Meaningful Collaboration

My Hallway Conversation group met for the final time today, and we ended the meeting by making plans to stay in touch and continue collaborating. For me, this has been a refreshing experience connecting with colleagues. We shared our experiences teaching in this time-warp where some of us actually feel more connected to our classes because we’re spending less time driving on the freeway and more time texting and meeting with students. We discussed what the new normal might look like–what it should look like–when we return to campuses. And we focused on how to make collaboration meaningful and not simply requisite in our courses. 

One salient take-away I’m mulling is the importance of being present and not just productive in collaborative spaces. My colleagues reminded me of the importance of allowing students time and space to establish rapport with one another and to honor them as decision-makers in the process of project-based, group-oriented learning. The question remains, how do we do collaboration like this online, asynchronously? 

My group and I talked a lot about open, optional spaces, like Pronto in Canvas–or Discord–as well as student hour Zoom sessions, which may or may not be recorded and shared later. We talked about the value of affective assignments, like those collected by the Equity Unbound and OneHE group and like those my colleagues in Letters ->ahem-Jade<- ->ahem-Chad<- ->ahem-Tyrone<- have modeled for me for years now. 

The open space I’m tinkering with in my asynchronous class isn’t optional, but it is flexible. I call this space a Discussion Lead assignment.

Students have two weeks to contribute to this space before we workshop a major project. I ask students to 1) start something interesting, 2) share something interesting, and 3) respond to something interesting. Maybe they ask a question about the prompt. Maybe they ask a question about a concept. Maybe they share their thesis. Maybe they share their edgy title and a risky source. Participation here feels meaningful here, I think, because we all share a common feeling (of dread or joy, not sure sometimes) about our current drafts and the upcoming workshop, there’s intrinsic value posting in this space, reading in this space, and responding in this space. At least, I think so.

There is room to tweak and to think about how to fine-tune the context for each unique project and moment in the semester. The this-class-is-rad honeymoon period of Week 5 is way different than the what?-ENGL-is-still-happening? mindset of week 12, which is also way different from the we’re-in-this-together!!!! feelings of week 16. Thanks to my amazing colleagues, I have lots of ideas to think about, and a group I can reach out to share and hear feedback going forward. Thanks Scott, Dailyn, Liza, and Jose!

Hearing From Our Students

As we approach the end of the first quarter of the 17-week semester and the middle of the 8-week semester (yikes!), I’m thinking a lot about how my students are doing and how they’re engaging with the reading and their writing.
A couple weeks ago in my asynchronous ENGL 202, I posted a short video of me talking about “critical thinking,” and below, I embedded this google doc asking students to share what comes to mind when they think about “arguments.” At the end of the week, I embedded a wordcloud generator that asked students to share “where you’re at” as they wrapped up the week.
This week, I’m reading and responding to the first set of essays submitted in my asynchronous ENGL 100. One category in the rubric asks students to respond to my comments after I’ve graded their essay. I don’t mark that category until they respond. When they do, they get 10 more points, and I get a chance to have an asynchronous conversation with them about their writing.
Hearing from my students in these different ways–sharing their knowledge as I introduce a new topic, sharing their confidence and uncertainty at the end of a busy week, and sharing their questions and goals about their own writing in response to my feedback–not only fosters a sense of comradery and belonging in the class, it allows me to value my students as collaborators and leaders in our shared learning experiences and writing processes.
So, how are you hearing from your students right now in Canvas, in Zoom, and in other ways? Below are a few ideas to consider, and if you would like, please share more tips and tricks here.

Hear from your students

This is a great moment in the semester to check-in with our students to get the pulse of the class. How easily are students finding things? Is the pace of assignments nuts, too easy, or intriguingly steady? Is there anything are students feel we could be doing that we aren’t doing yet to make participation more accessible and engaging?

Share the results

Hearing from our students is so valuable to our teaching. Sharing back what we hear from them with the class can be equally valuable to their learning.
Embed Stuff
Most tools offer an embed code option with the < > symbol. If they don’t, you can use this html code to embed just about anything, even editible Google Docs! To embed the results of Google Forms, you can follow this dorkey tutorial.
Curate Stuff
Many of us create class playlists from the content students share. Make a regular place to spotlight student generated conctent in your weekly announcements, your instructional content, and your Zoom meeting activities.

Listen, lighten, and illuminate

Creating and managing formative feedback loops in my composition classes is THE ultimate goal. Sometimes these channels of communication are critical to the work of revision, and some time they are just plain necessary to helping each other get through challenging moments.
Incentivize Responses to Your Feedback
Create Ticket-out Activities (totally stole this from Chad)

We’re Establishing Routines

At the end of Week 2, as I finalize my rosters and settle into the emerging rhythms of another weird but promising semester, I’m thinking about how an asynchronous, classroom culture is forming and what I and my students are doing to shape it.
I’ve spent much of my time this week communicating with students. I’m messaging students who have missed a routine deadline or an important assignment with a quick, “Hey Susana. Did you intend to submit this assignment? Would you reply to this comment or email me to chat about how the class is going?” I’m using Canvas’ Rubric tool to grade early assignments quickly. I like to change the title of that 0 column from “No Marks” to “Please Resubmit” and sometimes “Please Email curry.” That way, there’s an invitation to a positive action communicated along with that low grade.
I’m also taking 15 minutes per class to identify student generated content from the week to showcase in my next Weekly Announcement. I’ve created an equity-minded roster that lets me promote students who are already showing signs of feeling overwhelmed or who may seem intimidated by writing or whom I identify as a student in a disproportionately impacted group. I begin the announcement celebrating an idea, a phrase, a structure, or connection to what we’re studying to honor that student’s knowledge and language and value their contributions. I keep a record of students whose work I have not yet promoted, so by mid-semester, everyone gets that spotlight.
Many of us do these sorts of things already; here’s a few great ideas from Mary, Chad, and Jade! These early interventions help us to cultivate a class culture and establish the routines we and our students will respond to going forward. Below are a few ideas to consider, and if you would like, please share more tips and tricks here.

Assignments You Value = Assignments Your Students Value

We all have certain assignments and policies that we tell students are important, and then we have certain assignments and policies that we show students are important. This is the week when students start to realize what they need to prioritize and what they can let slide based on what we grade, call out, ignore, put off, and simply forget. So which assignment or policy has the greatest potential value to your student writers and readers? What can you do at the beginning of next week to show students this value?
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Resubmitting revised work
  • Visiting office hours
  • Seeking Campus Resources
  • Low-stakes Reading Responses/Quizes
  • Discussion Posts and Replies
  • Active Participation in Zoom
  • Essay Drafts
  • Metacognitive Reflections

Spotlight Student Work

We know the most powerful ways we can increase retention is to foster real, meaningful connections with our students. We have the chance this week and next to do that proactively and with equity. Who in your class right now could use a boost? For whom would a simple positive message or shout-out of their work make the difference? We know there is something to celebrate in every students’ work–an idea, a phrase, a structure, a reflection, a triumph. Let’s get into a routine for doing that this week and next.
  • Shout-out students by name or by their work in your weekly announcements
  • Start Zooms session with “What’s Great from Last Week”
  • Integrate student generated content into your assignments and instruction

Turn Around Time

Quick, encouraging communication with students this week and next can be the thing that alerts them to take action within their abilities to meet your expectations and succeed in your assignments. We all want to provide comprehensive, formative feedback, but maybe what students need this week and next is a simple encouraging check-in. How can we be more efficient and timely in our communication with individual students?

Welcoming Our Students

We’re less than two weeks before the start of the spring semester, and I’m thinking about how to welcome my students.
I emailed my ENGL 100 students yesterday, and I am planning to email my ENGL 202 students tomorrow. I’ve put together a Google Site page with information about the course, which I can send to enrolled and waitlisted students. Having this info has helped make the add/drop process a little more manageable. If you’re interested you can check out my welcome letter for enrolled students, waitlisted students, and my course info page.
Many of us do this already, and many of us also offer our students some kind of syllabus quiz or course scavenger hunt during Week 1. This initial course assessment–in addition to community building, ice breaker activities–can help clarify expectations and build confidence.
Below are a few ideas to consider, and if you would like, please share more tips and tricks here.
Introduce 2-3 important things about your course
  • Introduce yourself
  • Describe your course theme or question
  • Provide links to the textbook and/or important apps or software
  • Screencast a brief tour of your Canvas course
  • Provide a list of important Week 1 due dates
Chunk your syllabus
Highlight the key policies, resources, and expectations
  • Student Support Services and Resources
  • Participation, Late Work, and Extra Credit policies
  • Major assignments with a breakdown of grades
  • What to expect in Zoom meetings (including accommodations for voice and video participation)
Include a link to an orientation to online learning
Our friend, Jim Julius facilitates 1-hour workshops for students planning to take online classes.

The Online Education Initiative group created asynchronous tutorials that help students prepare for online course work. Topics include “Getting Tech Ready,” “Communication Skills,” and “Online Reading Strategies.”

At the end of Week 1, assess your students’ expectations
  • Send out a brief survey
  • Assign a low-stakes “syllabus” quiz
  • Assign a muddiest-point discussion

The information we share to welcome and encourage our students is important, and equally (if not more) important is how our students receive and interpret that information. A quick, low-stakes assignment at the end of the first week can give you and your students an opportunity to clarify expectations, increase confidence, and even collaborate over how best to participate in your course.

Mental Health in Online Teaching

Happy end of the semester, Letters colleagues!

In my last Writing with Machines professional development workshop as your interim Technology Coordinator, we had a great discussion about supporting mental health and wellness, for both ourselves and our students, in our online classes. Please check out the Zoom recording and Google slideshow below to hear your colleagues’ great ideas about how to support student mental health through pedagogy and practice, as well as how anti-racist work promotes mental wellness. You are also invited to to add comments and share your own ideas on mental health and wellness online. 

Thank you for your time, participation, and support this semester! Have a restful, safe, and healthy winter break. See you in the spring!

Anti-Racist Labor-Based Grading and Feedback

Do the terms “anti-racist” and “labor-based grading” make you a little nervous? Not to worry! Our most recent Writing with Machines professional development workshop spotlights pragmatic and successful implementations of both praxes. Check out my Google slideshow as well as the Zoom recording with your fabulous colleagues! Feel free to respond with your thoughts and/or examples of effective grading and feedback practices.

Culturally Sustaining Feedback and Equitable Grading

Hello, Letters family!

If you missed the Writing with Machines professional development workshop on culturally sustaining and equitable feedback and grading of student work, check out the following Google slideshow with embedded readings, videos, and other resources, as well as the recording of the Zoom session. Add your own ideas and questions to the comments!

Whiteboards, Huddleboards, and Gallery Walks in Online Classes

Some of my favorite in-class teaching tools are now gone as we head into an online fall semester….or so I thought! I use the whiteboards, huddleboards, large sticky notes, and computer screens all the time when I teach. We’re constantly in groups working on something that we want to display for others to see or spreading out around the whiteboards in the room to make notes about characters in a novel. I’ve also become very accustomed to using the whiteboard in the class as a place to make quick notes, demonstrate concepts, or validate student responses by writing them down. Now that we’re online, these physical, tangible tools need to be replaced somehow. The two best ways that I’ve found so far are the Padlet app and Zoom annotations

Here are links to two of the Padlets I referenced in the video if you’d like to see more:

Criminal Justice Reform Padlet

Riff Off Activity Padlet

Check out the video below to see a few examples of how I use these tools: