good course so far

This summer I’m teaching English 015 as part of LEAP, which allows incoming first-year students to take two general education classes together as a cohort, or a “pride” as they call it. Generally LEAP teachers work together to build some cohesion between the two courses, and I’m lucky in that my class is paired with Communication Arts and Sciences 100A, taught by my good friend Tommy. We’re probably not working as closely together as we could be, but we’re working together with technology (blogs that work for both courses, research that should work for both their papers and speeches, and podcasts on iTunes U).

Today my students toured Pollock lab, part of the Digital Commons here at Penn State. Great resources: a “whispering booth” to record audio, a green screen room for video, and lots of computers. I don’t think my students were that thrilled, but I was! Awesome resources, which I now feel a lot more familiar with.

Overall, I’m happy with how the course is going. There’s been a few days that I felt I was off as a teacher. Yesterday, I felt that nothing really cohered or came together in class: that our discussion was meandering and unfocused. But overall, some good things. Within three days of class, I had seven students visit my office hours, which is more than I usually get during the first three weeks in a semester class (unless I require conferences for their first paper). Our students also seem incredibly motivated. It’s part of that I’m new at Penn State and want to be a great student mentality. I saw it fall semester too, when my first-year students had great attendance overall and seemed pretty motivated. But this term, we’ve had 10 classes so far (only about 20 left, eek!), and perfect attendance so far. And a lot of interest in doing good work.

I’m still kinda struggling with the pace of the term. It’s hard to know when to introduce a paper assignment so that it gives students enough time to brainstorm, write, and revise, while not distracting them from the previous paper. I’ve tried to link papers in various ways (some scaffolding of papers that can build from prior paper ideas and research) and to link work between Tommy’s class and my class. But their current literacy narratives are proving to be a bit of a struggle for a number of students. Rough drafts due tomorrow, and I know a lot of students don’t have more than a paragraph written as of this morning. I guess this might be normal, but the speed of the summer term kind of lends itself to hurried, last-minute writing. I know it lends itself to hurried, last-minute lesson planning at times.

Last summer I taught business writing at Oregon State, and it was a great experience too. Only then, I only had eight students, and it was easier to compartmentalize assignments and the pace of the course was easier to figure out—despite the fact that the course was only four weeks. It also helped that the course was four days a week instead of five. I’m not used to having the same schedule every day of the week. And since I teach at 9:35 (Penn State has odd start times for classes), it cuts into my normal morning ritual of work. So I’m adjusting to that still, but not getting enough work done on my projects. I need to find some ways to reorganize my time management to adjust to this schedule. You’d think I could have done that after two weeks on this schedule.

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2 Responses to good course so far

  1. Heather says:

    I’m feeling many of the same joys/concerns/frustrations, Michael. The summer is a whole different animal! I feel like my students are a bit more hesitant to take some risks with their writing for fear of making the “wrong” decision. This fear is always somewhat present in FY writing, but it seems acute this summer.

    The pace is fast and I’m finding 75 minutes to be too short to justify a decent break, but just long enough that we need to have a 2-minute mini-break just to air out brains and get refocused. As always, there is never enough time.

    But the students are fantastic and I’ve also had great questions raised in and out of class. I think that they are so eager to learn and try–how refreshing.

    Thanks for what you wrote.

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks, Heather. I too sense a hesitancy to take risks and a desire to get things “right.” I’m hoping that by opening with a few more personal papers, that I’m combating those desires, but I sense not so much.

    Glad your class is full of eager students! I like that you have a 2-minute break in class. I had considered that, but then thought: nah, it’s just 75 minutes. But perhaps it would help us refocus. 75 minutes can be a long time.

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