Unlike many of my peers, I’ve been back at work, teaching, for two weeks. I was really, really worried about teaching my ENG 100 (or Freshman Writing) class this semester because my two sections of the same course went so poorly last semester. I mean, disastrous. I think I was still carrying a lot of that negative energy from last semester with me leading into this semester, which probably contributed to my generally foul mood towards the end of the summer.
Thankfully, I was (as is often the case) worrying for nothing. No, that’s not entirely accurate; the worry fueled me to really take a hard look at my syllabus and once again redo it to make it work better in the classroom. I didn’t change the books I used, but instead changed the assignments and the order in which we read the book. I also worked really hard to incorporate more play, experimentation, and building. The trick, it seems (duh), was to start playing right from the start. I had them respond to the question I always ask (describe your relationship to reading and writing, as well as their attitude towards learning), but then I asked them to play with their texts, starting with turning it into a Google Search Story .
And here’s where things could have gone really, really wrong. It seems the Search Story Creator  is buggy when it comes time to upload the videos (so be warned). I had flashback from the previous semester when my students rebelled and shut down the moment they were faced with any sort of technical glitch. But, my students showed resiliency and a bit of ingenuity. They created new usernames. They changed browsers. Some even went as far as “hacking” the file and uploading it themselves. I hadn’t planned for the activity to be such a pain (and, really, making the video wasn’t a problem at all), but I was glad that we got to have a conversation about problem solving and resiliency. At the end of day, if they give up after one technical problem, how will they react when the going gets really tough?
(They also played with making word clouds, completely re-writing their short literacy narratives, and helped they discover how constructive peer-review can be .)
We’re already one writing assignment down (whew) and we’ve moved on to Chapter 8 in Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It. Why start with the final chapter, and (if you’re read it) why a chapter that deals with the aging brain? The full title of Chapter 8 is “You, Too, Can Program Your VCR (And Probably Should)” – I wanted the students to think about they excuses they use as to why they don’t or won’t learn. I asked the students to write about the last time they learned how to do something new, and the question actually stumped many of them. How often do students get to learn how to do something (that doesn’t also sound like some sort of torture to them – like “write an essay”)? So, I got them to learn a new tool – Twitter. I wanted them to focus specifically on how they could use Twitter a learning tool (learn what? Whatever is relevant to them).
Their next writing assignment is to learn a new digital tool of their choosing, then create a “document” that teaches their classmates how to use that same tool and why. They need to research various ways in which the tool has been used and how they see themselves using it going forward.
But who I am if not game to go through what I put my students through? I’ve forced myself to learn and use a new tool, and I chose Xtranormal  (I know, I know, welcome to 2010). The tool itself is pretty easy, but the challenge was to use it in a meaningful way as a teaching tool. I decided to turn an hour-long lecture about active reading that I give every semester into a two-and-a-half minute short animation video. It confronted me (yet again) with just how much time I waste lecturing, even after consciously moving away from I-talk-They-listen teaching. I’m also hoping that the message I want to convey about active reading reaches them more effectively in this format (and, that it goes viral).
Here is my Xtranormal video, How Not To Read For College :
(Oh, and my one section where I’m still doing Peer-Driven Learning is doing fine.)