Month: March 2009

The Writing Experiment: Part 3

So they handed me their rough drafts some time in the middle of last week, and here were some of the issues/postitives that I noticed.

Let’s do the good stuff first.

Well, for the first time all semester I noticed they had picked topics that they were excited and passionate about. It was great to seem them taking more time to think about what they wanted to write about versus them trying to please me. While I enjoy being pleased, I think what students don’t realize is how much better papers turn out when there is passion and excitement behind them. I couldn’t care less about the topic; regardless, my students (and I don’t think this is exclusive to my classroom) tend to try and please me, which ends up resulting in papers that lack any excitement for them or myself.

The second and final positive I noticed with their rough drafts is the attempt to find something to prove to me. The entire program is based on essays that essentially require the students to use the text as evidence. While this is good practice for future writing, I do think they would benefit from some self reflection (which I make them do anyway) and learning other types of writing besides, here’s a topic, pick a side, prove to me you’re right.

Okay, so there are some negative or rather not so great moments to this experiment.

While the writing, overall, was well done, I did not notice that they are still struggling with the concept of writing a thesis statement. I don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept to grasp for many of my students, I do spend a lot, maybe too much, time trying to get them to write thesis statements that aren’t overly general and do pick a side with out pushing their opinion on the reader.  Even though, I continue to show them what not to do and what to do using student examples they STILL make the same errors. Suggestions on how to fix this or teach the thesis statement are more than welcome, they are needed.

The other issue I had was the outlining. My students HATE outlining, and I don’t understand why. You student readers out there PLEASE tell me,  what is the problem with outlines? We even did an outline on the board and I required it, still I had students not complete the assignment. It seemed so simple.  Take the four or five big picture goals and apply them to an outline, find quotes from the text to prove your point, bing bang boom your paper is essentially written for you!

Finally, as mentioned above, the writing is improving still I’m getting overly general papers that have no point or organziation and it seems to me the reason for this is because the prompt is still being misunderstood. I don’t know what else I can do to make these students understand it.

I’ll be collecting their final drafts this week  and after discussing the issues I have mentioned above, I’m looking forward to some decent papers. While I don’t except Shakespearean quality work from them, I do expect them to be creative, and proofread. I don’t think that is asking too much…but then again, maybe it is. 

Please feel free to leave some suggestions for getting students to write about topics they are passionate about and hwo to write a thesis statement these are the two issues I am having a difficult time with and welcome some veterans to pass along some wisdom. I’ll keep you posted on the final drafts.


The Writing Experiment: Part Two

So we did it. We wrote our own prompt as a class.  The new promopt was almost identical to the one the department had written, but because they wrote it they felt confident about the assignement. Here’s how I did it:

First, I had them look at the old prompt and establish goals for the paper. For instance, I had them decide as a class what broad topics they would discuss for the paper like morals/ethics, regulations, gov’t and so on. The simple I question I asked them to have them think about these goals was, “what major points are you going to have when writing this paper?” And so, they rattled off the basics.

Then I had them think about the goals and we applied them when writing the second prompt. I had them put these basics into a prompt which to my surprise (I sadly wasn’t expecting this experiment to do as well as it did) they wrote a really thoughtful and insightful prompt both they and I were pleased with.

Though some of the students did not understand what the prompt (either one) was asking so what we did then was decide as a class what we would be looking for in a paper using this prompt. This was the best part of the experiment because it forced them to think about the readings and what they wanted to write about. We listed all of these things on the board and all I could see was light-bulbs going off. In fact, I even had students tell me, “Miss, this is the best way you’ve ever explained a prompt.” That for me was enough to do it again.

Well, this happened last Tuesday and since then they’ve had to outline their papers and come up with some kind of argument. While I think it was sucessful the true test will be when I read their papers. I’ll keep you all posted.


p.s. My apologies for the irregular posts. I’m trying, but it is that time in the semester where it’s like 10 pgs due here 20 pgs due there, read a 400 pg novel and so it’s all a bit stressful. Not to mention I’ll be grading papers come Tuesday. You all know how that goes. Thanks for stopping by and please leave comments and suggestions. I’m curious what you all think about this experiment and how you think I could improve it.

The writing experiment: Part One

After a semester and a half of hearing students complain about the horrible prompts I am making them write I’ve decided it’s time to do something about it. First some background. The composition program at the university that I teach at has a reader and from that reader prompts, written by our department head are used. Although TA’s are encouraged to write their own prompts and sequences, many of us use the sequence and prompts provided for us. It makes our lives easier, which I believe is the departement head’s objective.

There are some issues. The book is new and is being reworked into a national edition and not all the sequences have been attempted in the classroom. Because of this the only way to see if a sequenence or prompt works is to use in the classroom. Last semester the prompts and readings went over well with the students. There were complaints but they were expected because we were making our students think and work. This semester however the complaints are warrented. The prompts are horrible and the readings are not much better. Although the readings, I don’t think, are the problem. This semester plain and simple it’s the prompts that are creating the problem.

So what am I going to do about it? I figured something had to be done because I was about to have a mutany on my hands and was not so thrilled about my students suddenly standing in the middle of lesson screaming “Mutany! Get her!” It seems as if we are headed in that direction. So to prevent being tied or taped to desk with a sign on my forehead that says, “I’m a terrible teacher” I’ve decided to let the students write their own prompt.

Tomorrow I will begin this experient. I’m first going to show them what the prompt is that was given for this reading, then as a class we are going to write our own. We will have established goals before writing the prompt looking at how the readings connect, what we as writers hope to accomplish and learn through the prompt and then ask the question that will give us the prompt. After the prompt has been written the class will vote, their prompt or the department’s. I was actually thinking of having them chose their prompt or the department prompt which would also provide me with a bit more variety when it came time to grade these papers.

I will further update you readers on the outcome of this experient. I do have some concerns. 1) Will they treat this assignment as a joke? 2) How can I get them to think in terms of writing a prompt? 3) Do I tweak the prompt to make it better for them by giving them suggestions?

I would love any feedback you guys have on this. Have any of you done something like this? If so would you do it again? If yes why? If no, why not? Do you have any suggestions for how to go about this?

Seven Days of Nothingness

Spring Break has arrived. In fact, it’s almost over. Here is my issue: Even with seven days of nothingness to get some work done, possibly get ahead so that the end of the semester doesn’t come crashing down around me, I still feel like I don’t have enough time.

After compiling a list of work to do for school, I have managed to squeeze in about 2 hours for myself to attend a museum which has an Andy Warhol exhibit going on. I thought this exhibit would also be cool to see since I’m currently enrolled in a course dealing with post-modern literature and after reading some theorists who spoke about Andy Warhol I thought, “Hey, I can check out what they hell they are talking about and not use google images.”

While it is only Wednesday and yes, there are quite a few hours left in the day to do work, I feel fried. I’ve been reading One Hundred Years of Solitude and while it is a really good read, I feel like it might be nice to finish the Twilight series over break. There is nothing wrong with a trashy read every now and then. I feel like in order for me to be ready for next week I’m actually going to have to stay up late, but not to drink and be merry with friends or to watch a movie or anything fun. I’m going to be staying up so that I won’t feel guilty when I’m at the museum and I’ll know come Monday I’ll be ready to kick some school work ass.

While I am well aware, as my boyfriend reminds me that I “signed up for this,” I still wish I wouldn’t feel so bad when I wasn’t doing work. I mentioned in an older post about having grad student guilt and I don’t know if guilt is something that comes easy to me because of the the Catholic upbringing but when I took 30 minutes to prepare lunch today and had the TV while I ate it, I felt bad.

I will say I’m glad I’m in this program and I’m really glad that I’m doing it at a faster rate (I’m squeezing a three year program into two). I know that is part of the reason why I’ve got so much to do and while the next few semesters will be exhausting the reward of having completed it will replace the stress. For now, I guess I need to just deal with the guilt, get the work done and stop complaining.

I’m glad I have this blog to vent about this stuff because my co-workers simply tell me I’m crazy for taking four classes. The funny thing is I don’t find the school work is what takes up so much of my time, it’s dealing with student excuses, grading papers, and planning lessons that actually eats away at my school work. While I do love teaching, sometimes I think I’m not being a very good teacher because, let’s be honest, I’m a student first and everything else second.

I was discussing this whole idea of teaching cutting into my time as a student with one of my professors. She made a great comment that I have taken to heart. She said, “you have to do what is best for you first, then worry about everything else.” I think she’s right. That’s why, although I will feel guilty at the museum tomorrow and while sometimes I cut my runs short because I have ton of work to do, I still do the stuff that is important for me. I do my school work, my exercise, and even manage to occasionally squeeze a little entertainment in my life.

The teaching stuff, while important, comes second. When I’m a full time professor and I’m not living below the poverty line I will then spend more time being a great teacher. I do the best with the time and resources that I have and while I still carry that grad student guilt I’m going to enjoy what’s left of this week, put off reading the Twilight series but enjoy the museum and not having to be on campus.

How does that sound?

Will you be my thesis chair?

It happened so quickly I didn’t realize it had happened until I was in my car. My class ended and I was walking with my professor to the parking lot.

“So, how is the novel coming along?” She asked with sincerity.

“It’s coming. I was actually wondering if you would take a look at what I have so far since I’m thinking about making it my thesis.” There were other words exchanged that I can’t remember but suddenly I was saying, “I wanted you to look at since, I was going to ask you to be my thesis chair.”

She looked at me surprised, but agreed to be my thesis chair saying, “it’s still early and if you change your mind don’t feel bad.” I couldn’t stop talking and if my car had been parked in the same lot as hers I might of continued.

Because of my inability to use a filter when I speak, I now have a thesis chair. I’m stoked because she gets booked quickly and I no longer have to worry about the awkward meeting that I was going to have come fall. Some of my friends in the program who are a year ahead of me, graduating this spring, told me about how terrified they were to ask their professors to be their thesis chairs. They feared their professors would say no or that they were too busy. There is also a process with asking, you’re supposed to make an appointment, go their office, find a reason to be there before you casually ask, sweating, your hands shaking, “I was wondering if you’d be my thesis chair.”

I have to say that, although I went about the whole thing casually and in an unconventional way, probably against the good advice of my peers, I have the thesis chair I want and I don’t have to have a stress attack in the fall. Instead, my professor can help me get my thesis/novel ready sooner.

I’ve heard horror stories from my friends, some of whom have been rejected by professors and I’m glad I didn’t sit in my professor’s office nervous. I’m horrible with words when I’m nervous, I can’t articulate what I’m trying to say and just sound crazy. I wonder now if I should have waited until the fall to ask my professor. Did I miss out on a right of passage by not sitting in her office sweaty and rambling?

What do you all think? Should I have been patient and asked formally? I would love to hear some of your stories about your thesis committee.