This is a course that provides students with an introduction to academic writing. When I teach this course I often try to work with an overarching theme that connects all of the separate assignments in the course so that the course is more cohesive and students are gaining depth in their knowledge about a specific topic. For Fall 2013, I created a course focused on the theme of education. In their first project students will consider their personal learning styles, their educational desires, and the services available to them as students. They will set a goal for themselves and lay out the steps they will need to take to complete this educational goal. In the second project, they will consider the current state of the educational system. After engaging with a series of TED talks about education and some state and federal educational websites, they will identify what they see as a major problem in the educational system and propose a possible solution to this problem. In the third project, students will engage with the Students’ Right to Their Own Language resolution and a variety of personal essays written about experiences people have had with language in the classroom. Then they will decide if they feel that students have a right to their own language in both speech and writing in the classroom and write an argumentative essay in which they support/develop their stance.
I think the overall education theme worked well for this course. All students have at least some interest and/or investment in the educational system, making it more likely that they will find personal connections to one or more of the assignments. It was helpful for me to know near the start of the term one education goal each student was working toward. This allowed me to know something about each student’s educational journey, and in many cases, helped me frame feedback I gave to students through metaphors relevant to their personal interests or area of study. For example, for those with goals related to the study of Science, I was able to make parallels between the process of creating and conducting an experiment and the process of doing inquiry-based research and writing an essay in this course.
I saw the most overall student engagement in Project Two. Students seemed to feel empowered when they were encouraged to point out a flaw in the educational system and propose a solution. Many of them drew from their own personal experiences in school or those of their children to identify an issue they wanted to talk about. I saw many really creative solutions to the problems that were identified, including an interesting essay that looked at how “flipping” the classroom could be a way to address the “one-size-fits-all” model of teaching often seen in K-12 classrooms.
Project Three seemed to be where students struggled most. I was especially surprised by this because I’d done a very similar assignment last Spring with my WR 115 students that they loved and recommended I keep. Even though I rarely use the same writing assignment twice in my courses, I saw such strong work produced in response to that project in the Spring that I decided to take my students’ advice and use it again in a slightly modified form. I’m not sure if if was because the framework of the overall course was different this term than it was in the Spring or because the student’s backgrounds in the course varied radically between Spring and Fall terms (or maybe some combination of both), but many students this term really struggled with this project and the overall quality of writing was not what I’d hoped for or expected for the final project of the term.
Work on Final Revisions and the reflective Course Goals Letter seems to have gone well and I’ve seen many students have “light bulb moments” during this final week where they’ve made connections between different aspects of the course or things they’ve learned this term that gave them a deeper understanding of the process of writing and/or of themselves as writers. It’s always wonderful to witness these moments and to be able to have the opportunity to listen to students articulate what they discover during them. So despite some obstacles, I think this course went well overall. And since a little over 1/3 of the students in this class signed up to take WR 121 with me next term, I feel like this is a good indication that students feel the course as gone well, too.