As much as I’ve low-key bragged to childhood friends about having an aunt who lives in England, my trips to England have been less glamorous than I would have made them out to be to friends.
While I’ve been able to do fun things during my two trips (see the Roman Baths, tour the Globe, etc.), I’ve always felt out of place doing these things. This is probably due in part to my anxiety, but being an American in a European setting can be quite off-putting, even without a language barrier. Over my most recent trip (as sixth grade Rachel apparently had no qualms about wearing Crocs to visit Windsor Palace) I’d find myself questioning how I was dressed, how I sounded, if I gave off a tourist vibe.
My family (my aunt, uncle, and cousin) in England have been instrumental in helping me feel more at place when visiting, but they wouldn’t be the only people who could contribute to putting me more at ease in a foreign country. The following would definitely help me to feel welcomed into this new culture:
Don’t comment on my accent
Depending on the situation, ask where I’m from or don’t ask me where I’m from
Lead me (through train stations, through the city, etc.) by example
Talk to me (pretty simple, but include me in conversations)
Give me advice (e.g., my aunt telling me what kind of purse I should use in the city)
Don’t call attention to my mistakes
Compliment me (e.g., my aunt telling me that she liked my dress)
Include me in activities
Some of these apply to family situations more than they apply to general situations in public, or vice versa, but a number of these can be flipped easily to make me feel excluded/like more of an outsider:
Comment on my accent
Depending on the situation, ask where I’m from or don’t ask me where I’m from
Leave me to my own devices
Don’t bother to include me in conversations
Let me make mistakes without support
Call attention to my mistakes
Don’t bother to include me in activities
When applying these lists to the classroom (which just made me realize how worried I was about grades as a student during my most recent trip to England, as I got an email saying a big midterm project had been graded and couldn’t sleep well for my last few days because I was too scared to check my grade), it’s important to remember that the items on these lists are not just applicable for international students. I may have made the lists as an international traveller, but these can apply to students from the U.S. as well.
I think one of the easiest ways to attempt to address these lists and to make a welcoming environment for students is to work towards building a sense of community in the classroom. This is especially important when considering group work, and making sure that everyone is included in what their group is doing (the opposite of which I saw in the Writing Center the other day, and something that I’ve seen in my mentor’s 103 class), but it’s also important for me as an instructor.
Community is not just about group work, but it’s also about caring for what community members are doing and being supportive. I like to think of Reacting Out Loud as a kind of example for what I mean by creating a sense of community—it’s about uplifting, and while errors do have to be called out in the classroom, the way that we do so doesn’t have to be negative. We can acknowledge ways of thinking and other positives before we offer suggestions for how to deal with mistakes. By doing so, students can feel like what they can offer to the class is valid, that they do have something to offer.
Creating a community and making students feel welcome isn’t always going to be an easy task, but it’s certainly one that’s worth doing, especially for students who might already feel like outsiders (e.g., international students, students with mental health issues, etc.).
One behavioral change that I’ve been trying to work on in my therapy sessions is being braver in reading my feedback (and also in reading my emails). Reading feedback is a very anxiety-inducing process for me (that I don’t necessarily want to get into the complexities of here), something that I have to psych myself up for (either by having other people read my feedback before me or for me, or by reading the feedback other people received, if it’s available, before I read my own).
I don’t know when I started having trouble reading feedback; one of the first experiences I can remember with receiving negative feedback was in the aforementioned class (from a previous blog post) where I received my first B+ — my professor wrote SHOW DON’T TELL in the margins. This has haunted me, as well as other negative marginalia, which skewed my perception of the grade I was going to receive before I actually got to my final grade at the end of the paper copy.
Response and grading can often go hand in hand, in this sense, but I’ve found myself, in trying to decide upon my philosophy of responding, caring more and more about formative feedback. The Writing Center has definitely been part of these changing views, as I’ve seen firsthand what feedback throughout the process of writing can do to improve writing. The Writing Center is a prime example of facilitative formative feedback, as well (and I like summarizing in client reports and think I might do that with my feedback in class, providing the summary before marginalia in case students have similar anxieties to my own anxiety).
In responding to student work, oftentimes, students either want or reject directive feedback. Directive feedback has always made me, as a student, feel as if what I wrote will only ever be seen by the teacher. Directive feedback, I’ve noticed when working with students working through their own professors’ feedback, is typically something that only causes small changes. The addition of the source title in addition to the author name. The rewording of a sentence.
Facilitative feedback, on the other hand, requires students to think more critically about their own writing because the teacher is acting more as a facilitator. Facilitative feedback was stressed in the response portion of Ball State’s undergraduate class in teaching writing in secondary schools, and so Elbow and Straub were names I knew before this class, funnily enough.
Straub’s principles of response are principles that I find myself agreeing with when considering my philosophy of response, particularly the following:
They should be focused on global, not local concerns.
They should be carefully thought out and purposeful, with an eye to the needs and potential of the particular piece of writing.
They should be adapted to the student writer behind the text.
The focus on global instead of local concerns, I believe, changes the feedback from directive to facilitative, at least in most senses. When making margin comments in my mentor’s 103 class, while I had to make some comments about avoiding “I” in this particular formal academic paper (in line with some of my mentor’s feedback), I tried to be more facilitative by asking things such as “What do you mean here? How does this connect to your larger argument?” By asking questions, I was attempting to:
draw attention to larger structural issues and
have students consider what they would need to revise in their paper if they chose to revise.
With revision in mind, there’s also always potential in what students have written, and this is important to remember when responding to student feedback. Students will always need some kind of help, whether that’s in meeting assignment descriptions, or in improving their writing. If we as teachers are trying to help students become stronger writers, we need to figure out how to help them become stronger in specific pieces and in their writing assignments.
Additionally, tailoring feedback to specific student writers can be a difficult principle to put into practice, but it is one of the most important. If we know a student has expressed concerns over organization, we need to make sure that we’re actually providing feedback on this. One of my repeat clients in the Writing Center has been repeatedly frustrated by the feedback given to her throughout the writing process — the feedback she’s receiving on her final drafts is feedback that would have been beneficial for her in the drafting process itself. This hits on the difficulty of providing specific tailored feedback to each student, especially because not every student will read this feedback, but if one student does and implements what they learned from feedback, isn’t that enough?
Isn’t it worth it to respond in facilitative ways that will help our students grow, even if it’s time consuming?
My research processes and papers in high school only gave me rough ideas of what research could be. I was told to write a research paper, whatever that meant. My subjects varied, from trying to prove why Joan of Arc was one of the most influential people in history (which was essentially me trying to make a flimsy argument about how she shaped France and about how France shaped the world, even though most of the paper was just a history report) to Rasputin (again, a history report) to censorship and book banning in schools (an actual research paper!)
What I learned in high school ultimately influenced how I wrote research papers when I got to college, although I was able to skip 103 and 104 here at Ball State. My first research papers involved me trying to wrap my head around what a college thesis would look like and what a college level argument would look like, and in my second semester of college, I had a research paper existential crisis when I received a C+ on a paper in a class titled Reading and Writing About Literature. Something I should have known a lot about.
Had I know how to write a research paper before then? It didn’t feel like it. The professor had given us a crash course in theoretical lenses to apply to our papers, saying we had to utilize two, but I only vaguely knew what that meant outside of just looking for sources that used words like “Freud” or “masculine” in their titles.
This may have been failure to contribute, but it certainly wasn’t failure to learn, even if it felt like I had completely failed. (That B+ on my undergraduate transcript will still haunt me, even as I try desperately to forget it.)
What would have been beneficial to me then, and what would be beneficial to students taking first year composition, when writing a research paper for the first time, would have been understanding how to go about the actual research process.
I had some understanding of how to annotate sources from my research paper senior year, as I placed tab after tab on pages with promise (whatever promise meant) and wrote notes to myself (I still tab, but note-taking is infrequent depending on what kind of research I’m working on), but annotating sources is one kind of information management that I think is important for first year composition courses when their goal is to teach research.
While, in a learner-centered classroom, the teacher should act as a facilitator, that does not mean that teachers can simply assign tasks with no support whatsoever (scaffolding throwback!). Just as we devote days in our classes to go to the library and learn how to use the databases for research, we should devote time to how to go about the research process, including the nitty gritty of taking notes and organizing sources.
Technology is a great way to bring that information management into our FYC classrooms (although tech free techniques can be modeled, too; my composition teacher in high school changed my life with sticky tabs). The only technology I used in high school for writing my research papers were word processors and the copy machine to make copies of pages out of library books, but with resources like Evernote (which even has a web clipper!), Google Drive, OneNote, and other sources at our disposal, why are we not showing our students ways that they can manage their research process? This will only make research an easier process for everyone in the end: both for the students writing and for the instructors grading.
Information management doesn’t just have to apply to note-taking in our classrooms either; we can show students how to use EndNote and other technologies (such as recording apps for interviews, if students are doing primary research), but what is really important is that we actually show our students how to do these things and how to use these tools.
Providing a list of resources will only help a select few students, and as technology becomes more and more important in FYC classrooms, it becomes more and more important for us to show how other modes can inform our writing process and not just our products.
Whenever I say that I sing or that I take voice lessons, I worry that people imagine me as one of those people in the beginning episodes of American Idol. The people who are convinced that they’re the greatest singers in the world but can’t actually carry a tune. I’m objectively decent, I want to say, want to promise. There’s a certain amount of natural talent that comes with singing, at least as far as tone goes, and I’m lucky enough to have some talent.
But just as with everything, raw talent can only take someone so far. I’m constantly trying to better myself as an amateur vocalist—not as someone who’s chosen to study vocal performance, but just as someone who loves to sing—and take voice lessons in Carmel in order to do just that.
With my voice teacher, we’ve been working towards a “senior” recital of sorts where I’ll perform over an hour of music—primarily opera in Italian, English, and French, but with an additional set devoted to musical theatre. The thing to remember about opera, though, is that it’s hard. There are stereotypes about fat women in horned helmets singing higher than birds can tweet, but no one ever jokes that opera is easy.
My voice teacher is there to help me with the things I can’t do on my own—plunking out notes is something I can do on my own, but it would be much harder to give myself feedback on the shape of my vowels, since it’s easy to exist in a literal echo chamber when practicing a vocal piece. She helped me by letting me record her playing the notes at the tempo we were shooting for (although I still need to pick up my speed), and I used that to practice. She also helped to point out errors in how I was approaching the run at our weekly voice lessons, that way I wasn’t building on something I’d incorrectly learned.
And then one day, after weeks and weeks of practicing, I sang the run correctly. She made me do it again. Testing me to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t, thankfully—I’d finally done it.
Now I’m working on getting that run up to tempo, but that’s another task entirely since I’ve learned the notes.
The teacher-student relationship in voice lessons makes it easy to apply one of the characteristics of learner-centered teaching, but my voice teacher’s role in our lessons was crucial in the process of learning this particular run.
The role of the teacher, in this case, was to facilitate, as is largely the role of the teacher in a learner-centered environment. My voice teacher provided me with the tools that I’d need in order to learn the run—the recording, the strategies for how to approach the run based on where I was in my learning process (e.g., chunking sections of the run, playing only certain notes for myself to make sure that I’d landed in the correct spot, etc.), but I was the one doing the work and doing the learning. She would additionally facilitate by checking my progress at our weekly lessons.
Her facilitation of my learning of the run was especially interested in regards to the role of the teacher in that she did need to intervene when I’d made a mistake. It’s very hard to unlearn a mistake when it comes to singing, so my voice teacher would be sure to point out where I was messing up in the run, but also what I was doing—was I going up instead of down? Was I skipping a note entirely? She would tell me, and so then I knew what to fix on my own going forward.
Going forward, too, her role is still primarily that of a facilitator as she plays accompaniment, provides feedback, and gives me strategies for what to do during my own practice time. In providing me strategies, too, she models how she would approach particular sections of a song, but it’s still up to me to do the learning.
While I was student teaching, in my rush to get ready in the mornings, I had a few wardrobe staples that I would always fall into wearing: patterned leggings, my boots, and a basic long-sleeve t-shirt that I could easily put a sweater over.
While in my mentor’s class, however, while I try to look as professional as possible, the very atmosphere of a college classroom and my role within it has changed how I feel I need to dress. Whereas I was very concerned when I was in a high school about how professional I looked, in my mentor’s class, although I try to avoid t-shirts whenever possible, on my lazy days, I’ll throw a t-shirt on and a baseball hat on to cover my hair.
The problem with my lazy days, though, is that it makes me look more casual than I should look in my mentor’s classroom. In a sense, her classroom is also my classroom, especially as I’ll be teaching soon, and when I’m wearing a baseball hat or a t-shirt, I don’t look like I own the classroom.
I look like my students, instead.
I have a bad habit of slouching, as well, something I’ve noticed in my students (another similarity) when they’re looking at their computers instead of paying attention, but when I’m standing at the front of the classroom (as opposed to hiding off in the corner with my own laptop), I try to overcompensate for that and take up the space that I know I can.
Standing with my arms against the chalk tray is its own kind of power pose, I hope (although not of the Wonder Woman variety), but at the same time, it could be seen as lax or too casual, and I’m constantly searching for the balance between being a figure that students feel safe to approach and being an authority figure of some sort.
This is something that is definitely reflective of my larger identity as a person—in therapy, one thing I’ve struggled with is defining myself outside of my identity as a student, and in the classroom, I still feel and look like a student.
At the same time, trying to appear confident is a bit at odds with how I feel most days, which is cripplingly anxious. I keep my pens in my bag so I don’t have anything to click when I’m in front of the classroom, and by spreading my arms so wide, I look more relaxed than I actually feel in front of my students.
I’ve often talked to some of the other GAs about how appearing confident like this is just a matter of adopting a “teacher persona,” something I struggled to do in student teaching, especially when it came to classroom management and discipline. The urge to stand in front of the classroom, too, is part of my teacher persona, so I can become an active part of the class rather than just sitting behind a desk, but it’s still hard for me to confidently implement.
I would love to find more natural ways of standing in front of the classroom while still appearing active and confident, is what I’ve realized, and I hope that while I try to hide my anxiety in front of the class (although maybe I should show it? Or at least be open about it?), that my tone sounds as confident as I want to be in front of the class.
The nature of my anxiety is one thing that I might want to share with my students that is currently a bit hidden from view (although maybe not so hidden if my awkward posing is just a manifestation of my anxiety). This anxiety also ties into how I physically appear as a person, since I identify and have been labelled as fat, and am consciously aware of how much space I’m taking up. I did make this partially clear to my students as we were talking about a fat-shaming article in class, and I mentioned that I cry after every doctor’s appointment. I have to wonder, too, if they think of me as fat when they look at how my t-shirts cover my stomach and how large my thighs are.
The other facet of my identity that would otherwise be hidden from my students as my bisexuality, as there is a problematic aspect of “straight-passing” that goes along with such an identity, but as we were having a discussion about privilege, I accidentally came out as bi to my entire class while trying to give an example of something, and I’m curious as to whether or not they would have otherwise known if I’d never said anything.
Essentially, attempting to bring forth my teacher persona results in an internal battle between the parts of my personality that are confident versus the parts of my personality that are constantly under attack by my anxiety.
Whether or not my students should know this, or whether they see it, is another matter that I can only imagine how much they think about.
Multimodality is tricky, difficult to implement in meaningful ways. I previously had the opportunity to TA for Ball State’s course for teaching writing in secondary schools, and in the lesson I taught by myself, I had the class discuss the difference between texts that were digitally convenient and texts that were digitally enhanced*; this lesson prepared them to consider how meaningful digital writing was in their final projects, but as we conferenced later, we realized that it is much more difficult to assign something digitally enhanced than it is to assign something digitally convenient.
In composition classes, it’s easy to just assign alphabetic texts. A hundred different reasons can be rattled off for why alphabetic texts should be assigned, but there are just as many reasons to ask students to create multimodal texts, as well.
In my mentor’s classroom, there has yet to be a multimodal assignment; although students have been asked to critique a multimodal text (a documentary that they must rhetorically analyze), they won’t be asked to create one until the last assignment when they’ll have to create their own documentary.
The class is bookended in this way by documentaries, but the other assignment my mentor will be teaching is also an alphabetic text. To go back to the idea that there are a multitude of reasons for teaching alphabetic texts, the rhetorical analysis and personal narrative the students will have to complete will enable them to go on and write other alphabetic texts for other classes, but which assignment will they likely remember down the road?
The documentary they have to create.
Having students remember an assignment is not the most important reason to require multimodal texts in the classroom, although it is one. Students will be more likely to remember such rhetorical ideas as audience, tone, etc., through this process of creation, though, rather than just through the process of critiquing like they are in their rhetorical analysis.
Of course, then comes the big question, tied to the idea of digital convenience vs. digital enhancement—what should we do when multimodal texts become an act of checking off a box rather than an actual extension of the task?
I don’t know if I have an answer to this. Especially as I’m considering what I might do for the third assignment in my mentors classroom, I feel as if I need to have the answer to this. I don’t want to assign something digital just because I want something to be digital if the same thing could be done in an alphabetic way (side-note/reminder—I know multimodality doesn’t have to be digital, but it’s a common way to include multimodality. I’m really interested in art in the classroom, and might try to find a way to implement images in that way, but I have fewer answers about that than I do digital inclusion).
My main idea for my third assignment so far is to turn a research paper into a podcast, requiring students to bring in audio from an interview they’d need to conduct, but I again come to the question of if this is meaningful multimodality or not. I could use Serial as an example of how to structure a podcast with other voices and other audio effects, but the idea of convenience vs. enhancement has caused me to continually second guess myself on how to use multimodality in the classroom.
Most of this has been focused on multimodal end products, too, which is a bit problematic in its own right. We should also be encouraging multimodal processes, too, in whatever ways we can. Could I have students draw as ways to represent their ideas? Could I have students use Google Docs or Twitter as ways to communicate with their classmates—or is that just digital convenience?
I have more questions than I do answers about multimodality, but I know that the multimodal world we live in requires that I help my students both critique and create multimodal texts.
While student teaching, one of the recurring topics I would discuss with my cooperating teacher was the difference between students with high ability and students with low ability/skills. The spectrum of ability we taught was vast, and it required me to interrogate who I was as a high school student.
Honors Language Arts I. Honors Language Arts II. Honors Language Arts III. Composition and Advanced Literature.
I had to ask myself, how was I supposed to helps students who struggled to write paragraphs when I had never struggled in the same way when it came to writing?
Had I failed before at writing? Did I understand what it was like to struggle with language? I considered myself a learner, but here I was in the role of a teacher.
I came to this conclusion when talking to my CT:
I wish I’d failed more in high school.
What good was it for me now to have the weight of being high school valedictorian on my back forever? No one cared about that, I didn’t care about it, and all it did was make me feel as if I had to continue on this path of success that I had set for myself before I even got to the heart of my educational career.
This idea of failure is a subconcept that I see as crucial to concept 4 — All Writers Have More to Learn (59). If we only succeed, we’re not learning because we don’t have that struggle to overcome, don’t have strong motivations to grow.
In the FYC composition classroom, this means providing opportunities for failure. In providing opportunities for failure, teachers can also provide opportunities for growth, correction, and assessment of learning.
We have to remember that assessment doesn’t just mean final papers or final exams (another subconcept — assessment is an essential component of learning to write (67)), but also understanding where our students are in the learning process and helping them to understand where they are, as well. Formative vs. summative assessment is especially important to consider as teachers here; we have to make sure that we have some formative assessment along the way and before it’s too late for us and our students to do anything with these assessments.
Some ways we can include formative assessment: have students turn in part of an assignment or have students complete a practice activity. Make it clear that these don’t have to be perfect.
In the FYC composition classroom, it’s also important that we incorporate how to read feedback. We as teachers can model (through demonstration, most likely, although the age of transparencies has shifted into the age of screen casting) how we take feedback and how we incorporate that into future drafts or future projects. We can show our students that we’re learning too.
Not only can we show our students this, but we can also teach them to revise. Making revision processes explicit makes revision processes easier and shows students that revision is more than just fixing grammatical errors. Revision is central to developing writing, and students need to understand how to revise (66).
Essentially, we need to teach our students that they’re learners and show them that we’re learners, too — lifelong learners, at that.
Learning how to write becomes easier when you identify as a learner.
Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. (2015). Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (1 edition). Logan: Utah State University Press.