Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teechur Thots

I’m now two-thirds of the way through teaching my first FDENG 101 course at BYU-Idaho. I’m here to report that I’m still enthused about teaching.

And why, pray tell?

Well, my students are working hard. They turned in their rough draft personality profile essays early last week, and through my feedback and feedback from their peers, most of them turned out an end product that was quite good. Not spectacular, but good enough that I can see where they’re making progress in how they think about writing.

The big question for the week: How involved should I be as they comment on each others’ rough drafts? Being the pompous egotistical maniac that I am, I thought I should comment on each essay, making sure to point out what they do good, and where they might need improvement. I decided this time around to do it privately, via e-mail. Here’s what I posted in my teaching group discussion this week:

I'm erring on the side of being involved. I've talked with my wife about this -- she taught high school English -- and she said that in her experience, the majority of the students appreciated that the teacher is involved in helping them become better writers.

I took a different approach this time around, providing individual feedback in private via email. I took a bit more time with each essay, and with the feedback being private, I think the students were more open to it. In grading their essays over the past few days I can see where this approach is working. So many students had much better essays -- and this was from incorporating their peers' feedback as well as mine. Those who take the feedback seriously are, I believe, the ones who want it the most. Providing feedback in private avoids the problem of "stealing thunder," while giving me a chance to help those students who want it. That everybody gets feedback is for fairness. I already know there are some who won't respond to my feedback at all.

That may introduce the subject of a flaw in the learning model [sound of cudgels being brought out and knives unsheathed]. Learning peer-to-peer is great. but if all the instructors are is a grade machine, what are we really here for?

I’m trying not to make waves. Well, not really. I am making waves. I want to be involved. I know going back through my own experiences as a student both in traditional classrooms and online that I enjoyed the classes where the teachers were more than a grading machine. Roy Atwood at the University of Idaho, for one, and Dave Hailey at Utah State, for another. These guys made us think. They presented the material and then made sure we thought about it and digested it and tried to figure out how to apply it to what we were doing in class. Roy Atwood, I recall, cautioned me against my proclivity towards BS, and I recall some of those conversations as my BS-ometer chimes when I write. And Dave Hailey opened my eyes to the vast store of technical communication knowledge I do not have. So I’m doing a lot of reading and experimenting on that end – including teaching this class so maybe I can figure out if I want to go on to a doctorate.

Those teachers who were grading machines? I don’t even remember the grades I got from them.

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