Included on this page are my teaching philosophy, threshold concept exercise, and four teaching artifacts from this past term. For each of the artifacts listed below, I’ve included a brief explanation and reflection.
If I had to pick a theme for my first term of teaching composition, it would be “flexibility.” What I know about writing wound up being useful, but less important of a factor than my ability to remain present, be attuned to my students’ learning needs, and practice flexibility on the fly. The biggest adaptation I made this term was after the mid-term survey, when nearly the entire class had asked to do more group work. We did group work every single day from then on out, which meant I had to revamp my plans. And it worked great in a measurable way: their papers improved sharply between the first and second cycle. If I had soldiered on with my original lesson plans, I’m not sure the improvement would have been so dramatic. But I’m also aware that the needs of my next class may be different, and that all the following artifacts may change in subsequent terms. I never put the finishing touches on my slideshows until the night before class, at earliest, because something would always come up in emails or assignment submissions that I felt the class as whole could benefit from talking about.
I am so looking forward to teaching next term, and finding out what still holds true with a new group of students – and what will surprise me.
My teaching philosophy is located here.
1. Threshold Concept: Words Get Their Meanings from Other Words
This item explains itself!
2. Weighted Grading Handout: Essay 1.2 Rubric
I use an Excel spreadsheet to track students’ grades, and I provide a written “to-do list” on Canvas with every grade. However, I found it helpful to provide my students with a visual breakdown of how they wound up with the grade they did, in addition to Canvas commentary. This is the rubric I hand out after grading; it would be filled in with short comments. There are several concepts at work here. I want my students to see that there are concrete, specific ways a piece of writing can be improved – and that writing isn’t just nebulously, ambiguously “good” or “bad” but rather, consists of discrete factors they can work on and change. (They might be great at wordsmithing but need to clarify their logic, for example.) I also want them to see my role as grader more transparently: that their grades don’t appear through some divine external objective standard, but through an interaction between the text and a real, actual audience. Hopefully this understanding will spur an “intellectual empathy” that will allow them to better consider how a hypothetical reader would react to their writing, and to try to better meet the hypothetical reader’s needs.
3. Peer Review Worksheet: Peer Review Worksheet
I provided this worksheet so students could catch all manner of mistakes on each other’s papers the day before they were turned in. After using this worksheet, the essays were much improved! Writing is not, after all, natural – and I hope to normalize the kinds of “mistakes” this worksheet is designed to catch. “Mistakes” are a normal product of a work in progress, and combing through to catch them is part of our work as writers. Also, I wanted my students to do more than line-editing, and to start to review each other’s papers holistically, considering how the paper as a whole functions. Ideally, they would then consider their own papers the same way during the writing process, and begin writing toward a focused, overall goal.
4. Slideshow: More About Questions
This slideshow is a typical “day-in-the life” presentation which shows the normal progression of a class. My slideshows always begin with an “Agenda” before we move on to our work. On this day, we started with a check-in discussing how everyone’s first essay draft went (both in terms of their experience writing it, and how the essays turned out from the teacher’s perspective). Then we had a lecture reinforcing the idea of a “question at issue” and the enthymeme, based on my what I noticed in their first drafts. We finished with a reading discussion, loosely based on the questions shown here, but allowing for productive tangents in real time. Not only do I try to manage the levels of energy and engagement in the classroom by consciously attending to how our time together is structured, but I also try to be transparent about what our work will be. In particular, neurodiverse and socially anxious students benefit from exceedingly clear expectations about what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. Transitions go more “smoothly” when students are mentally prepared for them and have the right notebook out. And students get less frustrated with segments of class that aren’t working for them, as long as they know it’s not interminable; everybody learns differently. Visual learners in particular benefit from clear, concise slides and discussions are more productive when the suggested questions are right in front of us. Lastly, I think students today are accustomed to having good graphics accompany information as it’s presented to them, and this is a way to meet them where they are.
5. Slideshow: Accidental Plagiarism/Question at Issue Workshop
I typically begin the class day with a low-stakes group activity, such as a discussion, a vocab review, or a freewrite based on a video. On this day, we had a freewrite. Then I briefly lectured on an issue that had recently come up, which was that of accidental, minor plagiarism (in the form of copying and pasting parts of sentences from the internet). My students then workshopped each other’s question at issue essays. In their midterm surveys, students reported enjoying the baby animal pictures I incorporate into slides, and on this day I opted for extra baby animals. All of the above description for item #3 is also relevant here.