Archive for the ‘Campus Issues’ Category

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Tips for New Teachers #1: Classroom Ethos

posted: 4.28.11 by Andrea Lunsford

In the next several weeks, I will be blogging about issues that are important to all writing teachers but perhaps especially key for beginning instructors.  So if you are a new teacher of writing, stay tuned!

Every year, I get to visit classes taught by graduate students, most of whom are teaching on their own for the first time ever. And before I visit, I get to spend a term with them in a seminar as they design their classes and develop their syllabi. One of the things we talk a lot about is what kind of “ethos” they want their classes to have—that is to say, what sort of atmosphere they want to establish and what relationship they hope to create with and among the students in the class.

How would you describe the “ethos” of classes you have been in?  I think of Walker Gibson’s delightful categorization of discourse into three types: “tough,” “sweet,” and “stuffy”—and I can easily think of classes that fall into each category.  The really tough classroom ethos is one where everyone is on the attack, trying to vie for the best grade or for the teacher’s attention.  The “sweet” classroom might be just the opposite, with all the students loving each other and all their writing. And we all know the “stuffy” classroom—the teacher lecturing or handing out notes, the students trying to stay awake. But most of us don’t want to inhabit such classrooms, and our students definitely don’t want to. [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues
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Disability Accommodations

posted: 4.18.11 by archived

Read Jay’s earlier post, Disability and the Teaching of Writing, here.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act provides the right for students with disabilities to receive “reasonable accommodations” in the classroom. In Canada, we have a very similar system. These accommodations are commonly seen through the prism of the standard teaching model in higher education: lectures, note-taking, tests, exams. So, if students are in a standard classroom, they can get some accommodations that make the learning environment more accessible. But what good is extra time on an exam in a portfolio-based writing class? What good is a note-taker when there are no lectures?

I think our writing classrooms are already very accessible spaces in comparison to many other classes—but this isn’t enough. As writing teachers, when we receive official letters from the Office of Persons with Disabilities (or whatever this office is called at your school) we need to do more than simply sign off on a series of accommodations that don’t apply to the style of teaching and learning in our classrooms.

When I was coordinating a large first-year writing program at West Virginia University, I worked with the Office of Disability Services and the Office for Social Justice to rewrite the standard accommodation letter for our writing students. We made this an official “addendum” to the letters that were usually generated. Some of the recommendations we made could be considered by other English and writing teachers for their own programs, classes, and students.

Below are the teaching suggestions that expand the scope of legal accommodations and that can make the classroom even more accessible. The suggestions are addressed to the student: [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Jay Dolmage
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Disability and the Teaching of Writing

posted: 4.4.11 by archived

I’m going to use today’s post for a bit of what may seem like self-promotion. But I hope I am providing links and directions to some resources you’ll find helpful for teaching students of varying abilities.

Studies tell us that somewhere between 9 percent and 11 percent of undergraduate students have a documented disability. We can safely assume that many more students either choose not to be tested, do not seek accommodations, or have undiagnosed disabilities. We know that according to these same studies, the number of students with disabilities has increased a lot: by one account, fivefold in the last 30 years; 9780312447250another study suggests an increase from 3 percent in 1978 to 9 percent in 2000. So the issue of how to accommodate students with disabilities in the classroom is an important one. I’m not going to offer advice and ideas here—instead I want to point to some resources that writing teachers might find useful.

Back in 2007, I worked with Cindy Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Brueggeman to edit the Bedford publication Disability and the Teaching of Writing. (You can request copies of this book from Bedford—all professional resources are free to instructors.) That was just a few years ago, but at the time the book was a major step forward: it was the first book to really bring together disability studies and composition pedagogy. Since then, such resources have been popping up all over the place. [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Jay Dolmage, Professional Conferences
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Writing Beyond Statistics

posted: 2.28.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

Patti, a young pregnant woman, drops out of college. Like many young women and men from working families, she cannot return to school. For a time, Patti lives in the laundry room of her parents’ home. Later her pregnancy becomes the scandal of her hometown, so Patti moves in with a young couple far from home. She gives birth, then gives her baby up for adoption. Patti finds a temporary factory job, but is laid off at the beginning of the summer. She soon leaves for New York City, homeless and penniless. She sleeps in doorways, alleys, and subways, and relies on the benevolence of strangers to make her way. Sometimes she resorts to stealing, and often she is desperately hungry.

Patti’s story in no way resembles the story in Juno, a film in which a pregnant teenager’s family and friends, and the baby’s adoptive mother, create a community of love and acceptance for a teenager who is transgressing social norms. Patti tells of a lonelier, more brutal, and more desperate situation. As the story of a young woman who leaves school because of difficult circumstances, Patti’s situation holds similarities for many students enrolled in our developmental writing courses that leave school, but do not return.

Some studies cite the high percentages of students that enroll in developmental education, but fail to complete college degrees. Recently, a variety of educational stakeholders have used these statistics to eliminate developmental writing courses across the country. This use of statistics disregards the real lives of students and reduces authentic people to numbers and stereotypes. [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Campus Issues, Developmental
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Teaching “It Gets Better”

posted: 2.2.11 by Barclay Barrios

The It Gets Better Project is an effort to stem the tide of suicides among young people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning). The project started when noted gay columnist Dan Savage made a YouTube video with his partner to let LGBTQ youth know that “it gets better.”

Since then, the project has grown to include videos from a broad spectrum of celebrities as well as everyday people. Given the number of LGBTQ suicides in the news lately, it seems like a timely project to explore in the writing classroom, particularly since it takes place within a larger context of a rising movement against any kind of bullying in early education. (My fellow Bits blogger Jay Dolmage has also written about this project.)

When I think of It Gets Better I immediately think of Daniel Gilbert’s essay “Reporting Live from Tomorrow.” Gilbert’s idea of a surrogate—someone who is living the future you’d like for yourself and so can give you the best sense of how happy you will be in that future—perfectly fits with each video promising LGBTQ youth that it does indeed get better. In crafting an assignment around this project, I’d have students consider Gilbert’s idea of the super-replicator, an idea that spreads voraciously. I’d ask them to think about homophobia or bullying as a super-replicator, then have them write on what effect surrogates like the It Gets Better Project might have on super-replicators. [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Emerging
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What’s Your Late Policy?

posted: 2.1.11 by Traci Gardner

471342075_8acd36fc9e_mLet me begin by admitting that I submitted this blog post to the moderators late. I have a good excuse. Well, at least it seems like a good excuse to me. The situation got me to thinking about how I set late policies, however. What’s a fair late policy?

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different options:

  • A full letter grade off for any late paper
  • No late papers accepted without a note from the dean or student health services
  • No grade penalty, but no revisions accepted
  • No grade penalty if an extension is arranged a class before the due date
  • One 24-hour grace period allowed per student, after that a full grade off

I never have found the perfect solution. The problem is that I’m a sucker for a sad face and a good excuse. I know I need a clear policy that I can apply fairly. But if it’s going to work for me, the less I have to evaluate excuses the better. I’m just too much of a pushover.

I know there are a lot of other options out there. Nels P. Highberg explained in ProfHacker that he accepts late papers but does not provide any comments on them. That would never work for me. Like one of the commenters on his post, I use those comments later to remind myself why the paper earned the grade it did. [read more]

Comments: (2)
Categories: Campus Issues, Teaching Advice
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Talking about Tolerance

posted: 11.16.10 by Traci Gardner


You may not realize it, but today is the International Day for Tolerance. Established by UNESCO in 1996, the event is based on their 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance “to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”

One effective but simple way to explore tolerance is to look at how people talk about the concept. You can begin by asking students to record their own understanding of tolerance. They can record personal experiences, working definitions, and responses to events in the news. There is no right or wrong answer. The goal is to create a touchstone that they can return to later.

Next, take a look at UNESCO’s declaration. Article 1 specifically addresses the meaning of tolerance. Ask students to read the entire declaration, paying particular attention to that section. In class, discuss the definition in the declaration and how it compares to students’ own understanding. Explore the language that is used in the document specifically. Unpack the complex words, and note how the document attempts to be inclusive. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Campus Issues, Critical Thinking, Discussion
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Choosing a Textbook–A Response

posted: 10.27.10 by Barclay Barrios

Last week Holly Pappas wrote about her decision not to use a textbook. Barclay Barrios responds here.

Last semester I was teaching a graduate seminar in queer theory.  I knew I wanted to cover some key essays but couldn’t find an anthology that would really work as a textbook.  “Easy peasy,” I thought, “I’ll just toss all the PDFs up on Blackboard.”  It didn’t turn out to be quite that easy.  The experience reminded me of why I choose textbooks whenever I can.

For one thing, there was quite a bit of labor involved in tracking down the essays, photocopying them, and then scanning them to PDF.  I couldn’t imagine doing that work semester after semester, and I couldn’t imagine using those same PDFs semester after semester either—fair use has its limits.

I felt fine using a batch of readings for this course since I knew I wouldn’t be teaching it again any time soon, but when I think about the intellectual property implications of my composition courses—which I teach far more often—electronic copies of readings feel less viable to me.

Surprisingly, they’re far less viable to students as well.  The ones in my seminar, at least, urged me to make a course packet instead of placing the readings on Blackboard.  It turns out that a semester’s worth of readings can eat up a lot of toner—and printer toner is really expensive.   [read more]

Comments: (3)
Categories: Campus Issues, Teaching Advice
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Make It Better

posted: 10.4.10 by archived

These last few weeks we’ve seen a very disturbing trend: around every corner, a new story appears about the bullying of teens and youth because of their sexual orientation.  In several prominent cases, these young people have committed suicide.

This trend corresponds with a recent survey showing that nine out of ten lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students are harassed in elementary and high school, while two out of three students feel unsafe.

On Facebook, several huge initiatives have been started to protest such bullying and to commemorate these lives.  Ellen Degeneres created a video statement about this bullying that has been widely watched and circulated.

Dan Savage, of the syndicated sex-advice column Savage Love, and his husband Terry Miller also began a YouTube channel called It Gets Better.  On the channel, role models, celebrities, and everyday people have posted short videos to let LGBT teens know that they themselves also had very difficult experiences when they were younger, but that things do get better.  The channel has had over 700,000 viewers. Here is Dan and Terry’s video:

[read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Jay Dolmage
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Studying the Student

posted: 9.28.10 by archived

Student diversity is one of the most obvious challenges when designing a course in a community college environment. It takes just one semester of teaching to realize how different the students—and their goals—may be from one another. I’ve been struggling with this challenge for eight years, and in revisiting it for this blog I consulted my colleagues Howard Tinberg and Jean-Paul Nadeau, who earlier this year published their study The Community College Writer: Exceeding Expectations. I asked them how what they discovered about students changed or reinforced their own notions of how to design the composition course. They were generous enough to sit down for an hour’s chat, so I’ll try to distill, without distorting, what they had to say into some bullet-worthy points.

Get to know your students

HT: The study confirmed how important it is to know these students as well as possible and to listen to the stories. I’m thinking back to…how much it would have helped me as an instructor to know something of their backgrounds and their other activities, some of which were highly literate and required all kinds of reading, writing, and speaking skills that I wouldn’t have had access to if I hadn’t been able to be with them or talk to them as much as we did. [read more]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Community College issues, Holly Pappas, Teaching Advice
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