Sunday, September 30, 2007

The end of composition as we know it!

The “End of Composition” has implications that composition class in general is no longer necessary. Instead, students would learn the writing skills they need directly from the specific context they will need it in. A chemistry major or a biology major would never need to know how to write a literary analysis paper; therefore, they would take chemistry writing classes instead of English writing classes. In this way, they’re learning to write with the skills they need. The problem with this is: how do students develop writing skills in all their classes, cross-majors, in order to graduate (regardless of the degree emphasis they choose)? Isn’t this what composition teaches them? They learn how to write for different genres.

The “End of Composition” can also have to do with being able to teach students how to transfer their writing skills from writing in an English class to writing in other disciplines. Based on the “Transfer” article we read, we, as teachers, need to teach students how to transfer skills they learn in a composition class to other more practical areas. It’s strange to think about, but basically it would mean that we no longer teach them how to write for the “composition” genres. Instead, it would be teaching them skills for other contexts and how to use those skills when they’re writing for that context (i.e. a chemistry lab report, or a history analysis paper, or a business memo, etc). Sadly, even if students are able to grasp an ability to write correctly for the style in an English class, they are often not able to apply those skills in other contexts or genres.

The skill we need to teach students for this “transfer” is somehow helping them see the similarities between what they’ve already been taught and what they will need to do in future writings. In theory, this sounds nice, but I’m not exactly sure what this looks like in practical terms. Isn’t this what 1302 is supposed to do here at Tech?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Teaching Philosophies

I think that a philosophy of teaching and a philosophy of composition could be two different things altogether. A philosophy of teaching concerns your teaching style in any classroom while the philosophy of composition is concerned only with how you teach in the writing classroom. Both deal with how you think students should be taught in the classroom setting.

Certainly there are different types of philosophies. I am not familiar with the correct terminology for a teaching philosophy—this seems like an education major’s jargon. However, I do know some of the philosophies I’ve experienced. For example, some teachers believe in active learning, such as stimulating group discussions or classroom question and answer set-ups. The questions could be over the reading assignment or whatever the students had for homework the night before. Another style of teaching is smaller group work, in which students “teach” students what they learned from the assignment or the homework, etc. I think peer editing groups fall into this category. Finally, some teachers prefer to lecture, using either personal notes or power points. This is, perhaps, the most common teaching style.

For me, I think I want to use a combination of teaching philosophies. I know that I want my students to be actively involved in the learning process. I had an English teacher my junior year of college who wrote every students’ name on a note card. During class, she would ask a question about the literature assignment (a book we were reading or a poem), and then she would call out the name on top of her stack. That student had to answer the question. Eventually, she would move through the stack of names, though not every student answered a question every day. She rarely gave quizzes over the reading assignments, but every student read. It was usually obvious if you didn’t know the answer to a question because you hadn’t read. However, she was also very gracious about answering the question for the student if he or she could demonstrate knowledge that they read, but weren’t sure of the answer. The whole class participated, and we learned from our peers. I always enjoyed seeing what the other classmates felt about the reading instead of just being told how to analyze it by the teacher. I definitely want to incorporate something like this into my classroom if I ever teach a literature class. I would also like to have group discussions that are more flexible, meaning that any student could answer or contribute. Either way, I want my students to quickly learn how to analyze for themselves instead of expecting me to give them the answers. I want them to learn how to think critically and develop their own opinions. Finally, I realize I will probably have to lecture as well. There are aspects of teaching that require me to impart my knowledge about the subject to the students. Even in these class settings, though, I still want my students to feel engaged and a part of my lecture. I want them to be free to ask questions or make comments at any times. For composition classes, which I do think require a different or adjusted teaching philosophy, I want to use free writing or journal writing as a warm-up exercise. I also like the idea of peer editing for composition classes. Mostly, I want them to write as much as possible rather than just learn about writing. However, even in these settings, lectures are necessary. At some point, I need to explain how to cite sources, or how to organize a paper based on its genre, etc. I still want my students to feel free to ask questions and engage in the writing process even as I am teaching about it.

Well, I think I have thoroughly exhausted this question. So, that’s all for now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More than just a grader...

My approach to ICON is from a Document Instructor’s point of view. When I first learned that I would be a Document Instructor, I figured it was more like just grading than actual instructing. However, since I’ve actually begun to grade papers, I have a different outlook on my job. I am doing more than just slapping a grade on a paper. I have the opportunity to help my students learn through their mistakes. Maybe I am an optimist, but I guess a part of me wants to believe that the student looks at my commentary and works through his or her mistakes. I take the time to do more than just point out errors. I try to show them how to fix their mistakes. I also want to explain the reason behind the rules. Instead of just writing “comma here” or something, I try to explain the purpose and logic behind the comma. I think it helps them learn how to write correctly for future papers.

In this way, I think I am a part of the facilitators on ICON. Within our grading group, we have the opportunity to work together to communicate with students. We work with our CIs, so that we are on the same level with our standards for grading as well as what parts of the assignment we want to emphasize. Our purpose is not necessarily to make our jobs easier. Instead, we’re trying to be consistent with the students, so that they get the best learning opportunity they can.

I worked in the writing center during my undergrad at Angelo State. As a result, I feel prepared or equipped to be a DI this semester. At the writing center, we looked at each student’s paper with them. We only had a limited amount of time to help the student, so we started with the most important elements first. In our writing center, we called it “global” issues and “local” issues. We were trained to completely ignore “local” issues (i.e. grammar, syntax, mechanics, etc) until the “global” issues were correct or at least on track. Global issues can range from organization and structure to if the paper meets the objectives of the assignment in general. Basically, we looked at content above all: what the student wrote, rather than how they wrote it.

I think what we do in ICON is similar. We can only spend so much time on a paper. The key is to hit the most important elements. I try to help the students with the global issues as well as the local issues. The logic behind this type of approach is that a student can only take in so much information at once. The idea is to help the student with the big stuff at first. As his or her writing progresses, then the instructor can begin to help with the smaller stuff. What makes this easier in a writing center and harder on ICON is the difference in the number of students. At least for now, it’s hard to know each of the students I’m grading for beyond just a student ID number. So, in some ways, I have to help with the small stuff and the big stuff at once. However, the principle still works in terms of the student’s growth in writing between now and the end of the semester.

I believe the students will have an equal opportunity to grow in their writing this semester. I also believe that each of my students can succeed in becoming a better writer. I truly hope that I will be proud to see that type of growth across the board as the semester ends. Maybe I am being extremely optimistic. =)