I’m really enjoying my classes this semester. In fact, for the last few years I’ve either lucked out on having good classes . . . or I’ve made progress as a teacher. I know I’m not a perfect teacher, but so far this semester I’ve felt good about almost every class I’ve taught (except for the first day with T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”).
Today I taught two classes. In the first class, a writing class based on children’s literature, my students turned in their first essay, which I’m calling “writing projects” in this class. They wrote literacy autobiographies and we practiced a lot of brainstorming techniques for this essay. They did a literacy lifeline, freewrites, a web, etc. They also critiqued model literacy autobiographies, worked in writing groups, and conferenced with me. Throughout the whole process, most of the students have seemed engaged and enthusiastic (definitely something I didn’t expect).
So in today’s class, they had compiled a mini-portfolio containing all their brainstorming, drafting, and author’s notes (in which they explain where they are in the writing process and what kinds of feedback they need). The first thing we did (after I’d showed them how to access the online materials they need for our next class) was a written reflection on their writing experience. I had specific questions they needed to consider in order to help them 1) recognize what had worked well for them 2) set goals for the next writing project 3) understand how they could use the strategies practiced for this essay in other writing situations. I also asked them to self-assess their own writing using a rubric. I’m trying to help my students learn how to be independent writers and thinkers, so that after they leave my class (and the university), they’ll have strong writing strategies and skills to draw upon. After the self-assessment, we talked about what had worked (and not worked) for them and about grading issues. Although there were a few comments about how writing groups hadn’t worked, their comments were overwhelmingly positive. Most of them enjoyed the assignment, liked their writing group, and felt confident about what they had accomplished.
We ended the class by reading different versions of Cinderella in small groups (versions from different cultures like Hmong, Turkish, Korean, Filipino, etc.). We didn’t have time to process that much, but in the next class we’ll start talking about their next writing assignment which is to re-tell a fairy tale from a different character’s perspective or using a different gender, setting it in in a different time period, or placing the fairy tale in an ethnic/national setting other than the original story. Did I mention that all my students will be elementary teachers?
In my other class, U.S. literature after 1914, the class entered talking about how frustrated they’d been reading the Gertrude Stein selections, a reaction that I anticipated. I let them vent a little, and then we looked at some quotes from Stein (and others) about The Making of the Americans in particular and Stein’s stylistic experimentation in general. Once they started to consider why Stein repeated so much, what she was trying to accomplish, they were more open to making meaning. We looked at a couple of paragraphs together and then divided the excerpt into sections which small groups examined. We ended up having really interesting discussions about gender, American identity, and style. We also looked briefly at “Susie Asado,” which didn’t work quite as well. I need to figure out how to better teach Stein’s poetry.
After briefly and globally talking about e.e. cummings, we shifted to Wallace Stevens’ “Peter Quince at the Clavier.” Because students sometimes feel a little put off by Stevens, I talked with them a little bit about some of the themes that often recur in Stevens. Then we moved through the poem section by section. We were a little rushed at the end, but the students felt they understand the interplay between desire and art within the poem.
Today was mostly a good day teaching–I felt energized by my students’ insight, participation, and enthusiasm. Those qualities are things that I really love about my students at Fresno State.