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.