Combating Student Apathy workshop

For those of you who couldn’t make it to yesterday’s workshop on Combating Student Apathy, here’s a copy of the handout that Erica Dolson and I put together for it.

We had a great discussion, with the attendees coming up with a number of excellent suggestions, ideas and activities that I am planning to try out, so I hope some of them will share in the comments below.

Combating Student Apathy
There is, of course, no one way to combat student apathy, because there is no single type of apathetic student or individual situation where one deals with it. These strategies, tactics and approaches are only some ways in which one can attempt to prevent its appearance or deal with it when it manifests.

Pre-emptive moves: Continue reading

Question of the day: How do you engage your class?

To kick off the coming week, here’s another question (or set of questions) from Michael Laser:

“What activities have you done with your students that yielded the most interest, the most engagement? How do you get them talking, and even enjoying the class? Are there activities that you can share that have accomplished all this? If so, please reply with a description!”

Please weigh in below…

Mind-Mapping as a Teaching Tool

As I planned out the first unit on Scarcity for my Introduction to College Writing course, I realized that the text presented a unique challenge. It seemed to me that the authors’ extensive research and personal examples served to clarify the concepts while at the same time complicate the relationships between ideas. While reading Scarcity myself, I found that I needed to track how the central themes related specifically to the examples found in any particular chapter. This experience made me realize that I needed to find a better way to support my students in identifying the various concepts and how they related to the arguments presented in Scarcity. I decided that Mind-Mapping was the most appropriate tool for handling the complexities within the text. I spent two class periods teaching the basic concepts and methodology of Mind-Mapping; much to my chagrin, it seems to have marvelously affected the quality of my students’ first essay drafts.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Mind-Mapping, Brian Weller and Tony Buzan developed the concept in the 1970’s (for more information, see: Essentially, Mind-Mapping is a methodology for linking written notes, pictures and colors to memory that is, according to research, more effective than traditional note-taking methods. The process of Mind-Mapping arranges info-graphics (combinations of words and images), picto-graphics (pictures that tell a particular story), and meaningful phrases, keywords and symbols organically on paper in order to capture ideas. Continue reading

Question of the day: What do you do during peer review?

Michael Laser and Tavya Jackson suggested that we feature questions about some general teaching situations on the blog, so that we can get input from varied quarters and discussion of some of our common classroom challenges.

To kick things off, here’s one from Michael:

“Today we did peer review of my classes’ 1st drafts. While the students read and commented on each others’ work, I occupied myself at the front of the room. Instinct told me that a great teacher would have been doing something different – engaging and helping somehow. But I didn’t want to intrude on their concentration and conversations.

Any thoughts? What do you do while they’re reading and taking notes on each others’ work?”

Please weigh in below.

Engendering Authority in the Classroom

Since most of us have made our way back into the classroom over the last three days, I thought I would start off a discussion about something that concerns many (most?) instructors, especially those who are new to the classroom (whether in general or to a new one in particular): the issue of authority and, especially, how one establishes it early in the semester with a new set of students.

A large part of the reason that I am considering this issue is because I just used my favorite ice-breaker in all four of my 105 courses, the one that I described in detail in a blog post a year ago: First day of class: Breaking the ice.

For those not interested in wading through it, the quick version is as follows: On the first day of class I show up early and sit among the students, causing them to think I am one too. Then, when it’s time to begin, I stand up and introduce myself, which invariably freaks out and thoroughly amuses the students.

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Peer Review, How I Hate to Love You

It’s a topic we have all thought about deeply. We have attended workshops and presentations, read scholarship, tried new and exciting ways of getting our students to collaborate during the revision process in our writing classes – and collaborate effectively.  I thought I had it down, really.  Then, the other day, I had a conference with one of my most impressive and hard-working students, and that all changed.

This student works diligently to revise his essays and to earn his grades.  He is straightforward and participates in class regularly, and has never missed an assignment. Overall, this is a student whose feedback I seriously value in terms of what might work in class and what might not work.  As we were conferencing over a draft of his essay, he asked, “Will we be doing peer review for this essay?”  When I answered that no, we would instead be using one-on-one conferences and instructor feedback for this one essay, he replied, “Oh good.  Peer review has mostly been useless for me.”

Punch to the gut!  Man down! Red Team Go!  S.O.S.! All manner of emergency exclamations ran through my mind.  Useless? How could this be? Grades are improving (for the most part).  Writing is getting better (through my rose-colored glasses).  In short, I had gotten cocky.  So, I asked my student, “Why do you say that, Student?”  His response was an eye-opener, and something I hope we can all use as a catalyst for discussion on the topic. 

Student said, “Well, the one time we sat in a circle was helpful.”  (To be clear, this is what I call “Carousel Peer Review.” I sit students in a circle and give them each four identical sheets of paper. Each paper contains a space for the reviewer’s name, the writer’s name, and three questions:

1. What is the author’s central claim?  Explain whether or not it is arguable and if not, how it could be.

2. What is the best part of the essay and why?

3. What part of the essay needs the most improvement and why?

Students pass their essay to the left once, read and fill out the sheet and when I call time, pass the essay to the left again and complete it for another, and so on. This way, they get four short but focused peer reviews, which I hand back at the end of class.)  So, I asked Student, “Is it because you got so many reviews back?” And he replied…

         “No. It was the best because everyone had to be quiet.”

He went on to explain that during past peer reviews, in which students had been placed in small groups with traditional and more elaborate peer review sheets to fill out, he felt that nothing got done, that it was just an opportunity to socialize and that the last time we had done it, the other students in his group had not revised their essays at all. “And,” he asked, “Why should I revise their papers for them if they do not want to do the work?” So of course, I start questioning my methods.  I mean, it’s not as if I do not circle the room and meet with each group during peer review, but we all know that small group work can be a tricky monster; students can seem really on-task when we approach their group, but then revert back to talk of Facebook and what is going on that night or what they watched on TV that week as soon as we are out of ear shot.  In addition, if we are using peer review as a way for students to receive revision comments outside of instructor feedback (say, for a middle draft when we have already extensively commented on first drafts), unless we closely evaluate each essay on peer review day (which sort of defeats the purpose), we don’t really have a way of knowing whether or not a student has truly revised the essay. 

Several ideas are coming to the surface. Should students show up to peer review day with a written summary of their revisions?  Should a requirement of peer review be that they somehow articulate their revisions to the group?  Do we have to be such police officers?

 So, I put these questions to all of you.  How do you handle the not-doers, the “I refuse to revise because only my classmates are going to be reading this anyway” students?  To beat a dead horse, how do you make your peer review effective?



Teaching drama in 106

(I’ve been meaning to put up the following since the workshop I did in February (I think). Since we’re almost into April, this might not be that helpful, but I’m hoping it sparks some ideas and conversation. Anyway, here goes…)

If I had to select my single primary aim when teaching drama, it is to have students approach and understand it on its own terms, rather than viewing it similarly to prose or poetry. To that end, here are a few of the approaches that I utilize, which I find not only facilitate the above end but also allow me to achieve a number of other things I want in the classroom.

(1) Begin by asking students their answers to the question of “What makes drama different from poetry and prose?” For the students who have little or no interest in drama, modify the above and ask them, “What—beside boredom—comes to mind when you think of drama? How do you visualize it?” The primary benefit of this step is to put preconceived notions on the table. Not only does that allow me to address (and, if needed, correct) such notions, but it provides useful material for me to reference back to during later discussions, as I build on—and/or take apart—these preconceptions.

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