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At this point in my academic career towards becoming a FYC Professor, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my previous professors – particularly my own Composition and English professors. It’s always good to have some to model yourself after, right? But, aside from just thinking about which professors were my favorites, I’ve been thinking about why they were my favorites, and I’ve compiled a short list:

  • They gave thought-provoking and insightful feedback that showed me they actually read my paper and attempted to under my POV, even if they disagreed.
  • They presented topics, even the most mundane of them, in an interesting and engaging way that has helped me still remember the information.
  • They didn’t slash my paper to shreds with a red pen, circling every single instance of minor grammatical mistakes.
  • In class activities were relevant, engaging, and guided to help us understand what we were meant to learn from the assignment.

The best teachers, in short, cared.

That’s the kind of professor I want to be, and that is the voice I want to have in my classroom. In order to do this, though, I have to wear many, many hats. “As all writing teachers know, this balancing act in which teachers play the roles of writing mentor, on the one hand, and authority figure who gives grades, on the other, calls for skills worthy of Houdini” (Coxwell-Teague et. al 368). While I will never be able to fully define all the many many hats I’ll have to wear, I do have a few I’d like to touch on.

The Professor Hat

The most obvious hat that a professor wears is the one they wear when they are… you guessed it! Professing! That is our job, after all. It is quite literally in our title to do just that. In one of my previous posts, I’ve already shown interest in looking at a Flip Class Structure. I like the idea of reserving the classroom time for engaging discussion and class activities that help reinforce what the students have read on their own. “When students come to class, the lecturing is over; almost everything students do involve active learning with the supervision of the teacher, who is the orchestrator of knowledge integration and no longer the sole source of that knowledge” (Coxwell-Teague et. al 366).

There are many different ways to structure a flipped class. I am leaning most closely towards the idea of perhaps having recorded mini-lessons on D2L (that’s our schools online functionality for all you non-Owls out there) for students to watch on their own time. I like the idea of making a brief (no more than 10-15 minute) video or slideshow of the lesson, and then spending the class time discussing that idea or doing activities to reinforce the knowledge, and perhaps even a pop quiz or two to make sure they’re actually watching. Another option I’m toying with, knowing myself and my extremely limited technical capabilities, would be doing writing activities before and after each lesson to get students thinking about the lesson beforehand.

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Some topics will still be taught in class. For example, I believe the rhetorical appeals are something that require me standing in front of you making sure you are comprehending what I am saying as I am saying it. But even those may come with a mini pre-lesson to get the students acclimated.

The Grammar Hat

It’s about to get a little controversial here. In our textbook, it discourages a heavy focus on grammar. Many FYC Composition teachers “attend to matters of mechanics and grammar within the context of students’ writing, identifying and glossing the patterns of errors and inviting students to become editors of their work” (Coxwell-Teague et. al 349). I whole-heartedly agree with this idea. Enforcing grammatical perfection is not only outrageous, but it reinforces the ideals of a standardized English and uniformity as opposed to individual voices. I do not intend to make Grammar the end-all-be-all of my Composition Course.

BUT… if we don’t at least touch on the subject, how can we expect them to demonstrate any knowledge or understanding of grammar at all?

For me, when “grading grammar,” the focus should be on retention in growth. With this in mind, I have my papers set up where the first paper I will identify trends in your grammar errors. For example, if you repeatedly make the same comma error, I will identify it, perhaps explain the reason and provide helpful resources, but not take off for it. Then, in the next paper, I expect to see an improvement on this error. If it continues, then it will be grounds for losing points. To me, it’s justified to take off points the second time, because I now know for a fact that you have been told how to avoid this – seeing as how I am the one who told you. It is entirely probable that no one has ever explained this error to them before, so I think it would be illogical to punish them for it.

In sharing this idea with my counterparts, one of them raised the question of how will I keep track of this? While discussing the idea, it also raised the question of any and all grammar mistakes in the first paper are okay? This made me realize I need a starting point, a foundation to build these lessons off of. With this in mind, I’ve considered dedicating one day a week for at least the first couple weeks of the semester talking about common grammar errors, such as comma splices and subject/verb agreement. This will build the foundation of “I expect these errors to not be in your first paper, and we can build off of your individual errors and areas of concern.” Eventually, these lessons would morph from basic grammar to thesis statements, citing sources, and more high level paper mechanics.

Things to Think About…

I’d love to get some feedback of what everyone thinks of this and how I might present it. I’ve toyed with the idea of just going off of the most common grammar errors, but I also like the idea of surveying students to get their individual needs. What do you guys think? How will you incorporate Grammar into your classroom?

Works Cited

Coxwell-Teague, Deborah and Ronald F. Lunsford. “A Coruncopia of Composition Theories: What These Teachers Tell Us About Our Discipline.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford, 2014, pp. 348-376.