Monday, August 23, 2010

Procrastinating from course prep with more prepping

Hmm. People, I am confused. No wait --- I am tired and don't want to think about composition courses any more. Waaaaah!

Ok, got that out of my system. Not so much confusion as thinking, then. I have been going through all my old computer files, trying to find comp-related stuff that I can reuse with little prep. I like that idea. I mean, basically my MA program totally exploited my eager youthfulness, having me teach several huge comp classes that I slaved over and put way too much thought and effort into (teaching myself how to teach at the same time), so any full-scale writing workshops or exercises I can reuse saves me time and makes up for those many lost weeks and months back during my MA.

But I'm having a bit of worry about my new place --- clearly my pet peeves are thesis statements and using quotes correctly. I have lots of work on those topics and by the end of my MA had developed entire class session exercises that I revisited across the semester. But the dept. emphasis and guidelines here is much more focused on writing paragraphs and we build up to essays by the end of the semester. And they do not have my insistence that students must always be responding to or incorporating a text. (Hence, the preponderance of memoir and "personal essays" in the damn anthology.) And, what really worries me, they don't emphasis the development and writing of thesis statements until the next semester, when they introduce research. Whaaa?

First of all, it feels like their version of "first semester fresh comp" is what I recognize as the developmental course one step below the first semester comp. And secondly, it's my opinion that since writing a thesis is a hard concept for students to wrap their heads around, they need a lot of practice and many exposures to the process, not holding off until other parts of their writing and critical thinking abilities have caught up. I endorse the method of having students try to produce thesis statements, knowing they will suck at it for at least most of that whole semester, and just building that into the structure of the course. So they may have to do it in their first essay, but the grading criteria won't count an imperfect thesis under a failing grade.

So I'm not quite sure how much I'm going to conform to their guidelines and how much I'm going to reuse my stuff --- on the one hand, they know these students and I don't yet, but on the other hand, I worked at a place with similarly unprepared students and have pre-existing lesson plan stuff at hand! Unfortunately this may mean that I still need to do massive prep for the beginning of the semester and am kinda set for later on. Humph.

And also, I need stuff for "how to write a paragraph." So if anyone has any pre-set handouts, workshops, exercises, or sample paragraphs that look good/totally suck, I wouldn't mind the help. I took a sample essay from one of those "take an essay, leave an essay" websites for practice peer reviewing (and showed them why they don't want to plagiarize utter crap); I guess I need to go back again and do that for paragraphs. Sigh. Why can't I just watch bad tv instead?


reassignedtime said...

Get yourself a desk copy of Barbara Clouse's *Troubleshooting Guide for Writers*. It's accessible if someday you'd want to use it in a class, while also not being way dumbed down. In the meantime, though, it has lots of checklists and breaks down things like paragraphing, word choice, etc. and I've found it very helpful for teaching first semester comp.

Also, it sounds to me like our comp courses are broken down similarly to the ones at your place, and I'll say that I actually do a personal essay assignment in my class - something I incorporated after teaching the class once with no such assignment and having it go horribly. One thing that may be the case where you are, and it's certainly the case where I am, is that students have a lot of exposure to the personal essay in high school - not so much with the thesis statements and formal writing in English. It helps to start with what they know and to build from there. If you'd like to see my personal essay sequence, drop me a note either via Fb or email and I'll send it along to you.

Sapience said...

Can you modify the thesis statement materials to work on paragraphs, which would allow you to deal with two of your problems? I mean, good topic sentences will just be a lot like thesis statements for a paper, just on a smaller scale. It'll still introduce a particular (sub)argument and a so-what factor.

Bardiac said...

Hey Sisyphus, I have some assignments that might be okay, and some paragraph stuff, if you like Francis Christenson's work. (If you look at paragraph analysis on my blog, there's stuff. I can send you the prep sheets I use.)

I also do an introductory thing on "what's an essay" that I'd be happy to share.

I think I have your email, and will email you some stuff from work tomorrow. I owe you, anyway :)

Shane in Utah said...

I worked at a place with similarly unprepared students and have pre-existing lesson plan stuff at hand!

Even without knowing exactly where you are, I'm skeptical that this is true. Prepare yourself to be shocked at how much worse your new students' preparation for college-level writing will be.

I don't teach comp anymore, but my university has a similar two-course composition sequence, the first semester of which is focused on "personal expression." I deplore it--American students have little difficulty exploring their own interior states, thanks to the Oprahzation of our culture; but they've never been asked to closely engage someone else's ideas, which is what I would prefer to focus my teaching energies on. But the composition experts don't care about my pedagogical views, and they won't care about yours either. Sorry.

Shane in Utah said...

Oh, and you might search Acephalous for SEK's "paragraph burger" illustration, which I found pretty clever...

Susan said...

I have no opinion about comp. But I had a high school teacher who taught me to write paragraphs. The revelation in college was how the paragraphs were connected to each other.

Flavia said...

I've done a couple of paragraph-type assignments that might work for you, and that still deal in a general way with argumentation, although not explicitly with theses.

1) I get my students into groups, and give each group a topic sentence, usually synthesizing two different essays on a similar topic, or using the "although. . . but" formula ("Although [author] does X, she neglects to do Y, which ...."), and then have them collectively write the rest of the paragraph. I collect them and type them up, and we go over them as a class, rewriting so that each sentence connects in a meaningful way to the ones before and after.

2) I take a particularly well-written argumentative paragraph, where each sentence does seem to build on the one before it, cut it up with each sentence on a separate sheet of paper, and have my students, again in small groups, try to reassemble it by paying attention to the connective words and the logical progress of its ideas--why one bit of info has to come before another, e.g.

Those activities at least really drive home the idea that every paragraph should have its own tight, internal logic. And I find students like #2.