F14 Bridge to English Retrospective

This is the first time I have taught this class here and in the last five years. (If we had this course when I was here before, I don’t recall teaching it.)

Best thing about this class:
The students were committed to an education. If they were in this class, it was either because they were foreign students who were learning English or they were American students who had difficulties with writing–but who refused to let those difficulties keep them from college.

Students who are motivated are always a joy to teach.

Things I liked about the course going into it (with a shared syllabus):
I liked the idea of the playlist assignment, especially because it is a bridge from the personal/narrative to academic writing.

I thought that preparing students to take essay exams and showing them how to study was a good idea. This section of the course let me introduce them to key ideas about testing and studying in general.

The exploratory essay, as a step towards more college-level research, was an excellent idea.

Things I was less sanguine about:
The scholarship essay seemed to be either too big an assignment (if they had to find a scholarship they were qualified for) or unrealistic.

The essay exam was over what I perceived to be very difficult readings.

Turned Out Well
The playlist assignment:

The students enjoyed the playlist assignment. I may have misconstrued the parameters of this assignment, as in some places it is described as an annotated bibliography and I had the students write an essay.

Overall this assignment caught the students’ interest and they were willing to do the preliminary work to do it well.

It is also a good choice for introducing the style sheet to the students, since there is only one template they need to know.

All of the first-year and developmental English courses focus on the process of writing. We are giving the students the opportunity to experience how the quality of their writing goes up as they spend time on the process in pre-writing, writing, and revision, as well as in editing and getting their work reviewed.

The scholarship assignment:
Because I was leery of this assignment, I was surprised at how much the students engaged with it. By the time we finished, I realized that some of the students used it as a creative writing exercise. They wrote what would be reasonable for this faux scholarship, rather than trying to apply their actual experiences and background to fulfill the requirements.

The essay exam:
Overall this was successful. The students studied. They took notes. They participated in the class discussion in preparation for the exam.

No one blew off the actual exam.

The exploratory essay:
Students felt like this essay was more in line with the things they would be required to write during their academic career. I would agree with them, but the idea was to get them here.

Students worked hard on this and it was not a simple assignment. Some did very well; others were less successful. No one blew this off, though, which I had considered a possibility.

The final exam:
The fact that the final exam required them to write about things they had already written about was a good choice on the Director of Comp’s part. This significantly lessened the students’ extrinsic load. Unsurprisingly, it also meant that the writing was among the best they did all semester.

Tweaks for the Future
The scholarship assignment:
Next time I will remember to make the need for a factual account of their lives clearer. In fact, I am adding that to the assignment sheet.

The essay exam:
I think I would like to have the essay exam earlier next time I teach this class. Students had already taken exams before we got to the discussion of how to study.

Also, while everyone took the test seriously, the revision section was not always handled in the same way. Revision is required as a component for this course and I liked the idea of having them revise a question on the exam they did less well on. Not everyone did it, because it was not a major grade. I need to make sure that it is a major grade next time, even though I don’t want to make it 10%. I will have to think about how to do that.

Update:
9/3/15 I was sitting in on a grad class and one of the students told me her mother told her to tell me hello and thank you, as I taught her brother and he learned to write in my class. He did learn to write in my class; that is absolutely true. But he learned to write because he insisted on mastery. Yes, I helped him. I worked with him on all the extra drafts he did and talked to him about how to make good rhetorical choices. I made the options available and I worked, but he is the one who insisted on not leaving an assignment until he could write it well.

By the end of the course I was so impressed that I went to the Director of Comp to see if he could be skipped out of the stretch course sequence and into a regular FYC course because I thought his writing had improved that much.

Apparently his mother thought so, too.

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