Methods of Teaching: Modeling

In our last class session, we discussed how to model close reading for our literature students, and while this week’s readings do not discuss modeling extensively, I’d like to return to discussing this technique, both in the literature and composition classroom.

Beginning with the composition classroom, I’m currently teaching a section of ENG 1020 (basic composition).  This is my first time teaching this course since the department redesigned it (and my second time teaching it ever), so it is still very new to me and a learning experience; in addition, all my assignments are new or revised, so I have no examples to offer students.  We are, in fact, learning together.  Thanks to snow days, the class’s first major writing assignment has just been submitted, and having graded 1/3 of the papers so far, I’m largely disappointed (even with lowered expectations).  As we begin work on the second project, I have accepted that modeling the process I expect the students to take is, at this point and with this class, a necessity.  Borrowing and modifying another instructor’s assignment, I am asking my students to select a scholarly article that interests them (the only restraint I place on this is that it must be related to the course theme of fairy tales in some way), summarize the argument in the article, analyze the article rhetorically, and then begin to form their own responding argument that they will then expand/revise for their next assignment, their researched argument paper.  To model this, I will be doing the assignment with an essay I already assigned the class to read, to both work out and anticipate “new assignment” kinks as well as offer my students an example of a “good” paper for the project. (On a side note, looking at rough draft comments from our in-class workshop shows they neither followed directions nor took the activity seriously, so I’m using a suggestion from the practicum and having small group conferences so I can help model what exactly they should be doing in a peer review workshop.)

My other thought on modeling is that I should take advantage of my own position as both instructor and student and make my own writing available to my students.  I considered doing so last semester while teaching Intro to Fiction and Writing when my students became quite interested in an off-hand comment I had made about my own work on my Prospectus.  While I considered uploading various drafts onto Blackboard for students to look at if they were at all interested, I never got around to doing so.  However, I’m still thinking about it.  In particular, I’m wondering if it might not offer students a chance to see “real” revision as opposed to inconsequential editing; I also think it could be a good way to highlight writing as a *process* as opposed to a one- or two- step task.  It could also enhance my credibility as their instructor–“See, this is what I do and what I know about academic writing”–and more importantly, put us on a more equal ground in the sense that they are not only sharing their writing with me, but I am also sharing my writing with them (should they choose to look at it, of course).  In a literature course, there is also the benefit of showing them what can actually be written about literature when you continue to study it beyond the required General Education courses.  However, I don’t want students to expect that that is the quality of writing I expect from them at these early stages, and there is also the mild anxiety that comes with sharing one’s writing with anyone but especially those you don’t know well.  Plus, the fear that they will think it is BAD and I’ll lose all credibility in their eyes.  And of course, the pessimistic (or perhaps realistic) realization that probably no one in the class would bother to look at, let alone read, the lengthy papers/chapters I’m currently in the process of writing.  As you can probably tell, I’m still quite undecided on the benefit of this type of modeling, but would very much appreciate input on the idea–Yay or Nay?


4 thoughts on “Methods of Teaching: Modeling

  1. I think that it is a great idea that you are modeling your examples of revision to your students. I find when I use “polished” copies of my writing in class, it creates more anxiety in students to try to sound like the instructor when they write. Showing students all of my misspellings, fragments, and awkward structures, helps me reinforce the “process.” Do you allow students to share their rough drafts in class? If so, do you find students are hesitant to share their rough drafts?

    • I practically force students to share their rough drafts during peer review workshops, which are required in my classes, but I treat it as commonplace so I’m not sure how anxious students actually are about the concept. Students don’t share their rough drafts with the entire class, though, just a couple fellow students, which I think cuts down on anxiety. I have asked students for permission to share their final papers (for the first project) with the entire class as examples of well-written character analyses, for example, to show the class what I considered an A paper, review technical issues like topic sentences, incorporation and analysis of evidence, etc, and give students a chance to compare their own final submission with the ones that truly excelled. This worked quite well in my Intro to Fiction and Writing course last semester, so I will probably do the same this semester with Basic Composition. It gives credit where it’s due and clarifies in a way that rubrics do not what I expect students to strive for in their writing. If I were teaching the same class(es) again, however, I would probably present the examples prior to the first assignment being due–this just hasn’t been an option for me yet. I have also held mini workshops on thesis statements and these seem to be quite popular with the students as well as helpful in getting them to focus on their thesis statements. I’m currently wishing there had been time to do so this semester prior to this first project being due…

  2. I remember a scarring experience from my undergraduate degree where a professor put up a “good” essay and a “bad” essay on the overhead and showed us the differences. Unfortunately, the professor had not asked permission from the students to use these essays as models, and the student who had his essay up as the bad example really had his confidence shaken. I think modelling revision and writing off of the instructor is a fantastic idea. A great way to show your students that you are always learning also, and that everyone has to revise.

  3. Pingback: Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015 | shandi lynne wagner

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