Note: This it the fifth in a series of blog posts chronicling the piloting of the new ENG 1020 Curriculum. You can find all entries in the series here.
Each of us teaching pilot sections of ENG 1020 has our own angle to the course. While we have agreed on several components of the course that we believe are integral to meeting the demands of the curriculum and to benefitting our students, we each have different approaches to individual assignments and overall classroom environment. In my three sections of ENG 1020, I am working with students to develop an inquiry-based classroom. Of course, what this actually means in practice will be easier to tell you about once the semester is over, because one of the key components of this approach is that students are integral in determining the course content and strategies for learning. That is, these components will take shape throughout the semester. Each part of this classroom (the students, me, the strategies for learning, and what we learn) will be shaped reflexively through the interactions of these four components. But I don’t want to lay all of this on you right now—I have time for that. What I want to show you is how, after two class sessions, the strategies for learning and what we will learn are already taking shape, and that teaching this way in three sections is a special challenge, but a very exciting one.
For the second day of class, I asked my students to read a short excerpt of James Paul Gee’s introduction to “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics,” along with Lessner and Craig’s “Finding Your Way In,” Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B,” and some sections of They Say, I Say. My hope was that Gee and Hughes would spark discussion of the concept of Discourse through definition and example, and that the other texts would provide students with some strategies for writing reading response posts (the texts and the Reading Response 1 assignment are available on our class blog).
In class that day, after sharing some classroom anecdotes from my time as a student, and my Mug O’ Fun strategy (which I can describe another time), I pulled a name out of the mug and asked that student to share a question from the reading or a key idea from his or her blog. After that first name pull in two classes, I didn’t have to pull another name—the conversation took care of itself and students came up with some interesting ideas, which are also posted on our blog, on the Reflections and Responses page. I’ll talk about the third class in a moment. By the end of the day I realized that each of my three classes was going in a different direction: what students wondered about Gee’s concepts, and what they need to understand based on our curricular goals seemed distinctly different for each section. This is the “special challenge” part.
Because you can read each of the three classes’ compilations of notes on the blog page, what I’d like to share with you is where I think we are going next:
My first class of the day seems really caught up in concepts of identity. They talked a lot about how we decide to present ourselves in particular ways in certain situations (i.e. on Facebook, on online dating sites, with different groups of people). This idea of choice of personal (re)presentation seems important to them, and it will be interesting to see what happens when we begin talking about more formal conceptions of discourse communities. For now, though, we need to hammer out this difference between identity and Discourse.
The afternoon class’s notes reflect a deep interest in the political aspects of Discourse and discourse communities. While I had not initially planned on having them read the entire Gee piece, I think I will bring it in for them this week and we’ll start working through the concepts. Perhaps some in-class reading and discussion of the text will be useful for them. Gee presents us with a huge list of terms worth building into our repertoire for the semester.
My evening class needed more prompting than the other two. Maybe they were tired; maybe I was. When it came to talking about Discourse, they generally seemed to want me to just tell them what they should know. This is not reflected on their posted notes, but what they were mostly interested in was the appropriate use of strategies for writing—what should we use when? This is great—it’s one of the main ideas we want them to work through in the course, and it’s a concept we’ll begin to look at explicitly this week in our reading, reflection, and discussion. But what do I do about this Discourse discussion? They want practical, so we’ll go practical for now. Part of Project 1 asks them to explore their primary and secondary Discourses. We’ll likely take these secondary Discourses they identify and examine them in light of Swales’ six characteristics. This move will help them prepare directly for Project 2.
Since reflecting on these class discussions and making some tentative plans for the coming week, I have also read students’ blog posts, which adds more grist for the mill and reminds me that teaching this way requires a deep willingness to improvise—to feel out what is happening in my classroom—and a perspective that this kind of teaching and learning is exciting, it’s meaningful, and it’s worthwhile. I’ll keep you posted on where we go.
Adrienne Jankens is a lecturer and Ph.D. candidate. She is writing her dissertation on the inquiry environment and the development of habits of mind in Introductory College Writing.