This Week’s Lesson: Put Pedagogy First #CCCwrite

For this week in the Reflective Writing Club, we have been ask to reflect on a professional mistake that helped us grow. I have never ended a semester where I didn’t have a list of what I wanted to tweak or add to my lesson plans for the next round of classes. The fact that my job includes multiple clean slates and restarts is one my favorite aspects of it. It is designed for active reconstruction and growth. While I have certainly made mistakes, I do not have a dramatic tale of transformation or conflict to share on my blog. I do, however, have a recent lesson to share about the value we put into our own work.

For the past decade, small group conferences have been a key part of my face-to-face course structure. In lieu of a regular class session, I meet with groups of four students for an hour at a time. They take turns reading their essays and giving each other feedback. I listen and offer my feedback for each paper after all the students have spoken. It’s a good bonding experiences and something most positively mention at the end of the semester class feedback forms (I am learning not to call these “evaluations”).

This semester, thanks to a snowy Michigan winter, we lost a day of class and fell behind in our class schedule. Unlike previous semesters, I also could not schedule group meetings without cancelling a whole week of class. I decided to do an in-class peer workshop instead. Even though each group reviewed their essays using a carefully constructed checklist, the revisions they turned in after the workshop were the worst set of papers I had seen in a long time. I should have taken a week to conference my students, even if meant completing one less essay this semester.

I chose to write about this mistake because I was not sure how much of a difference my presence made in these groups. Did I interfere with the peer interactions? Could I simply replicate the questions I would ask and have a checklist to drive the workshop? It’s sad that I did not trust my pedagogical knowledge and teacher instinct and that I needed to see a bad stack of papers as proof of my value.

It’s nice to know that our time and presence can’t be easily replaced. Currently, in higher education, we have to fight to keep lower class capacities and to maintain the relationships we are able to develop with our students. We, the faculty at my institution, were recently asked, why we are not capable of teaching classes with more students. It was framed that if we were great instructors, we should have no problem teaching more students in our classes. Instructors at our neighboring schools teach classes with more students, why can’t we?

Great instructors fight for the ability to connect with our students, not increase our output. I made a mistake this week of prioritizing output over quality and now I am suffering through a stack of papers, most which will have to be revised and re-assessed. I’m writing about this moment so I will remember not to do this again.

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5 thoughts on “This Week’s Lesson: Put Pedagogy First #CCCwrite

  1. Sheri Edwards February 23, 2018 / 4:01 am

    This is what I love about blogging– I can identify with your dilemma and by reflecting on your experience and mine, I will more than likely remember. And knowing that others find, reflect, and refine their teaching helps all of us. There are so many mandates for higher scores in K12 schools in reading and math that many needed strategies to connect with students [and their writing] often gets shorted. It takes a strong teacher to make the best decisions in such an environment, and eventually they do, so that the focus is on students and not tests. Thanks for your reminder. ~ Sheri

    • jprof February 24, 2018 / 12:47 am

      Thank you for commenting, Sheri! These weekly blog activities have really helped me reflect more on my teaching, as I am teaching. When we become so busy, and we are constantly being asked to take on more, it’s hard to make space for this necessary metacognitive work.

  2. Laura Gibbs (@OnlineCrsLady) February 25, 2018 / 4:43 pm

    Thank you for this post, Jennifer! I teach fully online and I don’t miss the classroom, not the usual kind of classroom, but the conferencing you describe here sounds REALLY great. I’m no longer living in Oklahoma (I teach for Univ. of Oklahoma online), but if I were, I would definitely add this in to my online classes for any students who want to have an experience like that! I’m guessing the very human presence of you and the students to each other would be hard to replace with a checklist. I try to create that sense of presence with blogging and lots of interaction around all the classwork (not just the formal writing project)… but the idea of those conferences as a way to bond in small groups sounds beautiful. I’m glad the prompt about a mistake led you to share this with us! I’ve heard a lot of people conferencing with students one-on-one and, to be honest, that doesn’t appeal to me nearly as much as the small groups you describe here. Wonderful!

    • jprof February 25, 2018 / 7:46 pm

      Thank you for commenting, Laura! When I began teaching as a graduate assistant, we were instructed to hold peer group workshops in class for all essays and hold one set of individual conferences a semester for research essays. When I began teaching developmental writing, though, I found peer groups worked better when I could sit in and moderate/extend them. This method worked so well that I began adopting it in all my writing classes. It’s amazing how much closer our class becomes through this process. Students actually get to know their classmates. Online, my students develop some good connections through blogging and social media. I had a really good group this past fall who bonded more than my face-to-face students.

      • Laura Gibbs (@OnlineCrsLady) February 25, 2018 / 8:01 pm

        The whole peer thing is SO powerful. I like the flexibility of online so that some students who are more hesitant about that can work on other things if they prefer, but for the students who like the connectedness, I offer extra opportunities to do that, so along the whole spectrum, everybody can find their place. 🙂

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