Did anyone else ever relate a teacher or professor to the Floating Head the Wizard of Oz portrays himself as? Just that omnipotent, all-knowing, Master of the World with a wealth of knowledge pouring forth.
I know that I personally had several professors in my academic career who fell into this imagery.
Many professors find it to be their sworn-duty to stand in front of the class and simply… profess. (It might have something to do with their title, now that I’m thinking about it.) I admit, when I first started to entertain the idea of becoming a professor, I had similar images of myself – many involved hallowed halls with wood paneling accented by natural light and tweed jackets, not to mention the philosophical way I would lean against my desk spouting off one piece of sage-like wisdom after another to a lecture hall filled with fascinated students. (In an alternate version of this fantasy, I’m also Indiana Jones, but I’ve yet to figure out where in teaching Composition I’ll be called away to seek the Holy Grail. I’ll keep you posted.) Anyways, in his essay, “Writing, Language, and Literacy,” Chris M. Anson urges teachers to move away from filling their entire class period with lecture. Anson states, “This tendency to do all the work for the students, to see one’s self as the holder and giver of information, increases in relation to how strongly a particular theme or body of content drives the course” (10). While Anson rightly notes that sometimes in-class lecture is necessary, it should not be the only thing a professor should think about when structuring his or her classroom.
A Course With a Theme
In her essay, Paula Mathieu quotes James Zebroski’s Thinking Through Theory, stating that “We complain about student writing that is choppy, that jumps from one topic to another without transitions, but we find nothing strange or inconsistent about jumping from one mode to another over the semester” (18). Mathieu believes that every course should be set up to be framed around a specific topic or question (114). She believes that this will help students see a direction for the course and help make connections between two assignments.
I agree with both Zebroski and Mathieu, and for the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about what I want the theme of my class to be. My working theme is:
Real World Application
I know. It’s quite possibly the most basic way to approach teaching. It might as well be written on a chalkboard with chevron patterns. But I think it is important to note what I mean by Real World Application as it applies to Composition Writing. Because this course is something all students are required to take, most of them will see it as little more than a box to check off. While that box does in fact need to be checked, I think it’s also important that students understand there is a reason this class is required. The skills and topics covered in this class do not exist in a vacuum within the English Building. For example, you may only have to write a paper that is distinctly and clearly labeled Rhetorical Analysis in my 1101 class. However, the skills you will be looking at when composing said Rhetorical Analysis will transfer to virtually every form of writing you ever do ever again – whether its considering the audience of the text you should or shouldn’t be sending to your best-friend-turned-enemy, thinking about the best words to make you sound like the best candidate applying for a job, demonstrating you are a learned scholar by presenting new idea when writing your Capstone paper, or whatever, these are skills you will take with you, whether you realize it not. Paula Mathieu says it a little more eloquently: “I strive to help students understand that every writing task takes place within a rhetorical situation and that not all situations call for the exact same kind of writing: that there is no one such thing as good writing” (122).
One thing I like about my theme for the class is that it can lend itself to life as a whole, but still reshape itself for each assignment. The skills my students learn in the rhetorical analysis are beneficial, but so are the skills they will learn for their argument essays. They are different skills that they are learning, but they can all be applied later on in life. Douglas Hesse warns against harping on the same subject for too long. He says that students will tire of a topic quickly (55). I agree with Hesse that if your topic or theme is too focused, for example the cursed Writing Based on a Piece of Literature theme, students will get very sick of this theme. I know I personally never want to read Frankenstein again for as long as I live – given how many times it was utilized as a method of teaching throughout my life. But, with my theme, I think we can avoid repetitive lessons.
Other Things to Consider
All of our readings this week leaned heavily towards the idea of utilizing group work and group discussion in our classrooms. If you know me at all, you know I am staunchly and emphatically opposed to group activities. However, some of the readings this week’s materials, I’m (slowly) starting to reconsider (kind of. I choose to remain stubborn.) Chris Anson explains that he utilizes open forums and group discussions in his classroom: Students in each group interact with each other about the readings, class materials and sessions, ongoing projects, occasional assigned scenarios, and phenomena that they notice about language” (13). This not only opens up the classroom to the possibility of more multimodal writing (discussion posts as opposed to straight papers), it also will help some of the students get more comfortable interacting with each other, and possibly asking each other questions they might be afraid to ask me. I have discovered that there are many benefits to utilizing class discussion, which has prompted me to reflect on why I hate it so much. I think perhaps it was that I always somehow wound up in groups of disinterested people, or that I was forced to give feedback to every. single. student. I can only agree with the same point so many times before I start copy/pasting, I’m sorry. The professor that I am shadowing this semester has one solution for the disinterested party members: she groups her students based on their majors. This way, likeminded students with similar interests are grouped together. Two mechanical engineers are far more likely to find common ground than little English major me reading the thoughts of the mechanical engineer and saying “Great point… I think? I have no idea what you said but it sounds good!”
Things to Think About…
I want to leave you all with a question that I came across myself in the reading. In his course outline, Douglas Hesse states that he intentionally does not include high-level terminology like rhetorical strategies or systematic words on his directions: “I introduce these sorts of elements during my class meetings, but the course places its main emphasis elsewhere” (64). I see pros and cons to this. On the one hand, I think it makes sense to not say include all the rhetorical strategies needed on a rhetorical analysis rubric if I haven’t yet explained what those are. Students might read it and immediately panic. But on the other hand, I think it’s beneficial to have all the information up front, especially since I plan on heavily focusing on rubric-guided grading in my classroom. What do you guys think?
Anson, Chris M. “Writing, Language, and Literacy.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford, 2014, pp. 3-26.
Hesse, Douglas. “Occasions, Sources, and Strategies.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford, 2014, pp. 49-69.
Mathieu, Paula. “A Guiding Question, Some Primary Research, and a Dash of Rhetorical Awareness.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford, 2014, pp. 111-145.
Zebroski, James. Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing. Portsmouth: Boynton-Cook, 1994. Print.