What I Am Up To This Summer

Honestly, I am hoping for a quiet summer. So far, I will not be attending any conferences. I am teaching one section of Composition I and two sections of Composition II online and will be on campus later in the summer to begin the process of building a film studies program here at BCC.

I do have a few digital humanities projects I am working on that will get announced as time goes on. Stay tuned.

Teachers Need A Deputy

One of the big lessons I learned this school year was that an effective teacher needs a deputy in the classroom. I had never thought about this before until I was watching a Champion's League soccer match during the spring. One of the commentators began discussing one of the teams in the match's game that weekend. Their star goalie had been injured, but the commentator noted "he has a really good deputy behind him, which is very important" or something like that.

As I sat there watching the match, I got to thinking about how that related to the classroom. I realized after a few minutes that a lot of my best classes while teaching were the ones where I had a student I could rely on as a sort of "deputy" in the classroom. My first semester at BCC, I taught three classes. The morning class was decent, but took a lot of work on my part to really get the class going by the end. However, my afternoon classes both did really well and I think one of the reasons was that I had a good student deputy in both classes.

In the noon class, a Composition I, I did not have one until around the middle of November, but it eventually happened. A young lady who did well in the class, but had been stuck with a bunch of high school friends that dragged her down a bit (I am sure we all see this all the time unfortunately). She suddenly made a strong break with them  and really took the initiative to not only perform better, but also help me and other students. At our peer reviews, she moved around the room like a second teacher aiding students I had not gotten to yet.

My class after that, a Composition II, had a student deputy from the first day on. There were some issues with student concerns along the way and she was able to check in with them, report her findings back to me, and then I could implement changes to the class. I would have had a more harder time with my first semester without these students.

This year I had a good deputy in almost every one of my classes that worked well. Without realizing it, I look for this kind of student leadership unconsciously. In the future, I will more actively seek it out and guide other professors who come to me looking for advice to do the same.

Google Docs Quizzes & Conditional Formatting

One of the best things I did this semester was giving my students quizzes via Google Docs. My Composition I students are given weekly grammar quizzes during the first half of the semester and I used to have them send answers back via email. This has become time-consuming and burdensome over time. This semester, I began giving them quizzes via Google Docs and added conditional formatting so they could be graded as students submitted answers.

Google Docs exports student answers from the form to a spreadsheet. If you add conditional formatting, you can make the spreadsheet grade it for you. I put wrong answers in yellow, so all I have to do with each student is see how many yellows they had. This has really helped a lot.

Fall/Winter 2011 Observations

An issue I had to really deal with for the first time this semester was moving a class from a three day week to two days. I had done this before, but never in the way I had to for the fall semester. We moved to a mostly two day a week module and I had to create two versions of my 101 course: a Tuesday/Thursday and a Wednesday/Friday. Because of how holidays fell during the semester, they ended up on pretty different schedules as time went on. This was harder than I thought it would be because I had to keep a consistent schedule for both classes, but also make sure their schedules fit the days we were meeting.

For the most part, this ended up working. However, I can see some need for improvement. For the spring, I am dealing again with odd schedules because of Spring Break and other holidays.

Some random observations from the fall semester…

  • My Composition I classes wrote four papers this semester. A process analysis, reflective, argumentative, and then a research paper. For the first two, they didn’t have to do much outside research. For the second set, I saw a pattern emerge. The argumentation paper became the heavy research in books, EBSCO, and JSTOR paper. For their term papers on online privacy, most students relied heavily on technology blogs like ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, GDGT, and even the Security Now! podcast, which is one of my favorites. A few student’s papers looked like This Week in Tech panels, filled with articles from Dvorak, Winer, Prager, Malik, and others.
  • Mapping out my classes so I didn’t double up on papers being due really helped me out as the semester went on. I was able to easily grade 20-25 papers each week and send them all back on Sunday afternoons. I will be doing that every semester from now on.


Peer Review Speed Dating

Something new I tried this past semester in all of my classes was “Peer Review Speed Dating” for paper revisions. I saw a presentation at a conference about it once, but Prof Hacker’s post about it in November was the primary catalyst for adding it to my courses.

Here’s how it worked for me: I asked students to bring two printed copies, or their laptop, of their paper. On our Mt. Laurel campus, classrooms are already set up in long rows, so setting up “stations” wasn’t a problem, but in Pemberton we had to move chairs to set up eight stations. I assigned a student to each station and told the other students to move to each station every five minutes. I kept a timer on my cell phone. After a student passed by each station, they would release someone at a station so that student could go around. At the end, each student end up at my station, where I looked over their paper.

I thought this went really well. A lot of underperforming students were able to get advice from not only me, but from others in the class. In a few classes, long lines formed at certain students’ stations that were deemed by the class to be doing well in the course. Sometimes I think it is important to hear something needs improvement from not only an instructor, but from another student as well.

Problems: In some courses, I had a lot of students skipped the session. I have decided in the future to make participation in this session part of their course contribution grade. I also had two students in one class slip out after I looked at their paper. Some late students did not get a chance, depending on their class size, to get around the room all the way. I did not have much sympathy for those students or those who forgot to print their paper and had to waste time running to a computer lab.

For my Composition I classes, I had three different class sizes, so I could see different ways that this can be done in the future. In the first one, I only had nine students show up (that is about how many passed as well), so we just passed papers around the room at the five minute intervals. The informal nature of this setting really worked with that group. Two of the classes were around 15-20 students and easily got everyone in during our longer final exam week schedule. My English Literature I class had over 20 (probably around 25) show up, which complicated matters a bit. We decided in that class to put two students at each station, which allowed more students to get around the room before the time expired.

Crowdsourcing My Grammar Exam

A recent  Profhacker  post  about reliance on test banks for exam questions prompted a lot of discussion in the adjunct office at my school. My, rather negative, thoughts on test banks are for another post, but this situation in Florida has made me even more proud of my crowdsourcing effort for the grammar exam in eng101.

Here’s what I do: At the beginning of the semester, I give my students in Composition I (eng101 ) a brief (too brief…it needs to be revised during break to be clearer about my expectations) handout asking them to create a sentence for each of the six sections of grammar we study during the first two months of the semester. Later in the semester, after we finish our final discussion of grammar, students must submit one sentence for each section of grammar. I take those, grade them for participation, and then copy/paste the best, or worst, sentences into each section of the exam. If I run short of good, or bad, sentences, I add them myself or bring back questions from quizzes that a lot of students had trouble with during the semester. This becomes the grammar exam.

My students have found this a very interesting way to engage with grammar. Many express excitement, and will comment as such in the margins, at their sentence, or some version of it, being used on the exam. Others have commented that writing your own questions offers supplemental practice that is absolute necessary for many of them. Some just think it’s cool having agency over what goes into the exam. Finally, I get to see what is, and is not, important to that particular set of students that particular semester.

This kind of participatory education is something I believe very strongly in. I am working on other ways to incorporate my students in the decision-making process in my classroom. I strongly prefer democratic participation over mindless regurgitation of facts and ideas from a textbook.