Cooking and Composition

adventures in discourse and dinner

— July 23, 2014

Is summer really more than half over?

Do I really go “back to school” for the fall semester in about a month?

I’ve been so quiet, readers. I’m sorry. However, we all know that summer is the time when academics stop doing anything related to work or school (okay, maybe not). I made some major life changes this summer that I’m super excited about:

  • I interviewed for and accepted a full-time (non-tenure track) teaching position.
  • I moved to an adorable house that is still not quite put together.
  • I received an award for my dedication to first-year student success.
  • I went on a wonderful vacation to Grand Junction and Palisade, Colorado.
  • And, oh yeah, I started teaching.

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Hello, Summer! — May 18, 2014

Hello, Summer!

Is it really summer already? I know I’ve been “done” with teaching for a couple of weeks, but it doesn’t quite feel like a “vacation” yet.

I’ve been mostly quiet on the blog sphere. The end of the semester always exhausts me. Between the marathon grading (and it was, up to the last minute almost this semester) and dealing with students complaining about their final grades, I’ve been thankful to have a couple of weeks where completely vegging out was possible.

I haven’t kept up with my e-mail.

I haven’t read any other blogs.

I haven’t even been inspired to blog.

Today, I was hit with a panic that I had forgotten to submit my 4C14 proposal. But, I did just turn it in (thanks to a friend’s reminder of Facebook!) and it’s all out of my hands now. Continue reading

Stating Your Teaching Philosophy: How Do We Do it? — April 3, 2014

Stating Your Teaching Philosophy: How Do We Do it?

teaching philosophyOver the past three years or so, my teaching philosophy has changed and developed based on my experiences in the classroom, my scholarly research interests, and my reflecting on both of these aspects of my life. I’m fairly confident in my beliefs of what makes an effective composition instructor and why I make the pedagogical decisions that I do.

I just have trouble articulating those in a concise way in a typed document.

In grad school, we spent a lot of time discussing teaching philosophies in a couple of my classes. I have drafts that show, really, just how much my philosophies (and abilities to state those philosophies) have progressed since the first and second semester of graduate school. I still remember some of the advice and feedback I got on those earlier versions: make yourself more present, good use of examples, “coaching” might be misread or misinterpreted. Continue reading

Highlight Your Way to a Better Draft — March 19, 2014
Wikipedia and Research Writing: A Dream Course Design? — February 16, 2014

Wikipedia and Research Writing: A Dream Course Design?

Image of Notes on Kuhne and Creel 2012Today while being totally unacademic, I came across the December 2012 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College on my desk. I had glanced over it a couple of times but not done much actual reading of it, probably because I was completely absorbed with my reading list about when it came out. For some reason, one of the articles caught my eye today, about teaching with Wikipedia in the first-year research writing classroom.

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Teaching Writing Collaboratively — February 2, 2014

Teaching Writing Collaboratively

I’m really glad I had my classes work on a collaborative research project to kick off the semester. At times it has seemed like a laborious process that my students were really struggling to grasp, but now that the teaching phase of it is over, I’m feeling better about it.

I just want to make a quick post to help myself remember what worked (and didn’t) about this project. If you have any suggestions, I’d love them because I’m sure I’ll be doing this project again in the future.

What Worked Well

  • Modeling note taking. Even though students were assigned to take notes out of class, it’s evident that most of them did not really understand what this meant. Note taking is so important to research, and I think the three class periods we devoted to note taking is going to be helpful for their future projects.
  • Mixing up groups for every class session. Students seemed to have liked that they were able to meet different members of class. Every day we worked on drafting this project or taking notes, some sort of in-class group activity happened. I like it because it helps me see early on who is stepping into leadership roles and who is taking the backseat, as well as who didn’t do any of the homework and is waiting on the curb.
  • Encouraging radical revision and a lack of consensus. Throughout the process, I’ve tried to emphasizing the idea of having a rough draft and coming together to “get something on paper” but not to have a “perfect” paper or even “consensus.” Disagreement is a fine place to start writing, and I think it encourages the kind of revision I want students to make on their own projects. So even though some of my classes didn’t come to decisions as aptly as they might have, I think the discussion was productive.
  • Explicitly discussing our decision-making. I know that many of my students have never consciously made choices between different options when writing a paper. This project has been a great opportunity for talking about why we are making choices, especially when we are still in the process of making those choices.
  • Being a different kind of teacher. I’ve always had a hands-on, student-centered approach to teaching, but I think this project really forced me to take on a different role to highlight a student-centered classroom. I felt more like a guide, asking questions and writing down the answers, than a director or leader telling students what to do. I liked being a part of the collaborative process because it lead to excellent trouble-shooting and teaching moments. It also prevented my students from seeing me as their audience because I was part author of the project.

What Needs Improving

  • More time! Ideally, I would like another week to work on this project. At points, the work load was just a bit higher than I would have liked. I didn’t want this project to take too much of the semester (it already took the first month of classes!), but some students really struggled to keep up with the reading load and we didn’t always get through all of the activities I had planned for class.
  • Better dealing with student division of labor. Part of this is a little naivete on my part, I can’t lie. I didn’t plain for a system of accountability other than “not letting each other down.” This system did not stop people from coming to class unprepared or from letting one or two people dominate group work or class discussion. In the future, I might create a rubric or peer-review process so that students can discuss this process. Although I don’t like the idea of students grading each other, per se, I do think it’s important for them to be able to let me know (in an appropriate manner) whether or not someone was pulling their weight.
  • Tasking students with finding sources. One problem a few students in class noticed was really beyond our control. Using They Say/I Say, we discussed whether or not fast food is becoming the new tobacco. But none of the readings included in that section addressed the comparison explicitly or even dealt with tobacco at all. This might have been a good place to ask students to find an article or a reading online to contribute, so that we could begin discussing how to conduct good research. But this is minor. I’m sure there will be a newer edition out soon, too, and that may help.

A Few Other Things to Consider

  • Weather and Illness. We’ve been hit with an abnormally harsh winter this year, resulting in two canceled classes in our first week and some other students having to miss class because of their own travel conditions. I’ve also had a lot of students out because of illness. This is especially hard to deal with when it comes to drafting a project in class and working collaboratively. My normal “your-absence-only-affects-your-own-work” philosophy doesn’t necessarily apply here.
  • Students who hate group work. I’ve seen several comments about students that don’t like to work in groups, for various reasons. It also seems like some of those students shut down on the project before we even got started. Realistically, collaboration and group work is going to be a part of their lives regardless of what they do in the future. I can think of zero professions that allow one to truly work as an individual. How do I foster better buy-in there? I don’t think this is a question of offering more ownership (like allowing them to select topics). This is a question of students have bad previous experiences with group projects and transferring it to the class, preventing them from engaging fully.

It’s nice to get some of these thoughts written down. I’m excited to see how students revised and what they come up with. I’m excited to reflect again on what worked well and what didn’t about this project after I have graded the assignments. But overall, this is definitely something I will do again in the future and definitely something I would encourage other writing instructors to adapt and make their own.

Friday Favorites: Composition Readers — January 17, 2014

Friday Favorites: Composition Readers

Friday Favorites

School is back in session. Wooo! We technically started a week ago Monday, but the “Arctic Vortex” or whatever they’re calling it these days really threw getting back into class into a frenzy. We had a missed day of school, and I had to cancel my own classes another day because there was no way I was getting out of my driveway and to school safely.

I’m glad school is back in session, though, because I’m really enjoying teaching my 105 classes this semester. I love research and was so looking forward to it, but I was disappointed in my fall sections. This spring seems to be going much better. 🙂

I’m going to get a little dorky in today’s Friday Favorites, and talk about some of my preferred readers, especially for first-year composition.

5. Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing by Elizabeth Losh, Jonathan Alexander, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon 

I think this book is super cool, and if I were teaching a class that is more focused on rhetoric, I would definitely use it. I used a couple of chapters in a junior-level course on writing in the professions, and I think it would pretty well. It’s a little bit corny, but I kind of like that in a text.

4. Everything’s an Argument by Angela Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters

I have taught with the fifth edition a couple of times, and I think this book is very handy for describing rhetorical ideas. Some students found the readings a little boring, but overall they tended to do well when we discussed them. I like that this reader includes some essays as examples, as well.

3. They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst

Even though I bought this book in my first semester of graduate school, this is my first time teaching with it. So far, I think it’s been very successful. The version with readings makes assigning reading to practice the strategies presented much easier, even if the articles are somewhat dated in the second edition. I haven’t heard anything about a new one (yet) but I would definitely get it if it was available. Some people argue that this book can be simplifying, but I think it will be good for helping students with quote integration and balancing research and their own ideas. This book is also cool because it could be used in non-comp classes, too.

2. Writing about Writing: A Reader by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

If I could teach a class that followed the plans and essays presented in this reader, it would be perfect. I’m so into the Writing-about-Writing approach, it’s not even funny. Wardle and Downs are two very influential scholars for me, so it’s not surprising that this text ranks highly. But, it can be a little challenging to adapt to some curricula. I do like that most of the readings are reprints, so if you don’t want to splurge for the book, you can find them elsewhere. This means you don’t get the helpful contextual statements at the beginning, though. I know a second edition is in the works to focus on threshold concepts. This should be a fascinating read, as well!

1. How to Write Anything by John J. Ruszkiewicz. 

I used this book last fall, and I probably should still be using it. It breaks down how to approach and write assignments based on their genres. But the really handy thing that I LOVE about this book is the interactive references. For example, it will explain where students can look for related ideas. If it’s talking about the letter-writing genre, it might say “if you need help developing your audience, go to this page.” It makes it a great tool for students, and it is less of a linear read than most handbooks. I may pick it back up in the future for students because I do like it *that much.* I also like that this book could be used in non-comp classes. Any teacher that wants to teach writing (especially a writing-in-the-major course) could benefit from this text!

Do you have a favorite tool for learning (or teaching) writing?