Monday 29 April 2019

Grow, Baby, Grow

So far, this month of spring has been marked as a season of growth. I do mean this literally as spring is the season of new growth and new life. I also mean it figuratively, as I have been struck several times lately by the growth I've seen happening in my own life and in my classrooms this semester.

One marker of growth is the way that time passes. In January we celebrated my 30th birthday in Thailand, and then this week, we celebrated Wade's 30th birthday here in Madison. Wade and I have been friends since we were 15 years old, so we've gotten to celebrate half of our birthdays together. Quite a marker! Our twenties, for the most part, treated us well, but I'm looking forward to what's to come in this new decade.
My 30th Birthday
Wade's 30th Birthday
We are also growing our family in our new home! This type of growth is marked by expansion, both of my waistline, as well as settling into a new home that's bigger than any home we've ever lived in. We (and the dogs) are loving the space, and I'm excited to feel fully settled. It's really nice to have space to grow, which is more than I can say for the little one inside.

New Home
New Baby
I've also noticed marked growth in my students and their work this semester, which has been really exciting. The semester has been somewhat of an odd one as we started out on such a rough note with literally weeks off due to cold and snow. That made the remaining fourteen(ish) weeks of the semester feel fairly cramped, and I do know that some of my students were feeling that as they came to their final products. In each of my classes, though, I've seen marked improvements in the areas of composition and communication.

College Writing I
Brainstorming in CWI
I ended up with about 40 College Writing I students this semester between two sections. That is slightly smaller than the average load, but I appreciated being able to give more one on one attention to the students in the classes. One class met from 6:00-8:30 PM on Monday nights, and though I know many struggled to get through, 19 students are finishing that class, which I think is an achievement. In their work, though, I've noticed noticeable growth over the last few weeks, which is always very exciting to see as a professor.

In class we spend a lot of time talking about genre conventions, which we define as "components of any given composition that are considered to be generally true." I usually give an example like, a letter versus an email versus a text message. They are all types of communication, but as composers and communicators, we understand that there are basic format, tone, and delivery methods for each type of composition-- those are the conventions. I would say that the students (like most) struggled with this idea through the first half of the semester, but as they have been composing this most recent project I've been really excited to see them engage with new conventions in ways they hadn't before. They are drafting magazine articles that synthesize outside arguments grounded in their own argument, and they are playing with conventions and new ideas in really cool ways. I've also seen significant growth from individual students, as they struggled at the beginning of the semester and now are near the top of the class.

Business Communication & Technical Writing
I would say of all of my classes, this B&T class felt the time crunch of the semester the most significantly. There are four major projects that run in this class-- right around midterm there are three going at one time-- so I understand the students' concern about getting everything done. That being said, I've seen some of the best results come out of this class that I've ever seen from business or professional writing courses that I've taught. One example is that the students are required to conduct a 30 hour practicum in order to earn one credit of the course. This is 30 hours outside of class where they work with a local business or organization to create professional writing texts. These are very real world situations, as the texts that the students research, compose, edit, and send out go to live audiences. One student's text was even sent to the IL State Senate. The practicum has been a requirement of the course where I've seen some students really excel and some not so much. This semester, though, for the first time, I've received back glowing evaluations from all 22 of the practicum supervisors. Every single student earned full credit from their supervisors on their work, and that is a real testament to their tenacity and work ethic this semester.
2019 B&T Proposals

The students in this class also work as groups to present a final proposal to members of the administration or leadership in various departments around campus. This is a large amount of work, as a problem needs to be clarified, solutions need to be feasibly composed, both primary and secondary research need to be conducted, and all of this needs to be put together in both a professional proposal and a professional presentation. As always, some groups struggled a bit in one or more of these aspects, as working in groups is tough enough in addition to all of these specific components. That being said, a few groups really went above and beyond. Of the five presentations given these year, I'd say at least two were up there with the best I've ever seen. One presentation immediately got the attention of the Vice President of Student Development, Dr. Woody Webb, who told the group he'd like to get working on their proposal immediately and have it in effect ASAP, which was very exciting for the whole class.

Writing Fiction & Poetry 
I was excited about the marked growth in this class because I actually wasn't the one who identified it! As we moved through the semester, I asked the students to consider the five rhetorical canons of composition (as I mentioned in my previous post) in order to better compose and understand the work of their peers. Based around these canons, the students participated in five writing workshops where they would meet with their peers and get feedback on their work. After the last workshop, I had us all gather together and share just one aspect that we liked in the work we read. That discussion brought about comments from multiple students about the exponential growth they had seen in the work of their peers over the semester. I totally agreed with them, but it was really cool to hear them give specific ways that they had seen their peers grow this semester in their voices, style, and arrangement. I think it was encouraging to the students as well, to hear things about their work they may not have even realized on their own.
Dr. Case's Author Talk

The students in F&P have had a lot of outside input, like the two guest speakers I mentioned last time. Since my last post, we have had a third guest speaker come speak to the class. His name is Dr. Stephen Case, and he is an Associate Professor in the department of Chemistry and Geoscience. He has also published widely, including both a novel and now a nonfiction text. He had a lot of great insight to share with the students. We also had a guest lecturer come in, as well as a lot of feedback from each other in the composing process. This will all come to fruition now at the end of the semester, as the students will be submitting work for consideration for publication and doing a public reading as a joint effort with Professor Jon Seals and the Art Department at the Victorian House Gallery on Olivet's campus. I am looking forward to the students getting to showcase their work.

As a professor, too, I think I have been challenged to grow this semester. These four classes that I taught challenged me to transition between conceptions of academic writing, professional writing, and creative writing on a regular basis. As notions of communication, composition, and conventions shift across each genre and purpose, I had to fine tune my ways of explaining ideas and setting expectations for my students. I've also been challenged to be better in those areas myself as I work with my TAs, department members, or other faculty and staff across campus. I think as I become more aware of my own habits of communication and composition I'm able to be more effective in instructing others along those same paths.

I look forward to what is to come as we conclude this spring semester-- my first as a full time faculty member-- and look towards what is next.

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