Discussion

The purpose of this Discussion Forum is to give you an opportunity to synthesize and reflect on the content you have encountered on this site, to identify new questions these materials raised, and to revisit existing questions that may not have been fully answered for you.

Please write a response to the following question, and enter it in the Comment field below. Please indicate the name of the course in which you are teaching as part of your response. Also consider writing a reply to at least one colleague’s post (you might add another perspective, add another question, or contribute additional thoughts).

Teaching writing involves many variables. What questions, concerns, and/or thoughts do you have about balancing these variables in your classroom this fall?

12 thoughts on “Discussion

  • August 8, 2022 at 4:53 pm
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    Hello everybody–my name is Kaleb, and I’m a GSI this fall for Honors 241 – Philosophy of Mind through Westworld. After reviewing the modules, I’ve been thinking about how to balance the “first year” part of our courses with the “writing” part, as mentioned in Module #1 in the “Studenting” section.

    Clearly one of the main goals of a FYWR course is to each students how to write well (plus all of the other skills associated with doing that). However, as the modules discussed, all of our FYWR students are simultaneously learning how to be successful college students for the first time. In my experience, I think this that can be an especially difficult dynamic to balance. On the one hand, it sometimes seems like students need to learn how to be “good” college students before they can really learn how to write well–e.g. understand the importance of regularly attending class, working diligently on assignments, frequently asking questions, and so on. On the other hand, though, trying to learn how to be a college student at the same time you’re learning core academic skills (like writing) can actually facilitate one another. In other words, my sense is that a FYWR course is actually an opportunity for students and instructors alike to tackle both of these goals in a way that’s more effective than either alone.

    I think that this dynamic might manifest as a practical problem sometimes, both inside and outside of the classroom–for example, like how to lead effective discussions about successful writing before students have gotten a complete grasp on how college courses work. However, I think being cognizant as instructor of this dual learning process going on, while challenging, can present opportunities to tackle both at the same time. And that actually seems to be one of the main goals of a FYWR course. So, I think being mindful of this dynamic as the semester begins is important, potentially a challenge, and also a possibly rewarding experience for instructors and students alike.

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  • August 17, 2022 at 12:01 pm
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    Hi! I’m Rob, one of a number of GSIs for Great Books this fall. I have experience teaching first-year writing here at UM, which leads to my intervention into this question: giving student feedback constructively and individually. Module 7, “Responding to Student Drafts,” gives a number of possibilities for providing feedback on written drafts and tips for paper revisions. You will most likely need to use a combination of most of these methods (if not all of them) because our students all have different learning styles: face to face works best for some, extensive written comments (along with a simple digest of them) for others. (Rubrics are essential for everyone.) A student may write a paper draft and think that they’ve absolutely nailed the prompt and have no room (or reason) for revision, so providing feedback is as much a rhetorical as a logistical exercise for instructors: their paper can improve, of course, and we have to use the best individual method for convincing them that this is the case. There is indeed plenty of balancing to do as we work with unique learners.

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  • August 22, 2022 at 9:27 pm
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    Hi everyone! I’m a 2nd-time GSI in Honors 240: Wellness. I’m currently in law school, so working on writing with undergrads often involves switching on and off with my “legal writing” hat. My favorite part about teaching last year was the editing process, and getting new college students to understand that the first draft is *not* a final draft, and there is a lot of beauty, grit, creativity, and progress involved in editing. I think it is helpful to get students to actually look at their drafts side by side and see what progress/changes were made between drafts. Sometimes we do this via peer review, and sometimes individually. It’s not just about diving the argument and refining syntax, but also about the creative flow of getting words onto paper and modifying those words into a digestible work product for the audience. This was particularly on my mind in Module 4–not just getting students to write multiple drafts, but to do so intentionally and to see the progress for themselves.

    Finally, I enjoyed the discussion in Module 2 about setting ground rules for class and airing out assumptions to increase student awareness. Doing both of these things helps treat the students as mature adults (and not just young high students), which may be an experience that our students are having for the first time. Further, this level-setting arouses a curiosity and skepticism that’s really critical to the approach to the course content in wellness.

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  • August 24, 2022 at 9:43 am
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    Hi all! I’m Shannon, one of the GSIs for Great Books 191, a course I’ve taught a few times now.
    So one sticky spot I always run into has to deal with Modules 3 and 4 and it’s moving students from our really engaged discussions and stake-free writings to their first paper. A lot of the students I’ve worked with often feel frustrated, flabbergasted, even betrayed by their high school teachers for enforcing the 5 Paragraph Essay as it has not prepared them for college writing, and they often struggle with breaking free of that formula, especially within their body paragraphs. Mitigating that frustration always leaves me a bit drained, even when the difference between their first drafts and their second-to-final drafts always show great improvement and more personality. Wesley’s short article articulates well the shortcomings of the 5PT, and I might either ask my students to read it for themselves or use it in class one day. However, this personal frustration with transitioning to college writing is often why I don’t find peer reviewing in the first half of the semester very effective. Later on in the class, once students know each other better, the parameter of the course, and the level of writing we’re striving towards, then peer review tends to be more beneficial for writer and reviewer.

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  • August 24, 2022 at 2:14 pm
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    Hi, I’m Sierra (she/her), and I will be a GSI with the Honors 240 Team (Wellness). These classes will incorporate a great deal more than many students have experienced in their high school writing classes. I agree with Kaleb’s idea about the importance of making time for all of the other components of being a successful college student that go beyond simple writing mechanics. It’s almost as if I want our students to leave our classes with a better understanding of who they are as a person, a better appreciation for those who are different, and strategies for how to navigate adulthood and the college atmosphere, with a sprinkling of skills that put them in a position to continue to become better writers.

    Since most of our students received surface-level writing instruction in high school, they haven’t had much time to explore creative expression, so transitioning to college writing will take a bit of encouragement. There should be more focus on what they are trying to convey, in emotion and content, as well as the audience for whom their writing is intended.
    I love the idea of having students ‘walk before they can run’ in writing without adhering to rules or expecting perfection. Let them make mistakes. Let them stumble. Let them encourage others in their first attempts, with the understanding that no one is finished. The same applies to helping them be better humans: no one is finished, and we should encourage others in their growth instead of shaming them for their weaknesses. I am more concerned with finding ways for students to have productive conversations and peer reviews because they will learn more from each other than they will learn from us. Part of our role is also to invite them in to be teachers and show them how to be helpful instead of harmful, which can be a delicate balance. Giving and receiving constructive criticism with grace and compassion will carry them further than correct comma placement. All of this ties back to Teaching Inclusively and understanding each student as unique. There isn’t one method for reaching all of these students effectively, so we need to continue to adapt and allow students to choose the methods that work for them, offering strategies and suggestions instead of telling them what’s best.

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  • August 24, 2022 at 8:20 pm
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    Hi all, my name is Carmen (she/her) and I’ll be GSI’ing for Honors 241 for the second time this coming semester.

    I think that most students either need an extra confidence boost (to feel emboldened to engage deeply with strange new ideas), or need to be pushed to make their claims smaller and easier to support. I think that free writing exercises and small group discussions are both great opportunities for both of these needs to be met as they push students to make claims and receive feedback (questions, critique, or support). A number of students last semester talked about how hard it was to just start writing (even when they felt they already knew what they wanted to say)– adding an element of low-stakes informality can be really emboldening/take away that scary first words feeling. The second piece of making sure that a (probably very) rough first draft is cohesive is creating a structure for students to engage a second time with their own writing (I really liked reverse outlining for this!). (Of course, multiple drafts and peer review is built into our curriculum as well.)

    I really like what Kaleb (and Sierra!) wrote about understanding the mechanisms of college as a sometimes-prerequisite to writing good essays (I’m excited to see how first semester students maneuver compared to my spring semester students last semester). One of the things that feels really important to me is to be approachable and to be understood as an ally (but, of course, one who functions within specific bounds of a job). Fundamentally, at its best, I think education is about learning to think more deeply— creating space for students to think about what resonates with them intellectually is likely a slow (and maybe even frustrating) process. The challenge then becomes being a student who can make time both to do what is necessary, but also to feel that it is independently valuable (something I struggle with too!). In the overwhelm of moving to a new city, making new friends, living outside one’s family home (perhaps for the first time), and navigating a rigorous educational experience, I want the classroom to feel less frantic and more patiently exploratory. I think I’d like to speak to students more explicitly about professional communication this coming semester, and how it can double as boundary-setting (which, in turn, can support individual development).

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  • August 24, 2022 at 9:53 pm
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    Hello! My name is Amanda, and I’ll be teaching CLCIV 101 this semester for the first time. I’ve taught first-year writing courses at UM in the past (English 125 and Comparative Literature 122), but I anticipate that CLCIV 101 will be different from the previous FYW courses that I’ve taught in its very distinct emphasis on the literature, history, and philosophy of a particular place and period in time (namely, ancient Greece). For others who have taught this course before, or one like it, how do you balance the presentation and discussion of course content with discussions more specifically about college writing? In module 3 (“moving students from course materials to inquiry and argument”), there is an activity suggestion of dividing the class into small groups, giving each group a set of questions based on the reading, and having each student read the question & other students’ responses before writing their own response and passing the question on. I wonder how I could make an activity like this work for broader conversations about the mechanics of writing. How can we turn a conversation or a set of questions about the Iliad into a useful conversation about posing and defending an argument in a paper, for example?

    I also just wanted to reiterate my own positive experiences with c0-creating a set of shared classroom/discussion norms with my students during the first week of class (as we see in module 2 “teaching inclusively”). I imagine that in a course where discussions of slavery, sexual violence, misogyny, and other sensitive topics are sure to surface in the readings, these shared expectations for discussing and engaging with one another thoughtfully and respectfully will be all the more important. Usually, I bring some of my own ideas for guidelines to class and have these written on a slide or in a handout, but I find it helpful to ask the students to actively contribute and edit/add (via google doc or just by raising their hands and presenting the idea in class) to these guidelines for discussion, rather than presenting them as a complete and definitive list.

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  • August 24, 2022 at 11:54 pm
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    Hi, I’m Will! I will be teaching for CLCIV101 this semester. This will be my first time teaching at the university, so it’s been very helpful to read the comments by those who have had more experience teaching a FYW course. Mostly, I am concerned about how to put the info in these modules to practice, especially, as a couple people mentioned, in navigating between teaching the specific course content and working towards the broader goals of a FYW course, namely to develop writing and critical thinking as core academic skills. (To this point, I appreciate Shannon’s idea to share the Wesley article with my students.)

    Also, alongside Amanda, I think it will be an interesting challenge/opportunity to discuss some of the sensitive topics which often come up in discussions of Ancient Greek literature, history, and philosophy. I appreciate the idea of setting guidelines for discussion alongside my students, and I wonder if there are any more actionable strategies that people have found effective in channeling these difficult discussions into ones which will promote critical thinking and growth.

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  • August 25, 2022 at 7:02 am
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    Hi there, I’m Brittany, and I’m one of the GSIs for Great Books this fall. I last taught a writing-heavy course in 2018 (my first year as an instructor), and I recall the most difficult aspect was guiding students in how to craft a thesis and paper that is actually argumentative, rather than just a series of flat observations. The exercise described in Module 3 in which students bring out an “issue” they’re interested in and then develop an “angle” based on the 6 common types of claims seems productive, and I wonder whether anyone has other suggestions for more ways to push students to complicate their evidence and develop their arguments.

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  • August 25, 2022 at 8:48 am
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    Hi everyone! I’m Lauren and this will be my first time as a GSI at Michigan (teaching CLCIV 101). I have some experience grading writing assignments as a TA/GA in other programs, but this is the first time I have seen some sort of specific training geared toward helping students in a course focused on academic writing. I find the concept of scaffolding a particularly helpful way to lead students toward writing an effective paper. Properly scaffolded assignments will allow them to, not only organize and spend an appropriate amount of time on their ideas and argument, but will also help them build confidence as students in a FYWR course. Additionally, I like the idea of a reflection activity. This is something I would be interested in adding to a writing prompt and I’m curious to hear if anyone has incorporated this activity and how their students responded to it.

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  • August 25, 2022 at 8:57 am
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    My name is Joe (he/him) and I am GSIing for CC101 this fall. I have done lots of one-on-one writing work with students in the past but have only worked as a language teacher prior to my time at UofM so teaching a larger group in a writing-focused class will be largely a new experience for me. One of the strategies I always loved as a student was peer review, and I felt that, when all parties participate and engage in the intended way, it can be an extremely effective way for students to level with each other and improve their writing, but in a course with many students whom I anticipate will be new to academic-style writing, I wonder about some of the effective ways to create a positive peer-review environment (how to motivate students to help others in a way that doesn’t cause tension, etc.).

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  • August 25, 2022 at 9:37 am
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    Hi everyone, my namr is Lauren Oberlin and I am a GSI for CC101 this term.

    I have experience teaching a writing-focused course here at the university but it was not a class expressly for teaching effective writing and growth. While I was able to implement a number of techniques that are highlighted in the guide, I am looking forward to learning more effective and active techniques that allow students to have more of a role in the classroom, develop their own thoughts more thoroughly, and effectively convey that in their work! I hope to create a positive work environment in class that allows for this, echoing Joe’s post above.

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