Well, not quite done. I still have a short essay to write, which is pretty much already written in my head and just needs to get down on paper. But virtually, my first year in my PhD program is done. It was a great year: lots of fun teaching, lots of engaging material in class, and many, many new professional connections and new friends.
English 30: That Sony Reader
My favorite part of this term, by far, was teaching English 30: honors first year rhetoric and composition. My students were thoughtful and hardworking, and we were part of the Sony Reader pilot project, which involved my students doing most of their reading on the Sony Reader. For the most part, students didn’t seem to care for it as an academic reading device, but using the Reader afforded us an excellent opportunity to discuss literacy practices and literacy technologies. I meant to write and reflect on the class on this here blog a lot more than I did, so I’ll just briefly run through a few important things that are on my mind right now.
1. I’ve never had such a great batch of final papers from my students. I think having an honors class helped, but I think the thing that helped the most was turning the final paper into a three-paper process project—an approach I stole from Lisa Ede (she describes it as well in Situating Composition). We started the research project with an “Isearch paper” that asked for an exploratory introduction to their topic. My major requirements were that it was interesting, showed their exigence for wanting to research this topic, and explored some of the questions they were interested in. Students shared their papers with each other, and wrote “valentines” to each other, praising each other’s work. I think this was one of the best days of the term. Students read their valentines from each other and we talked about what they liked about each other’s papers. Students expressed that they had a lot of fun, and I think it helped build a classroom community. (We did this in one of Lisa’s classes when I was at Oregon State, and I loved it as a student as well.) The assignment was fuzzy to a lot of students, because I didn’t have examples, but I think they did fairly well.
The second paper was an “Entering the Conversation Essay,” where students reported to me where they were in their research process, what the conversation was surrounding their topic, and where they thought they would wind up positioning themselves in that conversation. This paper helped a lot, I think, in getting students to think about academic arguments in terms of conversations with people taking different positions and positioning themselves with and against other ideas. And their final papers! Overall, more well researched than I’ve ever had, more clear positions that were well argued than ever before, more clear “what’s at stake” than ever before, more well cited than ever before (though this, I’d say, was the students’ own responsibility, as I barely covered this in class), more lively prose than ever before. Just a great group of final papers overall. I had a lot of fun reading their work all term.
2. My students final presentations were on the Sony Reader. Most either chose to give a presentation “to students” discussing how they could use the Reader in their academic lives, or “to Sony” discussing how to improve the Reader. Some really great insights, and some entertaining presentations as well. While many of the presentations covered what others did (this was expected), they were overall still enjoyable and different enough from each other to be worth it. I think the librarians and English faculty who visited the class last week also got a lot of information (and joy) out of the presentations.
I took two rhetoric classes outside of English this term, which was great, because I got to see how Communication Arts and Sciences approaches rhetoric. Lots of overlap, but also different reference points. I got some access to materials and ideas that I wouldn’t have otherwise, I’m sure, and I’m still trying to digest the whole term. For the first few months, the term was rocky because I didn’t feel like I was a part of a learning community like I did last term. Last term, I was hanging out with my classmates outside of class, we were discussing course materials and our writing a lot, and I felt really connected. The first half of this term I felt a lot more isolated. But then I started getting to know the CAS grad students better and hanging out with them outside of class, and I felt a lot more connected. I had a lot of fun in my English class, on literacy and technology, as well, and feel like I got quite a bit out of it. The term wound up being pretty successful.
I’m excited for next term, though I’m also glad that it’s a few months away. It’ll be my last term of coursework before gearing up for the comprehensive exams. Also, it’ll be the last time I have to write three seminar papers at once again, which isn’t fun. (Well, it is in some ways, but it definitely hurts the quality of my writing and my sleep schedule.)
Summer is (virtually) here
And it should be packed. I’ve got a few things to revise for possible articles, a collaborative article to co-write, a course to teach (which I’m super excited about), the RSA Institute, and working on my talk for Feminisms and Rhetorics in the fall. I might take an article-writing class (mostly for motivation, time structure, and peer review), but I’m uncertain at this point.