Posts Tagged ‘college’

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Teaching about Writing Instructions with Comics

posted: 3.18.13 by Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander

Instructions are obviously a nearly ubiquitous part of life in our visual culture and can be found everywhere from the emergency exit of an airplane to a tube of toothpaste. Unlike writing that is organized into prose paragraphs, instructions often take the form of an ordered list that may seem to be woefully lacking in sentence variety for lovers of intricate grammatical style.  However, encouraging students in composition classes to think about writing instructions can be a useful way to discuss audience and purpose and improve students’ understanding of different rhetorical situations.

Technical writing courses often include very interesting prompts about how to write clear, effective, and economical instructions.  My former colleague at UC Irvine, computer science faculty member David Kay, was fond of assigning the task of writing instructions for how to build a particular object from building toys, such as Legos or Tinker Toys.  Peer editing groups would need to try to follow the instructions to build the intended object (such as a specific house, vehicle, or animal) without illustrations and without verbal prompting from the instructor. [read more]

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Categories: Elizabeth Losh
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Change of Venue

posted: 5.6.11 by archived

At the college where I teach, computer labs are in scarce supply and are reserved, for the most part, for classes in computer science, graphic design, and other fields for which computers are an instructional necessity. For my composition classes I have been able to schedule two or three sessions per semester in an open computer lab, where I help students set up blogs and get them started on finding sources for whatever research project we’re doing that semester (which typically involves prodding them over and over from the Google home page into the library’s databases).

This coming semester, though, I will be participating in a pilot project in which one of my comp classes will meet in the computer lab once a week (for an hour and fifteen minutes). A great feature of this pilot program will be the chance to talk with some of my colleagues who will be participating. And the fact that this is a pilot will encourage (force) us to be more explicit about what we hope to accomplish and, later, to reflect on how it has worked out.

We hope that class time in a computer lab will help our students be more comfortable with technology (about 10 to 20 percent of my students have limited experience with even basic word processing) and more skillful with research. I’m working on articulating what else I hope my students will gain from this change of venue. And, of course, I must consider how this will change my approach in class and, more specifically, what activities we should undertake.

We’re beginning to collect resources and ideas. Do you have any suggestions about books, articles, or blogs that have offered practical suggestions about teaching writing in a computer lab? If you’ve taught in a computer lab, how have you adapted your curriculum? Are there any activities you’d recommend? Do you think your students have benefited from writing in a computer lab? If so, how? Advice, suggestions, and comments are welcome!

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas
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WAW, Ecological Models of Writing Development, and Writing Centers

posted: 4.14.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs


I’ve been spending a lot of time recently talking to Kevin Roozen about “ecological” models of writing development (see Syverson, 1999; Fleckenstein, Spinuzzi, Rickly, and Papper, 2008). These ecological understandings consider not only how people develop as expert writers in one discourse community but also at their rhetorical practices across communities. They also consider how “literate learners” bring a variety of literate experiences to bear on all their literate practices.  Ecological models look not just at how literate learners develop vertically (say, from comp to gen ed to the major) but also horizontally (bringing, say, writing tutoring session experience to bear when writing in biology classes) and across seemingly disparate discourse communities (one of Roozen’s example is bringing experience with prayer journals and home storytelling to bear in journalism classes).

Why have I become so interested in ecological models? Because writing about writing as a curriculum seems to be, at least partly, a response to the belief that composition classes can’t train students to be expert writers in specialized disciplinary communities, but that they can help students learn how to learn (as Anne Beaufort says) in those specialized communities if they know something about writing. Further, though, writing about writing seems to recognize the range of literate experiences that students can leverage as they write in and across and even outside of the university. In WAW classes we ask our students, for example, to think about their literacy sponsors and the various kinds of writing they do in a day or week, and imagine what this means for what they know and can do, and who they are as writers. [read more]

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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Talking in Class

posted: 3.11.11 by archived

I started blogging seven or eight years ago as a way to engage in professional conversation. I was new to teaching, twenty years out of graduate school and eager to find someone to talk to—but I soon realized how difficult that would be with the hectic and conflicting schedules of the 5-5 teaching loads of full-time faculty and the multiple teaching gigs of my fellow adjuncts. Though blogging does help me to feel connected professionally, there’s nothing quite so invigorating as sitting down at a table of colleagues to talk teaching. That’s what I had a chance to do yesterday, at a Reflective Practice session with five other teachers where I raised one of the issues I’ve been struggling with lately: how do I get my Writing about Literature students to talk to each other?

My colleagues offered these suggestions for use in the classroom:

  • Try a fishbowl, where a group of 5–7 students sit in the middle and carry on a discussion while the rest of the class watches, taking notes as they await their turn to “sub in.” (I had heard about this method for use in high school classrooms, but hadn’t thought to apply it to my own class; note to myself to read up on active learning strategies!)
  • Throw out an offbeat question that connects characters to students’ real lives (which character would make the best friend?), or try what-if or what-next questions.
  • Ask students to prepare a visual that connects to a story or poem; a colleague reported that in a unit on suspense she asks students to construct a representation of their Evil Twin.
  • Many teachers said that they’d had the most success with small-group discussions (centered on a group of questions provided by the instructor or a poem to present to the class; several mentioned using groups to generate questions for whole-class discussion or writing assignments). Students seem more relaxed in groups, leading to greater participation overall, but teachers stressed the importance of either formally assigned roles within the group process or the requirement that everyone participate in the report-back-to-class portion (if that happens orally). [read more]

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas
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Inventing the University, One Student at a Time

posted: 2.17.11 by Andrea Lunsford

Beth McGregor came to college from a Midwestern town where she attended a fairly small public school: AP classes were a rarity, and she couldn’t remember writing anything longer than four pages in high school.  Then quite suddenly she was on the west coast, at Stanford, taking  four courses that demanded a lot of reading and writing.  Every week; often every day.

In David Bartholomae’s telling phrase, Beth needed to “invent the university” for herself.  That is, she needed to learn its conventions and customs, its ways of engaging with ideas and texts. As she put it, she needed to figure out how to become a “smart Stanford student.” I learned about Beth’s progress first during interviews during her first year of college (she was participating in Stanford’s longitudinal study of writing) and then when we did a directed reading course together on “writing as performance.”  A stand-up comic, Beth was used to performing, but she had never thought of writing as performative. As we worked together, Beth reflected a lot on her first year at college, eventually writing a one-woman performance to demonstrate part of what it meant to her to “invent the university.”

We videotaped Beth’s performance:

[read more]

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Categories: Uncategorized
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How Do I Write a Passing College Essay? A Template Story

posted: 2.14.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

“How do I write a passing college essay?” asks a worried-looking student in Developmental Writing. It is midterm. She anticipates the final assessment that will determine her status as “developmental” or “college level” for the next term. Her financial aid and her timely graduation depend on writing this elusive passing essay. She tells you that nothing in class has helped: not models, not mini-lessons, not free writing, not peer review, not conferencing, not feedback on drafts from you and from the writing center—nothing.

You see her progress, and you try to explain her improvement with specific evidence from her writing. But that explanation, the student says, does not help her. She needs to understand how to write an essay. She asks for tips, hints, and suggestions that will work for her each time—like the formulas she consults for algebra, the bone charts she memorizes for anatomy.

From the student’s point of view, her request certainly seems reasonable. She wants to know how. You realize that your class has been focusing on why. Why do we write? Why are reading and critical thinking important for writing? Why do audience and purpose matter? You have learned over the years that why questions provide students with opportunities to gain agency and motivation as writers. You have seen such transformations over and over again.

You remember that Aristotle stresses observation and persuasion. Aristotle conceived of rhetoric as “a method to discover all means of persuasion on any topic whatsoever.”    Perhaps you can rethink the student’s question as a request for a “method to discover” all available means for writing an essay. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Process
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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]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Teaching Advice
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The Third R: Reflection

posted: 12.17.10 by archived

Moving from considerations of revision and rubrics, we come to that end-of semester ritual: reflecting on what went wrong. While I look forward to the clean slate of next semester, and in anticipation get excited when I read a great article to use in class or think of a new assignment, my thoughts as I look back are mostly of my failures. Several of my students are putting together reflective cover letters for portfolios that demonstrate and argue for their successful completion of first-semester composition. But as I reflect on the semester, the question that bothers me is, why did so many of my students turn in assignments so late—or not at all?

The problem is not a new one. In fact, it marks the most significant difference among students I noticed during the several semesters I taught at both a community college (CC) and a private, four-year university. Students at both schools were excellent writers, though the community college students were a much more diverse group academically, socioeconomically, ethnically, by age, and so on. But when assignments were due, 98 percent of the four-year students turned them in versus, on average, 40 percent of the CC students, with that figure dropping alarmingly as the semester wore on.

Possible explanations:

  • Many CC students juggle school with work and family obligations, creating difficulties with time management, if not physically impossible schedules. (This is partly an advising issue, I’d say, but also something for me to consider in terms of scheduling and scaffolding of assignments, use of in-class writing time, and explicit discussion of time management strategies.)
  • Students, especially the eighteen-year-old contingent, may lack motivation and maturity; I’m not sure what I can do here save impose the earned consequence of a failing grade.
  • I wonder how many well-intentioned students suffer from some sort of writer’s block, spending time sitting in a chair or in front of a computer but unable to begin. (Mike Rose’s re-released Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension is one of the books I’ve been meaning to read.) [read more]

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas
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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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Three Things Teachers Should Never Do

posted: 9.28.10 by Traci Gardner

scream and shout by mdanys, on FlickrTeachers should definitely use social media tools like Twitter, Wikipedia, and social bookmarking in and out of the classroom. But sometimes, I read a post that makes me want to SCREAM.

Why? Because in that post the teacher sends the wrong message to students and colleagues.

If you want students and colleagues to respect you as an educator, please never do these three things:

  1. Grumble about grading.
    Posts like these undermine the teacher-student relationship: “Dreading having to grade these research papers” or “Still grading. Will this horrible pile of papers ever end?”

    Students who read that kind of message will know you have a bad attitude about their work before you even look at it. Worse, some colleagues and potential employers will wonder why you’ve taken up teaching if you hate grading so much.

    Updates and facts are fine: “One set of papers graded! One set to go!” Praise and encouragement is even better: “These documentary videos are amazing. Great work everyone!” Just don’t complain. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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