Posts Tagged ‘in-class activities’

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Cross-Dressing and Identity in Understanding Rhetoric

posted: 9.30.13 by Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander

Recently I was honored to be invited by media scholar Henry Jenkins to speak to his graduate class on Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice about Understanding Rhetoric.

Jenkins wanted his students to hear both about making rhetorical theory more accessible to a broader public and also about using visual arguments—specifically comics—as a means for scholarly communication.  [read more]

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Categories: Elizabeth Losh
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Writing is a Public Act: Take Two

posted: 3.29.13 by archived

When I wrote my last blog post on my “Writing is A Public Act” policy, I didn’t anticipate that it would be a two-fer, but that’s how it has turned out. In that post, I ended up thinking about how having access to student writing via the LMS and Google Docs is useful to me as a writing teacher in the Paperless Writing Class. What I didn’t articulate is why I think this policy is worthwhile for the students and that’s what I’d like to take up here.

Let me say from the outset that the writing I’m talking about here is not of the personal sort–I’m not looking for students to do a freewrite on a significant relationship in their lives and then insisting that they allow me to share that freewrite with the class. That’s not what I have in mind. I’m talking about the kind of writing students do when they’re working through ideas or asking questions or reacting to something they’ve read or we’ve discussed. Let’s take an example.

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Categories: Michael Michaud
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Habits of Mind: Persistence

posted: 7.6.12 by archived

In my plan for re-focusing my comp class, I’ve saved for last the one that’s hardest for me to grapple with and also most crucial (in some ways) for my students’ success. In many of the classes I’ve taught, between 20 and 30% of the students either disappear without officially withdrawing or continue to come to class without turning in any (or many) assignments. I look back at the report I’ve cited earlier (“Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing”) to copy out the definition of persistence: “the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects.” Many of these students had the ability to pass the class, but something gets in the way of their completing the work of the course, or sometimes of even starting it.

I’d like to be able to poll them to find out why this is so. In particularly bad semesters I sometimes ask students to write an anonymous page about how they assess their progress in the class and, if they’re not happy with how they’ve been doing, what’s been going on to interfere. Pens fly, and the mood seems to be one of eager confession. Generally the resulting pages speak of difficulties balancing schoolwork and the rest of life (my students often work at least twenty hours a week, and many have family obligations as well) or of chronic problems with procrastination.  In my more insecure moments I worry that it’s something about me or how I’ve taught the class, that I haven’t designed assignments that are sufficiently engaging, or that assignments are too difficult for students to approach. [read more]

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Categories: Holly Pappas
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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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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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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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Persuasion, Argument, and Book Banning in 10 Steps

posted: 9.21.10 by Traci Gardner

Banned Books WeekALA_BBW_Poster_2010_sm is September 25−October 2, 2010. Every fall, the American Library Association (ALA) encourages the public to fight censorship and celebrate the right to read. For writing teachers, it’s also a chance to talk about persuasion and argument.

Every time a book, film, or Web site is banned from a library or classroom, argument and persuasion play a part. Students can examine these real-world arguments to see how people use argument and persuasion in everyday life.

To get started, choose some banned texts to discuss. Sadly, there are always stories about censorship and book banning in the news. All it requires is a search of Google News for “book banning” or “censorship.”

You can choose an internationally sensational event, like Florida Pastor Terry Jones’s plan to burn the Qur’an on September 11, or a more local example, such as the recent Stockton, Missouri decision to ban Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. [read more]

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Categories: Discussion, Uncategorized
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Teaching Roach: Cadaver and Cars

posted: 9.15.10 by Barclay Barrios

If you’re teaching Mary Roach’s “The Cadaver Who Joined the Army,” you might want to check out this short piece from Jalopnik, a blog about cars and the automotive industry.

Share the post with students—considering how cadavers could save lives in nonmilitary contexts may deepen their thinking about the ethics of using cadavers in research.

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Categories: Literature
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Enough About Me, Tell Me Something About You…

posted: 9.18.09 by archived

For many college writers, the personal narrative assignment is the first prompt they are given in writing class. As Robert Connors wrote in 1987,

“From the 1890’s through today, personal writing assignments have remained central to the teaching of composition. Almost every writing course includes personal writing, most start with it, and many concentrate on it.  Personal writing is not only widely assigned, but is widely accepted by students.”

One of the main goals of a personal narrative assignment is, simply, fluency. We want to get students to feel comfortable writing. So we ask them to begin by writing about themselves. The assignment can also serve an important social function in a writing classroom. Each essay allows the students to introduce themselves to you (their teacher) and to their peers. Sharing this writing allows students to learn from and about one another.

There are, however, some disadvantages to this classic assignment as well. For instance, when I say that the personal narrative assignment is popular and common, I am also speaking to teachers who have read thousands of these papers in their careers (or just this week). We can readily recognize the recurrent sub-genres of this form of student writing: from conversion narratives to stories of athletic triumph. Often, a personal narrative reads like a prose résumé or the treatment for a predictable Hollywood movie. It can be difficult to push students to write a personal essay that contains “genuine” reflection or critical thinking.

It is possible that the impetus for reflection or critical thinking calls for a difficult gymnastic — many students simply aren’t yet comfortable thinking critically about themselves. Many students may feel they don’t have enough distance from an experience to write about it. Others might not see their life as interesting enough to share. For many students, this assignment is simply too close to one of the most high-stakes forms of writing they have been asked to do in their lives: the college entrance essay. And so the genre doesn’t really feel new, and maybe it feels fraught to them.

Of course, none of these explanations should dissuade us from encouraging students to do this writing. There is too much to gain. I feel we need creative ways to critically engage the personal.

So I’ve developed alternative lessons and assignment ideas to help move students beyond predictable and clichéd narratives and toward more engaging writing.

Here are a few assignments to get students started:

  • Dialogue: Ask students to re-create an important conversation from their past.
  • Adjectives: Ask students to compile a list of adjectives that best describe them, and then use these words in a poem or short story.
  • Character Sketches: Ask students to describe important people in their lives (and perhaps to draw them).
  • Artifacts: Ask students to describe or draw pictures of key objects from their past (a baseball glove, a tree in their backyard, a bike), tell the story of the object to the class, and then write this story down.
  • Story Board: Ask students to draw several scenes from their past, describe the sequence between these key scenes, and then write this description down.
  • Playlist/Mix Tape: Ask students to choose a song that has deep personal meaning to them, or that was the “soundtrack” to an important moment or period in their life. Then listen to the song and freewrite, allowing the song to call up memories.

I find these in-class activities can spur students to “enter” their own lives from different angles. In my next post, I’ll look at some of the ways the entire assignment of a personal narrative can be redesigned.

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Categories: Drafting, How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage, Rhetorics, Writing Process
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Using Current Events to Discuss Writing and Visual Rhetoric

posted: 9.17.09 by Traci Gardner

On the local news tonight, I heard a story about a letter sent to all Virginia Tech students outlining the precautions being taken on campus to avoid an outbreak of swine flu. On the other side of the U.S., Washington State University reported that 2500 students have contracted the H1N1 virus since classes started in August. Somewhere on your campus, you’ve probably heard or seen similar news and advice on avoiding swine flu.

All these stories make excellent texts for the classroom. Obviously, we want to share the information with students to help ensure a healthy fall term for everyone. In the composition classroom, these news stories and public notices also give us current texts we can dissect for use of persuasive techniques and visual rhetoric. Combined with similar materials from the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, these materials give students the chance to consider how rhetorical techniques are adapted to fit the times.

I’ve gathered online resources that range from library exhibitions on the 1918 pandemic to current U.S. government materials on the H1N1 virus. You can supplement these materials with information distributed on your own campus and in the local community as well as from the Reuters Worldwide Coverage on H1N1. Here are four ideas for classroom activities to get you started:

  1. Much of the way we think about global pandemic, whether the spread of the H1N1 virus today or the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, is shaped by materials distributed by the government. Explore how these government sites present information on the 1918 pandemic: The Great Pandemic: The United States in 1918–1919, Influenza of 1918 (Spanish Flu) and the US Navy, and The Deadly Virus. Ask students to consider how the different sites blend historical facts and figures about the 1918 pandemic with more personal reports of the effects of the disease. Have students consider why these government sites exist and how they relate to the public health efforts related to the current H1N1 virus.
  2. Read these personal recollections of the 1918 pandemic, all in the form of transcribed oral histories, focusing on their use of specific details. Ask students to identify the details in the oral histories that make the stories vivid and authentic and to discuss what the specific details add to the oral histories that more general information would not have captured.
  3. Focus on visual rhetoric by looking at the posters and public service announcements. Use the Visual Rhetoric resources from the Purdue OWL to guide your exploration. For a historical twist, compare the techniques used in posters urging health and safety during the 1918 pandemic to those created for the H1N1 virus.
    As part of your exploration, students might design their own posters or videos.

  4. Tap the language expertise of ESL students you teach. Ask second language speakers to focus on how the same message is communicated in different languages. Are there significant differences? What cultural information must change to communicate the same basic message. Use the Stop Germs, Stay Healthy! posters from King County in Washington or the World Health Organization Documents on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 to start discussion.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Campus Issues, Document Design, ESL/multilingual writers, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
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