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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
Resubmitting revised work
Visiting office hours
Seeking Campus Resources
Low-stakes Reading Responses/Quizes
Discussion Posts and Replies
Active Participation in Zoom
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?
Short responses to email with a template of links to office hours and campus resources
Spare feedback on assignments with an invitation to reply with more questions or meet to talk
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.
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.
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!
In my English composition classes, I really, really hope to promote reading as an essential step in the writing process. Since I started teaching, I’ve relied on low-stakes writing assignments–journaling, in-class writing, annotations, etc–to promote mindful reading habits linked to larger writerly tasks. When I started teaching online, I simply adopted a digital journal inside the LMS, that is, until we switched to Canvas, which does not have a journal tool. Time once again to bend Canvas to my pedagogical will.
In this video I share two approaches that provide students with a space to explore texts and experiment with ways to value the act of reading; space that also provides me an opportunity to intervene, celebrate, and nudge students as their develop their own unique reading process.
Here’s a guide for how to highjack Canvas’ Discussion tool to create a reading journal:
1. Navigate to the People tab and create a new Group Set
2. Title the Group Set, select the “I’ll create groups manually option,” and click Save.
3. Find the tab for the group you just created and then click the +Group button. Create a group for every student in your course. Once you have a group for each student, drag their name into their group. This may take a little while…
When your students log in, they will see they have access to a link under Course Groups. When they click on this link, they will have access to their own space in your Canvas course where they can upload files, create pages, etc.
Here’s what that looks like on a desktop
Here’s the view using Canvas’ mobile app
I find it a little hard to find everything students include in this space, so to make things a little more simple, I create a Discussion board and set it up as a group assignment.
I place the link to this discussion on the home page, and when students click into the discussion, they only have access to their own contributions.
Once they access the Discussion link, they simply click the “Reply” button and add their latest journal notes and reflections. This space becomes a repository for their ideas throughout the semester. Check out minute 2:06 in the video above for what this journal-discussion-Canvas-thing looks like for students.
In this series of vids, I provide an overview of how I will share resources with you all and then move into into some early communication with students to help them access Canvas and our course successfully.
In this video, I share my initial email communication with students and preview three student videos that are sent pre-semester to welcome, engage, and connect with students.
Here is a link to the video I send to students in the pre-semester email which guides them to logging on the Canvas and provides a basic overview of our course design/layout.
This is the video which provides some tips and guidance once students are in our Canvas Course how to approach the content for each week and navigate the course more easily.
Finally, this is a video that shows students how to use some of the most basic but useful tools when viewing Studio videos.
Since attending the Center for Urban Education Equity-minded Teaching Institute in 2018, I have explored methods for monitoring student progress and invested in high-touch, just-in-time interventions during the first 3 Weeks of the semester.
There are pros and cons to using Canvas’ analytics and progress monitoring tools, like the Notes and “Message Students Who…” features, just as there are pros and cons for developing your own informal techniques for monitoring your students’ engagement with the course. I share 3 approaches I have explored in the video above.
The following questions frame my evaluation of how I monitor student progress:
What system fits best with my workflow for preparation, interaction, and assessment?
Do these systems allow for a macro and micro-level view of individual student progress and the emerging class community we are forming?
How am I able to observe and document affective elements?
How am I able to apply race-conscious, gender-conscious, and other intersectional lenses to my students’ engagement with the course?
By documenting this information, I am finding more opportunities to intervene in my students’ learning experiences, especially during the first 3 weeks of the semester.
CUE places a significant emphasis on the first 3 weeks of a semester as the time in which habits for learning are formed, relationships are established, and a class culture takes shape. During these first three weeks,
I invite students to consider and then commit to the class
I target and equip reading and writing processes
I schedule synchronous/asynchronous opportunities for collaboration
I describe my progress-monitoring techniques and intrusive practices during this time in the video above.
As I continue to reflect on and evaluate these practices, I find I’m returning to these considerations:
Once I have the information about a students’ progress, what will I do? For whom? Why?
Do these intervention practices increase confidence, a sense of belonging, and agency in my classes?
Which students or student groups emerge as active contributors and community leaders because of these practices?
The tools and features in Canvas’ SpeedGrader allow students to respond to instructor comments. This creates the possibility for one-on-one conversations with students about their writing and about our feedback on their writing.
Here is a simple, additional requirement I have added to the major essay assignments in my ENGL 100 class that promotes the potential for these conversations.
To meet this additional requirement, students must complete three steps. Here’s the language I use:
Respond to Instructor Feedback
After your essay has been graded, review the feedback you received and write or record a response that identifies 1) one comment you found helpful, 2) one comment you plan to work on or that you found unclear, and 3) please state if you plan to revise or move on to the next project.
The additional 10 point I assign to this requirement amounts to 3% of the total course grade, which means a student who chooses not to complete this additional step is not penalized and can still earn an ‘A’ in the course overall.
I discuss the major benefits of this assignment in the video above. In addition to these, I also find that I am
leading students directly to my feedback in Canvas with instruction on how to use Canvas’ tools
dialoging with my students about their writing and my feedback in the same space their essay drafts reside
understanding who in the class is really benefiting from my feedback and who is not accessing my feedback, which helps me to be more effective in my intrusive practices and to use my time more efficiently