Lesson Plans and Teacher Comments

Last week’s reading focused on getting students to start writing. This week’s first readings (excluding “Rigid Rules”) were more geared towards interactions with students. The introduction and first two chapters of Informed Choices focused on making constructive comments and building a good rapport. One rapport-building exercise that I found interesting was the development of a common language. Sommers mentions one teacher who used the term “spice” with his students. I think that this common language can be a fun and useful tool for developing a sense of group identity between students and their peers as well as the teachers. Coming up with a few simple words here and there to condense an idea gives a group a sort of iconography that makes learning more efficient and lessons more permanent.

Sommers also discusses the importance of making efficient comments that help students to advance without feeling discouraged. Too much red ink can overwhelm some students, and for most people, one discouraging remark can outweigh a million praises. What I like to do with students to keep them from feeling discouraged is to tell them how they can improve rather than what they did wrong. I tend to think that goal-oriented teaching keeps students moving forward while pointing out flaws tends to cause self-destructive obsession. That’s not to undermine the occasional necessity of “tough love,” but generally speaking, goals seem to keep people happier and more productive.

“Choices about Day-to-Day Planning” was more about scheduling, and I was not as interested in this article. I thought that it offered some great theoretical guidelines about class flow, but in my experience, nothing ever goes according to plan. Of course, it would be ridiculous to walk into every class and treat it like playing along with a jazz standard, but I’m also wary of over-composing. I further found this article difficult because I’m not teaching this semester and can’t think of practical applications. I’ll have to come back to it later and adapt the ideas that I like best during a semester when I’m actually teaching a course.

Finally, Rose’s “Rigid Rules” discusses writer’s block, the reasons this might occur, and how to help students who struggle with this problem. While reading this piece, I was reminded of a nonfiction course I took in my undergrad in which we had a guest lecturer who suggested that in order to overcome writer’s block, he would first divide a piece of paper into two columns. In one column, he would start writing. The next column was reserved for recording speed bumps. Every time he felt like he shouldn’t write something, he would write it anyway, and in the next column say why he felt like he shouldn’t write it. I may have tried this exercise once or twice myself, but hearing of the concept was enough for me to realize that I similarly have many “voices” in my head telling me what I can and cannot say or how I can or cannot say it. When these voices become stumbling blocks rather than aides, I think of that two-column sheet of paper and ask myself why they are trying to block me. If I can’t think of a good reason, I run them right over and move on. Like we learned when we contemplated “Ignoring Audience,” a paper can always be revised. The first priority is to record the thinking process.

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First Week: Addressing Freshman Stage Fright

This week for pedagogy, we were assigned four articles. Though they cumulatively seemed to give a basic overview of what should be expected of an English 101 class, I found a few points that grabbed my attention in each article.

“Closing My Eyes as I Speak” by Peter Elbow was my favorite piece. In the article, Elbow discusses the possible stumbling blocks of considering an audience. This was a refreshing perspective. During my own 101 and 102 courses, I remember teachers constantly talking about knowing the audience, and when this became my first priority, I would often become overwhelmed and unable to write. What Elbow proposes is not that we encourage students to completely ignore the audience, but that we encourage them to first write for themselves and then modify the piece to speak to a larger group. This relieves so much of the pressure for freshmen who often feel intimidated by the prospect of speaking as experts when they are only beginning to learn about their field. This process of freewriting and revising is one that I had to discover on my own, and I would strongly encourage others to teach. It would have saved me a lot of time and work when I was an undergraduate if I had known that I could first write something that made sense to me and then change it so that it made sense to the rest of the world.

“The Novice as Expert” and “Inventing the University” also seem to speak to this feeling anxieties prevalent in many freshman English classes. I would guess that one of the hardest things about teaching an introductory course is that so many students are only there for a grade. For most students, English 101 and 102 are boxes on a checklist of prerequisites, so engagement can be difficult. What the students fail to realize is that engagement in introductory English courses will further help them to engage with their peers in their given fields. All disciplines require conversation in order to advance, and intro English courses give people the skills they need to converse successfully. It was encouraging for me to read in “The Novice as Expert” that many students seem to learn this lesson over the course of their freshman year, but I’m still not convinced that the majority of freshmen understand the importance of their introductory work.