Monday 15 December 2014

Semester One: DONE.

I have successfully completed my first semester as a Ph.D. student at ASU! I definitely faced a few hurdles, as should be expected when beginning a new program and encountering new expectations and challenges, but I did achieve a 4.0 and I am proud of the work I did!

I really enjoyed teaching my ENG 101 course. It was a challenge to try to fit my own personal ideals and pedagogical values into a somewhat prescriptive course plan, but I think I was able to find a good balance and that my students left the classroom as better readers and writers and maybe even slightly better people (one can hope, eh?). I had a really phenomenal class, and from the beginning they were very willing to engage with the material, me, and each other. I assigned final course reflection memos for the first time this semester, and I really enjoyed reading the comments from the students. They weren't just telling me that they liked me and the course (which most students feel the obligation to do at the end of a course), but they actually told me about various elements of learning that they felt they had grasped this semester and how those understandings might be helpful to them in the future. That is always very rewarding.

One of my favorite assignments that I ask students to complete every semester is a Writers Identity Activity (adapted from my ISU colleague Evan Nave), where I ask my students to find a picture and write a short description of something that makes them feel awesome and alive and how that applies to their writing. The students then go around and comment on each other's photos and posts, which helps them to get to know each other, but also helps them to see how differently each person is inspired to write. In the final reflection memo this semester one student commented on this activity saying:

"The one day where we did that activity in which we took a picture of something that we love and incorporated it into our writing styles was very insightful. What I took away from that activity was a sense of self-awareness. Everybody has a different writing style and various thinking processes. It was interesting to see what everybody put as their picture and how they related it to their own personal writing. I think that definitely assured me what type of writing/study habits and styles of thinking I have. Now I can use this self-awareness to my advantage on future assignments."

Assertions and awareness like that is why I truly love teaching writing. 

As I mentioned in my previous blog posting, I was featured in the ASU Writing Programs Visualizing Teaching In Action video vignettes looking at specific practices in the classroom. Thanks to my ASU colleague Steven Hopkins, the first video vignette is finished! I am happy to have contributed to this work at ASU.

I was also pleased with my final products for my own classes this semester. Coming into the program, and in almost every discussion I had with professors and other graduate students, I received two pieces of advice:

1) Make EVERY project that you complete work towards a larger research/ teaching goal.
2) Make your projects work together.

With that advice, and after receiving literally identical final assignments for two of my classes, I tried to come up with projects that worked toward a larger research goal (like a portfolio paper, or even my dissertation). I came up with two research proposals that focused a Lebanese food memoir: The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber. I look forward to actually working on and towards this research work in the future.

For my teaching practicum course I developed materials that could be utilized in the Spring 2015 semester to help students navigate the sometimes "muddy water" of completing and submitting multimodal projects for credit. The materials are linked below. Check them out if you are interested in this kind of work (also linked under "Projects"):

Finally, I will finish this blog entry the same way I finished my first semester: inspired by the work of literacy ethnographer Deborah Brandt. I loved her work in Literacy in American Lives not only because she observed and interviewed participants in my home state of Wisconsin but because of the way that she asked questions and the goals that she was trying to achieve in her study. She writes:

"It is the persistent interest of this study to characterize literacy not a it registers on various scales but as it has been lived" (11). 

That is exactly how I want to approach every research study and classroom interaction and conference presentation in my career. Not as it registers on decontextualized scales but as it is lived.

What is life, if not for the living?

Saturday 8 November 2014

*Eleven Weeks In*

Here I am, 11 weeks into my first semester as a PhD student, and I am surviving!

Due to some proposed programatic restructuring, I am most likely beginning my degree under the title of PhD in English: Rhetoric, Writing, and Literacies (old title listed with my ASU biography). Because I am just starting this program the proposed name change and subsequent requirement changes really only affect me in a positive way. Under this new structure I will not have to take linguistic classes, but I am required to take a literacy course. Entering the program, I was wary of the linguistics requirement because linguistics is a very difficult subject area for me. I am enrolled in a literacy course this semester, though, and have found it to be enlightening and beneficial to my overarching scholarly work.

Here are some highlights from the semester thus far:

* I joined the Graduate Scholars of English Association (GSEA) at the beginning of the year and this has proved to be valuable and a lot of fun! I was paired with a third year student who serves as my "mentor," answering questions, getting coffee, offering advice, and I have enjoyed meeting with her. I have also attended a panel on alternative career choices following graduation, attended socials, and written a short bio piece for a new faculty member through this organization.

* I was accepted to present at the Southwest Popular and American Culture Association Conference (SWPACA) in Albuquerque in the middle of February, 2015. I am looking forward to presenting at this conference and getting to hear ideas and meet fellow scholars interested in the same kind of work that I am doing.

* I was randomly selected to be featured in an interview and video recording of my ENG 101 class for a Writing Programs project entitled Visualizing Teaching In Action (VITA). This was challenging in that I had to reflect on and discuss my own pedagogical practices and beliefs, but I think it has been productive for both me and my students to have done this work.

I still have the last third of the semester to finish out, and I am hoping it will be as rewarding and productive as it has been thus far. I will post more about the points posted above as they come to fruition.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Summer Tutoring

As a full time student nine months out of the year, the summer months always provide a bit of a quandary as far as how to best spend my time and how to make some money. I've done nannying in the past and this summer I got to spend two mornings a week with a friend's one year old son, which I really enjoyed. I wanted to branch out this summer, though, and perhaps begin to grow a private tutoring business. Craigslist came in handy and I was able to secure three students to do private tutoring sessions with. One man I met with only one time as he was wanting some specific guidance on workplace tone and diction, but the other two students I met with weekly from one to four hours.

This experience was unique for me because unlike a composition classroom in which you spend maybe one hour meeting individually with a student over a fifteen week period, I was able to sit down with these students every single week and speak to them directly about their growth in English and composition, as well as quickly and specifically identify areas where they needed further instruction and practice. The ages, backgrounds, and needs of the two students were very different, but I felt confident that by my final sessions with them they had both grown and achieved higher levels of success in their reading, writing, and comprehension of English.

What struck me most through all of the sessions I conducted this summer was the way that genre studies is so applicable in almost any writing or reading scenario. Genre studies and activity theory are the basic pedagogical ideas that the Illinois State Writing Program is based on. When I first started at ISU I was so confused by the idea of genre studies, and a colleague and I sat down with our WPA to simply say, what is this theory and how do we teach it? Although I was totally unaware of this type of pedagogy, or that ISU taught it, when I enrolled, I am forever grateful that I not only grasped the ideas, but have learned how to effectively teach them. Joyce Walker is the WPA at ISU and her article "Just CHATing" briefly explains genre studies and CHAT. This article is a great gateway to understanding, and helping students understand, the complexity of writing situations both within and outside of the classroom.

Although I didn't get as far on some publication work as I would have liked, I still feel that this summer was well spent. I was able to make some money, begin to work with students in private tutoring, and see the foundation of my learning and understanding grow deeper. The two students that I worked with consistently this summer had this to say about their growth in the sessions:

"Learning about and practicing grammar and writing responses has aided me the most."

"Learning about audience was most helpful to me because each genre of writing can use many audiences, depending on the topic and format."

Thursday 17 July 2014

Assessment Institute Success!

The assessment institute went well today! We started out the day with sessions on statistics and rhetorically based writing assessment from Diane Kelly-Riley and Bob Broad, then moved into our breakout sessions. I ran my first two sessions on race, culture, and identity in writing assessment, and we had really good discussions. The first session group emphasized the importance of recognizing language variation in the classroom, and we discussed the ways that we could help students recognize the value in that difference as well. In the second group we discussed more specific assessment strategies for looking at race and culture in writing assessment.

Laurenn and I ran the third breakout session on our Initial Genre Assessment. I really enjoyed this discussion. Many of the participants had really good questions about student reactions as well as how we implemented the assessment in our course. They also offered some really great suggestions for us to consider for the future of our assessment and publications.

The afternoon session was spent in smaller work groups. There were some really great some discussions in these sessions as well as the participants shared their various assessment and program needs and views. The following list encapsulates some of the discussion items and questions raised in this session:

* Learning objectives versus rubrics
* What do we want our writers to be able to do?
* The program profile must ask: what do we value?
* In workshops we must demonstrate how assignments meet outcomes
* What's best to assess?
* Assessment needs to be part of the curriculum

I enjoyed the opportunity to be an associate institute leader at the CWPA. It challenged my thinking and perceptions on many assessment issues.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Preparing for the CWPA Assessment Institute

I am excited to be writing my first blog post on my new site! After a summer of researching and a lot of reading (although, quite a bit of it was for fun!), I am preparing for my first conference in what I would consider the 2014-2015 school year.

This week/weekend Illinois State University is hosting the CWPA in Normal, IL. I am privileged to be working as an Assessment Institute Associate Leader for tomorrow's session. We will be discussing writing and program assessment with a group of WPAs and others who attend. I am going to be leading a couple breakout sessions on the value of seeing race, culture, and identity in writing assessment, as well as co-leading a breakout session with Laurenn Jarema on the Initial Genre Assessment that we coauthored in the spring of 2013 (link under "Projects").

I think that this institute will be a great way to begin this new school year as a way to connect with like-minded thinkers and researchers, as well as a jump on Laurenn and I preparing our IGA work for submission for publication.

Off to write some breakout session handouts~


Find more information about the CWPA HERE.