Teaching Journal: After Teaching English 160 (Fourth Attempt)

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On November 20, 2008

Today I substitute taught English 160 once again. I think it will be the last attempt for the semester, though who knows?

The students are getting ready to do some peer evaluations on their recommendation reports (a draft of which is due in class on December 2). In order to help them understand what they need to be looking for, Dr. Northcut (through me) asked the students to evaluate a sample recommendation report submitted by a student in a previous class (from 2007). The students in today’s class session were given the rubric that Dr. Northcut will use to grade their recommendation reports.

Before class (yesterday), I sent out an email to all of the students notifying them of the assignment they would be working on. I also listed some of the objectives for this assignment:

The objectives of this exercise are as follows:

  1. Apply the grading criteria that will be used on you
    towards someone else’s sample recommendation report.
  2. Perform a truly collaborative task by developing a
    unified document to be submitted to a third party.
  3. Work within a time constraint to create a document
    (happens to me ALL THE TIME!).
  4. Give you the opportunity to evaluate not only the
    recommendation report but the grading rubric itself. If you see a potential
    difficulty with the rubric, feel free to voice your opinion in your memo–but
    you will need to back up any assertions with a well-reasoned argument!

When the students arrived in class, I asked them if they had received this email. I got a noncommittal response from most of the students. One student flat-out admitted he saw the email but didn’t read it. I wonder if he is going to tell his boss in the real world that he doesn’t read the boss’s emails?

I asked the students to separate themselves into small groups (3-4 people) and prepare a memo analyzing the sample recommendation report in context with the grading rubric they had been given. They had to submit the memo to me via email by the end of the class period. I mostly wandered around the room and made sure they stayed on the task at hand and answered questions about the assignment as best I could.

One group managed to “finish” about 15 minutes before the end of class. Of course, by my own standards, they had barely gotten started, but I think they did make some valid critiques of the sample recommendation report.

Perhaps the most interesting challenge of the day was when a student pulled me aside for a private chat. Apparently he has been having some personal issues that have been affecting his academic performance lately. Of course, I won’t go into any detail here. I am actually quite honored that he respected me enough to share such personal details in confidence, though I am sorry that he is going through a “rough patch” just now. Fortunately, he seemed to get through the class just fine with his fellow group members.

Dealing with a student’s personal problems is not something they really teach you how to deal with as an instructor (as far as I know). I guess we instructors just have to learn to adapt to the changing environment of the classroom. Another student in the class that I am grading papers for (also English 160, though it is a distance course run out of Columbia) has also been having some rough times lately. I don’t know what else to say about that except that students do have lives outside of classroom, so we need to make some adjustments to help them out as best we can without compromising the integrity of the classroom or lowering our grading standards too much.

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On November 20, 2008. Posted in Malcolm's Teaching Journal, Teaching Strategies