Virtual in-class Writing

The Chronicle Vitae published this article on the benefits of in-class writing. As a freshmen comp adjunct I had my students journal to prompts and free writes the first two years I taught, awarding credit for completion not content to help students walk into a comfortable writing space. Everything in this article was exactly why I love this type assignment. For the first 8-10 weeks of the semester, this was a great exercise. Everyone liked the space, the points helped buffer student grades – win-win, and I had more attentive students. About the 8-10 week mark students begin to realize they can arrive 5 minutes late, write down the prompt and simply write jibberish at home, the in-class writing lost its power. I hate/despise tardies (student grade penalties exist but they no longer care), so this ruined in-class writing for me. I still like the concept, after abandoning these ideas for years, now I’m playing around with different ways to accomplish similar goals. As a teacher of junior level writing, especially in online sections, I’m finding it harder and harder to recreate this same space. while blogs seem like a comparable technology, they potentially offer an audiences, especially of future employers, so I don’t feel comfortable having my students draft blogs and pseudo-class versions of themselves online for free-writing purposes (I do use blogs for seniors to create virtual impressions beyond Facebook for future employers, English majors can do ANYTHING!!). I tried something new this summer. this first summer session I taught a graduate seminar and had them write Reader Response posts and Discussion Posts. While both utilized the same technology in our LMS, they served vey different purposes. RR posts asked students to write notes for the reading, then apply what they learned to what they wanted to get out of the class. this was a huge win. Then discussions asked them to write the all-too-familiar discussion posts with citations and synthesis and critical thinking, expected of English classes -especially when taught online. I think the students learned what I hoped they’d learn from the RR, and applied the reading to their own jobs, their own program goals, and their own final projects. So I’m calling this a win. Because they were grad students, I did grade the posts which I now think was a teacher fail. I was asking the student to draw their own connections, make their own notes, figure out how to electronically represent themselves, then I graded how well they made and discussed connections. this gets too far away from the writing space afforded by in-class writing prompts. I think I should’ve awarded points for including the major sections required (like a prompt) and completing the work on time – so they would’ve seen these as learning through writing instead of learning through writing for a grade so I have to do this in a certain way. I’m going to modify this assignment for my Juniors this Summer and Fall, implementing online space for both face-to-face and online students, to see if delivered LMS systems can provide space for students to just write in a way that will help them understand their own writing process better. The Chronicle article above really has me rethinking how I grade, and how that grade influences the writing space in ways that will hopefully make writing better. maybe this new approach will bring back the writing, increase learning through writing, and learning about writing, without causing attendance and tardy issues (we’ll have to see what issues arise instead….).

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