FYW PD: Pre-Meeting Reflection and Introduction

My apologies for posting after the 6pm deadline; my power was out for most of the day due to the storm and thus using my laptop and the internet was somewhat difficult.


Hello, I am Adrienne. I have been teaching within CUNY since 2013. The college where I have been teaching the longest is at BMCC. As I worked within the college even before I began teaching, many of my ideas about teaching and the readings that I use have been colored by my experiences with the students and faculty there. A lot of my teaching has been at the community college level which means that I am used to dealing with students that are newer to the demands of college and sometimes to the skills and mindsets that enable one to succeed at the college level. I have taught literature courses, composition courses, creative writing courses, gender study focused classes, and research centered courses.

This past semester was my first time teaching online. I found that it was overall a successful experience for the students and I. However, as other participants previously noted, students need to possess a level of self-motivation and independence in order to successfully complete coursework online. Sometimes I have found that this means they need more assistance and more leniency in terms of deadlines (of course this was also happening during a pandemic and an economic recession, so the students were experiencing unprecedented upheaval in their lives). One thing that concerns me is how I can make sure that students are staying engaged and staying caught up with the readings. Many of my younger students told me that they struggle to read on their own and/or that their home environments are too noisy for them to focus when completing assigned readings.

Engagement Online

This past semester in my online courses (which were in person courses that suddenly had to transition to online courses) I tried to maintain some of the feel of an in person class by having discussions with the students in regards to the readings over Zoom. By having lively discussions related to the readings the students were able to gain a greater understanding of them and maintain a sense of normalcy during a disruptive transition in their lives. (I even attempted having the students act out a short play via Zoom, and this seemed to be an experience that helped maintain engagement and morale during a challenging time.) As some of the students said that they had trouble reading the assigned texts at home by themselves, I had the students read some of the texts out loud during the weekly one hour synchronous Zoom sessions to help the students with their reading comprehension. I believe that this helped the students stay engaged with the class, especially the freshmen students who were fresh out of high school and new to college. I also made use of weekly discussion board assignments to make sure students who could not attend the synchronous meetings were still engaged and discussing the readings with one another.

A Writing Genre 

One genre I am familiar with is that of the journalistic arts review, particularly those related to books, music, and theater. As I have been doing this type of writing since high school, I have become familiar with the standard expectations and rules in regards to this form of professional writing. Typically, a book review will begin with an opening statement about the book’s topic and/or author and the lead into summary of the plot (without giving away the ending or too much detail) and then transition into a critique of the book’s writing. Reviews for certain publications like Kirkus Reviews will always end with one sentence that encapsulates the entire opinion of the review/i.e. the thesis. Meanwhile, if one is reviewing music you must use descriptive language to give the reader an idea of how the music sounds, sometimes using musical terms, or emotions, or references to environments that provoke feelings similar to those which the music provokes (a sunny day at the beach is a common one). Typically, you are expected to quote at least one song lyric in the review, but more than two quotes might be excessive. Many writers will begin a music review with an anecdote before they transition to a discussion of the actual music. I began learning the rules for this genre of writing by reading my parents’ magazines and alternative weeklies as a child in the ‘90s. Typically before I begin writing a review for a particular publication, I will read reviews that the publication has published prior to gain an understanding of the proper tone and format as this can vary. Sometimes though, the best reviews are the ones that throw the templates and rules out the window and try to surprise the reader with the unexpected.

11 thoughts on “FYW PD: Pre-Meeting Reflection and Introduction

  1. Michael Montlack

    I’m Michael. I am a writer with a couple books out (poetry and non-fiction) and one coming September: Daddy (NYQ Books), my second full-length poetry collection. I’ve taught writing for 20 years at college level, including composition, literature, public speaking and creative writing. I have taught at Hofstra University, CUNY BMCC and New Jersey City University. I’ve taught online for Gotham Workshops for years which helped me greatly in moving my classes online this year. I kept it simple as Gotham has done. Announcements, Discussion Boards, Content, Collaborate and Grade Center. Students appreciated that approach and succeeded. I prefer being in the class and miss the students. But Collaborate was helpful, and though I didn’t make it mandatory, everyone showed. I think they were bored during the quarantine. Being in the class is fun. Online avoids the commute but somehow seems like more work than face to face. But it provides flexibility. I like that I can post examples and videos and such very easily to enhance the lessons.

    One thing I do in all my English classes is connect writing essays to interviewing. I ask who is afraid to interview for internships/jobs? Then I go over some of the questions, hearing answers and offering some advice. Then I compare answering interview questions with essays. Proving by example, organization, detail rather than generalization. Then we answer the questions again, using the essay techniques. The answers improve substantially. They make a connection between being a better writer and getting a job. Maybe that is transfer I have been doing. They see the class as relevant to them after that first discussion, or most students do.

    I am a poet. I studied fiction writing but wrote poetry secretly. The rules of poetry, who knows. That varies from poet to poet. I emphasize compression and imagery in my poetry classes. Using an organic voice is important. Being poignant, not sentimental. Being specific, not general. Being imaginative, not cliche. Saying something. Being accessible, not simple. I learned to write poetry from Stevie Nicks. I was a kid, entranced by her style, how she conveyed emotion but cryptically. I was an expressive boy who knew he was gay, so it was hard being secretive. Expressing myself using code, like Stevie, helped me get through. I wrote bad lyrics. That became bad poetry. Now hopefully better poetry. I write about Stevie. My essay about her turned into my first book MY DIVA, an anthology about gay men being inspired by women. I have poems about her too in Daddy. Her vagueness breaks rules of poetry. Her imagery, something, carries her through.

    1. kalbany

      Hi Michael,
      I went through an MFA program to study fiction and I ended up taking quite a few poetry or blended genre workshops. I have to say it was insane how much time you guys spend on one line of poetry. I wasn’t aware at all of the labor of love that went into even short poems. Fiction can somehow justify it with the number of pages, but I have to tell you I developed a real appreciation for language through poetry. I appreciate your list of rules. I gave one of my early poem to a poet teaching at NYCCT a few years back and when I got it back, it was bleeding red ink. It turned out I was revealing too much. I just hadn’t developed the organic voice that you write about. Some of those rules though don’t click until you actually read a good poem and then you realize what they mean. At least that’s how it was for me. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen was a good, eye-opening book of poetry that defied the genre. I went to LIU because their program was more experimental than any other MFA programs out there, I think. I could flirt with poetry or memoir, even though I was a fiction writer. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned knowledge.

    2. Lisa Cole

      Hi Michael,
      You sound like you have a lot of experience as a teacher and a writer. I’m sure the experiences feed off of each other. It seems because of your experiences in CUNY and at Gotham you had some experience with Blackboard before CUNY’s decision to avoid face-to-face classes. For me, on the other hand, Blackboard was totally new when I started to use it in March. I got through the semester fairly well, though I was learning to use it along with a number of my students, and am more comfortable using it now (I’m teaching the summer semester, a course in research paper writing). I really like your idea of the interview. I used to do something similar as a way of creating community at the beginning of a course when we were teaching in person. Your bringing it up makes me think that it would still be a useful tool to use at the semester beginning, creating community, and causing students to learn how to use the Discussions area of the Blackboard. I may try it in the Fall. Thanks for the idea!

    3. Anthony Eid

      Hello Michael,

      Were there times when you were studying fiction that allowed for your transition into poetry, or was it a sudden change over after the essay? When I was in grad school, it seemed as if all the writers from whatever background or track seemed to get along really well and all came up together as a big community. We had dabblers as well that dipped their toes into the pool after being in their nice warm comfortable Jacuzzi major. I was a “yawn” rhetoric and composition dude, and I tried my hand at poetry, memoirs, and some fiction because the MFA folks were so welcoming and fluid with their creativity. When was the time you felt you could not be a secretive poet and just fully feel that and be that?

      As a btw, I felt betrayed years later when I found out volcanic activity and winter snow storms could cause thunder as well. I wonder if Stevie would ever change that lyric now. In any case, I am being too literal and thought you may find that funny.

      Thank you so much for sharing,


  2. Professor McDonnell

    the channels seem confused because I found Michael’s post by clicking on replies to Adrienne…

    re: Adrienne, I’m encouraged by hearing about your experience using zoom regularly this past spring successfully with students. I did not attempt it as so many of my students seemed in crisis mode, but do plan to this semester.

    re: Michael, nice to hear from another poet. I love the title of of your anthology. I also like the phrase “The Rules of Poetry” and think it could also make a good title!

  3. Steve Rosenstein

    Hey, Adrienne. Having students act out a play on Zoom Theater is one of the more interesting strategies I’ve heard in the past few months – how did you handle the love scenes? There does seem to be an interesting I-miss-the-performative-element-of-classroom-instruction in some of these posts. Maybe the students do too?

  4. Lisa Cole

    Hi Adrienne –
    I was particularly interested in your introduction because, as far as our teaching experiences go, we have some things in common. I, too, teach at a two-year college and the Spring I semester was the first time I taught online as a result of the COVID-19 closings. While I think it went well, I was learning Blackboard with many of my students. This semester, teaching The Research Paper online (we’re finishing s six-week summer semester), I feel more comfortable, and in fact have included some ZOOM sessions to go along with the primarily Blackboard-based class. What’s interesting is that a number of the students do require more “push” to participate. This is not like an Independent Study where the students are highly self-motivated and independent, and I’m still learning to bend classroom rules about late papers, attendance and participation to satisfy the needs of my students, as well as adjust to their inability to navigate the lack of a regular class time (though I use virtual office hours, phone calls and email to aid in concerns and confusion about the course). Clearly, as you point out, our present method of teaching relies more on assistance and leniency than in person teaching. I used Pride and Prejudice with my students this semester, and for some of the parts of the text that deserve deeper explanation I’m interested in using your idea of using our synchronous periods to read together. Hearing them will also help with my interpretation of their understanding of the text, since now we lack visual clues that would exist in the classroom.

    1. Anthony Eid

      Hi there Adrienne

      I was wondering do you think that same sort of engagement would work if you had recorded your Zoom sessions and sent them to students? I tried many different variations to see what would work and out of desperation partially. I recorded all my sessions and sent them out to the class so they all could review it, regardless if they were there or not. I also did some recorded classless lectures that were paired with some posts and emails to me. I found either or did the trick with trying to have the class focused and engaged with the content and with the class as a whole. I was teaching two sections and pondered if I should make one the placebo and one the real deal Rx group, but that seemed cruel. So, I really do not know what methods worked best. Sometimes, either method fell short of expectations, and at other times they exceeded them. Would like to know with your class seemingly being all online all the time how did it work out?

  5. Anthony Eid

    Sorry I posted this in the Reflection section originally

    Hello All, my name is Anthony Eid. I have been teaching, hmmm let’s see here, since 2014 in higher ed. I had to open my resume up to actually see the year. I was a tutor, both online and in person, prior to that since 2010, so I get a bit muddled with the year that I started in the actual classroom sometimes. Tutoring online always felt a bit more reactive. I would wait for students to hand in papers or a request for tutoring would come in, and then I would activate and become a tutor. There was no before or after sometimes, the tutoring would be in the moment mostly and per paper. Sometimes, I would have regular students, but mostly I tutored a new student each time. Being reactive is great when there is no history with students. However, with teaching online the past semester, being reactive made me a bit nervous and anxious.

    The situation was very day-to-day and piecemeal the first couple of weeks. However, with some planning, a bit of presence with my students, and tons of emails, things began to settle and I was less reactive which put me at ease. The in-classroom plan got thrown out for the most part. When plans are set out and there is a goal in mind, I feel more comfortable. I assume my students would be as well, so we both benefited from that reorientation and refocusing. It was hectic at fist, but things smoothed out as time went along. I am hoping that with all of us starting online in the fall that there won’t be any whiplash from the sudden shift and classes will start up as they ended my last semester-in peace and reassurance.

    Usually, on the first day of class, I introduce myself a bit differently than what I did above here. I focus more upon my struggles as a student. Most students understand that when a person stands at the front of the classroom that comes with some experience and credibility. I don’t tell them how many years I have been teaching. I simply explain how many years it took me to feel like the writer I am today. I tell them about the struggles I had with my first paper in college. From that experience, I was so afraid every time I put pen to paper because the grade I received on it did not reflect how accomplished and confident I felt in high school. Honesty is a tremendous part of my teaching practices. I believe it helps students to be honest with me and helps them voice their needs and wants right away. In addition, I know my students are about to write a literary narrative, and that also helps them right away see what they can do for that piece. The literary narrative comes at them fast, so I hope this is another example of one outside of their readings. However, I believe this approach will somewhat terrify them in a posting. In front of a classroom, my energetic and smiley presence usually smooths out the story and let’s them see it was not all doom and gloom, and that there was a happy ending. I believe doing this as a recording will be better than not, or I can figure out a new way of doing this altogether.

    The intended goal of such an introduction may be a bit off center as an online posting in writing. I am trying to reassure my students that they can accomplish their goals in this class if I can work my way up to being a college writing professor from being devastated by my first grade on a college paper. However, as I said before, being online is a situation that may not match this introduction so well in writing. This is similar to a writing style I have dabbled in but have researched a bit more, stand-up comedy. The basic anatomy of a joke is set-up(the information the audience needs and these are usually the unfunny parts of the joke), punchline(the funny parts of the joke that usually brings about laughter from an audience), and tag lines(they are sort of like sequels to the punchlines that can keep a joke going, and thus the laughter). When on stage, these are the usual components audiences watching American stand-up have come to know and expect. Jokes are usually cultivated over a tour. Comics will hit different audiences with the same joke, and then will alter it as time goes on to suit most audiences. If it worked in D.C., Boston, and Minneapolis, it may make 90% of your audience laugh, and possibly get others who have not encountered your act or know you as a comedian to do so as well. My students have not met me yet and as I said above, they expect a certain routine on the first day from their professors. Some comedians get away with a lot on stage because they have the charisma to hammer it out till they get to the next bit. That is similar to my first day gloomy speech. I get away with a lot because of my energy, but that introduction only works because of that. If just put online without context or that energy, students will not connect with it. I am aware of who they are as an audience and what they are expecting. My opening day bit is not good for all situations, so I should change it to be applicable online.

Leave a Reply