“You can’t have pride in something you haven’t thought about.”

~ Julian, a student in College Writing.

The course final is a face-to-face oral examination between each student individually and me, the teacher. I ask about the argument they made in their Final Reflection Letter, in which they were to use evidence from this course to answer the question, “What is the relationship between your writing and your thinking?”
I haven’t read the actual papers yet, but our conversations have been stellar. I am proud of the poise and integrity each student has brought to these meetings, as much as the actual improvements in their writing. 🙂
I’ve also asked what would have made the course better, eased them through the rougher spots, or otherwise have inspired even more growth. I’m eager to incorporate their feedback into the design of next semester’s course.

The four units: There’s a split opinion in the class, between those who think each unit should have the same amount of time and those who feel they benefited from taking extra time with the first essay. I might try to strike a compromise by giving units 2,3 and 4 the same amount of time, and keeping the first unit a bit longer but not as long as it was this semester.
Instructions: Again, a split. The minority viewpoint is that more instructions and clearer guidelines are necessary. The majority viewpoint acknowledges that it was challenging not to have everything laid out in exacting detail, because it pushed for more ownership. Emily said, “We had the same assignments as students in other sections, but you took it in a direction that allowed us to make it our own.” I could have been clearer, though, that the Unit 1 essay on identity required an argument, and that the Unit 3 essay required in-text citations and a balanced Works Cited page.
What really worked: A few students mentioned the activity when they met my friend Puru, the author. A few referred to the first writing, The Wall essays (example: by Elise) and the student responses to them (see Sharon’s to Andrew). Most mentioned the Peer Reviews – some even going so far as to say I should emphasize them more – while a few complained about peers who didn’t put much effort into providing critical feedback. Most said how helpful it was to learn the range of perspectives of peers and realize how different readers take different meanings and thus their own understandings about what a writer’s point, where meaning breaks down, and what they think is tangential (as just some examples).
The wiki: Believe it or not, even those who didn’t like the class wiki came around to it in the end, for various reasons. BTW, the redesign by Dave, Julian, and Mike is totally awesome: Class:Section 68, ENG112. Way to go, WikiTeam! Everyone loved how easy it was to check the wiki to find out the daily schedule and get directions on assignments. It was a backup, “a safety mechanism,” if they’d forgotten, providing a sense of security of always being able to find out what is going on. Students liked being able to look at what other students were doing with assignments and/or their writing in general, especially if there was confusion about an assignment. checking around made it possible to compare the assignment description with application, hence they could figure out how to do the assigned task. Many said they enjoyed being able to read the work of their peers, and a bunch said they didn’t read their peers’ work as much as they wished (hint hint to future students!)
Even the most vigorous critics of the wiki were more upset by what they felt was a waste of time learning how to use it than by the wiki itself. Others were worried about having their work available for others to read, but they all said, in the end that the public exposure was a good thing. Why? Specific reasons were named:
1) being conscious of the audience and the fact that what is written will be read. Awareness of diction, clarity, and organization was heightened because of this realization.
2) even though there was some shyness about having one’s own work available for others to read, this turned out to be a hump it was good to get over. “If I make a mistake or don’t make myself totally clear, I realized people don’t really care so much.” “Now I’m much more confident about sharing my writing.”
3) It was great – said almost everyone – to read other student’s work and see how differently everyone came to each assignment and generally expressed themselves uniquely in their writing.
4) It was even suggested that I require more reading of peer’s work!
5) One person said the distance is what made it easier to take in the feedback of peers. This seems variable, some students preferred watching a peer read their work and give feedback face-to-face, others felt more comfortable when this happened via the mediation of textual communication.
One student mentioned that the issue of confidentiality was “blown out of proportion” by trying to set the wiki completely apart from other public online forums such as MySpace or FaceBook. I think it is fine we took the time we needed to sort out the private/public question. The line between these two things is always blurry; it is important for students to know where and why they want to draw the line. Another student mentioned one complaint was having to walk to another building on wikidays, “but, it wasn’t really that bad,” after all. 🙂

“Besides, what other class
has a wiki?
That’s kinda cool.”

Rewriting: When asked what is the main thing that students will carry with them from this class into writing they do in future classes, almost everyone said or implied rewriting. “It helped to see the drafts.” Some people emphasized seeing the progression of thinking in their own drafts, others benefitted from reading other people’s drafts and observing the process of their thinking and development from first to final version.
The Baseline: Only one student brought this up during final conferences. “I know you’ve gotten a lot of flack about the Baseline, [not!] but I think it’s good. You should keep it.” Why? “Because if you’re too lazy to make the baseline you deserve not to get a good grade.”
Penguin handbook: “I actually know how to use it!” It worked to allow students opportunities to make up lost baseline points through a few activities emphasizing correcting their own mechanical/grammatical errors.
Class Magazine: Did I say how happy everyone is to have something tangible as a memento of the class? To be able to show off their own writing in hard print? A few skeptics admitted that they had not been so crazy about the idea until they actually started reading it – and then they were impressed by the quality of writing, the layout, and obvious hard work by supereditors, Erin, Ben, and Kate.
SUGGESTIONS for the Future:
Select the editorial teams for the Class Magazine and Course Wiki early in the semester and meet with them every two-three weeks. For the magazine team, make the Table of Contents the priority, making choices as we go and allowing authors ample time to rewrite. For the wiki team, consider final endproduct each step of the way so major changes are not made in the end. One tip from this year’s wiki team is to list links in bullet form rather than embed them in text. I’m not convinced (I like the thinking one has to do about the embedding) but I’m open to persuasion. Placement could depend on what/where the links are being provided and for what purposes.
Use the new umasswriting forum to require ANONYMOUS posting of work for feedback.
Require more Peer Reviews and emphasize them more heavily. Getting help from peers is the way it’s always going to be.

I’m gonna miss ya’all. Yep. All ya’all. 🙂 I am proud of you, too. All the thinking I’ve done about how to teach wouldn’t mean much if you didn’t want to learn. 🙂 Go out and live to your potential!

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