New Endings and New Beginnings

For the most part, my Spring 2018 semester has ended. My students have a final paper due in a few days, but beyond that, it’s pretty much a wrap. We ended by reflecting on some of the material we’d covered throughout the semester, and we discussed how some of their feelings about writing had changed. I asked them some of the same questions that I’d asked them in the first week (What’s do you know about writing? How does writing feel?), and one thing that seemed pretty clear to me was that some of them saw a space for themselves in academic writing…perhaps for the first time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had my students complete weekly Minute Papers throughout this semester. I found this activity to be quite useful in terms of making sure that we were all on the same page and helping me to determine where the class needed to go next. For our last class, I had them do an extended Minute Paper in which I asked them four questions:

  • Which reading/viewing, discussion, or activity impacted you the most? Why?
  • What are you most proud of having done/accomplished/achieved this semester?
  • What’s the most important thing you learned this semester?
  • How will you make use of what you learned beyond this semester?

I wanted them to respond to these questions, which I pulled from various evaluation tools I’ve seen, because they really get at some of the feedback I need in order to retool the class in the future, to effectively teach other classes, and to continue developing my own understandings about pedagogy. Though I will be receiving feedback from the departmental and university evaluations students completed (and I definitely appreciate that feedback), I often find that the ways in which those questions are worded don’t really allow for much reflection or specificity.

I won’t list out everything my students responded with here, but I do want to pull out some shared strands:

  • Peer Review!: This class really liked Peer Review. Color me shocked. It’s funny because I’ve tried so many different things over the years with respect to making Peer Review productive, and in some ways, what we did this semester was the most simple route I’ve taken. Who knew? (I think maybe this is also worked well in tandem with the general spirit of the class, which prioritized discussion and reflection).

 

  • Conferences: When I previously taught this class, we only had one writing conference in the schedule. This time, I conferenced with each student twice, and on top of that, one of their very first assignments was to come to office hours at least once within the first month of class. This worked really well in terms of allowing me to get to know them as individuals and discussing some of their individual anxieties about writing. On this final Minute Paper, one of the students wrote, “In a college this populated, it’s difficult to get one on one time with a teacher. These were super helpful because not only did you get feedback, you also got to have an in person conversation, which made the editing process easier.”

 

  • A Single Story: About a third or halfway through the semester, after we’d completed several readings and discussions about food, identity, and culture, I got a question on a Minute Paper that was something like “Do you think we can eliminate bias?” I had a lot of thoughts about that question, and I structured much of our next class session around trying to answer it. One of the things we did on that day was watch and discuss Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” At the time, some of the students seemed impacted by the talk, but I’m not always sure how much this stuff sticks. However, multiple students mentioned this as the thing that impacted them the most this semester.

 

  • New Perspectives: It’s impossible to touch on every single element of food and culture in a given semester, but I really did try to introduce them to things that I thought they might not see elsewhere. One example of this is David Perry’s “Restaurants Haven’t Lived Up to the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” This also came multiple times as something that made an impact, and one student said, “The activity where we discussed disabled people being left out of the food culture impacted me the most. I had never really paid attention to places without access but it really does make a difference.”

 

  • The Writing Process: In some shape, form, or fashion, many students noted coming to appreciate the writing process (which I very intentionally slowed down this semester). Some wrote about seeing their skills develop through drafting and revision, some talked about procrastinating less because of the multiple steps in the process, some talked about realizing for the first time that a draft doesn’t have to be good and feeling less stressed because of that realization, and some described feeling very good about the work they turned in at the end of the process.

 

  • New Experiences: This class is primarily an analytical essay writing class, but I also had students write in some other forms, such as the memoir and the listicle, to give them different challenges and experiences. In this final Minute Paper, some students noted really appreciating that exposure. In response to the question about what they’re most proud of, one said, “Writing papers such as the food memoir and listicle that I have never done before. In high school, kids don’t get introduced to different types of writing, so I was proud of figuring out how to write these types of papers well.”

 

  • Core Principles: During the first week of class, we also watched Clint Smith III’s “The Danger of Silence.” I’d included his four Core Principles (“Read critically. Write consciously. Speak clearly. Tell your truth.”) on the syllabus, and I wanted them to understand where they came from. I tried to structure the class so that students had several opportunities grow in those areas, and we explicitly revisited the principles in the middle of the semester and at the end of the semester. Many of the comments on the final Minute Papers seemed to touch on these ideas (“I want to speak clearly and organize my thoughts as such”; “I am most proud of the progress I have made as a reader. Reading has never been my strong suit but the practice that I have had this semester made me a better reader”).

 

  • A Likable Theme/Focus: I figured a class about food might go over reasonably well, but I was kind of Trojan Horse-ing a bunch of other stuff in there, and also one of the things that I’ve seen sometimes, particularly as someone who primarily teaches Media Studies and Popular Culture, is that students can be reluctant to look beyond the surface level of pop culture artifacts. But here, a lot of them pointed to finding our investigation of things like commercials and music videos to both be fun and effective. They liked taking content that they were sometimes familiar with and breaking it down, and they liked hearing what their classmates thought about that content. And I know some of y’all really hate the word “relatable,” but…uh…they found all of this to be relatable 🙂

 

  • There are more things besides this, but wow, this post is already getting super long, so I’ll just have my last point here be my favorite comment out of all of them: “Writing doesn’t have to be grueling and adhere to strict rules. It can be so much more. I will remember this and take it with me.”

So as I said earlier in this tome, this semester is basically over, BUT that doesn’t mean I’m done with the academic life until August (hahahaha). First up, I’ll be working for the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) again in May. This time around, I’m in charge of all things social media, and I’m really looking forward to that. In June, I start teaching a 6-week online Introduction to Fiction class (this is a whole barrel of firsts, and you can expect to see a post or two or ten on this in the coming weeks). While I’m doing these things, I’ll also be working on my dissertation as per usual (look for a post on that next week), waiting for feedback on a publication submission, and drafting job market materials. ‘Tis the academic life, eh? In all honesty, though busy, I think this actually shaping up to be a summer that’s both productive *and* fun for me, which is pretty much all I want them to be (I mean, I’m also getting paid the whole time, which…WHEW).

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