Friday 29 May 2020

The Best We Can

The end of the semester came both slowly as myself, my students, colleagues, and university grappled with the effects of this pandemic, and all at once, as the work we had been doing suddenly came to a close and we sent our seniors off with mailed gifts and a Zoom call party. It was not the ending to the school year that any of us wanted, but my one take away from the whole 2019-2020 school year is how proud I am of my students. This year asked so much of them. It asked them to pivot and adjust and communicate and overcome, and they really, really did.

Graduation image from @lifeatolivet
The university closed the week after spring break, and the students had to move home but continue all of their course work from there. I was impressed by my upper division fiction and poetry students who continued to produce good work, respond to their peers, and ended the semester with a strong portfolio of work. If possible, I think I was even more impressed by my 50 some 200 level college writing students, as almost all of them submitted their major, final project on time and finished the semester strong. I said this to my 200 level students in their final course announcement:

"This is an announcement to let you know that your final semester grades have been calculated in the grade book. You have finished the semester, and you have done it well. I don't know that I have ever had a group of students that I have seen face as much difficulty or been prouder of for finishing strong. Good, good work."

Some of them faced real hurdles in completing their semester, and I hope they know how proud of them I am for doing so well. That being said, the semester definitely did not end the way any of us had envisioned. I felt especially sad for my seniors who left campus in a rush and didn't get to say goodbye to their friends, professors, and favorite campus spots. The president of the university did confer degrees digitally, but I know they were also very sad to miss their graduation. There is a graduation ceremony scheduled for mid-August, but if that will actually happen is yet to be seen. Instead of donning mortarboards like last year, we were at home wearing masks.

May 2019
May 2020
We did have a celebration for our English department seniors via Zoom. I had taught all nine of the graduating seniors this year, so I was really glad to get a chance to say goodbye to some of them on the video call. I also wrote them a send off poem (with some feedback from my colleague), and I read that to them at the close of our Zoom call party. Glad we could send off the seniors with good wishes!

Senior Zoom Party

As I alluded to, all of my students completed large writing projects in the second half of the semester. My College Writing II students wrote final projects in the form of academic article manuscripts that incorporated multiple sources of secondary research and at least one source of primary research. In their final presentations and reflection letters many of them said they greatly enjoyed the primary research as conducting interviews, surveys, or observations gave them more input into their research and their writing processes and conclusions. The topics of the articles were meant to be centered around a subject in their majors, and there were articles written about lighting in hospital rooms, the effect of caffeine on college students, screen time usage, understanding the stock market, and many others. The students were invested in their subject matter for these articles, and it showed!

In my Writing Fiction and Poetry 300 level class the students compiled course portfolios at the end of the semester. In those portfolios they included at least two short stories or chapters of work and at least eight poems. The subject matter varied greatly here as well, as some students wrote very literal, stream of consciousness type stories, while others composed fantastical stories set in imagined mythical worlds. There were stories and poems about love and loss, death and life, pigeons and frogs. I really enjoyed reading and commenting on the students' work this semester, and I believe they really enjoyed giving and receiving feedback, as well. Many of them said so throughout the semester and in their final reflection letter. I said this to my 300 level students in their final announcement:

"Though I think we are all probably ready for a break and a bit of a rest after this chaotic semester, I am actually very sad to see this class end. I have truly enjoyed reading your work, offering you feedback, and seeing your discussions with one another. Many of your stories and poems have stuck with me, and I sometimes wonder what those characters will get up to next. I can't wait to see many of your works published or printed, as I'm sure they will be."

I really am excited to see some of their work in a published format one day! I focused the five writing workshops in the class around the five rhetorical appeals, as I had done last time I taught it, and I found that that loose focus gave enough guidance to the students to comment on their peers work but left the interpretation open enough for them to comment on what they wanted to. I enjoyed using that framework in the course again.

In addition to the course work, I also continued to work with my colleagues and department chairs on creating materials and assessments for both the general English major and the writing major, which will debut in the fall. I also continued to research and discuss overall pedagogical practices for our 200 level writing courses. As a practitioner of Pedagogical Cultural Historical Activity Theory in my own 200 level writing classes, I compiled materials and created a module of information for my colleagues to reference in regards to this theory and it's application in the classroom. I also recorded this video called "Chat About CHAT" defining and discussing the theory and some of the ways it can be taken up in scholarship and the classroom.

There is a lot going on in the world right now that it makes it difficult to know how to proceed some days. I feel the weight of injustice and sickness and uncertainty, and I wish nothing more than for those realities to be lifted from my friends and family and our state, nation, and world. Personally, it is nice to have a break from work for the summer summer, but it's also tricky to find balance and motivation. I'm focusing on being thankful for all that I have been given and to use my voice to support and love as I can and distribute my energy as needed. Thanks for reading.

Be safe. Be kind. Be well.

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