Friday, January 21, 2011

First Day Recap

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the new semester. I was certainly anxious as I waited for class to start. I never quite know what to do with my self during those first few minutes where students are trickling in, but class hasn't quite started. And unlike my last first day of class, I don't think anyone mistook me for a student... I don't think.

To kick class off, I had the students interview one another and introduce their partners to the class as an icebreaker, an idea I picked up from my own First Year Writing Department. From the first introduction, I could tell that this was going to be a completely different class from the typically reserved, P.A. students that I had the pleasure to have last semester. This class is much more diverse. They have different majors, for starters. They come from a variety of locations, not just the NY metropolitan area. I am excited to see what all of these students bring to the table. Diversity in the classroom is an awesome thing! It brings in fresh perspectives and provokes better classroom discussion.

After all was said and done, I had them write letters to themselves (and of course, read them all before I went home for the day). Again, the letters showed me what a unique group of students I have. I wonder what they will think about what they wrote when they get to the last day of class. It won't just be the last day of class, but the end of their first year of college.

To critique my own teaching, I need to slow it down on the first day of class. I tend to let my excitement get the best of me and forget that students can't absorb things when I quickly flip through them. For instance, I really should have taken the time to explain Blackboard. I took it for granted that even though these students were in their second semester of college, they might not have had teachers who used Blackboard. Timing, in general, is still my biggest challenge as a new teacher. I am curious how more experienced teachers get the timing right, especially on the first day of class when you don't know the chemistry of the group.


If you're a teacher, I'm wondering... what do you do on your first day of class?

If you're a student, I'm wondering... what do you expect from the first day of class?

And for everyone.... is there a most memorable or most effective icebreaker that you've experienced either in class or with some other group meeting?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Four Things I Learned About Teaching Writing

1. Building confidence is half the battle. What a student believes about her or his self works like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students believe they can write or at least they will be able to write better someday, they will improve. If they believe that they cannot write and never will be able to, well, then, most likely that will be true. 

For tutors and teachers, I think criticism comes naturally, but sometimes, especially when writing comments on a paper, they forget to encourage. Critiquing is just as much about pointing out the good as a the bad. Small things like pointing out something a student does well in a paper can really make a difference in a student's view of his or her writing abilities.

2. Furthermore, writing is tied to identity, so when a teacher carelessly red pens 32 errors on a single page or gives students comments like "poorly written" with no constructive feedback, students internalize it to mean that there is something wrong with them. They take it to mean that they are dumb, and that they can't write. This may lead to apathy, the kind that is often interpreted as laziness or disrespect. Even as a graduate student, I've had professors make me feel that way, and I am fairly confident that I can write an academic paper. Can you imagine what that does to a freshman who is completely uncertain about their skills and their place in college?

3. Focused freewriting is a magical tool. Students can really thrive from low pressure situations to jump start the invention phase of writing. Many of my students had only learned to write for tests in high school, so their only notion of prewriting was making a five-paragraph essay outline. I find that asking them to just write about a question or a few questions to get the brainstorming going is a really effective way to get them thinking about their topic. For my students, much of the stress about writing came from testing. They believed they had to write perfect sentences the first time around, and it would send them into a deer-in-the-headlights type of mental block. They just couldn't say anything, let alone what they wanted to say. Tricking them into just writing, without worrying about grammar or content, helped many of them begin to shape their ideas. 

But, don't just say that freewriting is a prewriting tool! Focused freewriting can be useful in any stage of the writing process. Added bonus: it also teaches students to edit and revise.

4. RAFT OR RAFT is not my creation (though I added in the OR). I've seen it used in many ways in K-12 writing, often as a prewriting tool or to create assignments (I saw one where students were asked to write as if they were a pretzel that was going through the digestive system). I thought that with a little molding it could be very useful in a college writing classroom. Rather than using it as a prewriting/assignment building tool, I use it post-first draft.

RAFT OR stands for role, audience, form, topic, organization, and research. These are the six things that I ask students to consider when they write. I was told by a student that s/he had never learned to consider writing in those terms. In fact, many of them said that they never considered role or audience when they wrote. When I introduced this idea after they wrote first drafts, it opened up the way they thought about that particular assignment. Rather than looking for typos, they started looking at word choice and how they were using evidence and research, not just that they were using some. Also, my students told me that they didn't know how to organize papers, so this was a great opportunity to talk about some easy organization strategies (other than the lame five paragraph essay).

One other great way to use RAFT OR: Ask students to break down a class reading through these terms in groups to show them how these principles were being applied in real writing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Five Technologies I'll Be Introducing This Semester

My number one priority this semester was to incorporate more digital writing. I think it's imperative that students are digitally literate when they go out into the work force. It's surprising how many people lack the ability to write a clear email, are scared by the thought of 140 character tweet, or don't know how to write a hyperlinked text. Digital writing can really give a person the edge over competition, especially in the corporate world.

This semester I plan to incorporate these five technologies into my class:
1. LiveBinders: LiveBinders are seriously cool (and free). There are binders on everything about everything. You can use them to enhance your teaching, to do research, or to create portfolios. Personally, I will be using these to create a course binder. It will include my syllabus, policies, on campus resources, online resources, and my contact information. The great thing is that the websites appear in the binder, as opposed to having to leave the Bb site once a hyperlink is clicked. 
I am also looking for a great way for my students to  showcase their work in ePortfolios, since there is a good chance that they will want to include digital projects that simply don't work as well in traditional paper form. LiveBinders just might be the best option.
2. QR codes: While these probably won't be a huge part of my class (especially since I can't assume that all of my students have QR compatible phones), I think that hiding QR codes in projects or leaving some in our class LiveBinder will be a fun way to engage students. 
Try scanning this code!
Additionally, when I go to conferences this semester, I plan to carry cards with a QR code to my bio page. I'm also going to put one on the front of my cubicle that will link to my office hours, so that students can easily find out when I'll be there if they miss me. 
You can create QR codes by typing URLs, Phone Numbers, etc. into a QR generator, like this one: Then, download a QR app (Barcode Scanner is a popular one) to your smartphone. 
3. Twitter: A friend of mine uses Twitter in her class, and after spending time chatting with her and other teachers, professors, and students online, I think it's a great idea! Using the hashtag #np556, students will be able to backchannel during classroom discussions, use it for research, and get homework reminders if need be. If they stick with the hashtags, and you refrain from following them, you won't get their personal updates, only the things they wish to be included in the class conversation.
4. Facebook Fan Page: Last semester, some students asked if they could be my friend on Facebook. I was torn about what to do. I think that teachers should be role models for students, and modeling appropriate social media use is just one of those things that we can do. Plus, I know many of them are on Facebook every day, and it is a great way to get reminders to them and to share links, videos, photos, and resources. At the same time, I am just a few years older than many of my students, and I didn't want to blur the line between teacher and friend. Also, I didn't really want them to know things about me that might affect the way they were writing, such as my religious and political views, my professional affiliations,etc. I thought friending them would complicate things, so I denied them access until they had already finished my course and received grades. 
With a fan page, I can interact with my students on Facebook without causing confusion about our relationship. We can all contact one another, but they can't see my information, and I can only see as much as they allow nonfriends to see.
5. Glogster: I see a lot of potential for a tool like Glogster that allows students to create interactive, hypertextable digital posters. Talk about multimodal-- you can add words, videos, audio, photos, and animation. 
For the first day of class, I'm thinking about using it to break the ice by having each student introduce themselves with personalized posters that they explain to a partner who will, in turn, introduce her or him to the class (assuming that they all bring laptops on day 1).  I might also have them create posters about their writing process later in the semester, rather than just having them write about it.  
Here's an example: 

With GoogleDocs, I think think this could also be another interesting options for ePortfolios. Hopefully, my college students won't think it's too "childish." 

Sadly, most of these things will rely on the cooperation of the WiFi in my classroom, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

What educational technology will you be using this year?

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

2011... not just a new year, but a whole new decade. 2000-2010 saw me start and graduate high school, start and graduate college, get a masters degree, and begin a doctoral program. With all those milestones now passed, it's important that I aim to complete new ones. This year, my resolutions are focused mostly around my teaching and learning.
1. Listen more... to my students, to other teachers, to everyone really. You can learn so much from others.
2. Make and use more digital video and audio. I've declaring my passion for digital literacy and new media studies, but I've been staying in the comfort zone of  hyperlinked writing, graphics, and widgets. I've really been slacking when it comes to video and audio, some of the coolest and most unique capabilities that digital writing allows. I want to give podcasts a try, but I've been shying away from it, so 2011 is my year. Also, I'm hoping to get my paws on one of those mini HD cameras. 
3. Try actually doing all of the assignments I assign. Though I'm a student, and I have my own writing, I think it's important that I don't assign any tasks that I wouldn't be willing to do myself and that I understand the process my students go through. 
4. Get FYCchat up and running. Last year, I was thinking about starting a Twitter chat for First Year Writing instructors, but it never happened. This year, on the very first day of 2011, my Twitter pal ReadyWriting mentioned she had been thinking the same, and so, here we go... #FYCchat.  
 5. Continue to create and innovate... both in and out of the classroom. I should be a model for my students, and if that's what I want for them, then I should show them what it looks like.

What are your resolutions?