Archive for the ‘lesson plan’ Category

Agendas and more agendas

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

I’m teaching a new class this semester and so on the first day I was more nervous than I normally am, but I think it went all right. While I know some students are not excited to be in a writing class, they were all receptive and left me good information about how they view participation in class and what they value about class discussions and group work, along with negative experiences they have had in working in groups. It was a fun, informative session, at least for me. And a few asked good questions along the way. So, I am excited about teaching them already.

One thing I am trying to get away from is my reliance on agendas. Not so much my reliance, maybe, but having these always available to students before, during, and after class. Yesterday, I taught with no agenda displayed during the class, and it all went fine. Granted, I had one in front of me so I knew what was coming up next, but by not having the agenda placed so supremely, if you will, in front of the room seemed to make people pay a little more attention to me and less attention to the words on the document in the front of the room.

And maybe, because I’m a quiet kid at heart, I simply use agendas as distractions. Oh, don’t at me, look at this document I created for all of you! Follow along! I don’t have to explain as much because it is here!

Granted, tomorrow I am going to have to go over their first assignment, so that document will be at the front of the room. They will also need it to complete an activity on audience we will be working on. But my goal is to learn to rely less on agendas and more on my abilities as the teacher in front of the room, leading the class discussions and encouraging the critical thinking of my students.


The extrovert and introvert in the collaborative classroom

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Demblingwhose blog “The Introvert’s Corner” I have been reading for a couple of years now. I like the blog she writes, even when there are things I disagree with, like her article on how Halloween is an extroverted holiday. I, for one, am an extreme introvert (clinically) who adores Halloween, mainly because I love hearing and telling scary stories. But, for the most part, I can relate to the majority of what she discusses.

As I was reading her book, I started thinking about how we often educate our students. For instance, in the classroom, collaborative learning is all the rage. We want assignments to be collaborative, not only because it cuts down on our amount of grading as writing teachers (an added bonus, we must admit), but because so much of what one does in the “real world” is indeed collaborative. And I usually do have one assignment each semester that can be done collaboratively, or one that I purposely created to be collaborative, like the group marketing project for my English 320 class. I don’t think doing any of these things is problematic since it is important we teach students how to effectively work together in groups. What I do wonder about, however, is how much we push collaborative learning in the classroom. Are we leaving out the introverts? Are we stressing them out further? Are we causing them unnecessary anxiety?

I think back on how I used to, and still occasionally do, react to group work in the classroom. While I don’t mind it, I do dislike it when it becomes overdone. This happens if I come to a class and every class period involves a heavy dose of group work. When this happens, I begin to yearn for a lecture where I can sit quietly and take notes and think. I start to romanticize the lengthy lecture professors sometimes give, even though they typically do not constitute what many of us consider good pedagogy today. The point is, after too much group work, I become exhausted, slightly angry, and rarely, but occasionally, apathetic toward that specific classroom environment.

The problem with my feelings, however, is that I am guilty of doing similar things as a teacher. I have students do what I consider is quite a bit of small group work in my classroom. Sure, I often break this up with mini lectures and individual activities. I even often allow students to choose their own group members, and they usually have no problem with this, being juniors and seniors. They easily group themselves together. And I have noticed that when they get to choose their group members, they often are more engaged than when I choose their group members for them. But all the same, I can’t help but wonder if the quieter students are getting frustrated with the levels of group work, even though I do try to break it up with other activities. I know as a student I would feel this way from time to time, even in the way I structure my own classroom.

So as I was thinking of this I grew concerned that our present learning environment is problematic for introverts. I did some surface level research on this and found out the way we teach isn’t necessarily fantastic for extroverts, either. For example, most of our assignments are individual assignments. We also tell students they need to study, which is often a solitary activity, or  at least traditionally speaking it is a solitary activity. We also ask students to be quiet and work independently a fair amount of the time, even if our current pedagogy is collaborative in the classroom. Like I said, they still have to create most of those assignments alone and they still take tests independently.

To be fair, I did try to change a lot of my pedagogy this semester in consideration of the quiet kids. For example, I often emailed discussion questions for class a couple days before they were to be discussed. I had a couple of my introverted students tell me they appreciated me doing that for them, since they know they take more time to think than other students do. And this isn’t because they aren’t as smart, but there really is a biological difference in the brains of introverts and extroverts.  I also asked students to send me a professional email where they discussed how they participated in class, with a few examples, and articulate to me the grade they felt they earned because of that. Of course, most students claimed they earned an A, but from these emails I did learn a lot about my students and how they felt they had participated. The quieter students talked about writing a lot during free write activities or talking more in small groups or coming up with ideas during group work that were instrumental in the completion of the activity. They also talked about how they helped other classmates solve problems. These two changes I made, I feel, really did help the quieter students. It also allowed the introverted students to speak up more, so I wasn’t constantly hearing from the 3-5 overly social extroverts in the class.

Still, I feel there is more I could do. I still feel guilty about how we push collaboration so much in the classroom and in ways that are so directly collaborative. What I want to start thinking about are more ways we can be collaborative, and yet be a little more subtle about it or quieter about it. Perhaps doing some online discussion boards or using other forms of social media for discussion will help. That way, the quiet students can participate more freely and without having to speak up in a classroom of 22 students. They will still be doing this, only on their own terms and from the comfort of their laptop. I understand it is important to push collaborative work, but I think collaborative work is a more loaded term than we immediately consider.

So, here are some solutions that I thought of during this post:

  1. Simply ask students how they feel they learn, and politely ask them to forget what they know about learning. Make them think of a time where they had to learn something new. How did they do it? Why did it work for them?
  2. Ask students what they value in collaboration. Work from this and build a discussion from the responses. Incorporate the findings into pedagogy.
  3. Ask students for feedback during the course and collaborative work. Check in. Maybe this will help us with what I discuss above, for both personality types.
  4. Have some individual work included in the group work. As a teacher, we could make this information clearer and help with assigning certain tasks and have students give us some feedback regarding this. A big problem here would be making it seem as if we are micromanaging them in their group work, though.
  5. Have students work on something individually and then create something collaboratively from the individual work. This might be a really good exercise for everyone.

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.

Using literature to teach writing, Part 2

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Here is my handout for my co-teaching in English 759. I’ve probably already talked about some of the strategies for using literature in the composition/writing intensive classroom in part 1, but many of these are new. If you find these interesting, I highly recommend you check out the book edited by Art Young and Toby Fulwiler. The citation is below.

When Writing Teachers Teach Literature: Bringing Writing to Reading. Art Young and Toby Fulwiler (eds). Heinemann: New York, 1995. Print.

Overview: This collection of essays focus on pedagogical tools that can help teachers with writing instruction through the use of literature. The book is divided into parts that each has a particular focus. This handout gives emphasis to each part and describes some pedagogical strategies from each section. Note that I haven’t discussed every essay/pedagogy in the book.

Part 1: Conflicts in the Contact Zone

These essays talk about how to deal with difficult topics in the classroom. These can include difficult themes to discuss in literature (e.g. rape) or misconceptions students carry about what English means.

This first part focuses on why students “take literature” courses. Most students expect to bring them further “awareness” of cultural issues and, more broadly, make them “better people.” (like the rhetorical question—“Is the good speaker a good person?”) Trimbur focuses on why students “take English” and gives some good ideas to have students explore what literature means by having them describe their prior experiences with literature and what they expect to learn in a literature course. (You can easily turn this around and ask what their previous writing experiences are and what they expect to learn in a writing course. It will help get the course off on some solid ground.) Essays that follow discuss pedagogical strategies for teaching writing and literature and I have highlighted a few of these below:

  • After students read a work of literature, ask them to rewrite that work of literature in a new way. I currently do this in my world literature course where students will write a poem retelling Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” for example. This demonstrates to students that literature is not static, but malleable.
  • Ask students to write a letter to the editor (or some form of more formal or informal writing) that places themes from the story/poem into a contemporary setting. For example, if they read Yeats poem “Leda and the Swan” a student could write a letter to the editor of the student newspaper about rape on campus.
  • Use literature in a way to challenge students’ current misconceptions. Have students Freewrite on their past experiences with a certain (perhaps difficult) topic and use these to lead into discussion. Works well in classes where you are talking about difficult themes/ideas.

Part 2: Student Writing and Teacher Learning

In this section, student writing is the main focus where students can use their own experiences to guide the classroom situation.

Pedagogical strategies:

  • In one class, students created their own “textbook” for the class of their own writings. This would be a good thing to do in a 120 class or in a creative writing course. You could use this textbook for other classes so they could learn the genres or have it be a sort of “class portfolio.” All students would contribute their own work or work collaboratively on this as a class. (Group writings, for example with an “editing group.”) This gives students power over the class and their own writing.
  • Reader response is a focus of this section, so another pedagogical move would include having students write their own interpretation of a story or poem. I know we, as teachers, sometimes step over students to correct interpretation (especially if we feel strongly about a work of literature or author), but the goal here is to let students express their own reading of the text and contribute to a “critical edition” of that work. (I think Dr. Totten has done this kind of assignment in 358, so he would have an assignment sheet on this if you were interested.)
  • For exercises in imitation, students can mimic the sentences of an author. (We have talked about this.) Students can also practice summary by writing a summary of the plot of a novel read in the course.

Part 3: Writing and Rewriting Literature

Self-explanatory title. 😉

  • This was an example from a poetry class: The teacher assigned multiple genres of poems (rap, sonnets, etc) and had students write their own versions of these forms of poetry, along with talking about how the “form fits the meaning.” This gets students to think about genre as well.
  • One teacher in this section discussed how he had students “rewrite” a story or poem in a way that it fit modern times (or however the student wished to rewrite it.) Students also played around with writing alternative endings or adding new characters. This would work well in a creative writing class. You could also use this in 120 by showing how literature can be made relevant today (rewriting a story/poem into present day) and also teach about genre and how genre is culturally constructed (something I make a point to do in 358 and 120).
  • When critiquing literature, have students talk about the writing too. Why the writing works or doesn’t work. Use this to teach students about diction and descriptive writing. (I have an exercise on a Robert Hayden poem I did where I taught them about using diction and descriptive writing. I also showed them his multiple drafts to show how the poem changed via the word choice and descriptions. I’d be willing to share.)
  • Have students write personal essays in response to literature. This can work well (but also potentially backfire) if a student has a strong reaction to a work of literature. The example used was Maya Angelou’s Why the Caged Bird Sings rape scene. A student wrote about her own experiences on this topic. (Would be good for creative writing or 120, but I also think this is a very delicate subject, but if done well could be a very forceful and successful assignment. But you would want to know your class well and make this a later assignment.) This also shows them that literature isn’t an “outside” entity but something they can relate to on a personal level.

Part 4: Writing for Personal Knowledge

These essays all discuss ways students can discuss literature in a more personal way, mainly through journal writing (I felt the last essay from Part 3 fit more into Part 4.)

  • Have students keep a journal or blog where they write about their personal responses to the readings. Journals or blogs will offer a safe haven for students to talk about their personal reactions to a given creative work.
  • A problem with journals is that they can be “unfamiliar territory” to some students, so you could use journals to show how they are private discourses to better understand a story, poem, or novel. Students would use these to discover ways of understanding the reading (writing to learn) and bring these ideas with them to the next class period.
  • In using technology, you can set up an email listserv to talk about the literature. (This may seem outdated today, though.)

Part 5: Writing for Critical Literacy

These essays focused on more comprehensive ways students learn through literature and writing. It discussed ways to get students personally and critically engaged in the readings.

  • Portfolios. We already do this here, so it would easily fit. With portfolios, students would have their personal responses (a response or journals) to a reading and then have a critical piece of writing on that reading following it (analysis, close reading assignment, etc). This way a student could see how his or her knowledge of the readings changed over time.
  • Another teacher discussed the possibility of grading student freewrites at the start of class. He called these the “ten minute writing assignment” and 40 percent of the student’s grade was based in these assignments. They are basically like informal response papers to the readings due for that day. I thought it was an interesting idea to make sure the students were doing the reading and giving credit for that in a tangible way. This also easily helps bring about discussion of literature in the classroom.

After the first “big” grading session

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

I just want to make note of some problems/concerns after my first grading session of the semester:

  • My biggest concern: Students don’t write well for audience, but write well for themselves. When I say this, I mean they will drop in an idea that as the writer they understand well, but just leave the audience hanging. I have had them read about the importance of writing for audience and also discussed it with them. Perhaps we need more in class practice in writing for different audiences to bring this home more. Transition work could also be added to this and in so doing “kill two birds with one stone,” hopefully.
  • Wordiness. Big, ugly wordiness. I know I have a problem with wordiness in my own writing (gotta use up that page!) and as a result I’m always looking for it in the writing of others. I probably notice it far more than I should. But the in class activities on eliminating wordiness are soon approaching and this is a good thing.
  • Awkward sentences and other grammar errors. These things I am lumping into the category “I wrote this the day before and didn’t get enough time to proofread.” We can also call this category “I wrote this at the last minute and had no time to proofread.” We could even call it “I don’t proofread because it isn’t really necessary, is it?”
  • Point of view. Oh my goodness. I had some switch from first person to second person in the same sentence. Ah, the troubles with point of view. And the last essay I graded had so many point of view switches I had problems understanding what the writer even meant to say in some parts. (But the way the student used the genre was innovative, really. So it wasn’t all terrible, you know. I like to point out the good even with the bad.)

There were other errors, but those above were the ones I found repeated and errors I know I need to address in class and have them think and write about/on.

But let’s talk about the good, too:

  • Students understood the assignment overall, even to the point some experimented with genre and forms, which I thought was interesting. These examples of experimentation with form were well done. For example, a couple students saved their reflections on the genres for the end. One student built her genre memo around a specific class she would teach (she had the genres the teacher, herself, would use and the genres the students would perform.) Other students had reflection interwoven with description creating a nice flow to their document. (And a good showing of integrating knowledge and ideas, I think.)
  • Students demonstrated understanding of tone. Most documents sounded professional and included diction relevant to the field. With that being said, students knew their majors inside and out, which they should all understand at this point.
  • To follow with the above, many students (though not all) have been writing in genres relevant to their field in their major coursework. This makes me think that far too often us English professors/instructors feel that students aren’t writing enough is a bunch of hooey. Sure, not all students are writing enough or perhaps not all students are taking that writing seriously, but there is WAC/WID going on and sometimes where you would least expect it.
  • Cohesion. Most students understood that the genres had to relate to a specific career field or other way besides just in how “they are all in my major.” Though this was part of the assignment, students pulled it off well and in ways I didn’t always expect them to.
  • Citation. Most of the students know and understand citation, whether it is APA or MLA. I have a lot of APA citation going on, so I’m reminding myself of it all the time now. I haven’t seen Chicago Style yet, but I think the Chicago students are just using the MLA because I didn’t specifically mention using Chicago style in the class.

It is different working with juniors and seniors than with freshmen, for sure. It is nice to see students understanding citation and the importance of cohesive writing. It is also cool to see students experiment with genre a little bit, especially with the first assignment, and pulling it off well. And audience is something that is often struggled with. It is far easier to write for oneself than to write for others and it is hard to get students out of that thinking of “I am the writer” and leaving it at that. We need to remind them that “Yes, you are the writer, but who is the audience?”

Reflections on a new assignment (and where am I?)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

For English 358 and to better understand the class structure, I created an assignment tentatively titled the Genre Memo (of which will become the Genre Letter for the online course this summer). I created this assignment because there was debate over genres that would be useful to students in a class full of social science and humanities majors. I also simply wanted to see what students valued as genre writing and why. (I had one student tell me already that she never saw designing and writing brochures as “writing” though she did see it as “designing.” Interesting.) The assignment aims to allow students to briefly describe their major ( in the introduction), list at least four types of genres in the main body of the assignment, and for each genre give a description of the genre (one paragraph) and a reflection on that genre (one paragraph), and then conclude the assignment by suggesting a way all these genres are linked (besides through the obvious in how “they are all genres in my field.”) Most students cap off this assignment by showing how these genres build off of each other or are all related to a specific career choice.

As for content, the assignments I’ve seen so far are done pretty well. Everyone understood the genre descriptions. I’ve seen a couple poor examples of reflections where a student just didn’t really want to say anything about the genre. (This might be due to the student just being unfamiliar with the genre and being unsure of how exactly to proceed in reflecting on that genre. Or I just maybe have badly taught/executed that part in some way, though most examples have been good. The problem here for me may be that I understand reflection far too well.)

As for design, there are a few things that could be improved. For example, I’ve seen font styles like you would use on a wedding invitation to serve as the title for the professional document. I’ve also seen bolded and pink font styles to signify a title (bolded isn’t a problem. Pink is the problem). I’ve seen quite a few very large fonts that serve for titles and just eat up the page, and this last one is the most often repeated. I have to admit the bold and pink style is the one that really threw me the most. The wedding font style I could see someone thinking as being “pretty and elegant” which somehow equals, in their mind, to a professional looking style. The bolded pink one was done mainly to irritate me, I assume.

Anyway, design will be something I will again have them work on. End of discussion.

But still, this assignment has really made me reflect on what kind of writing teacher I am and what I value in good writing and what I value in professionalism. As I discussed, I care a lot about the design of a document. I know I have a solid background in the humanities and therefore haven’t had much experience with design. All my prior programs were very traditional as in you wrote an essay and didn’t do anything related to design or C.R.A.P. (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity). But I love teaching document design and thinking about dorky concepts like the use and role of white space and why that font style would never work for this type of document. I also want writing to be succinct and get to the point. I hate paragraphs that go on and on, even when they say a lot. I want succinct description with minimum, but necessary, details. Beginning writers often get lost in too much detail.

All these writing values I hold make me realize I’m much more of a technical writer than I let on or even understand. Technical writing is a job I never thought I would want, but I like what is valued in technical communication. And I’ve realized that, as a teacher, this is the kind of writing style I communicate. It has not only made me see my teaching in a new way, but has also caused me to better realize my concepts of good writing and professionalism.

And the joke to all this is, of course, that I feel I know nothing about technical writing.

Using Literature to teach Writing, Part 1

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I’ve been reading When Writing Teachers Teach Literature (Eds Art Young and Toby Fulwiler, 1995) and have gained some great ideas in the process, one of which I actually do in my World Literature course (and realizing that made me feel smart and excited 🙂  )

  • A way to start a class that is writing intensive but also uses literature (as a required reading, part of a lesson plan, etc) is to ask students to write on the following questions: 1. What is literature? and 2. Why do you think we are reading in a writing class? (you can revise the second question in a way to fit your class). These questions are great openers to get students to think about writing and its role with reading.
  • This second example is something I do in my World Literature course. To explain a little better, I give students the option of writing one of their larger papers as a “creative paper” where they re-write a story or poem they read as the opposite genre. For example, if they write a creative paper on Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis they would retell that story in the form of a poem. (Prose poem would be acceptable, but most students are not students of English or literature and so the question never comes up, but a prose poem would indeed be acceptable.) So a way you could do this in a writing-intensive class would be to have students “revise or reconstruct” something they read by reproducing it in a new genre. You could also have them play with style or voice in their retelling. (For instance, how would the story change if told by another character? would it change at all?) This would get them thinking about genre, style, voice, audience, and purpose.
  • Another important thing to realize, and this idea applies to all concepts of teaching literature in a writing class, is to realize all texts are malleable and explorable. This translates to the idea that even literature from dead men or women is not static, but can be recreated and reinterpreted based on experiences. With this in mind, a good exercise to try might be to have students rewrite a piece of literature (poem or short story) for the present day. Have students think about how the issues have been solved, changed, or even made greater by technology and the natural progression of society. You could have students rewrite the work as a way to address the author’s concerns or ideas. You could even have them practice professional letter writing by having them write a letter to that author discussing how times have changed and why.
  • Finally, (and this one is an obvious answer) is that you can have students explore issues they read about in the literature through writing. For example, with the poem “Leda and the Swan” by W.B. Yeats, they could write a piece about rape on campus for the university newspaper. This would combine literature with a more “professional” style of writing and would also get students engaged in conversation with a larger community, in this case the campus community.

All in all, I find these ways to use literature in a writing classroom as pretty exciting stuff. One thing to remember (if you do read this book yourself) is that this book is geared towards writing teachers who end up teaching literature, so sometimes you encounter ways of teaching that you have to slightly alter to make it fit your classroom. Even so, this book is a great resource for teachers in English.

A good way to introduce how genre is culturally constructed

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Yesterday’s lesson plan for my 358 English class revolved around the idea of how genre is culturally constructed. For my own notes (and for those of you who are interested) here is my lesson plan.

First, start out by discussing the following:

Genre: Ask students what genres they know (make sure you mention they can discuss genres in music and movies.)  From this, ask them what signifies to them a particular genre out of those mentioned. In other words, what are the parts that the genre is composed of. Discuss their answers and elaborate when necessary for a few minutes. (Yes, this sounds like a recipe, but it works.)

Give them the following information in mini-lecture format: According to the composition scholar, Carolyn Miller, Genre is defined as “repeated meaningful action.” In other words, genre is dependent upon the following

1. The culture that produced the genre

2. The conventions of that genre as appropriated by the culture and

3. The action or activity the genre introduces or creates.

(Feel free to give examples of the three things above. For example, I used the genre of memo and its role in larger corporations and technology.)

After mini lecture, show the following videos of the song summertime. (I don’t have the link to Janis Joplin’s version, but I played that after the Sam Cooke version for the 2pm class and it went very well.)

sam cooke version of summer time (1957)

sublime Doin’ Time (present day)

As them the following after each video: What genre of music is it? How do you know? (and give specific evidence for how you know this).

For subsequent videos, talk about how the lyrics and perhaps meaning of the song has changed because of society and culture. Make sure to write what they say on the board and feel free to diagram any interesting things you noticed and they noticed.

Overall, I feel students learned how genre changes because of the culture and society through this exercise. Good luck if you choose to use it. For me, it went well.