Author Archives: Jennifer Sears

FYW PD: Pre-Meeting Reflection and Introduction

Hello! I have taught first year writing since 2003, in addition to teaching developmental writing, creative writing, and professional writing at City Tech. I was trained to do online learning a few years back, and I appreciate how resources available to us have changed and improved. Last semester, I was surprised by how effective discussion boards can be when designed well.

However, I am concerned about student engagement, in particular with designing asynchronous course materials. I am currently trying to improve my skills in making short videos and other “live” course components that will make students feel a sense of being in a dynamic learning environment. 

On Community and Engagement

I have taught many sections of ENG1101 as a Learning Community. One reason I like these courses is that students get to know each other better, and they tend to be more expressive in the classroom as the semester moves forward. During the first week of class, I’ve had students pair up and introduce each other; that introduction often includes a detail geared to our learning community. For the past two years, I’ve had students identify a life goal that considers a different aspect of their life than money or career.  My students also participate in an “Our Stories” project that asks students to write about their experience with transitioning to college. We discuss answers in class, but the conversation continues via posts and comments on the OpenLab. This activities gives students a chance to speak publicly about an aspect of their lives that does not have to be personally revealing, which sometimes intimidates students the first week or so. 

A Writing Genre I Know Well

Fiction. I like to think know I know the fiction genre well, but as soon as I state this, I recognize the challenge or futility of identifying the “rules” of a creative genre. Perhaps this speaks to Dirk’s suggestion that the purpose of trying to understand a genre is to find tools that may be employed, in addition to applying broader rules. Two “rules” I find essential in successful fiction are:  a sense of placement in or creation of a singular world or atmosphere; and, secondly, enough movement forward (suspense, wonder and/or action) to keep the reader reading.  In a month or so, I will probably revise these rules or scrap what’s here altogether and replace them with others.

How did I learn these “rules”? By continuing to read or re-read fiction by writers that excite me for any number of reasons. Just today, I finished The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Her descriptions of place and the cycles of nature and character create movement that is utterly unique to her style. I’ve learned and will learn more about plot from other writers after I recover from the beauty of Dillard’s book. I also learn the possible rules or tools for writing fiction by reading work by those trying new techniques, even if I don’t think those techniques are always successful. I also like reading books on craft. But I mostly learn the rules of writing fiction by trying, writing a lot, and typically failing more than succeeding.

Reflecting here on the “rules” of good fiction emphasizes for me the importance of helping students recognize the genres they already enjoy reading, writing, and—I’ll hope—developing further, in order to connect these to the tools they need to acquire and to the broader expectations for college writing.