far I haven’t seen time to do this and I won’t be able to really connect with local nonprofits before next semester, but it is on my list if I teach this in the Fall or sometime next academic year.
  • More realistic funding idea for spring: What I would like to maybe do is see if any nonprofit needs help with a funding campaign and students can help write letters, fundraise, and talk to people about that particular project. I think this is a better goal for spring semester and does similar work to an indiegogo type of campaign.

Overall, I had a good semester teaching grants. So much of what I have done so far feels like it has been a “baptism by fire” sort of thing, and it probably has in one degree or another. But I am pretty lucky in that I have been able to write real, actual grants and participate in other forms of grant writing and research while teaching this class. That is something I feel pretty lucky about being able to do.

the letter of intent

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

I have been told that the grant class I teach is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, class to teach in the upper division writing curriculum. I also hear this about technical writing, but I haven’t yet taught that, though I have been trained to teach that class as well. After teaching grants, I can see why this is the case because it requires a fair amount of writing, good research, and clear communication, not just in writing, but orally since students often do have to talk with people in the community and for an interview assignment. I think people say it is a difficult class because you have so many different projects and different skill levels all while trying to teach the rich field of grant writing and research. Yes, that certainly is challenging, though I would still argue that writing in the humanities and social sciences can be just as difficult. Despite the difficulty, I think the class is doing well and students seem to be responding positively to it and I also enjoy teaching it far more than I thought I would.

The recent assignment my students completed, the proposal for unit 2, has left me thinking. As a former student of this class, I remember this assignment well and remember trying to describe what I wanted to do, even though I had not quite done it nor perhaps had, or put in, adequate time to think about it. I’m seeing some similar reactions in my students proposals. I am seeing those similar mistakes, and frankly I don’t blame them for it. Mostly I fault time management and the genre choice as I have seen students write memos and proposals for this assignments. Hence there is a little confusion.

And this got me thinking more about grant writing as my job and how when I sometimes write letters of intent, my organization does not yet completely understand the project fully enough to share any of the long-range details of the project. For example, if we were to write a letter of intent to bring yoga classes to rural areas, we may not yet have a curriculum written up, though we could probably describe what that curriculum might look like. We may not also yet know the exact cost of the project, but we could probably compose a tentative budget, which sometimes letters of intent require.

In a sense, my students are facing a similar dilemma. They know what they will do. They can envision its whole, but cannot yet see the details of that whole. They cannot yet describe, with acuity, all the pieces. Frankly, I don’t expect them to explain each part with acuity, but because some students misread the assignment as a “proposal for a proposal,” I had students try to do this since a proposal would require as much.

This got me thinking that perhaps asking them to write a letter of intent in place of the memo for the project proposal will just make more sense. It might lead to less confusion and it would also give a perfect opportunity to teach more about the letter of intent.

A letter of intent (LOI) is just what it implies: it is a professional letter, sometimes actually just referred to as a cover letter, that describes a project and gives some details regarding the organization. It also names people working on the project and gives some specifics about that project. Sometimes the funders ask for a tentative budget. Mostly I have seen funding organizations post actual forms for you to fill out as LOIs. Sometimes, I write what I refer to as a “blind” LOI (I am sure they have a more technical name) where I just send out a letter to a funder who is not familiar with my organization. In these, I may not actually describe a project, but share information about my organization and talk about how that foundation can help my organization. And, usually, I try to describe a recent project or two as well, just to give some insight. Inserting brochures with the LOI doesn’t hurt, either, even though I sometimes feel I am being annoying, or like a salesperson, but really doing this is part of my job.

So for next semester I think I’ll have my students write a letter of intent for their project proposals. My students will give me a 200-250 word description of the project, describe organizations and people working with the project, share resources they have for the project, and instead of a budget I may ask my students to write about some benefits for this project. I may include one or two other slots, but for now this is what I am thinking about. I may also set this up similar to the forms I see when I write those letter of intents in real life.

Writing a LOI for their unit 2 project will help students not only to focus on what they know already for this project, but give them some experience in how letters of intent work. While it isn’t a perfect assignment by any means, and will probably will have its own hiccups, I think it would be a useful activity for students, especially since I already have a fair amount of students who are interested in this work or already work with nonprofits. I also look forward to working on this course further and seeing how it all turns out.