English 615:01: Composition Instruction: Pedagogy and Principles
(Section Specifically Designed for Mason Teaching Assistants)
Office Location and Hours: Rob A 112a. Hours by appointment and drop-in.
Classroom: Robinson Hall B204
[E]very act of teaching arises from some set of assumptions about what teachers should teach and how students learn.”—Stephen Wilhoit
From your years of experience as writers and students of writing, you've already acquired a body of assumptions about writing practices whether articulated or not. Part of our work (and fun, I hope) in this course will be to examine those assumptions and connect them to best practices for teaching first year composition. Over the course of the semester, you’ll develop a position statement on teaching first-year comp that reflects your own teaching style and preferences, your engagement with the course materials, your awareness of the learning goals for first-year composition at Mason. Your position statement is intended to provide a context and rationale for the syllabus, the lessons, and the assignments you’ll create. While I’ve assigned a number of readings, our main focus will be on you the writing teacher in training. In every class, you’ll have opportunities to apply the concepts we’re reading about to your own course design and to your teaching, response, and evaluation practices. To that end, you’ll also work in pairs to develop and present a model activity designed to teach some aspect of composition you consider integral to your course(s).
Here are some of the questions we’ll take up in our course: What skills, processes, forms, and genres should we teach students to write to help them achieve the learning outcomes for first year composition (fyc) and to help them meet the writing expectations of faculty across disciplines? What is the role of reading/s in fyc? How much reading should be assigned? To what end? To what extent must we acknowledge and work with/in digital writing environments? How should we handle the teaching of research, an especially pressing question given the digital environments in which we all now work? What composition research helps us respond to these questions and shape our course design and teaching practices?
In a statement on my own teaching, I describe the values I try to enact in every course and which, for me, also comprise the subject matter of English 615:
· to teach students to be engaged, critical, and reflective writers who know how to ask questions, gather and weigh evidence, and form careful, sustained, and ethical arguments;
· to challenge them to think creatively about problems and to be patient as they struggle to form complex responses;
· to help them become fluent, flexible writers, capable of writing in multiple genres for readers who may have widely varied expectations and evaluative criteria;
· to build a community of learners who respect one another’s diverse identities and approaches to writing but who can also be critical readers of a peer’s position, textual and otherwise.
The challenge, then, will be to create an introductory composition course and course materials that engage students as active and enthusiastic participants in their own learning. In the process, you will also be teaching me, in the same way your students will always teach you about how they learn, about writing, and about yourself as a writer and teacher of writing.
John Bean. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom
Handed out in class (free):
Learning Goals for English 100/101: http://english.gmu.edu/composition/faculty/goals100.php
Teaching Resources, including sample syllabi and a syllabus policy template: http://composition.gmu.edu/faculty/index.php
Kathleen Yancey. Reflection in the Writing Classroom. (Wonderful suggestions)
Peter Elbow. Writing with Power. (Great free writing prompts for “priming the pump”)
Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down the Bones. (A Zen approach to writing)
Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
E-100: Beta site for composition: TBA
· “Working with Students” and “Teaching First Year Students” on Mason’s Center for Teaching Excellence website: http://www.gmu.edu/cte/Working_with_students/firstyearstudents.html
· CompPile, a ready reference to published work in post-secondary comp and rhetoric: http://comppile.tamucc.edu/
· WAC Clearinghouse, links to resources and teaching tips for writing across the curriculum: http://wac.colostate.edu/
· Position statements and resources on teaching writing: http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions
· RhetComp.com, a portal to sites relevant to comp and rhetoric: http://rhetcomp.com/.
· Paul Kei Matsuda’s Professional Resources for Second Language Writing: http://matsuda.jslw.org/resources.html
Journals on line:
The Writing Instructor: http://www.writinginstructor.com/
Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments:
Course Requirements and Grading Percentages:
· Teaching portfolio: 50%.
Includes: teaching statement—20%; syllabus—20%; sample assignment, grading criteria, and rationale—10% (all will be given preliminary grades)
· Collaborative Teaching demo, accompanying handout, and post-demo reflection: 20%
· Smaller “writing-up” assignments: 15%
Includes interviews with experienced TAs, classroom observation; textbook analysis, and “Delicious” annotations.
· Active “presence” (in all the ways that resonates) in and out of class: 15%
Includes reading/teaching logs, online postings, and in-class participation.
My policies (and those that CHSS requires to be noted on all college syllabi):
Attendance: I expect you to attend every class. Missing more than one class may affect your final grade in the course. (Note: you’ll want to be very clear about your attendance policy with your undergrads. You may want to include the statement on attendance from the university catalog at http://www.gmu.edu/catalog/apolicies/index.html#Anchor26, which establishes that “instructors may use absence, tardiness, or early departure as de facto evidence of nonparticipation.”
Late work: I’m open to negotiation, depending on the circumstances. With my undergrads, I allow every student one “cut-me-some slack card” to use how and when as they choose.
Honor Code: Here’s the CHSS statement: “
Students with disabilities: Here’s the CHSS statement: “If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Office of Disability Resources at 703.993.2474. All academic accommodations must be arranged through that office.”
Enrollment responsibilities: Here’s the CHSS statement: You are responsible for verifying your enrollment in this course. Schedule adjustments must be made by the deadlines published in the Schedule of Classes. Last day to drop: Feb 20.
Mason Emergency Information: You may want to sign up for emergency alert messages. If so, go to https://alert.gmu.edu. You’ll also find information about emergency procedures at http://www.gmu.edu/service/cert. (The Provost suggests we put this information on our syllabus and encourage students to sign up for messages. They are not required.)
Description of Assignments:
Teaching Portfolio: As the culminating assignment for the course, the portfolio presents and represents your position on teaching first-year composition, your goals and expected outcomes for beginning college writers, and the methods by which you and the students will achieve these goals and outcomes. You’ll include:
· Teaching statement (7 or more pages): The purpose of this statement is to provide a rationale and context for the course you’ve designed, the textbook(s) you’ve selected, and the lessons and assignments you intend to give, all of which reflect your teaching philosophy and pedagogical values. Here are some guidelines for what to include in your statement: a reflection on your initial teaching position (required); discussion of course readings that influenced you (required; you may also include readings that were not assigned); other syllabi you’ve looked at, the class you observed, and conversations with other TAs currently teaching (required); and, as applicable, connections to your own experiences as a writer, as a student in writing courses, as a tutor and/or as a teacher. I see this essay, in other words, as a place to think about and reflect on all the influences that have a bearing on your approach to teaching first-year writers. Feel free to experiment with voice and style (yes, you can use “I” and write in “your own voice”—whatever that may mean to you. You’ve seen in countless tutoring sessions how complicated this advice can be for students.) Your statement should include a Works Cited page. See model statement by Beckie McGill, posted on the Wiki.
· Your “final” syllabus
· A sample assignment with a cover explanation of how your learning goals for the assignment fit into your overall goals for the course and the evaluation criteria you’ll use.
(Note: Though you’ll already have received a preliminary grade for each of these assignments, you may want to revise them for the portfolio as desired.)
Paired teaching demo with write-up and post-lesson reflection: You’ll have about 45 minutes to present a lesson and engage us in an activity you’ve developed in collaboration with your partner. Accompanying the lesson will be a handout for the class explaining the rationale and steps to follow.
You might think of this as a kind of “tag team,” with one of you teaching one stage of the lesson and/or leading an activity and the other doing a follow-up lesson and/or activity. In the allotted time, you’ll need to explain your learning outcomes for the lesson and at what point in the semester you see the lesson occurring. Then you’ll have an additional 15 minutes to ask and answer questions about the lesson and activity.
Prior to your demo, you’ll meet with me to discuss your plans. The week following your demo, each of you will turn in individual post-demo reflections on the lesson (what went well, what you would change, how you’ll adapt the lesson when you give it in your own classroom, etc). To provide a pedagogical frame for your demo, you’ll design a lesson that fits with one (or more) of the broad range of topics we’re addressing in the course, e.g. how to teach: invention/arrangement/style; critical thinking, new media, reading, grammar, research; and how to teach for: collaborative learning, different learning styles, reflective practice. Note: I’ve designed this as a collaborative activity because we don’t have time in the semester for everyone to do individual demos. Demos begin Week Five.
Smaller “reporting-on” assignments:
· Classroom observation (2-3 pages): Describe what happened and, as nearly as you can tell, why it happened, i.e., discuss the lesson in the context of the teacher’s syllabus, our class readings and discussions, and/or your tutoring experiences, whatever is relevant. You might also include a discussion of techniques the teacher used that you'd like to use yourself or would not consider using. If possible, meet with the teacher you've observed so you can get his/her feedback on the class. Connect your observation to best practices as you’ve observed, heard (e.g. from interview with experienced TAs), or read about in other contexts.
· Interviews with experienced TAs (2 or more pages): Talk to at least two TAs who’ve taught 101, asking them about their most fulfilling experiences teaching, their most challenging and rewarding student experiences, their most and least successful assignment, and teaching strategies that worked well for them. Also take a look at their syllabus. Write up the most interesting/enlightening/useful information you learned and what ideas and strategies you might incorporate into your own course and teaching. Your report can be very informal, with bullets or whatever format lends itself to ease of reading on the Wiki.
· Delicious sites. You’ll find, bookmark, annotate, and tag ten or more sites useful to writing teachers. You may want to focus on sites that will be useful for your teaching demo and/or particular kinds of skills/themes, e.g. discussions and tips for teaching with technologies like Wikipedia, Facebook, etc; for accommodating diverse learning styles; invention exercises; etc; or on tools for facilitating teaching, e.g. Netvibes, Twitter, specialized blogging sites, etc. (Note: You might want to use a Delicious assignment in your class to help students organize and annotate sources. (Everyone will need to use English_615 as one of your tags for each bookmark, so that we can all find them easily.)
· Textbook analysis. See Week Six for details.
Teaching logs, Wiki posts: In the log, you’ll take notes on aspects of the readings that seem most relevant to you as a teacher, noting useful strategies and making connections among readings, class discussion, and your experiences as a tutor.
Note: all assignments are due on the day they are listed.
Part I. The Act and the Actors: First-year composition—some history and lots of questions about who we teach, what we teach, and why.
Week One, January 22:
Introducing ourselves, our goals, and course goals: What are your goals for this course? What do you want to learn and why? How does my syllabus, at first glance, seem to fit with your goals? In-class write-pair-share: Who are you as a writer and when/how do you write best? Why should students be required to take an introductory college composition course? What, if any, guarantees do we make to students and their subsequent teachers when we require fyc? What should we teach? What are we required to teach? In our initial discussion of these questions, we’ll draw on the learning outcomes on the Composition website (composition.gmu.edu), your own college writing experiences, and your mentor/mentee and tutoring experiences. In-class writing: The 101 course you imagine yourself teaching.
Week Two, January 29: “Just when I’ve designed the right syllabus, the wrong students walk in the door”-- Sharon Crowley. This week the focus is on teacher/student dynamics and classroom management. Who are our students? How does the complex chemistry among the teacher and students help shape the classroom dynamic? Come prepared to talk about strategies you observed your mentor using that worked/didn’t work. Read: StM: Chapter 2 and pp 56-65, and articles by Bartholomae, p. 382, Rose, p 397, and Moss and Walters, p. 417; TC: Skorczewski, p.99. Write: In your teaching log, write 2 (or more) pages, noting points/ideas from the readings that resonate with you, how the readings speak to each other, and why the points/ideas they make should (or shouldn’t) matter to writing teachers. Draft an initial teaching statement, which reflects your preliminary thinking about teaching fyc based on your own preferences and experiences, our first week discussion, and the assigned readings on teachers and students. Also due: Short list of ideas for your teaching demo. We’ll talk about these and potential partners in class.
Week Three, February 5: What does rhetoric have to do with teaching composition anyway? This week and next we focus on writing processes--invention, arrangement, style, and revision—and the rhetorical contexts and motives that shape writing. We’ll practice what we preach, so come prepared with a project you’re working on, whether it’s expressive, transactional, or poetic. (James Britton’s three part writing model: expressive discourse: writing to discover and explore; transactional—writing to get “things” done; poetic: writing as art.) We’ll also look at sample textbooks and discuss the pedagogies that inform and shape their design. Read: TC: Rose, 148, Sommers, 195; StM Chapter 6. Skim: A “Brief History of Rhetoric and Composition" at http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/bb/history.html, which will help us situate the discussion of the pedagogies that guide the authors’ decisions. Write: In teaching log, write your thoughts on these readings and their relevance for you as a future/current writing teacher. Consider these readings as you continue work on your teaching position statement.
Week Four, February 12: Talking about/writing about/teaching about rhetoric. Since many of you will be attending the AWP conference, we’ll plan to meet on the Wiki rather than f2f to continue our discussion of rhetoric. This week also offers a good opportunity to meet f2f with me about your ideas for the paired teaching demos. Read: StM Chapters 7 and 8. Post on the Wiki a log detailing some of the key points and strategies you picked up in these chapters, particularly in the StM chapters, which offer wonderful lessons in how to teach rhetorically. Interview two (or more) experienced TAs. (See details under Assignment Descriptions.). Post your report on the Wiki. Also draft and post the first several pages of your syllabus with preliminary course description and nuts and bolts info; for the latter, it’s fine for you to copy and paste from other syllabi you like, including mine, your mentor’s, and/or your TA interviewees.
By the way, those
of you not going to AWP may want to go hear some of the panels being presented
at the Southern American Studies
Association conference being held here at Mason. In particular, I think you
might want to go to the session on “The Culmore Literacy and Popular
Education Project: Melding Community and
University Knowledges in
Part II: The Actions. How and what to teach
Week Five, February 19: Critical thinking: What is it and how is it connected to writing? Look at: The cool critical thinking model at http://www.criticalthinking.org/CTmodel/CTModel1.cfm. And at the critical thinking rubrics developed by Mason’s Office of Institutional Assessment available at https://assessment.gmu.edu/StudentLearningCompetencies/Critical/Standards.html. Along with this discussion, we talk about factors that promote “transfer” of learning from one context to another. Note: You can find these sites and a number of others in my Delicious bookmarks if you search under “crit_thinking” and “transfer.” Read: Bean chapters 1, 2, 7, 9, and pp 176-81. TC: Slevin, p. 59. Write: Based on these, and other reading you may have done, develop a list of several writing activities that you think you’d like to use to encourage critical thinking approaches in your class. (And use Delicious to bookmark useful sites.) Continue working on your teaching statement. For a model, see Beckie McGill’s statement.
Teaching demos begin this week! We’ll do ONE a week until we finish. Your outline, goals, and rationale are due the week before you present and post-writing is due the week after.
Week Six, February 26:
Week Seven, March 5: Teaching and learning peer-to-peer with guest teacher Prof. Shelley Reid. As Wendy Bishop points out in “Helping Peer Groups Succeed,” the literature on peer writing groups and the effectiveness of peer review often over-rates the results and oversimplifies the process. This week focuses on strategies for organizing and managing peer groups and the peer review process. For a hand-on lesson, you’ll work with a rough drafts of your teaching statements, so please bring these to class. Read: StM: Bishop 343 and pages 69-74; skim Bean Chapter 9 (for terrific ideas for encouraging critical thinking through the use of small groups.) Write: Draft of your teaching statement in process.
Week Eight: Spring Break: March 9-13.
Week Nine, March 19: Teaching research: This week we’ll focus on what students need to learn about searching for sources; noting, citing, and documenting what they find, writing from and about sources, and avoiding plagiarism. We’ll spend some time on the Mason Libraries site with instructional librarian Scott Watkins and from guest presenter Anna Habib about the research assignment sequences she designed for her 101 courses. For great ideas, Read: Bean, chapter 12; StM: Chapter 9. Write: Plans for the weeks of your syllabus that indicate how you’ll teach research skills and sequence your research assignments. Consider how you might use Delicious, Netvibes, Wikipedia, or Zotero or other online tools for finding and organizing information.
Part Three. The act: Designing Writing Assignments. Responding to Writers and Writing, Grading Papers
Week Ten, March 26: Designing and sequencing assignments. How can we design assignments that benefit the diverse range of students we teach? Read: StM: Chapter 4; Bean Chapters 3 and 4. See: Blooms Taxonomy at http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm. Write: Draft of an assignment that you’ve developed and criteria (or a rubric) you’ll use to evaluate students’ success in accomplishing assignment goals.
Note: By now should have observed a 101 or 302 class
and given me your observation write-up.
Week Eleven, April 2: Multiple literacies. Read: StM: Chapter 10 and Selfe p. 479. Write: Draft of syllabus thus far, noting readings, writing assignments--both formal and informal, how you’ll incorporate technology, and plans you’re thinking about for delivering course materials. Note: You need to build a week in computer room into your syllabus, but you are not required to give new media assignments. And another note: Don’t forget to bookmark useful sites.
Week Twelve, April 9: Responding to writers and grading their work. We all want our students to succeed as writers in our classes, so sometimes we (me included) given them lots of feedback on drafts, engaging with their ideas and making suggestions for how to revise the next draft. But what kinds of feedback are most effective and how much time should you spend on each paper? In the end, what’s a fair grade for a paper whether the student has been assiduously following our suggestions or not? These questions are the focus of this week’s discussion; there are no pre-determined answers, only recommended practices and your own experiences as tutors and students to draw on. Read: StM: Chapter 5, Sommers, p. 352. Skim Bean Chapters 13 and 14 and “Minimal Marking” http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~syverson/olr/minmark.html. (A good one to bookmark on Delicious.) Write: Continue working on your syllabus and teaching statement.
Week Thirteen, April 16: Evaluating and grading—the least enjoyable part of teaching. As a writing teacher, I want to be interested in and enjoy reading my students’ writing. In fact, that’s generally one of the criteria I make sure to include for every assignment, and I try not to give assignments that won’t engage me as a reader. I also enjoy coaching writers and seeing them develop. Knowing that I have to grade the “paper” (why do we call our students’ writing “papers”?) takes away much of the pleasure. In “Embracing Contraries in the Teaching Process,” Peter Elbow writes about the conflict we experience in the roles of coach and gatekeeper. How will you balance those roles? Read: Bean Chapter 15. TC: Elbow, p. 387. Write: Continue working on your syllabus and teaching statement.
Part IV: Praxis and Reflection—The syllabus as a reflection of your teaching philosophy.
Week Fourteen, April 23: Outcomes for first year composition: How will you syllabus help students achieve these outcomes? How do your syllabus and textbook reflect your theories and philosophy of teaching comp. How will you determine who passes and who fails? How would you explain your grading decisions to other stakeholders, i.e. teachers who assign writing across the disciplines and have high expectations (generally unrealistic) for the writing abilities students will possess after taking 101? Or to external audiences who are alarmed about the “literacy crisis” we face and are putting pressure on institutions to account for students’ competency as writers and critical thinkers? What is to be done about “grammar” and correctness? Whose writing seems to invoke the most alarm? Read: Bean chapter 4. Recommended: TC: Harris “Errors” p 416 and StM: Hartwell “Grammar, Grammar, and the Teaching of Grammar” p. 305. Review outcomes statement for English 101 on the Composition website at http://english.gmu.edu/composition/faculty/goals100.php. Write: Nearly final draft of syllabus due for peer review.
Week Fifteen, April 30: Your syllabus, your textbook(s), and how both speak to your philosophy of teaching first year composition. Due for peer review: Teaching statement and syllabus. We’ll also take time for you to tell the class about how your teaching philosophy has evolved over the course of the semester and the decisions you made along the way as you designed your course. .
Exam Day, May 7: Your teaching portfolio is due in my office. We will not have an exam.