Monday, September 15, 2008

A "What do I do with this" Paper

So, I have spent half of the today grading rough drafts of paper #1, and I have had some interesting reflections about my teaching.

John mentioned something to me the other day about the papers (the final product the students turn in) being somewhat secondary in importance to the thinking and growing that happens in the process. I'm used to teaching journalism where the product is pretty central , so I didn't quite understand him until I read these papers today.

A lot of my students totally missed the mark. They wrote some very strong opinions on some hot topics instead of really questioning a problem or an issue. As I read, I started to see the patterns and I am going to take a huge portion of class time this week to have them rethink their issues. I put together some activities where they will be able to question and challenge each other to help them think more complexly. I realize I should have done this long before the rough draft was do. I guess I thought I had. Maybe they needed more examples. Has anyone else had this problem?

But I'm excited for class tomorrow because I feel like all the time reading and commenting on the rough drafts will really pay off as I focus the class time to fill these gaps in my teaching and their understanding. Go Team!

But then I also got a paper that was not a lot different then the paper we read in Grant's seminar at our training this year. It was about immigration. It was highly offensive to me. But I tried to keep it in context with what the students was trying to do. Instead of reacting, I am using the paper to really think about how my teaching is both strong and weak and how can make many concepts more clear for ALL the students this week. I found some very delicate but serious ways to address the issue with this student, and I was very glad we had talked about these situations as a group before I had to face it.

Anyway, that's what I am working on today. I'd love comments or posts about what you do if you realize you've got to back track a little. Any great classroom ideas for getting them to really think about their topics? Any strong paper examples would also be great. I'd love to see a variety of samples.


Alyssa said...

Good post, Jill. Glad to see this blog getting a few entries. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm one of the only adjuncts who uses RSS feeds to get updates on blogs, so I hope I won't be the only one making comments.

I really like the statement you made about being self-reflective and seeing how your teaching is both strong and weak. I find that if a large majority of my students didn't "get it," it's usually my problem for not communicating well enough or not giving them enough preparation. I think it's good to be humble and be willing to make changes when something obviously isn't working.

Re: suggestions for back-tracking.... maybe this isn't healthy, but I just make a note of the problem and just change it the next time I teach the class. I also regularly solicit feedback from my students about how to improve assignments or course curriculum so that I can implement it in the future. I always tell the students in my first time teaching a class that they're my guinea pigs and I need their help to make the class better for students in the future. For the most part, they're very forgiving. It helps some students to realize their teacher is a human too.

Christopher Bigelow said...

I spend tons of time setting up each paper assignment, walking them through the steps, going over the sample students essays in the text, etc. I find I get lots better papers from the students and good comments from them that I'm clear on what I want from their papers.

I think people who've observed my class might think going over paper assignments so thoroughly and "patiently" up front is a little boring, but I've seen good results from it, so I would rather do that than stuff that seems more creative and ambitious but leaves them more confused about what to actually do in the paper. These students in English 1010 need some pretty specific, basic-level orientation, I find.