Thursday, March 22, 2012

Making FDENG 101 Better?

NOTE: Babblings here for my teaching work group, in which we’re discussing ways to improve the curriculum for the Foundations English course at BYU-Idaho. Potentially. I’m not confident anything will change all that much. But we’ll see.

As I see it, our current FDENG 101 course could benefit from the following changes which would spread the workload out more evenly through the semester and integrate better chances at revision:

Combine Assessments. There are several weeks in which students are required to complete a weekly assessment as well as an assessment on their major assignments. I spend a lot of time chasing down students during and after those weeks, urging them to complete both assessments, with some expressing confusion and frustration, saying, “But I already did that,” when, in fact, they’ve done one or the other, not both. Combining the assessments would eliminate that confusion.

Revision. First thing: Cut the Three Cluttered Pigs. While this is in of itself a good exercise in revision, it is so far removed from their ordinary writing styles that making the application of that assignment move from the assignment itself to their own work just isn’t happening. My students need more practice in reading and re-reading their work, catching errors and considering faults in their research, logic, and assumptions than they need a useless exercise in dewordification.

Second thing: Move the Thinking About Thinking essay to the introductory week, not Week One. Why, you may ask? These are college-age students we’re dealing with. They should have to do more that first week than pop in and introduce themselves. They can do an introduction and that first essay, which is simple enough as it is constructed. That gives them a chance to introduce themselves and to show me as an instructor where they are at as writers.

Third thing: With Week One freed up, insert a week between writing their This I Believe Statement and producing their podcast for a week in which they’re asked to revise their essay. Here’s my logic behind that: My first semester, I jumped into the discussions and offered feedback on every essay before they were supposed to be finalized and submitted. This absolutely killed the classroom discussion, as all I got after that pretty much was an echo chamber – yeah, what Bro. Davidson said. So the next semester I didn’t offer any feedback prior to submission. The discussions went better, but I don’t feel like the students learned as much or considered as much revision as they should have – the vast majority of them simply turned in their essays as written, without taking into consideration the feedback offered by their peers. Inserting a week for revision and requiring the students to make revisions – adding a penalty if they turn in the same essay without changes – would motivate them more into taking revision seriously.

And yes, I did say a finished essay, not a podcast. Of any of the assignments in this course, the podcast causes the most headaches. Contrary to what we believe about these Milennials, about half the class has no idea what a podcast even is. Then, as they move into putting their podcasts together, emphasis on revising and fine-tuning their essay flies out the window as they deal with the myriad technical problems that Jing and other podcast construction software presents. This is a class on writing, not a class on podcast production, so to see them expending more effort in sorting out technical difficulties than on revision is painful. I say we eliminate the podcast in favor of a written essay that has been revised in class.

Fourth Thing: We ought to consider combining Weeks Five and Six in order to insert a week in the Profile Essay block for revision. I know this compresses the time they might have for interviews, but the pattern I see consistently is that the interviews are rushed no matter what time is given to them. I’d like to offer them the suggestion that they interview, write, consider revisions, ask follow-up questions (an inevitable part of the interviewing and profile-writing process, something I know after ten years in journalism) and then re-submit so that as they, their peers, and myself have questions or point out things that need improvement that they actually have the motivation and time to do so – time as they’re actually writing and revising the piece, so they can see the bigger picture of how all of this comes together.

Fifth Thing: Do the same thing with Weeks Eight and Nine, combining the weeks and then offering the students the opportunity to submit a rough draft one week and the final draft the next, after considering feedback from their peers and their instructor. This would have especially been important this semester, as I have had several students who have missed the boat entirely on citing references in their research proposals, as if they didn’t make the connection between the research portion of the assignment and the writing portion of the assignment. Again, I could nip this in the bud during the workshops, but I would rather build an extra week into the course for them to consider revisions, conduct further research (again, the follow-up after the questions and feedback is important) and then resubmit, rather than have this done in a rushed, compressed fashion the week their proposals are due.

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