Posts Tagged ‘activity’

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Multimodal Mondays: Using TV News Chyrons to Reflect on Fair and Accurate Treatment of Sources

posted: 3.3.14 by Andrea Lunsford

TV News is full of sources, some more credible than others, and although “media bias” is a buzzword of this and every age, it helps sometimes to remind ourselves that news broadcasts can be quickly tested on the issues of fairness and credibility. How? Well, evaluating the chyron (or lower third)—that piece of onscreen editorial apparatus crucial to any TV news story—certainly helps. [read more]

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Favorite Week One Activity: Revisiting the Timeline

posted: 1.9.12 by archived

For many of us, the new semester has begun. As I usually do at the start of a semester, I wanted to offer you something really practical in this post. In the past, I’ve posted about activities that I have used in the first few weeks of every writing course I have ever taught. My favorite has traditionally been the “timeline,” an activity that not only incorporates multiple literacies, and can be used as pre-writing or invention for a personal narrative assignment, but is also a great “get-to-know-one-another” activity that breaks the ice in a new class.

I begin the timeline activity by asking students to take one sheet of blank paper and turn it sideways., I instruct each student to write his or her date of birth on the left side of the paper and today’s date on the far right side. Their work is then to fill in the space between these dates, chronologically: I ask students to write down all of the key events in their lives, filling in the space between their date of birth and today. They can flesh out the details of some of these key dates on the page, or choose an event (or a few events) and then write about them on a separate piece of paper. I let students know, before they begin, that they will be asked to share these timelines.

I instruct students to tape these timelines up on the wall and browse one another’s pages. I then ask them to take turns explaining their timelines, thus giving a brief tour of their lives. This process helps them to see that their lives have a “narrative” form—the important things that happened to them can be laid out chronologically, and each event helps to make each student the person he or she is today. Sharing these timelines is also a good way to jog everyone’s collective memories. When we see other stories, we are reminded of our own.

I also see this as an activity that makes writing more accessible. For students who may be most comfortable talking through their stories, they see that, if they simply write down what they just said, they have created some great material for a narrative. With this in mind, I give students a few minutes before the class ends to transcribe the tour of their timeline for themselves. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage
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posted: 7.12.11 by Steve Bernhardt

I am not very good about exercising. I like to be active, but the idea of doing a repetitive physical action is not appealing. I lack whatever discipline it takes. I am not very good about practicing.

So I have to think hard about whether I believe in exercises in the context of a writing classroom.  If I don’t care to do something, or lack the motivation, should I expect my students to exercise? Should I base a pedagogy on activities I myself avoid?

I suppose at some level most of what we instructors do is practice, since we typically invent writing tasks for our students. We don’t often encounter situations that call for writing to get something done—and when we do, we surely ought to take advantage of these natural contexts for writing and improving as writers. But that still leaves the question of whether we ought to expect our students to do practice exercises, especially those focused on discrete skills.

Working as an author on Writer’s Help has led me to keep thinking about such issues. I have learned that some instructors see great value in having students do exercises on comma usage, forming thesis statements, or distinguishing confusing pairs of words. These instructors then note what students have trouble with, either individually or as a group. They appreciate the sets of exercises on a wide variety of topics, and they assign and track student performance, expecting to see improvement through practice and feedback. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching Advice
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Following a List

posted: 4.5.11 by Steve Bernhardt

In my previous post, I discussed Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Picador, 2009), specifically noting the ways that lists can improve team performance on complex tasks, including writing. These lists must be stripped to essentials and tested repeatedly under performance conditions, refined to fit the way people behave at work. I ended by suggesting, as Gawande does, that lists don’t work by themselves. A list has to be reviewed at the right time, with the right people, and in the right way if it is really going to improve performance.

In Gawande’s operating rooms, the surgical team calls a time-out at opportune moments, what he calls pause points, to make sure everything is right and ready. One pause point is just before the patient is given anesthesia; the second is after anesthesia but before making an incision; the third is after the patient is closed up and ready to be wheeled away. Timing is critical to decrease errors and improve outcomes. We might ask: What are the pause points in our writing classrooms? When is just the right time to review a simple list that calls to mind the most important points of consideration or action? Too often, I find myself closing out a class session by reminding students what to do when they eventually get around to working on an assignment. While I am trying to review key points for their consideration, the students are shuffling laptops and backpacks, ready to move on. My timing is bad. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Process
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Listening to Learn

posted: 3.14.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

How and why do developmental writing instructors make connections between the known and the unknown? I ask because of the seemingly implausible world and national events that have unfolded since the beginning of this new year. I wonder how to make to sense of these changes through writing. Even my usually reliable laptop freezes at the prospect of such a daunting writing task.

“Listen to music,” my friend Jeremy suggests. Jeremy is a professional writing tutor who worked with my developmental writing classes several years ago. He taught me that music that we love and that is familiar can provide a means for learners to create connections to unfamiliar material. Shannon Carter also makes a similar point about music in her book, The Way Literacy Lives: Rhetorical Dexterity and Basic Writing Instruction.

So I began to surf YouTube, and before long I found a link to Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” Perfect, I thought. Tupac’s music belonged to the students from my first teaching job after graduate school. I worked at a community college in a large northeastern city that had fallen on hard times in the mid-1990s. At first I knew barely anything about Tupac or his music. But in 1994, Tupac was shot five times and students in my developmental writing class argued fiercely about gun violence and Tupac’s attempted murder.

This is argument,” I suggested to the students. “What you’re doing with speech—that’s also possible with writing!” Their response was that if I really wanted to hear argument, I had to listen to Tupac.

I understood that I did need to listen—and to learn. The students brought Tupac’s music to class. They explained why his work was so important to their generation—so important to them. “Times are hard,” the students said, “and Tupac knows it. We face so many obstacles. Tupac reminds us that we still need to stand up—not to give up.” [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea
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Online Peer Review

posted: 2.23.11 by Nedra Reynolds

Like most writing instructors, I have tried peer review in almost every possible configuration, often within the same semester: same groups all semester, different groups every time, self-selected groups, teacher-assigned groups, writer reads aloud, writer shares copies cold, writer shares copies well before class time. I’ve tried partners, groups of three, groups of four; I’ve modeled best practices, played instructional videos, and assigned plenty of follow-up reflection and evaluation.  A couple of times, in desperation, I even resorted to the ubiquitous “checklist”—a form readers fill out for the writer.

Despite trying it every which way, I still heard from students who were disappointed by the feedback they received from readers, and I still saw drafts that remained unchanged from previous versions. I kept wondering if all of the class time devoted to peer review was paying off for writers—giving them the experience of multiple readers who felt confident enough to offer concrete suggestions or genuine reactions. I considered making it “count more” in the final grade, but doubted that I could evaluate the quality of peer review with consistency or fairness.

I realize that I’m telling a “technology-to-the-rescue” narrative, and I’m aware how problematic that might be, but I do want to share that I am finally feeling excited about peer review again!  By moving the peer review process outside of the classroom, to an online environment, students do not have the constraints of a 50-minute class meeting to respond thoughtfully to each other’s ideas.  While I still haven’t figured out how to facilitate online peer review on Sakai (and neither have my more tech-savvy colleagues), nearly every publisher in our field has a course management system with a peer review feature, including Bedford St. Martin’s CompClass, and often you can try those programs for one semester at little or no cost to your students. [read more]

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Peer Review
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How Memes Can Build Community in the Classroom

posted: 12.14.10 by Traci Gardner

Building BlocksInternet memes, like the quizzes, surveys, and polls students see on Facebook, are one of the easiest ways to build community in the classroom. Memes, by their nature, connect people. They spread like gossip from person to person, and as they are passed along, people learn a little bit about one another in the process.

As Bits blogger Barclay Barrios explained in his discussion of teaching with video memes, memes “get students thinking about the connections between what we are reading and what’s happening out in the world.” That, of course, is why they are so successful: memes provide students with a context for building connections that’s grounded in the buzz of pop culture.

Memes are like cultural building blocks, just waiting to be arranged and assembled in the classroom. Internet quizzes, surveys, and polls will be familiar to most of the students you teach. You can begin building community in the classroom on existing knowledge and take advantage of the inherently social nature of the connections students will make.

Better yet, there’s nothing to explain before students can start engaging. They’re already pros at the genre. Just give students a quiz or survey that relates to the purpose of your course, and tell them how you want them to respond. Once they reply, you can compare the answers and discuss the memes themselves. The Internet memes become icebreaker activities that give everyone a shared experience to talk about. [read more]

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Categories: Discussion, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology
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Ten New Course Evaluation Questions

posted: 12.7.10 by Traci Gardner

327122302_bbc4a3935b_mNear the end of every term, I ask students to answer a series of official course evaluation questions, like these from Virginia Tech. The series normally presents computer-driven questions with four or five possible answers.

Standard course evaluation questions like these simplify the process of making comparisons among course sections and across the college or university. The problem is that the numbers generated from those official questions don’t give me specific suggestions I can use to improve the course and my teaching.

To get more detailed feedback, I have also asked students to respond to three questions anonymously in writing:

  • What were you most satisfied with about this course?
  • What would you change to make the course more effective?
  • Please share any other comments or suggestions.

I’ve used those three questions for years with little variation. I have modified them slightly and used them for training sessions and conference workshops as well.

Recently however, I began to wonder if they were giving me the best possible information on how to improve my course. How, I wondered, could I rethink course evaluation questions? What could I do to freshen up the questions and still get some useful feedback?

I came up with ten new course evaluation questions, shown below in boldface. Naturally, I won’t use all ten questions at once—three is probably plenty. For each, I explain my goal for the question and the kind of information that I hope to hear from students. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching Advice, Teaching with Technology
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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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Liars and Lying: An Analytical Activity

posted: 11.9.10 by Traci Gardner

4130720910_0afe977321_mI ask students to analyze a lot of texts, so I perked up a bit when I came across the PsychologyToday article “Clues to When CEOs and Politicians Are Lying to You” by Todd B. Kashdan recently. It seemed like it could stimulate a great classroom activity.

The article summarizes a working paper from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance that analyzes the language CEOs and CFOs use during quarterly earnings conference calls. The researchers found that during those calls, the speakers betrayed the truth in three main ways:

  1. They avoided personal references, for instance, using “we” rather than “I.”
  2. They overused “over-the-top glowing positive statements.”
  3. They never hesitated. Their language showed “absolute certainty.”

These findings can easily be applied to texts that students read in the classroom or as part of a research project. I could spend some time in class discussing each of the clues and brainstorming examples of the kind of language that each refers to. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Teaching with Technology
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