Feed on

Category Archive for 'Pedagogy'

Whenever I teach a class of first-year students, I ask the question, “How many of you have ever read a college level paper?”  In a class of 15, occasionally, one student raises a hand, usually, none do.

Then I tell them, here’s what often happens: “We assign a college level paper. We don’t tell you what that is or what we want. You write what you think a college paper is. Then we judge you.” Collective sigh. 

“That’s not what we are going to do in this class.” Happy sigh.

Every paper I assign in this first year course has three drafts. The first draft is read and peer reviewed in a class workshop, then read and discussed with a Peer Writing Mentor. After receiving feedback, the student writes draft two. I read and comment on draft two in an one-on-one session, and then the student writes draft three, which I grade. My comments are geared to exactly what each student needs to work on in each paper. Sometimes, I deal with understanding of content; sometimes, grammar, structure and syntax; sometimes, we cam move right on to style. Draft by draft, paper by paper, students are learning by doing, listening, thinking, and writing to create college level papers. One of the times students learn most occurs when they read and comment on other students’ papers. In the first few papers, editors learn most. By the midpoint of the semester, students are also learning from their peers. Especially in the beginning of the semester, peer review workshops need to be targeted, so editors have helpful parameters for commenting.

Here are the worksheets I use when students meet in groups of three to workshop five papers:






Here are the worksheets I use with the whole class for draft two of the first three papers:P3D2





`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.’

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Words have meaning. We all know that, but sometimes like Humpty Dumpty college students think they can use words without taking into account the actual meaning of those words.  Student writers often forget that on the other side of those words, a real reader (a faculty member grading their papers) is reading and struggling to understand words that have been misused.

First-year students, especially, try to fit into the college experience both socially and academically. In their writing, they use words they think the faculty want to read, words they hope will make them seem part of the academic community. Too often, they have, at best, only a half-knowledge of the meaning of these words. When students use words they have not mastered, the end result is confusion and miscommunication, and we write the dreaded word, “Diction” in the margin.

Frequently, when I discuss their papers with my students, I hear myself asking, “Would you actually ever say this word in any conversation with anyone?” If the answer is no, I suggest they find a word they feel more comfortable using.   Often when I ask students what they think a misused word means, they shrug or laugh self-consciously. Sometimes I even get an honest, “I don’t know,” or “No idea.”

I encourage my students to convey their ideas in the words they have mastered. As they read more and absorb more, they naturally will grow into a wider vocabulary, and they will become comfortable in the language of academic discourse. Along the way, I ask them to treat their words and their readers with honesty and respect.

I’m off to the International First-Year Experience Conference to discuss Faculty Buy-In: Engaging and Retaining Faculty Instructors:

Attracting hesitant faculty, especially tenured, senior faculty, to the first year seminar classroom is not always an easy task. This roundtable will focus on ways to engage and retain faculty instructors and develop their willing and enthusiastic participation, while strengthening the important Faculty/Student Affairs/ Writing Tutorial connection. The discussion will encourage other institutions to share best practices, discuss challenges, and brainstorm new ideas for faculty engagement.

Here are my handouts for the session:

  • History and Background of Middlebury’s FYS program
  • Peer Writing Tutor Info and “Harvest Cycle” of Faculty Development
  • Here are my presentation notes:

    Key Piece of Advice:

    Tell your story often and in many venues. And listen, really listen, to what your faculty have to stay.


    * administrative support/ faculty voted in FYS over 20 years ago. Specifics and history of the program on the Middlebury handout.
    * Since 2004, FYS director also director of CTLR (supports both faculty and students in learning and teaching), so CTLR supports students with writing, math, and study skills professionals and with peer mentors, tutors. CTLR also supports faculty with faculty development opportunities, such as workshops and consultations.

    Three Components for Successful Faculty Buy-in

    1. flexibility/opportunity–What do faculty get out of this experience?
    * flexibility–choice of topic–opportunity to teach something different, of special interest, or topical
    * opportunity to making it manageable–team support (peer writing mentor, librarian/ed tech) enables faculty to experiment and risks
    * flexibility–choosing a team–whole, part, choosing its members, no team
    * opportunity to bonding with students and to understand what the next crop of students is like
    * opportunity to lure students into your area of study
    * opportunities for tenured and junior faculty to experiment with different pedagogies and tools
    * creating the students they want to see in their other courses

    2. information–How are faculty getting information about your program and help when they need it?
    * e-mails & online info, face to face group meeting in spring
    * faculty development opportunities–Pedagogy series in June, in January, and throughout the year
    * Writing Retreat in August
    * follow up meeting in fall
    * ability to consult with members of the writing program throughout the year
    * website info about advising and teaching writing

    3. follow-up–How do you know if your faculty and students are engaged? If your program is successful?
    * midterm survey peer writing tutors
    * check ins by librarians
    * end of the semester evaluation
    * five-year longitudinal study of the class of 2010 (Teagle Grant)
    * Ward Prize


    * not without challenges
    * not without changes
    * not without shifting monetary support
    * You can’t take anything for granted: not money, not support. You have to keep telling your story, listening for problems, urging your faculty members to tell their stories to each other.

    Here are links to previous First-Year Experience Conference Middlebury presentations:

Participated in Teaching with Technology,

Tech Fair, Co-sponsored by the CTLR and LIS @ Middlebury on Thursday, June 4th.

I looked at some of the ways I’ve used technology in four classes:

Mack made posters for all of us who presented:

The National Resource Center 21st International Conference on

The First Year Experience

Dublin Ireland

June 23-26, 2008


FYS as a Locus for Faculty Development: Creating Mini Learning Communities



Yesterday, I was asked how to conduct a writing workshop without a particular paper due. Although nothing can quite replace the immediacy of a newly-written paper, we and our students can benefit greatly from a look at past work. In fact, sometimes a little distance from the due date of the assignment can add a much-needed perspective to the writing discussion.

One of my favorite non-specific paper exercises is Sentence Clinic. I ask students to do the following before class.

Write down two sentences from your paper or journals we will discuss today :
1. A sentence that you think worked well, one that makes you feel proud (Why do you like this sentence?)
2. A sentence that never quite worked, one that we will look at in the sentence clinic (Why do you think this sentence does not work?)

During class, we use this worksheet. What happens in this exercise is two fold. First, students articulate what they like about their good sentences. From this discussion, we can develop norms and expectations for sentence writing. Second, they bring their bad sentences to the clinic. Depending on the size of the class and the time we have to devote to this, the clinic will either be the whole class or smaller groups within the class. Students discuss what these sentences fail to do, and the other clinic members make suggestions for improvement. I like to do this exercise in the middle or towards the end of the semester when students have developed their vocabulary for discussing writing as well as some trust in each other. Always I want to emphasize the “Why” factor—Why did you like this sentence? Why did you not like that sentence? The “Why” discussions are the best part of the whole exercise.

Another quick exercise I like around the middle of the semester is Thesis Blitz. Students write a current or past thesis statement at the top of a paper, and we send it around the class, so everyone (including the faculty member) and comment quickly. I do this after I have already introduced and discussed thesis statements quite a bit, so this exercise is usually a wake-up call to students. By looking at some better thesis statements, students quickly become exposed to good models. By seeing not so good models, students understand better the importance of the thesis statement. Finally, this exercise has the value of producing a preponderance of evidence. When students see that nine people think a thesis is not specific enough, they begin to take that comment seriously.

Finally, some of my favorite workshops are the ones on style. I usually conduct these between drafts two and three of a paper, but they can work any time. For these, I use the work of students long graduated to illustrate style concepts, such as clarity, coherence, emphasis:
Finally, some of my favorite workshops are the ones on style. I usually conduct these between drafts two and three of a paper, but they can work any time. For these, I use the work of students long graduated to illustrate style concepts, such as clarity, coherence, emphasis:

Click here to read more

I’m heading back to our Annual Writing Retreat tomorrow, to talk about Syllabus Building and Assignment Sequencing again. My top three points for this presentation are:

  • Start at the back end, and know your goals.
  • Build forward, adding challenges and difficulties to achieve those goals.
  • Make your pedagogy transparent to your students.

Last fall, I followed this last advice to the extent that I shared part of my presentation to the faculty with my students and discussed with them the way I structured the course to achieve specific goals.

In an optional journal entry, some of my students discussed whether or not we had met our goals. Here is one of my favorite comments:

We achieved all these goals! Wow, we did learn a lot in this class, didn’t we? In retrospect, I am so glad I got into this seminar and wrote/revised papers every week because they really shaped me as a writer. We achieved Goals #1, 2, 6, and 8 through posting online discussions, Goals #2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 through writing papers, and Goal #9 through participating in class discussions and giving oral presentations. I definitely learned how to compare and contrast between the novel and the film and to compare three different things in a paper. We all did an awesome job in our digital media projects, and of course, after Jane Austen dance dinner, we can call ourselves dance masters 🙂

Syllabus for this course is here.

Learning with Audio

In my first-year seminar, I move my students through exercises and assignments aimed at:
1. Helping them feel comfortable with their own voices.
2. Helping them organize their thoughts before making formal oral presentations.

I consider these exercises and assignments important both for their success as college students and for success in their lives beyond college. Most of our students come to us as good high school writers, and through our first-year program and through subsequent college writing classes most become good to competent college level writers and many become excellent writers. There are, of course, exceptions, but in general we achieve our writing goals for our students.

On the other hand, these highly intelligent students often do not sound articulate or intelligent when they speak, especially when they speak in formal settings. In order to help my students sound intelligent and feel comfortable, I move them through increasingly challenging sets of assignments and exercises.

o First start small. Try an exercise to move students to the front of the class to introduce themselves. Teach them to use deep breathing to control their voices. Teach them to be aware of their bodies during presentations.
o Let them get comfortable presenting informally from the middle of the class.
o Have them record and listen to their own voices while creating an i-movie.
o Give them tips and strategies to help them give better oral presentations.
o Move from shorter to longer more complex oral presentations.
o Have them evaluate classmates’ presentations for clarity, volume, organization, content, and poise.
o Add a public dimension: online or with an audience.

Student comment:

Aside from learning how to write deep, well-thought out, analytical papers, I think that the most valuable thing that I have learned is how to present orally in front of the class. Before this class, I really didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a class or group of people. After presenting several times in this class, however, I really do not mind giving oral presentations. In fact, I have found that I really enjoy crafting my words just so, and seeing the audience’s reaction to what I have written. I like anticipating their reactions and playing off of them. My confidence in public speaking is at an all time high thanks to Jane Austen!

Click here to read more

Just as faculty benefit from having their peers read their work prior to publication, so too, students benefit from having their work read by their peers before it is graded. In both cases, the readers bring their experience as writers of the same sort of works–to their experience as critical readers. Peer writing tutors can continue the conversation professors have with their students about writing. Peer Writing Tutors do not help students with writing in place of the professor but in addition to the professor. Tutors are trained to be the authorized help for students, to ask probing questions about the papers they read, and to make positive suggestions for improvement of those papers. </blockquote

What to expect from a Peer Writing Tutor

Sessions Work Best

* When the tutor has a clear idea of the professor’s writing expectations for students,
* When students in the class see the sessions with the tutor as an important part of the writing process for all students in the class, and
* When the professor emphasizes the importance of those sessions by making them mandatory.

Best Practices

* Meet with the peer writing tutor early in the semester or before the beginning of the semester.
* Give a copy of your class syllabus to the peer writing tutor.
* Make expectations clear to the writing tutor and to the class.
* Introduce the writing tutor to the class.
* Make at least some sessions with the writing tutor obligatory.
* Encourage the writing tutor to circulate a list of specific appointment times before meetings.
* Allow the writing tutor ample time to meet with students.
* Stay in contact with the writing tutor through meetings, emails, and phone.

Some guidelines and advice for faculty using Peer Writing Tutors

Midterm evaluations are the optimum teachable moment, and we should think hard about what the process of those evaluations teaches our students.
At the midpoint of the semester, I have my students’ complete attention because they believe there is still time to change their fate, and so I take that opportunity to push, to poke, to prod, to encourage, to set the bar higher, to inspire, and sometimes, to frighten if necessary.

The first step in this process is to increase students’ self-awareness of their progress and achievements during the semester and at the same time to encourage them to be self critical about their work. To this end, students hand in a midterm portfolio, which includes a written self-examination of their progress in the past semester and of each major assignment they have completed.

Assessment Questions
• What have you discovered about yourself as a writer so far this semester?
• Which of the following have you found helpful: (workshops/online journals individual conferences/blog/class discussions) so far, this semester?
• Which particular techniques and strategies have you found most useful? Why?
• What are your strengths as a writer?
• Where are you still struggling as a writer?
• What are your goals for yourself as a writer for the remainder of the semester?
• How will you achieve those goals?
• What have you learned from the experience of preparing your midterm portfolio?
Assignment Questions
• What changes have you made on this paper from draft to draft?
• What did your peer editors suggest?
• What did your peer writing tutor suggest?
• What did I suggest?
• What have you learned from working on this paper?
• What would you still like to work on in this paper?
Assessment Questions for digital media project
1. Title of your digital story: _________________________________________________
2. Exact name of folder and file of the final version of your project:
Folder: ________________________ File: _________________________
3. Which section of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park did you choose? Why?
4. What did you discover about the novel (or your section of the novel) from creating this project?
5. Why did you choose the visual images that you used in your piece? What did they add to your project?
6. What music did you choose? Why? What did it add to your project?
7. How did all these elements (voice-over, music, visuals) work together? How did they influence each other in your final project?
8. In a paragraph or two, describe your work process for your digital story. Include:
a. Who helped you?
b. How did you start your project?
c. What was the most frustrating aspect of this project?
d. What was the most fun aspect of this project?
e. What did you learn from doing this project?
f. What advice would you give a student starting a digital story?
g. What would you change in your digital story if you hand more time (and/or more technical knowledge)?
9. If you somehow forgot to cite the source of any music or visual images in your digital story, please do so now:
10. Write a no-more-than 75-word introduction to your project that will introduce it on our site.
11. You will receive one combined grade for your digital story, for your oral presentation, and for your analysis on this sheet (10% of your total grade). Realistically, what do your think your grade should be for this project? Why?

An important part of students’ self-examination entails their setting goals for themselves for the remainder of the semester. In this way, students begin to assume ownership of their progress and success. If time permits, I’ll use part of the class on the day the portfolio is due for class discussion about challenges students faced in the first half of the semester and goals they have formed for the remainder of the semester.

As I begin my part of the midterm student assessment, I question how much I’m assessing what I have actually taught that semester as opposed to assessing what skills my students had before they walked into my class. My aim is to have students’ grades reflect the former.

After I have finished my written assessment and graded assignments, I arrange for an individual conference with each student. We start that conference with the student’s self-assessments, move on to graded work, and conclude with goals for the remainder of the semester. My goal is for students to leave the conference excited and ready to approach the remainder of the semester with renewed energy and determination.

Click here to read more

Making Pedagogy Transparent

One of the topics I have presented to faculty who will teach first year seminars is how to incorporate writing goals into college-writing courses, and since I frequently talk about making my pedagogy transparent, I was not surprised to receive a question earlier this year asking me how much of these goals I share with my students. It was a great question that sent me back to thinking about my goals in my classroom. In fact, while I had been great at making part of my pedagogy transparent, I had never laid out for my students the way I structured a whole semester to achieve those goals. This semester I did just that. I gave my students the same talk I give to faculty, and showed them the way I built their assignments over the semester.

Here are the goals I share with my students and some of their reactions at the end of the semester:

Make-up Journals > Makeup #1–Goals” href=”https://segue.middlebury.edu/index.php?&action=site&site=fyse1144a-f06&section=15533&page=66674&story=113099&detail=113099#33413″>FYSE1144a-f06 > Make-up Journals > Makeup #1–Goals

Makeup #1–Goals > in depth

Way, way back in time, I introduced you to the FYSE and my goals for you for the semester:

1) Identify, summarize, and analyze the arguments of others; and summarize, paraphrase, and quote the ideas of others in support of their own arguments
2) Formulate topics appropriate to writing assignments
3) Find and cite appropriate sources for an assignment
4) Shape unified paragraphs and connect them to achieve flow
5) Control a five-page critical/analytical essay using more than one source
6) Use informal writing techniques (freewrites, responses, field notes, postings): writing to learn.
7) Use editing/revising techniques, including responding to advice from peer review and conferences with the instructor
8) Follow and contribute to in-class and online discussions
9) Lead a discussion or present work orally

Meb’s additional goals for FYSE 1144

* Demonstrate understanding of film and novel genres
* Able to handle complex topics
* Able to compare & contrast

And I hope you learned a little about. . .
* Creating a digital media project
* Regency dancing

So—given these goals, what did you learn (if anything) from the list above? How did you learn that?
Here is what they responded.

At ten o’clock at night in the second to last week of class, I feel as bone-tired as my bleary-eyed students. Strangely, though, I cannot wait for my Friday class. Why? We play SENTENCE CLINIC tomorrow.

Write down two sentences from your paper or journals we will discuss today:

1. A sentence that you think worked well, one that makes you feel proud (Why do you like this sentence?)
2. A sentence that never quite worked, one that we will look at in the sentence clinic (Why do you think this sentence does not work?)

Tonight, chuckling to myself, I devour their responses. They LOVE their good sentences, and they know exactly why they are good: flow, analysis, emphasis, brevity, strong verbs, complexity, and clarity, precisely capturing an idea. My students revel in their best sentences. They have worked hard all semester, draft after draft, paper after paper, workshop after workshop, conference after conference, and their pride shines as they write:

I think this sentence perfectly demonstrates how succinctness, brevity, and lack of “to be” verbs creates a coherent, flowing, sentence.

Additionally, it does not contain any code words like important, vital, essential, etc; it rather specifies what makes the situation so.

I like it mainly because it took me a long time and a lot of effort to get it to sound quite right. I think it flows well, doesn’t include any “to be” verbs, and lays the outline for my paper perfectly. It’s a complex sentence and expresses specifically everything that my paper will talk about. It addresses the characters directly and gives specific proof.

This is also a sentence where I am “analyzing,” and we all know how important analyzing is (especially with Mrs. B!)

I think this sentence flows and I like the content conveyed in it.

It is the final sentence of one of my body paragraphs from my P&P essay and I think it brings the paragraph together really well with good grammar and no “to be” verbs.

I like this sentence because it is my first ‘love it’ from Mrs B. The sentence itself is not very extraordinary except for six words that I used within it to describe Elizabeth’s feelings for Mr Darcy.

But, oh—they loved to hate their bad sentences so:

First of all, there’s a dangling participle. The second clause of the sentence is placed next to “talents” but it isn’t describing talents, it’s describing Mr. Woodhouse’s behavior. Secondly, it contains a “to be” verb (“all that is good”). It also, begins, instead of ends, with new information. And finally, I just don’t like the way it sounds.

This sentence is bad because the known information should be at the beginning of the sentence, but it’s not.

The structure of this sentence and its resulting length render it unclear and awkward. . . The ending of the sentence seems so wordy and strangely ordered that it just does not sound harmonious when reading it out loud or to myself.

First of all, semicolon. Second of all, my participle doesn’t agree with the whole sentence. Third, I wrote pretend and intend in the same sentence. Re-reading this, I was wondering what I was thinking. This sentence needs to go to the sentence clinic.

Not counting their summer journal, they post their 22nd journal entry tonight on SEGUE before midnight. Tomorrow, we will tackle the sentences that have arrived bruised and bleeding to the clinic, but as I read the online journals tonight, I marvel at both how much my students have learned and how playful they can still be at this point of the semester. As I sit here, with the computer warm in my lap, I wait for each entry to drop until all fifteen have responded by midnight. Their on-line entries motivate and challenge me. In less than twelve hours, the sentence doctors will show up for class, and I can’t wait to teach them again.

Building a Better Beginning

Teaching a first-year seminar affords faculty the opportunity to explore their interests and expertise and to connect with first-year students in a way usually associated only with senior-level work. Part of the challenge of teaching a first-year seminar is balancing the seminar’s distinctive blend of subject matter, writing instruction, and advising. As faculty members teaching these courses, we often struggle to find the time to fit together the content we love, the writing goals we know are essential, and the advising moments vital to the academic lives of our students. The trick to finding the time for so many worthy goals is not to have the three aspects of the seminar compete with each other, but rather to have them work together. For the last two years, I have found a way to begin to do this even before a single first-year student has arrived on campus.
As advisors, first-year seminar faculty get to know their students well in a matter of weeks. I wanted to speed up the process and get to know my advisees before they came to campus. Thanks to Middlebury College’s own course-management tool, SEGUE, the students in my last two “Jane Austen and Film” seminars learned about each other, discussed the content of our course, and displayed their writing skills on line before they packed their bags and left home.
Because of the ease of the SEGUE interface and because most of the entering first-years are computer savvy, my instructions for entering the on-line discussion were brief:
Log onto our segue site with your Middlebury user name and password. Once you are on the Segue site, click on Summer Assignment, click discuss, and then new post, and then you can type in the box or upload a file with your response. After you have responded yourself, check back and try responding to two other students’ responses.
In early August, I wrote to my students (both by e-mail and by snail mail), and asked them to respond on line to four questions before they came to campus, and to respond to each other’s answers before they came to class. The questions ranged from academic to personal. Here are the questions I asked this year:

1. Tell us what you know about Jane Austen. Do you know anything about her life or when she wrote? If you don’t know anything about her, that’s fine–just say so. Why was Jane Austen & Film one of your first-year seminar choices?
2. Which novels by Jane Austen have you read before? Did you read them in school? On your own? As part of a book group or club? If so, which of the novels did you like best, or find most entertaining or provocative? Why? If you have never read a Jane Austen novel before, tell us another novel that you like or that you have found entertaining or provocative, and why.
3. Have you seen any of the film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels? Have you seen any modern film adaptation of Austen novels, such as Clueless or Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Bride and Prejudice? If so, which did you like best, or which did you find most entertaining or provocative? Why? If you have never seen an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, tell us another film that you like or that you have found entertaining or provocative, and why.
4. Now tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from, and how did you end up coming to Middlebury? How would a family member, close friend, special teacher or mentor describe you? What are some subjects you want to study at Middlebury? What are your interests and passions outside of class? What do you wish you could bring with you to Middlebury that you cannot bring? Tell us anything else you want about yourself that will help us get to know you better.

The three-week electronic discussion that followed these questions revealed students’ prior knowledge of Jane Austen and prior knowledge of film and novel genres as well as their academic aspirations and personal interests. From across the country and around the world, my students debated the merits of the 1995 and the 2005 film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and vowed to attend each other’s games and to debate each other about politics, the NFL and Keira Knightley’s performance when they hit campus. While students posted with each other, I wrote to them on our course blog, where I was able to track them checking in on our blog from across the globe. ja6map.jpg
This year, reading my students’ comments allowed me time to make changes in my syllabus and move some of my film showings around because I knew which Jane Austen novels most of my students had read in advance. My students’ 59 summer posts helped make our class a community before any of us met face to face. Now that we have put faces to names, our discussions about Jane Austen, writing and life continue in the classroom, in my office, over a movie, in the dorms, and yes, they continue on line, too.


Originally uploaded by mebertolini.

I’ve been thinking lately about why I let three months go by without posting here. One reason is that I was preparing for and have since been teaching a course in Writing to Heal. I keep asking myself how I can write about teaching this course without violating my students’ privacy–as if even my pedagogy in this course should be secret. Ironically, I’m always harping about the benefits of transparency in teaching, but whenever I teach this course, I’m super-conscious of the trust my students place in me and what I owe them in return for that trust. I’ve developed protocols about what information is public and what information remains private in this course. I have a Movable Type blog site were I post changing and very general information. Connected to this site, is Middlebury’s homegrown course management site with pages I can open and close to the public. Any reader on the web can see my course description, syllabus and weekly assignments.
No one but my students and tutors can see our on-line discussion and drafts of my students’ papers. Given all this, perhaps it may seem completely contradictory that I threw the doors of my class open on workshop day to 30 high school students and two of their teachers. I did not plan on opening my very private class in this way, but circumstances often lead us down unimagined paths.

For the past three years, some of my Peer Writing Tutors have had an on-line. tutoring relationship with students from Ticonderoga High School in upper New York State just across the lake from Middlebury. Teachers and students planned a trip to visit Middlebury to meet some of their tutors and other Middlebury College students. Most of the time they could visit in the morning coincided with the time of my Writing to Heal class and the workshop on our second paper. I wondered if a few of my students would mind modeling their workshop for the Ticonderoga students. I brought up the subject tentatively in class and followed up with an e-mail to all the members of the class in which I gave students the opportunity to workshop their papers in a private location if they did not want to workshop their papers in front of the visitors. I hoped that of my sixteen students that, at least, eight might volunteer to read their papers aloud and workshop them for the Ti High students, but all sixteen agreed!
To accommodate our thirty or so visitors, I moved my class to the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research in the Library. My sixteen students formed into four separate workshop groups with six to eight visitors each. As we had done before, my students read their papers aloud and commented on each other’s work by making positive, specific suggestions for improvement. My two class tutors moved between the groups and helped keep the conversations on track. Occasionally, the high school students asked questions or made comments—but mostly they watched and listened as the 18-20 year olds workshopped their papers like pros. My students received a big boost in self-confidence that day, and the high school juniors and seniors caught a glimpse at where they may be headed academically.
One of the reasons I dared to open my very private class to visitors is that they were face-to-face visitors and not on-line visitors. workshop.jpg Anything they heard or observed that day was transitory, fleeting while GOOGLE is forever—or seems like forever. More and more, as I continue to use Social Software and web-based tools for my classes, I feel aware of the future lives of my students and the powerful search engines that will track their on-line past for years to come. Thanks to Middlebury’s course management tool, Segue, I can choose what to open and what to close on our class site. Students can read each other’s discussions and papers on-line, but others outside the class cannot. A reader of this blog, for example, can find the paper topic and worksheet used that day, but will not be able to read my students’ papers. The window for that experience opened a crack for a group of high school students, but the hour has lapsed; the opportunity has closed.


Originally uploaded by mebertolini.

The semester winds down, leaving behind papers, portfolios, blog posts, digital stories, conversations and memories. Students check out the weather, and hope their planes, trains and rides will take them safely home. or to vacation destinations. The work my students leave behind now sits conventionally in folders for me to grade and less conventionally on DVDs and on live class sites for me to evaluate. In the last few weeks of the semester, I fought desperately agains the urge to add new demands and assignments to my students’ overflowing plates.

At Middlebury, we call the last two weeks of the semester PPZ: the “Professorial Panic Zone” because we want to ADD MORE before the semester is over. Like parents sending children off to college (and I’ve done this twice), faculty want to give the final bits of wisdom, information, evaluation before the door closes and our children or students are gone. Of course, the end of the semester and the car ride to college are the worst times to impart wisdom. In both cases, tired, frightened minds are looking ahead–if they can look or think at all. BG speaks eloquently about the end of the semester burnout when she asks:

Isn’t there something odd about this? Shouldn’t they leave craving the next course, the next opportunity to hang around a bunch of motivated fellow thinkers and work through some relevant, interesting problems together? There’s got to be a better way to end a semester, a more creative, satisfying, rewarding way to move out of a course?

BG pulled a final assignment from her course in order to allow her students more time for reflection. I turned the final week of my course over to my students who gave Research-based oral presentations. They had finished reading the last novel of the course before Thanksgiving, and they wrote the first draft of their final papers two weeks before their final portfolios were due. By somewhat clearing the decks of new work, I hoped to give my students some time for reflection, and for each paper, each digital story, and each portfolio submitted, my students included reflected cover sheets through which they confronted the intentionality of their writing and intellectual choices.

In his “the making of” entry, earth wide moth considers the challenge of tracing narrative of intentionality in his own work;

I have been thinking quite a bit about how things get done, how scholarship gets made, what methodologists want, and where the methodical (as more typically associated with a researcher’s trail) blurs with writing. Furthermore, in light of the recent interchanges on WPA-l, I’m thinking about the limitations of any published monograph to reveal the subtleties of the research and writing that went into it. Yet a conventional model for knowing method~ologies is through inference. Read something likely to have been researched and, from the text, extrapolate. Another model: specific procedural explanations or how-tos (the way to ethnographize, the way to discourse analyze). So what else can we do with method~ology beyond the domesticated regimen (albeit a stabilizing and study-able force) of this is how you do x? What can we do with method~ology beyond the reverse-ordered and confounding in-through-the-exit of method read back through the monograph? Maybe a collection of “the making of” essays that looks back on the production of the project, attends to the special effects, and so on.

I love the “making of” metaphor, he employs here, and I’ve come to see my students’ reflective pieces in their portfolios as a “making of” the semester. The final questions I always ask students on their portfolio cover sheets are

What goals do you have for your writing in the future?
How do you plan to achieve those goals?

Intead of offering my students useless pearls of advice as the end of the semester, I push them in their natural inclination to look ahead and ask them to form their own goals and decide thier own ways to reach those goals. Sometimes I have the pleasure of seeing their goals come to fruition when they take another class with me, when I read their writing on a colleague’s class blog, or when six months later as I make my way across campus they stop me to say “It clicked! I get it!.” Once, when I had given up teaching at the high school level, a student stopped me two years later as I pushed my first-born in her stroller. I hadn’t been able to prevent his dropping out of school, and I’d chalked up my efforts with him as a failure. “Thanks for everything,” he told me. “I went back and finished high school. I just couldn’t do it then.” Remembering his words always helps get me though the PPZ at the end of the semester and gives me hope that even though the semester ends now, the dance of learning goes on.

Older Posts »

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.