Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reflection on Reflection

As I blogged about reflection in September:

“I believe strongly in the power of reflection to help writers learn and grow, but there is one problem with reflection as a tool for change – humans are lazy and thinking is hard.

However, I persevere with the uphill struggle to make my students reflective writers. This semester I modified my approach to reflection. In the past I have required journals and used Twitter but this semester I expanded the process.

It begins with a Prompt that I post on the class blog. This is more than the quick one- or two-sentence prompt which I used in the past and actually approaches more of a mini-lecture of sorts. My intent is to provide a lot of fodder for reflection. For my Writing I students that has meant exploring topics such as writing, literacy, and education. My Professional Writing students have explored professional writing and rhetoric, their professional and personal goals, grant writing, and grant reporting.

I then ask students to journal about the prompt topic. These are not graded and I’m looking for nothing more than a brain dump of sorts. Students are then asked to discuss the prompt topic and the questions it raises in a Blackboard forum. Finally, I ask them to share their thoughts via Twitter. I have been collecting their Tweets on these topics using Storify and I find that I really like having those snapshots of their discussions.

For example, that first week my Writing 1 students reflected on what it means to be a writer. I know I can’t convince all my freshmen writers that they are indeed writers, but every semester hope springs anew. They then moved on to discuss literacy and education as well as their importance.

My Professional Writing students really enjoyed learning more about and discussing rhetoric and professional writing during that first week. I think it was a great place to begin our semester’s work. In preparation for choosing their topics for their semester projects and helping me create a meaningful course, they then discussed their life goals.

While I am sure that many of my students are not enjoying this process as much as I am, I hope that ultimately they take away some important lessons from this reflection.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tweeting the Semester Away

We are just starting our fourth week of classes at Morehead State University and despite a respiratory virus which severely upset my work schedule, I am fairly pleased with the way the semester is going. While I have used Twitter in the past, this semester I stepped up its use and I think things are going well. Of course, not all of my students agree but my dog doesn’t like taking his medicine either, so I am taking their complaints under advisement, but keeping the assignments at least until I hear some compelling arguments against them.

I teach online a lot. In fact, for recent years my primary teaching load has been online. This is in part because I am the one who pitched and piloted the online versions of our general education writing classes, but also because I like it. I think teaching writing online allows us to focus on the writing in ways that face-to-face classes do not. There is a tendency to fill traditional class time with talk, either mine or students. In an online class that talk must come in the form of writing which means the emphasis remains on writing. I also like the transparency offered by online writing workshop. Of course, I must also admit there are practical reasons as well. Half of my job is administering a National Writing Project site and I find it a lot easier to juggle the two roles (as well as my personal roles of mother, wife, dog owner) and my research with a more flexible schedule. However, while I prefer to teach online I also know there are drawbacks to it. A big one for someone who actually likes her students is that Blackboard (the CMS we use at MSU) does not do much to encourage personal interaction. Little things like the lag time in student name updates (so the newly married or newly divorced women’s names don’t match the roster) or the fact that student names do not match their personal preferences are a problem. Plus, the dry and rigid structure with no pictures or other personalization really makes it difficult to get to know students.

In recent semesters I have tried to combat this problem by using Twitter. We start out creating 6-word-memoirs to introduce ourselves and I ask that they post those 6-word-memoirs in their bios. This means that whenever I’m reading our class Twitter stream I can toggle to my list of followers or just click on an individual student to not only see their name and photo but also jog my memory about this person. You can see the results for my Professional Writing and Writing I classes. Perhaps more importantly, I also ask my students to post about their daily life. It can, but does not need to be anything too personal. They can keep it rather superficial such as notes about classes, friends, food, and their health – in other words the little conversations that we would likely have in a traditional classroom before, in between, or after our lessons. Of course, this system isn’t perfect either. Some students are reluctant and resistant while others leap into it with a frenzy (or are already active on Twitter) and overwhelm the class stream with the trivia of their lives, but I appreciate the fact that Twitter allows me to get to know my students on a more personal level than Blackboard and that it opens another channel of communication which is always a good thing, in my opinion.