Friday, June 01, 2007


Reflections on Spring 2007

Today I got my grades in and as I reflected on student comments I decided to publish my thoughts on Spring 2007 as a point of clarity and as a way to address some of the issues more than one student commented on.

I know how to write because I write. This is the primary reason why I know how to do what I do. It's that simple. I think writing is a skill one begins to feel at ease with the more one participates in the process. In my classes students write and read and rewrite and read and critique and think about the writing they just completed and rewrite and get sick of the whole thing and go eat some ice cream and take a nap or go for a walk and then reread the writing that sucked to see where it can go--sometimes that means in an entirely different direction. Being a writer means one is open to discovery. It means enjoying the ride because you don't always know what the destination is. It means literally trusting the process--all the invention techniques: frewriting, clustering, mapping, listing, outlining, etc. The goal is to keep the pen moving until the page is filled with enough material to fulfill the purpose for a first draft of the exercise/assignment.

All that was certain this spring semester was the room we met in--and even that changed from time to time. Unlike Montaigne, we did not sit in towers tossing essays to those below. No. Writing is not an isolated activity for most of us. We write out loud in the theatre with an active participatory vocal and opinionated audience we must entertain as we engage them with the hope they'll be silent long enough to read what we have to say.

The center of attention has shifted over time like the land mass did during the continental drift which is why we are so distant now as a species, and as a human race.

I feel as if I should just put on the syllabus: "All that is certain here is change, so buckle up. Oh, bring along your driving manual (Hacker), paper, a necessity as is a college dictionary, and an open mind and a willingness to be engaged.

"Wear comfortable clothing and be ready to move and be moved philosophically and intellectually.

"This is a class for people who enjoy thinking about ideas: where thoughts come from how these often random ideas end up beliefs, values and truths we can't seem to shake. Why is it hard to let go of some more than others?"

Students said they were confused when they read the blog because what they heard in class often differed from the posted assignment. The blog was my way to reflect to the class the journey that day. Often the plan was transformed because those present needed it to change. Also, the blog reflected all the classes that day, and was a synthesis of dominant themes.

I remember all the essays I read this semester. I especially recall the students who revised their essays until we were both happy with them. I appreciated their hard work and the results of that work. I tried to offer assistance to students on the portfolio process those final weeks and some students took advantage of this, others did not and their grades reflect this absence of evidence to support one grade over another. We spent weeks on the research essay. I read some essays two-three-four times. I thought I was generous in the final grades especially those students who were missing work; however, if there was no research essay this semester, and this was the key focus of the English 1A course, then I could not in good conscious pass you. I also could not pass you if I couldn't see development in your writing over the 18 weeks.

Some students received As, not because their writing was the best it can be, of course it isn't, but if writing is a process and these students have a better undertanding of their style, its strengths and weaknesses, then the writing can only get stronger and clearer.

This class was also about self-discovery.

The structure was loose; our class more like a jam session where you bring in your instrument and we sit around and compose melodies based on themes, in this case, nature vs, nurture. The assumptions was we're all musicians (writers), so I don't need to tell you how to hold the sticks or how to hit the trap, or what a snare drum is, why the high hat is called such or where the crash cymbal is. We're all sitting there in the woodshed (practice room) with our drum pads composing. Every now and then we'll all stop and listen to a solo, give the artist some feedback then get back to our own work in progress. In the end we have a concert, the rough melodies now music. This only works if each participant stays in tune with what she needs as her individual project develops. One must be prepared to handle the new challenges.

I think this is the ultimate in reflective teaching and stimulus in a reflective learning environment--ownership of the process, a place where we all take responsibility for what happens in the learning laboratory. One of my students who actually liked the flexibility in the schedule, said that I tried to engage all the students' intelligences.

I think this fall, we'll begin each class with a list of discussion topics that we develop on the spot: What do you want to talk about today? Students responsible for supplying one item each meeting. I'll have some standard items for days when the brainwaves are shorting out.

Of course, given the nature of the community college, I do and did start with the rudiments, which I went over early: the structure of an essay and how to develop a thesis, argumentation and other rhetorical styles, the importance of annotating, how to summarize, the importance of planning, and how to develop an outline, how to evaluate and cite sources, and examples of different kinds of conclusions and a survey of logical fallacies.

It was difficult this semester to have meamingful discussions because when the structure is fluid and everyone is not committed, which means prepared, we can't get any work done, or very little. This is why we ran out of time. This is why morale dropped. This is an aspect of the course I cannot control.

Perhaps if I had been more up front, then those students who needed a disciplinarian would have opted out early on for a teacher who was more a guardian or parent, someone who locked doors, paddled them on their knuckles when they were "bad," used a behavior modification slash/punitive disciplinary model.

I think we are all adults and responsible for ourselves. If time management is an issue there are classes one can take. If you are bored, perhaps you should be reading more in your field, deepening the gaze-- expanding what's possible.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your education, so if you want to get the most out of the time you are spending, then take an active role in this learning process. Complaining to the dean and dropping classes because you missed a turn or let go and fell off, is not always the most prudent methodology. Sometimes it's better to find the conductor and spend some time with her mapping out an educational plan best suited for you.

I think all the instructors are here because we want you to be successful, whatever that means and it changes from student to student, semester to semester. I think ultimately, one wants to leave a composition class more literate, more thoughtful, and more polished a writer. None of us has time to waste, so if you are not getting what you want, then ask for it.

I am going to continue the cyber process. We are in a technological age and cyber communication might take adjusting to, but many colleges are moving towards a paperless environment for non-cyber courses. There are short term courses you can take to become computer literate, learn power point, etc., and we have several free labs on campus, so there is no excuse.

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