Student Learning Outcomes
In order to demonstrate their proficiency in college-level reading, critical thinking, and writing skills, English 100 students will be able to:
A.) Read, discuss, comprehend, summarize, analyze, critique and synthesize college-level readings.
B.) Write expository essays which synthesize course readings and are clearly focused,
fully developed, logically organized, appropriately cited, and composed with sentences that are syntactically mature and free from excessive grammar, usage and proofreading errors. They will also demonstrate their ability to evaluate their initial essay drafts and revise subsequent drafts as needed.
English 100_Student Learning Outcomes
LMC's official student learning outcomes for English 100, College Composition (formerly known as English 10).
Mos' Def and Cornell West
"It's not a matter of skin color, it's a matter of courage, vision, and sacrifice."
In English 100, I have students write approximately 5-7 short writing assignments (2-3) pages, keep an on-going journal, lead discussion, and write 4 essays, each of which I explain below. For their research paper, which is essay #3, I let students choose their own topic, and the resulting 7-10 page paper is graded only upon completion on the entire research portfolio. That is, they can't simply write the paper but must also complete the entire portfolio for credit. For all papers except the last one, students get a certain percentage of their grade as their "writing process"--meaning quality/timeliness of drafts, etc.
One short-writing (SW) assignment I begin with is; Critiquing An Author's Arugments. It's designed to help students deconstruct arguments and examine credibility, evidence, bias, etc. The focus is on both the form and content of a given author's writing. This is appropriate to begin with because it asks them to deal with only one text, and it asks them to examine the text for the kinds of strategies and fallacies that might inform their own writing later. ALso, it gets the critical juices flowing, and can lead to fun classrooms discussions that can really get heated! Thus, students start engaging actively with the texts and each other from the get-go.
A particularly fun text for this assignment (they had a choice of several) was Michael Moore's essay "Idiot Nation." It is, true to Moore form, hyperbolic and alienating; yet it was a real challenge for students not to react to Moore with the same retaliatory language that he uses in the essay. In other words, how do we resist the temptation to critique, rather than "fight back"? What is the difference? Another popular text was Richard Rodriquez's "Achievement of Desire" in which he describes a childhood rejecting his Latino culture and embracing academic success. Many students get pretty fired up about this as well.
In general, SW assignments fluctuate in complexity--but I collect them about once every two weeks and grade them strictly. Students always have the option to revise 2 of the 5 SW assignments for the final writing portfolio. Last, SW assignments include the research reflection paper and the final reflection paper (so these meta-cognitive papers are part of their grade. They take them more seriously that way.)
ESSAY 1: EDUCATION, DEMOCRACY, AND EQUALITY? (FROM SOCIAL TO PERSONAL, 4-6 PAGES)
Link below--deals with a group of readings on Education. Again, this is a good theme/set of issues to start with, since they usually have a lot to say about how they were educated. It also very quickly highlights the educational inequities in the class--in other words, those who went to good high schools and those who went to poor ones realize it pretty fast. This also helps students realize that not everyone comes to the table equally. The topics in this essay allow students to bring in their personal experiences as a subject of criticism--however, it is the only essay that really does so, at least overtly. (Although, many students did do reseasrch projects on topics of great personal relevance--see below for a list of some research topics and papers.)
Essay #1 generated the following grades: (As I put grades here, note that my class size fluctuated widely. Over Fall 2007, 10 of an original 32 students dropped or simply stopped coming. More about this in the encouraging student success part.)
9 A-, 3 B, 1 B-, 4 C, 5 D, 5 didn't do it
ESSAY 2: GENDER AND CROSSING BOUNDARIES (SYNTHESIS, 4-6 PAGES)
Link below--Asked students directly to synthesize two or more readings on a given issue. This was in direct preparation for the research paper. Topics centered on class and gender, and were in fact quite challenging. Students really struggled with paper. In their end of semester reflection papers (which they all write) many indicated that it was the hardest one to write. I think this was because we didn't have much time to discuss the readings (which were difficult) and synthesizing their perspectives (and learning MLA in the process) was really tough. A key preparation strategy for this essay was the "Helpful Phrases for Synthesis Worksheet." (Link below). Students really thought this helped not only for this essay but throughout the semester.
Another key point for this assignment is to (in class) break down the essay question and ask students how many parts their paper will have to have and what rhetorical strategies they will have to use to answer the question thoroughly. Often, essay questions have more than one part, and students need to learn how to read the question and what it asks.
So, have students answer: How many parts do you identify in this question? Which part will require the most work? What do I need to summarize? What other rhetorical strategies will I need to use (compare/contrast, description, definition, illustration, etc.)? What elements will begin the essay and what will end it? I do this in class for all the essay questions.
Grades broke down as follows: 4 A-, 5 B, 3 C-, 8 D, and 5 didn't do it. (This is about week 8 in the semester). As I mentioned, students really struggled with this paper. I think that the topics were too complicated.
ESSAY #3: ENTERING THE MATRIX--OR THE RESEARCH PAPER (7-10 PAGES)
SO I try to make the research paper FUN--I cut it off at the knees before it looms too large over everyone's consciousness (including mine) and becomes more of a burden than a pleasure.
I have the paper as the third essay to de-terrorize it and to turn it in to more of a teaching tool. With a month left in the semester, students can do REAL revisions of the paper and learn what they didn't get the first time.
To prepare for this paper, I try to do some pumping up: This includes two video lessons. (*Here, I need to credit Kim Morrison and Kyzyl Fenno-Smith who introduced these research methods during the 2007 Umoja conference at Chabot College, Oakland. Umoja is a program that focuses on minority student achievement in California community colleges.)
AMP IT UP ONE: NEO AND MORPHEUS: WHAT IS THE MATRIX?
First, we watch the scene from The Matrix in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) meets Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) for the first time. Morpheus asks Neo if he wants the red pill or the blue pill--does he want everything to stay the same, does he want the world to stay as he knows it, or does he want to follow Alice down the rabbit hole? (This scene is excerpted ALL OVER Youtube. You can show it in class via Youtube or get the DVD version.) But, it gets students kind of excited---like, what do you REALLY want to write about?
AMP IT UP TWO: MOS' DEF, CORNELL WEST, AND BILL MAHER COME TO THE TABLE
The second video portion exemplifies Bringing Multiple Perspectives to the Table. This video clip (again on YouTube), is an excerpt from the Bill Maher show, in which he, rapper Mos' Def, and professor Cornell West debate many issues, including Iraq, terrorism, Katrina, etc. It's a fascinating take on how three people can have such wildly different views on things, and yet, they very accurately challenge each other. (See link below for the worksheet on Coming to the Table.)
I then lead students through the research process. All parts of this process go into the research portfolio and are graded as part of the essay (see "Entering the Matrix: Guidelines for the Research Portfolio). Building on essays 1 and 2, we have already practiced analyzing and synthesizing arguments. Thus, a big piece at this stage is the research. I take students to a hands-on demo led by our fantastic librarians at LMC. They then complete a Library Research Worksheet, which takes them step-by-step through the different resources at the library. I then have them turn in an annotated bibliography of 10 sources, of which they can only use 5 for their final paper. I approve the 10 sources. (This really is not all that time consuming. It's pretty easy to see who is slackin' on their research. It's also very easy to see who needs a lot of help).
Many of these research papers were terrific, which I think was largely due to the hard work of the students. However, many students wrote in their reflection papers that they really liked being able to choose their own topics (more on that below). Some topics and their titles are below--again, many of these were very close to home for the students.
Bipolar Disorder: Medication or Not?
Black and Female: Can We Survive Poverty in America?
Video Games Versus Obesity
Did Billy Pilgrim Really Come Unstuck From Time? Slaughterhouse Five
Picture Plastic: Is Plastic Surgery a Solution to Low Self-Esteem?
Hypersensitivity to the Word N****: Why?
Should Barry Bonds Be in the Hall of Fame?
Domestic Violence: Why Women Stay or Leave
Again, these papers were ambitious, and, for the most part, relatively fun for students to write. So, while letting students choose their own topics is difficult in terms of monitoring their sources and not letting them get too lost in "the matrix"--it is very rewarding.
Grades for the research paper broke down as follows:
10 A, 10 B, 7 C, 4 D
ESSAY #4: FRANKENSTEIN (4-6 PAGES)
"Dave, what are you doing Dave? I really think I'm entitled to an answer to my question. I know everything hasn't been quite right with me. But I can say, confidently, that everything will be better now." (H.A.L., 2001 Space Odyssey)
This semester, I saved the novel for last, which was great. It is so much more fun and relaxing, and after the research paper students are stoked to be only reading ONE thing...even if it's hard, which Frankenstein is! I always have students bring Frank images to class, to post and share. I also show excerpts of the 1931 Whale version and the 1996 Branaugh adaptation, especially of the creation scene.
Another fun comparison is the relationship between Dave and HAL in 2001 Space Odyssey (see quote above). Again, highlighting the relationship between creator and creation.
Topics for the Frankenstein essay are linked below. One of my favorites resulted in a dramatic paper that had Victor on trial for murder, and Elizabeth and the monster testifying against him. It was terrific. (This paper topic asked students to convict Frankenstein of one of the following crimes: murder, manslaughter, being a dead-beat dad, unethical research practices, child abandonment, child neglect, etc.) Another student put Frankenstein on the "Deadbeat Dad" episode of the Jerry Springer show. Some students also re-envisioned the end of the novel.
I really enjoyed reading this novel with students at the end of the semester.
My main concern in essay assignments was essay #2, which was less scaffolded via discussion than the others, and for which students really struggled. I'm still trying to figure out if weaker writers just couldn't get into it, or if I needed to give more structure, less complicated topics?
In terms of the research paper, many students wrote that it was the first time they had ever written a 7-10 page paper, and the first time they were using MLA format. So, this is a huge task for them (which I try to really keep in mind). I think that given this, my students did very well. In all honesty, the ones who did poorly either a) didn't do any work on it until the end--which means they weren't turning in assignments to me and not getting feedback, or b) didn't get help with their research or the MLA stuff, even though they knew they were confused. Those who did all the steps and got help from me and the other resources at LMC generally did very well (all things considered).
They really struggle to get both the accurate use of sources and the documentation piece--as one student put it, "It's hard to summarize everything and to also do it the MLA way too." (Or something to that effet.) But her reflection reminded me that the reading task is still challenging--that the reading job of just even getting the main points out accurately, or, as another student said, trying to condense everything down from a source, is really hard. I know for myself that I still really struggle to summarize. It's hard!
However, I also don't look for perfection in the research paper. I consider it a process. The skills they build--from how to decide on a topic to how to choose a proofreader you can trust--are all skills they will take forward with them. I therefore grade the paper and the portfolio taking into consideration the size and complexity of the writing task.
English 100 Essay Evaluation Rubric (Essay 1, No Grammar)
Evaluation Categories--What Does Organization Mean?
English 100 Essay #1 Topics: Linking the Personal and the Social
English 100 Essay #2 Topics: Synthesizing Different Viewpoints
Phrases for Synthesizing Texts
Entering "The Matrix":Guidelines for the Research Paper & Portfolio
English 100 Essay #4: Frankenstein
Mos' Def, Cornell West, and Bill Maher: Coming to the Table
English 100 Essay Evaluation Rubric_Research Essay
Neo Chooses the Red Pill
Building Intentional Community/
Encouraging Student Voice in the Classroom
"When I started, I asked myself, who am I? After this semester, I realized that I am a beautiful woman, inside and out, smart, motivated, caring, and a true intellectual. I have excelled myself as a student and a writer. My strength in writing is beyond all belief I've ever had before" (K. McCarty 2007)
WHAT DOES BUILDING COMMUNITY MEAN?
Building community means two main things for me. First, I must know WHO I'm teaching. And second, I want to know what power dynamics are at work as voices and bodies are negotiated in the classoom.
One of these voices, of course, is mine. Linda Flower (whose work on Intercultural Rhetoric helps theorize discourse and power) writes:
"As academics we stand in a profession more accustomed to speaking 'for others' than listening to their unanticipated, resistant meanings" ("Talking Across Difference: Intercultural Rhetoric and the Search for Situated Knowledge" 39).
I like "unanticipated"-- meaning, how do we let ourselves, as teachers, lose control? ANd, how are spontaneous enough--unscripted enough--to respond to the dynamic needs of a class of writers?
***I think being willing to lose control is one way of building community***
GIVEN THIS DEFINITION, HOW DO I CREATE IT?
1. I regularly collect journals and religiouly respond to them. This way, it becomes much more of a dialogue between me and the student, and they get used to "hearing" my voice on the margin of their page. Also, it encourages them to REALLY journal, not just scribble a few things down. I will ask challenge questions to stretch their thinking, which also models how to ask questions of texts more broadly. And, as we know, many issues/ideas/experiences come out in writing that are not able to be verbally spoken or may not come up in class discussion. I can then introduce some of these things myself, taking on the burden of expressing them without the student needing to be responsible for it.
2. Quote-a-day: I have one person bring a quote to class each class period to share and use as a journal prompt. I know this seems a little bland---but students actually really like it (in my experience).
3. Student-led Discussion: I will sometimes ask a student to do the board writing during discussion. Usually, they're in charge of the "parking lot" section of the board--that's the spot where we "park" questions, ideas, or topics that we aren't going to cover but that might end up being a part of someone's paper or for next class. I'll also have one of them sometimes keep the vocab section on the board going--that's the spot where new and key words are collected. One thing I *haven't tried but would like to* would be to have one student each class period be in charge of summing up the discussion and posting it. Has anyone done that? Students can't write as fast, and it forces people to speak more clearly. (I want to thank Ruth, who introduced me to the "Parking Lot" idea during one of the meetings of the Black Scholars Program at LMC).
4. Discussion Leads: For each reading, one student is assigned to be lead. They have to write a 2-page paper summarizing the reading, connecting it to another reading/issue, and come up with three discussion questions for the class (I model all this). Then, I hand over the discussion to them. They really have to organize the whole thing. I ask them to start with a passage they want people to write on for 5 minutes. Then begin the discussion. ***I also love doing this because I get to see what they think a teacher should be doing. A lot of them get all formal, and start lecturing about the reading, etc. etc.--which is something I never do. Others just go off on their whole take on the reading, and then stop talking and look at everyone. It really depends. But it's great for community-building since a student can organize the flow of discussion. Again, though, this has to be explicitly modeled.
4. Reflection Papers: Another key thing in building community are reflection papers that students write at the end of the semester. They are really illuminating in terms of what has worked and what hasn't--because I can't get inside their heads or really know their experience. So, I depend on these papers for how to structure class for the next semester. (As evidenced in this portfolio).
WHO ARE WE TEACHING?
I've included here a few excerpts from student writing to give a sense of who is in college composition classes at Los Medanos College:
G. Calvin: "It's hard as an African American male to make a life in this diverse culture, and it's even harder sometimes being a black man to get your voice heard."
K. McCarty: "My journey to discovering who I am as a student and as an individual has been a long wait. However, after lots of tears and hard work over the years, I have found myself, I have been through many obstacles but I overcame them. I have fallen a couple of times, but always found a way to pick myself back up [...] When I started, I asked myself, who am I? After this semester, I realized that I am a beautiful woman, inside and out, smart, motivated, caring, and a true intellectual. I have excelled myself as a student and a writer. My strength in writing is beyond all belief I've ever had before."
By C. Ramiro
In a concrete classroom is where I sit / eager to begin /
/act like I'm grievin / A long summer semester I'm seein /
gotta pass this class /
I gotta be achievin / [...]
who wud have thought / a young poet mind / like mine
could manipulate words to rhyme / and describe a reply
to a passage / sending description up ur spine / [...]
expectin the worst /
as a Navy reserve / my hard work got what I deserve /
to me it's an A okay hey teach u aint so bad /
may I say (2007)
Post Semester Reflection/Next Time
I consistently struggle in English 100 to find enough time for community building and participatory activities, since there is so much to cover (argument, MLA, research strategies, the essay form, MLA, research....oops...do we have to go over that again!:) I tried online writing groups, via Blackboard, but students are generally reluctant to use them, and I didn't really build them in to my grading criteria, so there was no external motivation for them to do so. It's hard to convince them that sharing their work with other students is worthwhile---worthwhile since:
I noticed without a doubt this semester was how BUSY my students were. Well, some of them were. It seemed that they fell into two extreme categories: kind of lazy and bumming around (of their own admission, not that I thought this) or working, taking care of their family, and going to school full time---in other words, trying to lay down three full time jobs all at once. (The gauntlet is thrown!) Incredible. So, it's hard. I want them to know how to write a good essay. And I want everyone to feel empowered as well.....a delicate dance....
SOME STUDENT INSIGHTS:
"I notice a lot of students will drop courses if they don't do one major assignment, and I think it is a waste of time to be well on your way to complete the course, and then drop because you couldn't put in the effort for a paper--all the assignments count, and each one helps with the next" (Angela, 2007).
"The only piece of advice I can give someone going into English 100 is, come prepared to write and also use your teacher as a tool in writing" (Telisha 2007).
My English 100 course this semester started with 32 students. 8 either dropped the class or just stopped coming, and another 4 didn't come enough to pass. There are so many factors as to why students aren't succeeding in the class, and it's important to know what's going on for the student in order to intervene.
WHY/ WHEN THEY STOP COMING
As with all the students below, it was the ones who asked me a million questions, came to see me all the time, used the Reading and Writing Center, etc. that were able to succeed despite their obstacles.
1. They are working and taking too many credits---so they underestimated how much work the course would be. Some student are able to actually keep it together, and some just can't. Just as a couple of concrete work/family/commitment examples:
Jennifer: 18 years old, works two jobs, and goes to school full time.
Quamon 25 years old: Has two kids, is a single Mom, works full time (daycare) and goes to school full time.
Kim: 20 years old, works as a nurse full time (nights), goes to school full time, and takes care of her sick father.
Telisha: 18 years old, single mom, works full time, goes to school full time.
****However, all these students will pass the class. BECAUSE it was not their first semester, and they got all the help they could.****Therefore, the essential intervention is how to get students dialoguing with you about the class and the work.
EX: Another student, Desiree, worked full time in addition to school full time and had to drive an hour and a half to school. She would leave her house at 6, to get to school by 8 just to do some homework and then go right to work after school. But this was Desiree's first semester, and she just couldn't do all the work. But she'll get it right next time.
Other reasons why students drop:
2. When it gets hard, or at the first sign that they're not doing well (i.e., after the first essay assignment).
3. A family issue comes up that requires too much time and energy.
4. They slack as long as they can (usually what they did in high school) but then realize that it takes more work to get a C than they thought and so have to drop.
5. They drop right before finals (i.e., in the last 4 weeks). They've been averaging a C, but suddenly the work starts flooding in and they can't finish it all.
WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE: GETTING HELP
By FAR the majority of my students wrote in their reflection papers that the thing that they either wish that they had done differently or that they would recommend doing to other English 100 students is USING THE RESOURCES available to help them.
Some more quotes about getting help:
"Any advice for future students would be to use the reading and writing center as much as possible, because it's like turning in your essay and then being able to revise it without getting the bad grade" (Ashleigh 2007).
"The last thing I would like to advise new students is to take advantage of their resources. They have Ms. Lynn (the teacher), the library, Wadsworth (the Handbook), the Reading/Writing center, and their classmates; each of these is available and can help in every way" (Angela 2007).
"The only piece of advice I can give someone going into English 100 is, come prepared to write and also use your teacher as a tool in writing" (Telisha 2007).
"If I had to advise a new student, I would tell them to plan ahead of time" (Quamon 2007).
*It takes a face-to-face meeting early on to connect with the student. I also target these conferences on having them verbalize what difficulties or obstacles they expect to encounter in the course, and what tools they are planning to use to overcome them.
*Many will drop after failing one assignment--but are they dropping because they want to re-take and get an A on everything? Or because it confirms their belief in their own failure? Or because they don't read the syllabus, do the math, talk to the teacher, and figure they can still pull through?
*Many will drop because they think they can't make it--it's more work than they anticipated (even if they haven't failed yet)
*Many will drop if they stop liking the class
Portfolios, Peer Review, and Revision Conferences
I use both a portfolio method of evaluating work and frequent conferences to provide consistent and accurate feedback. Portfolios are the only way that I can grade the writing process, and conferences give my the opportunity to target specific things with students.
When I'm responding to student work, I give the following feedback: On Short Writing assignments (1-2 page response papers) they get a 1, 2, or 3. On essays, they get an A-F.
On all written work I provide written feedback in the margins and at the end of the paper.
I use both symbols or marks and narrative feedback on their essays. I also mark both good things and bad things fairly equally. Where they've done something right, I mark it, and where something is going wrong, I mark it. If there is a repeated error, I don't correct throughout. I will mark a few, give an example of a change, and then tell them to find the rest for the final draft.
However, again to establish dialogue, I have them explain extensively on each draft what they changed from the previous draft. So, they never turn anything in without telling me what a) they changed, and b) what they are still struggling with. The main thing this helps me do is know what is an "error" and what is a lack of understanding. These two things are so different.....
In the same way, on rough drafts, I ask them to write specific questions at the end of the paper, asking me what I think about certain areas and what they had questions about. Often, it helps to give them some phrases to work with:
What do you think of how I......?
I couldn't figure out how to.....
In paragraph___I really couldn't ____
Do you like how I _______?
Do you think it would be better if ______
I was trying to decide____, do you think____works?
These phrases can help them articulate questions about their paper.
When they turn in final drafts, again I collect them portfolio style. This is the only way for me to know if they're using my feedback (because I can't remember otherwise).
So, I collect all the previous drafts and the final, in addition to their written narrative (above) about what they revised for the final. I'll also have them make notes on the final draft, pointing me to certain things.
If I feel a student is just not getting a certain issue--say, informal language, or a syntactical issue, or point of view, or something like that, I'll ask them to revise a different piece of writing for that same issue. So, I might ask a student to edit a previous SW assignment for cliche words, for example, if I feel that they're not doing it in their essays.
The above questions also model for them how to do peer review. (In the meta- sense). I generally have peer review happen on the last two essays, and the review sheets are graded as part of the portfolio. (In other words, they're given credit for doing the review for someone else).
In addition to portfolios, I require a conference with any student who wants to re-write an essay (they have the chance to re-write 2 of the 4 essays for an averaged grade). This way, they have to meet with me and go over things if they want to improve it. This, I think, really helps me see if they're understanding what we're learning and it also holds them pretty accountable. If we've covered it in class and they're not doing it in the paper, they kind of have to look me in the face and fess up. On the plus side too they have to fess up to not understanding what it was we were doing in class. Either way, sitting with them one on one is the only way I ever know why a student isn't getting the essay thing right.
I've added links to a few papers below, just as some samples of my writing on student work. My rubric is also attached.
Sample A- Paper
Sample C- Paper
Sample Discussion Lead Paper