Guest blogger Jessica Saxon is a faculty member at Craven Community College in New Bern, North Carolina, and she teaches composition and literature courses. A former WAC coordinator at Craven, her primary interests are WAC/WID programs and creating partnerships with other community colleges and universities. She is also pursuing a PhD in narrative theory and nineteenth-century British literature at Old Dominion University.
This is my first semester teaching ENG 112: Writing/Research in the Disciplines, a writing-in-the-disciplines (WID) class in the North Carolina community college system (NCCCS). This is the first of a series of blog contributions will be reflections on my initial experiences tackling ENG 112 this semester. Even with well over a decade of teaching experience in the NCCCS, learning to teach a WID course has been daunting—but it has also helped to reinvigorate my pedagogy. My approach to ENG 112 this semester was to start the class with what I know (humanities writing and research skills) in order to have time to pick the brains of my colleagues and create units on areas I have less experience with (natural science and social science writing and researching skills). This first blog explores the humanities unit and its literary analysis paper—a unit that turned out to be harder than I had expected.
The Assignment and Schedule
Students were asked to write a three-page researched analysis of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Lottery,” “Everyday Use,” or “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” In addition to citing the literature, they had to find and use 2-3 scholarly sources in their essays; they also had to use MLA style. They had the entire month of September to work on this project; the assignment was given on September 1 and due on September 29.
The class is a scaffolded class with several informal journals and workshops to help students move through the writing process:
Writer’s Journal #5: Literary Studies
Introduction to Humanities Writing and Literary Analysis Paper
Writer’s Journal #6: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Analysis 1
“The Yellow Wall-Paper” (handout)
Creating Analysis and Research Questions
Writer’s Journal #7: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Analysis 2
Process Assignment #1: Literary Analysis Questions
Literary Analysis Questions Workshop
Writer’s Journal #8: MLA Style
Introduction to MLA Style research and Documentation
Writer’s Journal #9: Research Hunt
Process Assignment #2: Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited 1
Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited Workshop 1
Research and Documentation Workshop
Process Assignment #3: Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited 2
Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited Workshop 2
Process Assignment #4: Literary Analysis Draft 1
Literary Analysis Draft Workshop 1
Process Assignment #5: Literary Analysis Draft 2
Literary Analysis Draft 2 Workshop
In-Class Work on Literary Analysis Paper and Literary Analysis Self-Reflection
Literary Analysis Paper (Due by the End of Class)
Process Assignment #6: Literary Analysis Self-Reflection (Due by the End of Class)
My personal comfort level with the content of the unit may have worked against me in this unit. Perhaps my anxiety over the later units on natural and social sciences (What kinds of assignments would I give them? What research sources might work well? Why, oh why, are APA running headers so hard to make in Word?) lulled me into a false sense of security over my humanities unit. Whatever the reason, I forgot to include two key elements the humanities unit: modeling and conferencing.
The next time I teach this course, I will be reserving two days for one-on-one conferences with my students about their drafts. By sandwiching the instructor conference between a peer workshop on the thesis and works cited and one on a revised draft of the essay, I hope to capture my students at that critical moment when they have a (nearly fully?) draft of the paper and a firm topic but when there is also still time to pull a quick turn on drafts that have gone off the rails. I will also be including a sample student literary analysis for class discussion—perhaps even two sample papers (one from the textbook and one from a previous semester of my own class). The students need to be able to see examples of finished literary analyses in order to help them better understand the work of their own essays. Moreover, the students need to have one-on-one time with me early in the semester; these individual conferences can especially help those who do not wish to ask for help in public spaces like the classroom.
But overall, the unit went rather smoothly, especially as I began to correct for my early errors in modeling and for the lack of conferences. In order to work in some last minute modeling and conferencing, I cut my draft workshops in half; the class spent 30 minutes in the two peer drafts workshops (rather than the full 75 minutes), and the last 45 minutes of class those days was spent with volunteers putting their draft up on the projector. In these projector conference workshops, the volunteers would ask questions about their drafts and talk through the problems they had been encountering, and the class and I would help the volunteers work through their questions and problems. While students are sometimes reluctant to volunteer, once the class sees the quality of feedback being produced by the group (and starts to see how their problems with the paper are similar to the ones being discussed in a volunteer’s paper), I wind up with more volunteers than I have time to work with (which in turn gets these students into my office…of their own free will!).
What did you do in your first WID course? What was your approach to the schedule and assignments? How did the successes and shortcomings of that first semester shape your WID course into a more effective and engaging course in later semesters? Share your answers, comments, and advice in the comments below.
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