The requirement to keep cameras on and mics unmuted assumes that students have access to quiet and privacy. This also assumes that having live faces in the Zoom squares somehow replicates a “real” classroom. They don’t and it can’t. No, I don’t know if my students are playing Fortnite or sleeping or otherwise disengaged when their squares are blank. But in face-to-face classrooms, students can disengage in other ways-- prepping for exams on their laptops, scrolling through Instagram on their phones, sleeping in the back of the classroom because they worked the late shift and came directly to school from work. The distractions and catastrophes that students faced in the years before the pandemic interrupted their ability to be fully present, to take part in group activities, and to listen to lectures.
And this year, students who are recent high school graduates have had their schooling interrupted for nearly two years because of Covid-19. I’m not talking about “ learning loss ,” which as Rachael Gabriel suggests, does not exist. Rather, I mean that we need to honor the learning that has happened in the last two years, especially learning that happens outside of formal classrooms and that cannot be measured by standardized tests, some of which were suspended in 2020 .
So -- when we talk about remote learning, we need to consider the purpose and the place of asynchronous work, of alternatives to group work, of somehow creating community despite the odds. With these thoughts in mind, I invited students to photograph either their writing spaces, their writing tools, themselves writing, or some other combination. The assignment was optional, and I offered journal credit for students who submitted photos and wrote brief captions to include in the collage. The collage would be called Writing Spaces.
Across two sections, about half of the students participated. No one sent photographs of themselves, which was not surprising. The absence of faces allowed me to reconsider the blank screens and muted mics on Zoom. Indeed, the photographs in the collage helped me to understand that students were in fact present behind those screens and muted mics.
For Writing Spaces, students created the particular spaces they needed for writing amidst the cacophony of their everyday lives. Some students sent photographs of spaces that included pets, flowers, and plants. Other students sent photos of their laptop screens featuring our course assignments. One student sent a photo of a space in the reopened college library. Another student sent a photo of their rough draft, suggesting that the act of writing was a means of creating space.
Taken together and reassembled in a video , the collage of photos became a means of introducing our second writing project, a synthesis essay-- from many parts, we can create something new. In other words, working separately and collectively at the same time, students created their own tool for teaching and learning conceptualizing writing.
There are no easy solutions to blank screens and muted mics because, it seems to me, there aren’t any. But what I learned from our collage is the significance of rethinking how to approach the teaching and learning of writing. The goal is not to somehow replicate a pre-pandemic classroom, the conditions for which no longer exist. Instead, the hope is to create something new with the tools we have before us. We also need to refuse the deficit model of “learning loss. Instead we must offer our students the means to consider and build on their strengths. Zoom can only do so much, but remote learning can do so much more than perhaps many of us believe.
Remote learning is an imperfect tool for troubled times, but we have to make use of all the instruments at our disposal. I try to remember that blank screens are not a cause for sorrow, but yet another affordance for all of us to learn to use together. Blank screens seem an appropriate metaphor for the promise that writing has to offer. At the same time, we must be unafraid to build on what we know to face what we do not yet know. Writing, in the end, can still become a process of discovery, and perhaps a practice of recovery as well.
KEY WORDS: online learning; first-year writing, writing assignments, journals, Covid-19
Caption: Teaching and Learning on Zoom (Zoom immersive background)
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This post is part of the Campfire Session series from Corequisite Composition Summer Camp 2021. You can find all recorded sessions and resources from Camp here . By Tracie Grimes, M.A. Professor of English, Bakersfield College As educators, we go miles out of the way to feed the need for help when students struggle to find their academic writing voices. However, many times the words we so carefully craft, words that we just know will add college/university-level skills to their writing toolbelts, seem to fall on deaf ears. It is a delicate dance finding that “sweet spot” of constructive criticism; one that gives them the suggestions/corrections they will see as helpful and want to use rather than critiques that send them cringing into the corner of our classrooms. In today’s arena of teaching spaces filled with underprepared composition students, it is difficult to give students usable, non-threatening feedback that provides them with a clear idea of what they need to do and how they can do it to be successful. Susan M. Brookhart, in her book How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students , tells us a good start is one that takes into consideration the following: The topic in general and your learning target of targets in particular Typical developmental learning progressions for those topics or targets Your individual students (12) “Try to see things from the student’s-eye view…Which aspects of the learning target would the student benefit from improving next?” (Brookhart 12). Putting ourselves in the shoes of our students not only helps us empathize with someone who is on the receiving end of constructive criticism, it helps us understand more about the importance of the relationship between feedback and how it is used by students (Pitt and Norton 499). Studies from 2010 conducted by Richard Bailey, Mark Garner, and D. R. Sadler tell us what most of us already know: Students are not using our feedback. “Part of the difficulty arises from changes in thinking … about what the exact purpose of feedback is, how students engage with feedback and how they use it to improve their future assessed work” (Pitt and Norton 499). Given the fact that we are spending so much time giving feedback largely ignored by students, finding ways to connect our commentary to learning goals becomes an important consideration; it gives students concrete rationale for why they are being asked to complete the assignments. When students see the connection between a task and a learning goal, a “shared understanding between teachers and learners” is established, which can motivate students to take their learning to the next level (Bailey and Garner 188). For example, a dialogue journal in which students and professors create short entries on a Google Doc in which student entries focus on something specified in an SLO, such as integrating evidence from a credible source into a paragraph, and citing the source using MLA style. Every week, the professor then responds to what students write, providing comments on what the student is doing correctly, and what the student could do to make his/her writing stronger. This type of formative assessment provides student-centered feedback using a constructivist paradigm of teaching and learning (Brown and Glover), and, when returned to students within a timeframe that allows them to make corrections before the final draft is due, can be seen as more useful by the students. Getting students to actually use our feedback is another challenge. Their choice to use feedback depends largely upon their reaction to what we say, and that reaction appears to involve a number of contributory factors. First and foremost is their understanding of the feedback they receive. Many times, students report that they do not understand the feedback given, which is why they do not use the comments to make revisions. For example, when a student sees a comment such as “awkward phrasing,” he/she may not completely understand what is meant by “awkward,” or how to correct it. A clear comment, such as “The writing here is a bit awkward and difficult to read because the phrase ‘for example’ is repeated several times. Try rearranging your sentence to get rid of the repeated phrase or keep the sentence the same and try plugging in different words in its place. If you’re at a loss, do a quick search for ‘other words, for example’.” This explicitly states what the problem was, why it was a problem, and what steps could be taken to improve. Another example comes from a writing tutor, “Right now, your thesis can be improved by addressing the prompt directly with the same keywords. It is tough to see that you are answering what it is asking. A strong thesis would likely mention some ways that cyberbullying affects bystanders to act positively and negatively. Yours mentions some positive reactions, but it does not clearly mention negative bystander reactions, only that it does not occur in social media.” Critiques about something as personal as writing can be hard pills to swallow, but administering the dose is no walk in the park either. Researchers are seeing more and more comments such as, “They may read it and not understand it. The challenge for us is trying to make it as easy as possible to understand. People outside education don’t use words the way we do” -Nursing (Bailey and Garner 193), or “Some [students] are motivated and conscientious and make changes. Others don’t really care and are satisfied with less” -Social Sciences (192). The stakes are high as we search for ways to engage our students with accessible, usable feedback. However, by offering clear direction about what our students need to do and how they need to do it in the form of information that “takes them … to the next level” (Brookhart 12), we may also find that our words become the catalyst for change in the way students respond to feedback. Works Cited Bailey, Richard, and Mark Garner. “Is the Feedback in Higher Education Assessment Worth the Paper It Is Written on? Teachers’ Reflections on Their Practices.” Teaching in Higher Education , vol. 15, no. 2, Apr. 2010, pp. 187–198. EBSCOhost , doi:10.1080/13562511003620019. Brookhart, Susan M. How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students . Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008. Brown, E., and C. Glover. “Evaluating written feedback on students’ assignments.” Innovative assessment in higher education , ed. C. Bryan and K. Clegg, Taylor, and Francis, 2005. Reinholz, Daniel L., and Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer. Personalized Instructor Responses to Guided Student Reflections: Analysis of Two Instructors’ Perspectives and Practices . 2017, doi:10.1119/1.5002683. Sadler, D. Royce. “Beyond Feedback: Developing Student Capability in Complex Appraisal.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education , vol. 35, no. 5, Aug. 2010, pp. 535–550. EBSCOhost , doi:10.1080/02602930903541015.
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This post is part of the Campfire Session series from Corequisite Composition Summer Camp 2021. You can find all recorded sessions and resources from Camp here. How Story Forms the Foundation for Teaching Composition and How Visual Images Can Shape Our Students as Writers By Linda Maria Steele, Dean College I remember my very first teaching gig straight out of graduate school at University of Texas, Dallas. I received a fellowship and worked as a Teaching Assistant, which led to my teaching job at Richland College in Dallas. I was hired as an adjunct the semester after I received my Master’s degree from UT. I was offered three sections of Composition. I was full of hope, energy, and enthusiasm. But early on, I wasn’t always clear on how to get students to actually apply the tools I was teaching them and help them become better writers. Developing effective skills as a writer is such a personal task and one tool doesn’t work the same way for each student. Tools are great, but they have to be explored and practiced in practical terms if they are going to be useful and help students grow as writers. It has been close to 20 years since that first teaching gig. Looking back after all of those semesters teaching Composition, I now have a deeper understanding of how important story is as the foundation for our students as writers. Students who grasp how to effectively incorporate story in their essays have a much easier time later on when the types of papers they write become more layered and complex. Story teaches them how to connect with their ideas and what they value, connect with their readers, and gain an understanding of how to structure an essay. I have also come to appreciate the benefits of incorporating visual images into our courses and how both story and visual images can further shape our students as writers. For years, I’ve asked students to read essays with a strong focus on story with a message, introduced them to the dramatic arc, and told them how important it is to write their story with a strong beginning, middle, and end. It wasn’t until I met with a student about a first draft that the need to apply these tools really hit home. The student—I will call her Jessica—chose to write about a dramatic event that had a large impact on her life. She wrote about how the previous year, her house caught fire and burned to the ground. An event with the potential for a compelling story with a point. As dramatic of an event as this was, Jessica was not quite understanding how to tell or write the story in a dramatic way. Jessica’s first draft left out important details and had no clear organization. The essay was difficult to follow. When I gave her feedback and asked her to tell me the story in her own words, she mentioned that she ran back in the house at the very last minute to try to rescue her beloved pet guinea pig named George. I pointed out that one of the problems I saw in her draft was that she didn’t create any tension in the story. And that it seemed to me the guinea pig was an important and interesting detail to include. I reminded her of the dramatic arc we talked about in class and how it is the tension that makes story so interesting and allows us as readers to find meaning—elements that make for a good story. I suggested that she might want to try to highlight, for dramatic effect, whether or not her beloved pet, George, made it out alive. And how that detail was something that would spark interest and curiosity in her reader. I also suggested that she look for any visual images she had of her pet or the house she lost. I suggested by focusing on the images, she might get clearer on what she really wanted to communicate on the topic as she rewrote her draft. The tools we share with our students are valuable. But we also have to seek new ways to get them to understand how to use and apply them in their writing. A tool is only effective to the degree that we find practical ways to put them in practice. When it comes to teaching composition, the task for our students is less about memorizing new material and more about practicing and engaging with themselves as thinkers and writers. Jessica’s final draft was really well written. The final draft began with an introductory paragraph that hinted at the possible loss of her beloved pet. We didn’t learn until the last line that her guinea pig did, in fact, get out in time. The guinea pig served as the tension the story needed. Not only did she write an interesting essay with a strong story arc—she witnessed for herself just how important using the tool of story is to her progress as a writer. Through her willingness to revise, she found a way to tell the story in a way that was interesting and made a meaningful impact. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the way story forms the foundation for developing as writers and how visual images can shape and support our writing skills.
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This post is part of the Campfire Session series from Corequisite Composition Summer Camp 2021. You can find all recorded sessions and resources from Camp here. By Christina Di Gangi, Dawson Community College The Problem: Bridging the Gap between Informative and Analytic Writing In teaching terms, I am a career literature generalist with almost sole responsibility for my college's co-requisite writing model. From my vantage point, I understand that my students struggle to bridge the gap between informative and analytic writing. Close reading is ‘back’ in part due to the CCSS (Common Core State Standards)—but while students may know how to find extensive information on a given topic, they do not always start college fully equipped to write a more analytic research paper using peer-reviewed research writing. This gap becomes especially pressing if the research paper is taught in the first-semester writing class, with students going on to write papers in their major immediately thereafter. My job is to get students up to speed. For this reason among others, reading research articles is a major focus in our co-requisite model writing labs. One Potential Solution: Inquiry Charts or I-Charts (Hoffman, 1992) In completing ancillary graduate coursework on reading to facilitate my teaching of our co-requisite-model courses, I learned about James V. Hoffman’s 1992 Language Arts article, “Critical reading/thinking across the curriculum: Using I-charts to support learning.” Inquiry charts, or I-Charts, are graphic or cognitive organizers that K-12 students can use to map information from prior knowledge—“activating prior knowledge”—along with their reading from informative sources: This lets students build connections in ways that simply restating information from pre-selected readings does not. Hoffman proposes a model where students work together in class before moving to individual practice, but the graphic organizer concept is flexible and adaptable. Before and during reading, students have space to enter information they already know about a topic, and then space to combine this prior knowledge with additional detail and meaning from other sources that they read. The I-Chart struck me as a flexible tool. Since my first-year writing students face the challenging task of improving their facility with peer-reviewed research articles while at the same time learning how to put together a college-level research paper , I wanted to design a cognitive organizer for them that would help them both to read the research articles that they had selected and then to place those articles in level-appropriate research papers of their own. I note that instructors can prepare students to use a cognitive organizer like the I-Chart within the natural flow of class, as they teach students to search, organize, analyze, and write about research topics. Within our co-requisite model, I find that students benefit from preparatory instruction both on isolating the content of research articles and on writing about individual research articles before moving to a longer paper. Two preparatory techniques that I would highlight are quizzes and short reviews: For quizzes, I have students practice isolating the methods and findings of abstracts, then of whole short research articles. I pick level-appropriate articles and have them annotate their copies as well as practice writing analytic clusters and paragraphs using page numbers and quotations from the articles. Writing short reviews of single research articles helps students improve in that genre but also prepares them to write a summative research paper in my class, basically a review of research. Using the I-Chart to Plan and Draft Beginning College Research Papers Preparatory work on isolating the features and key points of peer-reviewed research articles prepares students to complete an I-Chart or similar cognitive organizer, which they can then use to structure and complete shorter and longer research assignments. Students can practice using multiple articles to complete an I-Chart in groups before moving to individual practice; they can then apply the technique to the topic of their own paper, whether that topic be pre-assigned or self-selected. Once the table has been completed, students have a visual that should suggest to most how writing about their chosen articles can be organized in a longer framework such as a research paper. In my first-semester writing class, students are specifically asked to organize their final research papers as a survey of current research using six or more research articles. Again, this is a very flexible technique. I have students write a three-source midterm, more of a ‘sandbox’ for the final paper than a full-length research paper, and then write a final paper using six or more peer-reviewed sources—but the I-Chart can easily be adapted to the needs of your particular class. For example, students could use the I-Chart to organize thoughts about a set of theme-based readings before they get into research writing; if they were more advanced, they could write about six articles for a draft around midterm and expand the number of sources for their final project. Some students may even want to change the organizing categories to suit their thought process a little better, which has certainly worked for students of mine in the past. As I emphasize to students, the goal is to track their personal analysis of the peer-reviewed research sources that they are using, then to place them in the context of their future thinking and writing—rather than to have a beautifully completed chart. An added bonus is that students can learn to detach their analytic process from trying to produce beautiful writing—they can focus on organizing and showing their thought process before they turn to redraft and polish their work. Given all of these benefits, it is my hope that this use of a graphic organizer to facilitate analytic reading and writing for beginning college students is an honest use of a technique from the teaching of reading, a field from which—in terms of my own teaching, certainly—I still feel that I have much to learn.
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As I (along with the rest of the country and much of the world) await the final outcome of an election that has so strained the bonds that hold this country together—so much so that one wonders whether it can ever be united again—I cannot help but be minded of Abraham Lincoln's famous adaptation of Mark 3:25: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." For whatever the electoral outcome (and I do have my own predictions, but they are not the stuff of cultural semiotics), one thing is certain: roughly one half of the country is going to be enraged by it. And this is something that does belong to the practice of cultural semiotics—something, in fact, that Sonia Maasik and I anticipated as we worked on the 10th edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A., restructuring the text to make its foundational chapter "American Paradox: Culture, Conflict, and Contradiction in the U.S.A.," as well as focusing its inaugural exemplary semiotic analysis (found in the book's general Introduction) on the two-part Avengers saga, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. If you wish to explore the cultural significance of Election 2020 in your classes, these sections of the new edition provide you with ample resources for doing so, resources that engage critical thinking upon the current state of our nation without inviting partisan conflict among your students. I think it quite unlikely that anyone will disagree on the basic point that the country is very badly divided, so what the text does is provide ways for understanding how we got this way and what to expect in the foreseeable future. And, as always, the book leaves it up to you and your students to determine how you may want to respond to it all. With that, I will return to my own obsessive internet surveying of the latest election news (this is being written on the evening of November 4), and hope that the new edition of Signs of Life (which has just appeared in print) will be useful to you. Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 3801639 by GDJ, used under Pixabay License
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Teaching Introduction to Literature, and wondering how to get your students excited about poetry? Today, we're highlighting a podcast that might help: Poetry for All , a podcast hosted by Joanne Diaz and her colleague Abram Van Engen.
Perfect both for those who already love poetry, and those who are just beginning to explore the genre, the podcasts helps students get their bearings with a poem, giving them insight into working with and analyzing poetry. Joanne and Abram devote each 15-minute episode to reading a poem, discussing it, and then reading it again. Thus far, they have discussed poems by Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, Phillis Wheatley, William Shakespeare, Claude McKay, and Jen Bervin.
Upcoming episodes will focus on poems by Anne Bradstreet, John Donne, Honorée Fannone Jeffers, and Toi Derricotte.
Joanne Diaz is a Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University, and one of the authors of Literature: A Portable Anthology, Reading and Writing about Literature, and 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology.
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I have been working this year to shift my assessment practices toward grading students less on error and more on the labor that they bring to their writing for the courses that I teach. Ever since I heard Asao Inoue’s plenary on “Racism in Writing Programs and the CWPA” at the Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference last summer in Raleigh, North Carolina, I knew that I wanted to give the strategy another try.
What is Labor-Based Grading?
It is a pedagogical tactic that I have been developing on and off since my first year of teaching. At this point, I am in an in-between place: I am currently blending in some of practices that Inoue describes, and I am developing resources for a more complete conversion by the fall.
Recently, I have been focusing on that ways that the grading system is discussed. The contract that Inoue used at Fresno State is long and, well, contractual. It’s a three-page document that outlines everything about how the work in the course is assessed, beginning with the approach and ending with details on requirements and logistics. As you would expect of a syllabus-style discussion of course requirements, it is explicit and detailed.
Approaches for Students to Consider for Labor-Based Grading
Remind students that your course is based on your labor - which is the time and intensity that they put into their writing. Students will not be punished for making mistakes as long as they improve throughout the term.
This grading system will not be what they are used to, so you can share the following guidelines on how they should approach their assignments:
Focus on Ideas
Focus on your ideas and what you are trying to say. Forget about the pressure to be perfect. Focusing on perfection can distract writers from developing their ideas. Because students are graded on labor, mistakes won’t undermine the grade.
Write for Yourself
You’re studying the kinds of writing that are important in your field and developing a sense of what makes that writing effective. Don’t worry about impressing me (the instructor). Write what will make you successful in the workplace.
Try kinds of writing that stretch your abilities to help you learn new things. There’s no need to play it safe. After all, the safe, easy route doesn’t push you to improve your writing.
Have a Do-Over
If you take a risk and it doesn’t turn out, you can always try again. Just as in a game, you have unlimited do-overs. Making mistakes is part of the learning process. As long as you are trying to improve your work, you can’t fail.
Put In the Effort
You will write, rewrite, start over, and try again. All this work counts, as long as you listen to feedback, incorporate what you hear, and reflect on how to improve.
Wrap Up & Additional Resources on Labor-Based Writing
Obviously, courses need this kind of document, but I wanted to break the explanation up into a series of shorter pieces. To begin, I wrote When Your Grades Are Based on Labor, a webpage that introduces the key aspects of the system from a student’s perspective. As I explained last month, I have been using Infographics as Readings in an effort to align course materials with students’ reading styles, so I also created the infographic on the right to present the ideas.
My goal is to list the basic details in the infographic, with additional information explained on the webpage. I would love to get some feedback on whether I’ve succeeded in the comments below.
Additionally, if you would like to know more about this assessment strategy, read Inoue’s publications on anti-racist assessment and on grading students’ labor on his Academia.edu page.
Credits: Infographic was created on canva.com. Icons are all from The Noun Project, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license: report by Lil Squid, Fluorescent Light Bulb by Matt Brooks, analytics by Wilson Joseph, aim by Gilbert Bages, Switch Controller by Daniel, and Gym by Sathish Selladurai.
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