Report Back from the New Jersey Writing Alliance 2015 Conference

IMG_3388 On Thursday, May 28, 2015 a group of us from the First Year Writing Program (FYW) here at Montclair State University ventured out to Georgian Court University in Lakewood, NJ to attend the 16th Annual New Jersey Writing Alliance Conference. Jessica Restaino, Director of FYW, was able to cover our registration fees, and the group of us met as the conference started with breakfast and the keynote address.

What follows is a collaborative write-up of the conference sessions by FYW faculty members Joanmarie Kalter, Henry Margenau, Shelagh Patterson, and Jacqueline Regan. The conference is a great opportunity to bridge conversations between high school and college teachers of writing. Here’s a glimpse of what went on under this year’s theme, “From Common Core to College Composition: How Do They (Dis)Connect?” Continue reading

(How) Do you deal with sentence-level issues in student writing?

From Mike Laser

I’d like to share a problem, and ask a question.

Here are a few sentences written by my students this semester:

  1. The poem, “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe is by far his most famous poem he’s written… When looking at the poem on a deeper meaning though, you can see that Lenore was his love, and she has died in some way.
  2. The author purposely associates this word (“carried”) to this new meaning to reveal how life was like for men in war, including how he once lived when he was drafted into the Vietnam War.
  3. The doll finally came to life and took charge to make a change.
  4. Neglecting to recognize the horrors those people endure allow people to go to war more easily.
  5. She’s only a plaything or maybe you can call her a doll in his mind.
  6. The similarities among the speakers and their author are illustrated differently through their speaker’s separate tones.
  7. The author thinks back at when he was at war and talks about the man he killed and how he was someone he would befriend.
  8. The money in the household shared between the Nora and Torvald contrast the idea of a happy marriage.
  9. Apart from the speakers’ terrible war experience and varied gendered perspective, the poems send out a clear message that wars should be prevented in the future by describing them as gruesome.

I understand that our job is mainly to teach students to construct coherent arguments, and that teaching grammar lessons is largely ineffective—but I’m haunted by sentences like these. I don’t expect to turn any of these writers into Susan Sontag in one semester, but I wish I knew an effective way to help them.

My question: have any of you been able to make a noticeable difference when teaching students who write sentences like these? If so, what did you do?

There may be no easy cure—there may not be a cure—but before giving up, I’d like to hear what experienced instructors have to say.

Trust, Risk, and the Gift of Failure

By Jessica Restaino

Jessica post picture 1

What has it meant—what might it mean—to look at, to honor, to be still with, to see plainly our—and our students’—limits? And, perhaps most importantly, what might it look and feel like to do this together, alongside our students, with both confidence and compassion? What are the risks and what are the potential gains?

I was eight when I wrote in my journal that I was afraid of the new family moving in next door because they were from India. They’d speak differently, I reasoned, maybe not even know English at all, maybe they’d dress differently. Maybe they’d be hateful, mean. I did not write any of this, rooted as it all was in a deeply Italian American childhood, to be read by anyone. My words were confessional and, a few pages later, evolved first into an anxiety about whether the new kids next door would even want to play with my brother and me, different as we all were from each other, and next into a plan to get their attention. If, I guessed, we rode our bikes past the house a few times, maybe they’d come outside. These were days when mothers shooed kids out into the neighborhood, expecting to see us again only when they yelled from the stoop. As kids, we expected to be neighborhood companions, to wander and look for something to do.

I am still ashamed of what I wrote, childish though it was, and yet I have saved this journal all these years, shoved in a drawer among my socks.

Continue reading

Sharing our creativity: What a concept!

Live Lit! evolves each semester, but the core idea, the beating heart – professors sharing their writing with the rest of the MSU community, most notably the students – is brilliant.

I read for Live Lit! last fall, and again last month, and both times I found the experience to be both energizing and daunting. Reading one’s work aloud is like nothing else a writer does. (Maybe that’s why not every writer does it.) It takes what we’ve done in one medium, and transforms it into another. Words on a page – one’s own words on a page – become performance. Poetry, non-fiction, fiction… they’re (usually) not written to be read aloud. Rather, the voices of the author and her characters are meant to come alive inside the reader’s head. Writing a story and sending it out into the world on wobbly calf-legs is an act of purest trust – and utter abandonment. Continue reading

Teaching Drama in 106 (Spring 2015 version)

This post is a follow-up to the workshop on teaching drama in 106 that Carrie O’Dell and I facilitated before spring break. We’d promised the participants there to share some of the material we used during the presentation so here it is. Hopefully others will find it beneficial too.

In the interests of not retreading material I’ve already posted on the blog, here’s a link to the post I’d made on the subject following my presentation on the subject last year:

Teaching Drama in 106 (Spring 2014)

And, in all-new material, here are a lot of different things from Carrie, consisting of a document on approaches and resources, a PPT to use with Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, a PDF version of a short two-person play (Executive Dance) she has used, and a modern variant ending to Ibsen’s play.

Drama in FYW Resources and Links

Doll’s House lecture

Executive Dance

Gilman dollhouse end

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this material, any questions you might have, and, especially, how using any of this in the classroom works for you.

Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews

As a short follow-up to Bridget Brown’s post from last week about student evaluations, here’s an  interactive chart developed by Benjamin M. Schmidt (an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University), which allows one to see trends in the use of language on RateMyProfessor,com reviews.

As the description on the page says, Schmidt’s chart allows users to enter words or two-word phrases and then displays their prevalence “per million words of text (normalized against gender and field).” One can also limit the results to only negative or only positive reviews.

Here it is.

Take a look, try out some terms, and see what you come up with.

I’m curious to hear if the results correlate (or don’t) with people’s initial assumptions about such data. I’m also interested to hear what people think such data might indicate and, for that matter, what it might hide. I think it’s also worth considering what the flaws/limitations in the methodology of such a study/tool are.

Student Evaluations: Reading Them, Reading Us

I’ve just completed my semi-annual Reading of the Student Evaluations. During the Fall 2014 semester, I had one section that was a joy to meet with, one that seemed to be happy and engaged and learning well enough, and one that was a bit of a disaster (due in large part to one difficult, challenging student).

As usual, there’s good news and bad news.

First, the good news: Perhaps not surprisingly, the class that was a joy to meet with mostly gave me very positive evaluations:

“Everything was well taught and explained.”

“I enjoyed how the instructor asked us to write about topics we could relate to such as social media and celebrities.”

“The professor helped me better my writing significantly.”

Something worked in this class. As I understand it, my goals for the class, and my idea of myself as an instructor aligned with their expectations of the class, and their perception of me as a teacher. Yay me! Continue reading