Last week, I wrote about the way I have dramatically reduced my grading load this semester by skipping comments on student papers. As usual, my readers helped clarify my position. I could have more accurately written that I reduced my grading load by switching to a face-to-face commenting structure rather than attempting to write comments on every student paper. The main problem with trying to comment on every paper is I am inevitably wasting time writing out some comments that are never even read by the students they're intended for. No matter how hard we try as teachers (or how much we deny the truth), there are just some students who don't care about the feedback. These students flip to the bottom of the page, check the grade, and toss the paper in the trash along with all those painstakingly-crafted comments. Maybe I'm too much of a realist---or too cynical---but … Continue Reading ››
I've always assumed students enjoy reading feedback on their papers about as much as I enjoy writing it. But that's never stopped me from continuing to give it on every paper. Each semester, I take my stacks of student papers and work through them one by one, adding comments in the margin and coming up with some kind of end note that lists a couple positive comments and a couple suggestions for improvement. And each semester, I hand them back, not knowing if anyone cares about my advice or even reads it. What if most students aren't even reading my notes? Frankly, it would be a terrible waste of my time. I could grade papers much faster if all I have to do is slap a grade at the end. Continue Reading ››
If you have been reluctant to make the switch to Google Docs, it's time to go for it. Last week, Google released a series of "add-ons" for Google Drive that make using gdocs much easier for teachers, students, and writers. I have been wanting to incorporate Google Docs into my writing classes for a couple years now--basically ever since I started using them in my own writing. However, the lack of a few basic functions have prevented me from doing so up until now. Grading in gdocs has always been particularly difficult. With no track changes function like the one provided by Microsoft Word, it was nearly impossible to leave feedback on student papers. This was the biggest detractor for me and it kept me from using gdocs with student papers. But that has all changed as of last week. As far as teaching … Continue Reading ››
Some teachers think I'm crazy, but I happen to enjoy designing my syllabus. I know plenty of teachers who dread writing their syllabus, putting it off until the last minute until finally, the night before classes start, they sloppily crank out just enough to make it look like they know what they're doing. I even know one teacher who only gives his class one or two weeks of the syllabus at a time. Might be cool if he did it consciously in order to keep the class flexible or keep the students guessing or something. The truth, though, is he procrastinates as badly as his students and it's pretty likely that his classes suffer as a result of his poor planning. As I said in my last piece, flexibility is always important in the classroom--especially as a new teacher. But poor preparation and … Continue Reading ››
This post begins an advice series for new teachers. Over the next few weeks, we'll be exploring that ever-important first semester in the classroom. We'll share tips, advice, and resources that will help you survive your first year in a new teaching position. Like it or not, a teacher's job begins long before we first step into the classroom. In fact, by the time you take your first roll, you'll have already knocked out most of the groundwork necessary to facilitate a successful first semester. The question, then, is how do we prepare? What kind of planning must we undertake in order to be ready on that first day of class?
Trial by Fire for College Composition TeachersIf your graduate experience was anything like mine, then you probably had very little preparation for your teaching position. You probably received little or no training in … Continue Reading ››
All new teachers want to know what to expect. Maybe you arrived at this article asking the same question: What can I expect as a new teacher in a college classroom? What should I do on the first day of class? The first week? How should I grade? How many papers should I assign? What if no one talks in class? All valid questions and real concerns for a new teacher. Due to the large number of requests I get to answer questions like these, I've decided the best thing I can do is create a post series dedicated to new teachers. In this series, I'll answer all of these common questions about how to prep and what to expect as a new teacher. I'll cover some of the grading policies I've developed over the years (including some that failed miserably), and I'll also toss in some sample assignments, paper prompts, … Continue Reading ››
Last week, we talked about the benefits of teaching poetry in literature-based writing courses. I explained that, in my writing classes at the University of Georgia, I incorporate four major genres of literature, and I began to make the argument that a semester of literary study can be deeply beneficial for students who are learning to write. This week, we'll pick up where we left off with the second post of the series: Teaching Short Stories in Writing Classes. Like poetry, teaching short stories in your writing classes can also cultivate unique skills in your developing writers. Being conversant in the language of the short story will not only help students compete intellectually, but it will also help them develop and hone their own writing skills.
Teaching Short Stories Helps Students Analyze Essay-Length … Continue Reading ››
This post on teaching poetry begins a four part series that explores literature-based writing classes. In this series, we'll explore the concept of literature-based writing courses and how we, as writing teachers, can use literature in our composition courses to teach writing. In order to gain a full perspective on this discussion, I'm going to break our exploration into four different parts, each focusing on a popular genre of literature: poetry, short stories, short film, and drama. Because I use each of these genres in my literature-based writing courses, much of this discussion will focus on my own experiences in the classroom. I'll tell what has worked for me and give some examples of effective assignments. But, I also want to use this series to open a discussion. I'd love to hear from you. Do you teach a literature-based writing course? What works or doesn't work in your composition classroom?
Teaching Poetry in … Continue Reading ››
Teaching without a plan makes the classroom exciting and a little dangerous. In a good way. Dangerous because it's a bit of a gamble. You never quite know for sure what will happen. Sometimes the house wins and you go back to your office and close the door, wondering what the hell just happened. These are the times that teaching without a plan leaves you flat on your face. Students don't engage or you don't ask the right questions. You get blank stares and throat clears. But when teaching without a plan works, it's amazing. You beat the odds and your classroom ignites with energy and passion. These are the times that you go back to your office and close the door, wondering what the hell just happened. Wait, is there an echo in here? No, you read that right. Teaching without a plan usually lands you in the same position at the … Continue Reading ››
Read my five-paragraph essay piece, Should We Teach the Five-Paragraph Essay?, published at Education Week. I often reach out to my colleagues in the blogging community to see if they'd be interested in sharing posts. That usually means other English teachers or folks who write about education in general. It's part connecting with the community and part promotion of myself and my work. Occasionally, I'll find someone who is in fact interested in having me write a piece. About a month ago, I contacted Nancy Flanagan, who writes a blog called "Teacher in a Strange Land" for Education Week. Nancy is a teacher herself (former Michigan Teacher of the Year) and a digital organizer for IDEA (Institute for Democratic Education in America), and as her bio reveals, her writing focuses on "the inconsistencies and inspirations, the incomprehensible, immoral and imaginative, in American education." We clicked pretty quickly. Continue Reading ››