It’s that time.

Well, I’m at that time in the semester where I’ve decided that I don’t know how to teach, I’m messing my students up and I’ve done everything wrong. In my decade of teaching, I’ve never had a semester where I didn’t feel this way at this point, so that’s a good thing to remember. I got some fairly amazing papers for the Beyonce assignment (which I didn’t teach particularly well, for reasons I’ll describe later) but nobody remembered how to cite or really quote properly. This is probably because citation is approximately the least interesting thing in the world to me– I’m more focused on the students’ ideas (also their interaction with other ideas, yes) but I am still somewhat nervous about it, especially since my class getting assessed at the college-wide (or even CUNY-wide?) level, which I’m not really in the mood for, as I’m just figuring things out.

Here is where the Beyonce assignment fell a bit short: there were too many options. Honestly, I should’ve said: essay or video essay. There are plenty of genres to choose from with those limitations, but I kind of said “hey man, you can do anything.” In this case, I had students drawing pictures and writing about them. This COULD have been fine, but the students who chose to do that did not pay much attention to the explanation of what an artist statement is– that is, many of them didn’t refer to their own artwork in the artist statement at all, which means I have to have them all rewrite their artists’ statements. Honestly, the students for whom this was a problem were the students who were already looking for the easiest way out. But the way I structured the assignment, I had half of the class doing “creative work,” and the other half doing essays. This was a bad divide, and it split my attention in a way that wasn’t productive. That said, I had some great work, especially from some surprising students who seemed to really thrive on writing about music, and who hadn’t been doing too well before. See:

One thing I really want to focus on in my teaching going forward is research– research all the way through. Mini- research projects in class (students research and present on grammar/ syntax issues; students research little side mentions in the things they read and watch. In my 1101, it turned out none of them had heard of Abu Ghraib) and also big research on issues they are curious about. I’m not good enough at teaching research yet. The community problems unit has been a good start, because the students are engaged with these particular issues: gentrification, homelessness, etc… Sometimes I overhear a “you won’t believe what I just found!” And that’s what I want. Excitement about information!

My 1101, by the way, is kind of stuck. I have been giving them reading quizzes, something I never do, and I think that’s kind of messed with the class culture, to be honest. This is something I struggle with because also– I want them to read, and if I don’t quiz them, they often just… don’t. They’re just really quiet and it’s hard to get them to engage. None of my regular tricks work!


6 thoughts on “It’s that time.

  1. Jackie Blain

    Ah yes. The “I don’t know how to teach” moment. As I said in my post, I hit the same wall at pretty much the same time. I’m now just trying not to screw up the 1101 class too badly… which brings me to the “why are our 1101’s this term so quiet?” problem. I feel like we need to have a serious discussion in the PD about the differences between 1101 students (especially first-term-in-CT ones) and the 1121 students.

    1. Robert Lestón

      Jackie, as you know, there’s a significant distinction between Comp 1 and Comp 2, and one of the things we are and need to focus on, as a college, department, and program, is getting helping those students transition. This is one of the reasons that Lauri believes in us, that we can help to make this shift, but there’s no doubt it’s a big challenge, and easier to deal with in other classes.

      I don’t know if this helps, Carrie, but if I teach a lit course, I have reading quizzes. But in a comp course, I never do. But every reading assignment is attached to a writing assignment and students who don’t do those writing assignments get hit with zeros for not doing them. The problem I wind up having in these scenarios is that students do the reading, do the writing, but don’t post their responses. Definitely, a better problem to have than if they don’t read. I find it completely unacceptable if students don’t read, or if students don’t take responsibility, like bringing in their papers, or the article they were supposed to print out or whatever. It’s something I feel is pretty hard wired in me, but that’s me.

      1. Carrie Hall Post author

        Robert, as I said, every single reading assignment is attached to a writing assignment, but these were pretty half-assed, or just not done. I literally had people writing the first paper, which was on an essay, who hadn’t read that essay. Did they do very poorly? Yes. But I still don’t want to read those essays, and it’s still terrible for class discussion.

        We had a talk in class about WHY I assign readings, especially if they’re not directly writing on those readings (this is where the idea of the mentor text comes in handy) but many of them just HATE HATE HATE reading so much that if they can in any way get away with not reading, they won’t do it. And a zero on a homework assignment is a hit they’re willing to take. A quiz, while honestly worth approximately the exact same amount, strikes them as much more important. But it also changes the culture of the class.

        This goes back to Aaron’s post though. None of this changes the fact that they hate to read. They just freaking hate it. Quizzes don’t lessen that hate. Giving students choice of readings (which I have done in the past) helps. Honestly, this is something I need to work on– increasing their ENJOYMENT of reading.

        1. Robert Lestón

          Ok. I understand better now. I wonder if you can teach enjoyment or if enjoyment of reading is something that spreads more by contagion. Selecting readings and student choice is certainly a good idea, and it was one of the things that made you stand out as a candidate. I also wonder about having readings that concern themselves with reading pleasure. I think of Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, but the experience of pleasure in reading is something worth looking into beginning at the start of the semester and trying to figure out how to keep pleasure a consistent theme throughout. I’d be interested in seeing students do a show and tell where they bring an artifact they found pleasurable to class and talk about what about it brought them enjoyment.

  2. Kim

    Carrie, I totally agree about doing research throughout the whole term, and doing mini-research projects sounds like a great idea to get that ball rolling! Also, I’d love to read some of the interesting Beyoncé projects, and agree that it can be super tricky when the class divides into multi-genre projects. I wonder if the divide between analytical/creative is somehow a larger gulf than other multi-genre interpretations/translations/multimodal remixes…. I also really really like the idea of doing an essay/podcast/video essay assignment….. and again, I still worry about the technical audio/video editing required. Is fear of technology common among other writing teachers, or just me?

  3. Leigh Gold

    I think this is what makes you an amazing teacher Carrie–that you have this moment of feeling uncertain of everything!! This is taking me back to the Daoist quote again–SORRY–perhaps repetition compulsion–but truly, I think this is a sign of how aware you are of all of what is happening at all times so to speak–in a sense, your mindfulness is making you so vigilant to the point of thinking you are not doing what you need to but indeed, you are….. I have some thoughts that have to do with free association that might be interesting to bring up in person in response to your last comments on your 1101 class….In many ways of course this response was very much a free association. I agree with the research point–I was thinking the same recently and IF I could start the whole class over, I already see some spaces for this…More tomorrow! Looking forward to exploring more with you tomorrow!

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