Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Semester in Review

This has been the longest semester I can remember. I was constantly struggling to juggle various assignments and preps. Still, I think it went smashingly, based on initial student feedback. Here are some things that definitely worked:

  • The Culture Reports in my upper-level literature class. Because the course was supposed to include a focus on both literature and culture over a 350-year period, it made sense to me to share the burden of gathering this information with my students. The students commented that not only did they learn interesting material but they felt that they had ownership of the class. 
  • The annotated bibliography in the same class. Most of them had never completed one before, but it's an assignment I often use with success.
  • The emphasis in my gen-ed sophomore survey on lifelong learning and student response to the reading. Several students said they had never had a teacher be interested in what they liked or didn't like before. I find that those conversations can lead to deeper analysis if they're encouraged.
  • Teaching computer skills to my first-year composition students. They all feel more digitally accomplished than before the semester started, which adds to the value of the class. 
  • GoogleDocs for the workshops, as I discussed in a previous post
  • My composition class's PowerPoint presentations, which were almost all excellent and on the whole better than most sophomore presentations I've seen.

Some things had mixed results:

  • The paperless classroom, which made it easier to keep track of my grading, but also easier to avoid it. It also caused some student stress, though nothing unmanageable.
  • The Study Wikis in my sophomore class. They were a great idea, but the students needed some clearer guidelines. By contrast, the extra-credit Study Wiki in my upper-level course was truly impressive--because I gave them clear indications of what would be on the test, instead of making them discover the questions. The Research Wikis in my composition course were mostly a failure, also because they didn't receive clear enough guidelines.
  • I loved the personal nature of the Blogs, but I couldn't keep up with them over the course of the semester, so I couldn't give them immediate feedback or help guide their thinking in the way I had hoped. 
  • PowerPoints, as mentioned previously.

And one thing that I will definitely change:

  • The final paper in composition, which asked my students to align themselves with a political party. Only about half of the students did a good job with this, simply because the task was too large. In future, I would ask them to pick a particular issue, research it, take a stand, and then identify which political parties agree with their view. This would require several steps. But for the moment, I'm finished with directly pushing citizenship. As the students mentioned in their blogs, they're just now able to vote and they're still figuring their way in the world. Some focus on citizenship is good, but too much just overwhelms them. 

I feel content with my performance this semester and proud of my students' achievements, which is all I really ask for.

And that's a wrap!
*Image from the Troy Public Library


  1. Would you say more about the lifelong learning emphasis in your sophomore class? That sounds intriguing.

  2. Before the semester started, I asked myself what I wanted my gen-ed students to take with them. I wanted them to see multiple interpretive possibilities. I wanted them to gain insight into the human experience. So my discussions were geared primarily toward the process of making meaning and secondarily toward considering characters, ideas, and feelings. On the very first day, we did an activity that set the tone for the class. It was something at least two students mentioned in their year-end summary. I handed out copies of two poems by William Blake (this was in a 75-minute class). I broke them into six groups, three per poem, and had them identify a literary technique (symbolism, diction, anything like that, to prove that they're already somewhat proficient) and to identify an important idea. Each of the three groups on the poems identified different things in the poems. At the end of the class, I didn't try to blend their observations into one or add anything. I pointed out to them the wealth of interpretations possible, and said that their own backgrounds and interests will influence what they see in the texts, so be aware of these, and be sure to add to the conversation. Since we don't all share the same background, we aren't going to see the same thing, and I told them I wanted us to have a rich experience of the texts. I think this gave them some confidence and also sparked their interest in the class.

  3. So glad to see what worked in your classes! I always find myself doing the same thing after each semester and tinkering with assignments for the next year. I loved your blog assignment. I use them for my 102 classes and find that they are hard to keep up with, too, but in the end, add a lot to the class discussion.

  4. Ooh, that sounds fascinating! I hope to try that at some point. I'm teaching a Shakespeare class this summer (squee!) for gifted 7th and 8th grade students, so I'm looking for as many different approaches as I can get!