Collaborative brainstorming: Teaching Carnival 3.0

If you’ve expressed interest in TC3, then you should have received a message from me that looked a little something like this:

Okay, here we go! Follow this link to share your available dates.

With this blog entry, I’m asking you all to help me brainstorm ways of making TC3 the most valuable resource it can be. Below is a list of my thoughts, some of which are phrased as questions. Your responses and additions will be very helpful:

  1. This project is fundamentally collaborative and open to just about anyone.
  2. This project should have its own website that links to all the individual carnivals as they appear.
  3. The website might also store an archived copy of each of those carnivals.
  4. The website might also be the place where the interviews (see below) are hosted.
  5. The website could provide a forum in which users ask questions of bloggers or seek advice about such things as constructing a syllabus, designing an assignment, or responding to a particular situation in class.
  6. Interviews (or even roundtable discussions) about teaching with well-known and not-so-well-known academics would be great. What’s the best way to go about conducting these? …presenting these?
  7. Should this have a different name, so that it’s taken more seriously by those not already privy to the blogging world? I’m thinking here of such professional entities as committees that make decisions regarding hiring, promotion, & tenure. What would be a more “professional” sounding name?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

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Teaching Carnival 3.0

I’m putting together a planning team for Teaching Carnival 3.0. Let’s collaborate.

Once upon a time, I had a “blogging about teaching” idea.

That idea took on an active life and then went dormant (for a variety of reasons).

Now I’d like to bring the idea to life again, with a few possible tweaks:

  1. Social Bookmarking: We should use Delicious or a similar web service to catalog and annotate the links while still posting a selection of those links as a regular “carnival.”
  2. Discipline-specific carnivals: We could make each carnival specific to that particular host’s academic discipline. (I’m not wedded to this idea, so if participants don’t like it, we don’t have to do it.) Edited to add: I agree with those who have suggested that this is not a very good idea. Scratch that one.
  3. Interviews: Let’s interview teachers (both well-known and unknown) about their pedagogy. Heck, let’s interview well-known scholars about their pedagogy. I don’t have any specific plan about how this would work. Recorded Skype calls? Video chats? IM transcripts? Email transcripts? I’m open to anything.

Leave a comment or gmail me at george.workbook if you’re interested in hosting, or if you’re interested in being part of the planning team.

Please use the form below to indicate your available dates to host.

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help! i’m way behind on responding to student essays

I have a crazy number of service obligations this semester. The good news is that I’m making a difference on my campus and in my community. The bad news is that I’m way behind on responding to student assignments. I have many papers waiting for me to assess, mark, and return to students.

I could use your advice.

There are several goals to take into account:

  1. Assigning a grade.
  2. Letting students know how they’re doing in the class.
  3. Providing feedback that identifies strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Providing feedback that will focus their efforts in future papers.
  5. Maintaining goodwill with students, assuring them I’m concerned about their learning.

I want to be able to accomplish all of those things, but I have so many other responsibilities pressing down on me right now–including a third-year review portfolio to create and a conference presentation to write–that it’s difficult to imagine how I’ll do these things in a timely fashion.

What would you do in such a situation?

  1. Would you just buckle down and grade non-stop until you were done?
  2. Would you focus on evaluation, assign a grade, and minimize comments, offering (or requiring) to meet 1-on-1 for discussion?
  3. Would you give them minimal, but directive comments and give them the chance to revise?
  4. Would you offer opportunities for extra credit to make up for the lack of information about student progress?

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but what would you do if you were in my situation?

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grading grading

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Well, like most people trained in literature but teaching a 4-4 load, I have many first-year composition students every semester, but I really only have “a little knowledge” about the best practices for doing so.

Last summer I was scanning the Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing and found Richard Haswell’s 1983 article “Minimal Marking” (JSTOR & Google Scholar), which provided some scholarly authority to support the way I think about responding to student writing. In this fairly brief piece, Haswell argues for, as you might imagine, “minimal marking” on student essays. The then-current empirical research on teacher response and student learning in composition classes concludes that excessive written commentary on student essays is not effective. Instead, Haswell advocates using only a few marks to indicate the presence of errors in a given line of writing without specifying what the error is or how to correct it and to concentrate on only a few kinds of errors at a time, rather than trying to identify everything that is wrong with the essay. The student is then given the opportunity to make corrections and return the essay for the final grade. I am certain that subsequent research has added to Haswell’s short observations (Google Scholar lists 25 sources citing Haswell), but I haven’t read it.

This approach is appealing to me for a couple of reasons. First, it is much less labor-intensive then my “natural” inclination to copy edit the essay for the student; 4 classes a semester is a lot of grading, and it is quite tedious to provide that much feedback on each essay, especially if the research concludes it’s not very helpful. In fact, to provide more feedback is less helpful than providing a minimal amount of the right kind of feedback. The ideal approach is summed up quite nicely by Chalet Seidel in a course blog entry from a couple of weeks ago: “identify patterns of error rather than mistakes, limit marginal comments, don’t copyedit, provide clear guidance for revision in an end comment.”

Second, and more importantly, this approach can be adapted to the “problem-based learning” pedagogy that I find so attractive. Problem-based learning encourages responsibility, initiative, and independent thought in students, and when I first learned about it, I realized that it was the kind of teaching I have long tried to provide. Students need to “own” their education, to pull at the information that I push their way.

There’s an inherent tension, though. On the one hand, I know that students do especially well when they are given very detailed and very specific instructions regarding what they’re supposed to do for an assignment. On the other hand, I know that the world beyond the classroom more often than not presents you with situations that lack instructions of any kind, much less those that are “very detailed” or “very specific.” So in my experiments with implementing problem-based learning, I’m walking a fine line between too much and too little in the way of explanation. It’s not always coming out perfectly, but on the whole I’m happy with the results.

In my composition classes this semester, I’m trying out my own version of Haswell’s method of minimal marking on the pages of the students’ essays. I am, however, requiring them to complete the different steps of invention, drafting, revision, and editing. And I require them to have a 15-minute conference with me during the revision process to discuss their paper. I find that conversation is a much more efficient and information-rich method of giving feedback when that feedback can still matter to the student’s performance. In fact, I’ve found that the final products (essays and presentations) at all levels of instruction turn out better when students are required to have certain “along-the-way” tasks completed by certain dates before the final due date, and when they are required to actually prepare in particular ways for their conferences with me.

For my composition courses it’s a new approach, and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. So far, there’s not been a big savings in time, but I’m chalking that up to my having to learn a new way of doing things.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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cccc 2008 in new orleans: the bullet points

CCCC-2008: the crayfish

Last week, I attended my first meeting of the College Conference on Composition and Communication. Herewith, some random bullet points:

  • I gave a paper in which I outed myself as someone who suffers from (and receives medical care for) sometimes debilitating anxiety and depression. And whaddya know? I guess I’m outing myself here, too.
  • I joined the CCCC special interest group devoted to disability studies and volunteered to develop the website.
  • I learned a lot. (Don’t laugh. I’ve been to conferences where that wasn’t the case.)
  • I talked a bit with Jeff, Jenny, and Derek at the hotel bar. I chatted briefly with Donna at the airport. I saw Clancy and Byron from afar but did not get to chat. I know other bloggers attended, but I did not see them…I fell down on the job at arranging meetups, and for that I feel somewhat guilty.
  • I attended the Bedford/St. Martin’s party at the NOLA Aquarium and couldn’t stop thinking about how much my students pay for their textbooks…and felt more than a little guilty about the free food and drink those textbook prices make possible. I’m pretty sure I’m going to stop using textbooks in my composition classrooms.
  • I ate two oyster poboys, gumbo, jambalaya, and a lot of Abita beer.
  • I spent a lot of time with UMKC people, who I miss. But I returned home happy to be where I am now.
  • I did not spend enough time in the interesting places right at the outskirts of the French Quarter, in which Bourbon Street remains a kind of Disneyland filtered through Larry Flynt’s eyes. But I was glad to find those interesting places.

I’m tagging the links I find related to the conference. If you’ve written about it, or know of relevant links, go ahead and add them to using the tag cccc-2008. And I hope to write more about the conference as well as bloggers’ reactions, time permitting. However, the days are pretty busy here at the end of the semester in Sparkletonia. In a perfect world, I’d post an mp3 of my talk. We’ll see…

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