I just got back some student evals from my intro to literature class, and I'm so excited by how positive they are. I didn't even have that one student (or two, or three) who finds me really annoying or lame. Amazing.
I'm not saying this to brag but rather as a preface to this confession: I know my comp evals would not be so positive. I only had to do student evals for one class this term, so I won't see comp evals this year, but I know they wouldn't be pretty. I've been doing a lot of new things this term, and, as a result, the time managment and organization has been tough for me and, therefore, tough on the students.
Let's face it. After about 13 or so years of teaching it, I have never figured out the best way to teach composition. And by "composition," I mean a writing class that focuses on argument and ends with a 10-page documented argument, which is otherwise known as "The Research Paper."
Why can't I get it together with this class? Perhaps it's because I teach at a community college and have a lot of unskilled writers, for whom I feel a great sense of panic about their lack of writing skills? Perhaps, as result of this panic, I try to do too much?
Either way, the class is too multi-faceted for me. Give me a good survey or lit class any day, for which I can adopt a rather linear curriculum and a sane and regular assignment schedule. How I love chronology, let me count the ways. But as many of you know, the comp class involves grammar, style, MLA documentation, rhetoric, logic, organization, information competency--and that's just the beginning of the list which contains all kinds of subtlties, such as not "preaching" to your reader, having strong conclusions, integrating quotations, avoiding inflammatory comments . . . the list could go on forever, right? And it's not like math when you don't have to do certain functions until you've covered them. A writing class doesn't have that kind of inherent progression. We could talk about style first. We could talk about syntax first. We could talk about argument first. We could talk about paragraphs first. We could talk about MLA first. Right?
I think it's typical for most writing instructors to have a variety of assignment types and drafts that are always coming and going. Since there are so many skills to master, we mix it up a bit. But this busy highway of work is making me--and my students--crazy. I think that sometimes we are actually losing the cost-benefit struggle. It's. All. Just. Too. Much. It's so fragmented, like a giant post-modernist experiment that refuses to cohere.
So. I think I need to do something different (although I'm sure my husband would tell you that doing something different [every term] is a big part of my problem).
But after getting such positive evals back today from my lit class, I'm thinking, "What can I do to offer a more positive learning experience for my comp students?" "Why can't I be as good at teaching comp as I am at teaching lit?" (Actually, I think I used to be better at teaching comp than I am now, but that's another mystery.)
Maybe I just need to start leaving stuff out. Focus more. It's not like they really master or even get all off the stuff I'm telling them they need to do, so maybe if I leave a few things out, they will master more of what we do cover, and we will all keep our sanity along with some degree of self-confidence. But what would I leave out?
Tell me. How do you focus/structure you comp classes? What works best for you? What do you skip? What do you hit hard? How do you make the class more linear and progressive and less like a giant spider web of skills that are so hard to master? How do you make it engaging? How do you make it coherent? How do you make it so that you enjoy it and don't drive yourself crazy?