Friday, August 14, 2015

have pedagogy will travel

I am a kind of traveling teacher; I go where the work is. Lately I have been teaching various composition courses, intro to creative writing, and working as a writing center consultant in the Writing Program at The University of Michigan-Dearborn; teaching a variety of creative writing classes at Eastern Michigan University; teaching a basic college writing class at a local community college; and teaching a preparatory writing class through the Sweetland Center for Writing at Univ. of Michigan Ann Arbor. One year I also taught a two-semester creative writing class at The Univ. of Windsor in Canada. In many ways these various experiences have made me a better teacher, while I also struggle to maintain the time and energy to engage each class and student as fully as my personal philosophy of teaching would entail.Two goals I have are working to create better stability for myself, and working to become a stronger teacher by learning how better to engage students to become more active in their own learning practices.

Reflection Question: what do my students need better and/or more?

This is a question that I have been thinking about a lot, and nonetheless it is difficult to write about. I teach different classes at different institutions and although there are similar practices and patterns among students from one place to another, there are also great differences. Teaching creative writing at EMU to students who may be first-semester, first-year students (there is no pre-req to take the intro course), and sometimes (often) underprepared is especially challenging in so many ways. Firstly, the class is different every time. I have had a number of classes with really great, engaged, interested students. And I have had classes with a high number of students with few “student skills” and little interest in doing any of the work. Another factor is the number of students in each class who don’t want to read and they only want to spend time working on their own writing; sometimes these students feel like they are already practicing writers and so they are less interested in learning, and more focused on gaining editorial feedback, or some simply want praise and not constructive criticism. It can be very confusing; I’ve been teaching this same class for about six years and feel like I still haven’t figured it out. The greatest challenge I have had is getting students to think of the class as an academic class and not simply a free-for-all space of personal expression, and in which reading is crucial to learning in general and to writing in particular. I have been working on revising the syllabus and to try and include more reflection writing and alter the portfolio assignments, so that students will become more responsible to make the connections between reading, writing, and their own development as writers and students. And I am trying to figure out how to give them the space to make the class their own while also maintaining an academic atmosphere so that student skills, critical thinking, and practice with terminology and strategies in creative writing (within this academic context) will still be important elements of learning.

My composition classes are so much easier in a sense because more of the students are coming in with similar skill sets and engaging with the material from a more even perspective; the field in basic comp. classes seems a little more level. I also think the assignments seem more clear to students in a comp. classroom where in creative writing things are more open to interpretation. I think my syllabus and expectations in the creative writing class are especially clear, but because I am not succeeding in giving the students enough ownership somehow, there seems to be more confusion than clarity at times. I think over the years I have been more successful at designing the comp. class to build (scaffold) skills and ideas from one writing assignment to the next and directly in relation to the reading assignments. This works a little more naturally in the comp. class, whereas I am trying to figure out how to better help students in creative writing to make those connections on their own, and to make them more clear through the course material.

to see the beginning of this pedagogy project go to:

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