My colleagues often laugh at me when I greet them "Happy New Year" the beginning of every semester, even summer school. Regardless of the month a semester begins, September, January, or June, its New Year's for me. A fresh start! As Fall 2014 begins, I devote this post of this blog "Feeling the Burn" to my goals for this semester.
Focus on Writing
I teach a writing course. This means I need to devote as much in-class time to writing as possible. If I taught cooking, I'd reserve time for students to actually cook or at least engage in a particular cooking skill: slicing, pureeing, measuring, sauteing. If I taught swimming, students would be in the pool, maybe in the shallow end, acting like swimmers. Sure, I'd do some lecture, but deep learning occurs from actually cooking or swimming, not lecture. In my classes, focus on writing means more than composing essays. I plan on devoting at least some portion of each class period listing, drafting, free writing, outlining, note-taking, annotating - anything that compels the writers in my class to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Simply put, I need to spend less time telling students how to write, read, and think. I need to show them. This means writing alongside them, providing a living model of what a real writer does. I know I'm not a renown author or published essayist, but I am the best writer in the room! So letting my students "listen in" to how I think about writing and how I approach writing projects will help them figure out their own approach to composing. Good descriptive writing privileges "showing" over "telling". I want my teaching to do the same.
I'm referring less to grading and evaluating written work than I am to giving students genuine responses to their ideas and the strategies they experiment with in class. Students consistently surprise me when they say how glad they are to read my comments (when the comments aren't prescriptive or about mechanical issues). Students say they rarely get feedback about their ideas. That type of conversation builds their confidence as they develop their voices. Especially when I'm judicious about suggestions, and when I give students the "just in time" suggestions they need to ratchet their thinking up a notch. I need to do more of that. This semester, I plan to leverage Google to provide feedback to students. I know how to comment on shared files, so this semester's next learning curve is to use Kaizena.
That's it. My top three goals (resolutions?). I'd love to read what your goals are for this coming semester. If you have any suggestions about how you "show" rather than "tell", or if you want to share tips on giving substantive feedback, leave a comment. Here's to a semester full of learning, Oh, and Happy New Year!