Principles

TIME-TESTED[1] PRINCIPLES of EFFECTIVE COMPOSITION INSTRUCTION and CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT:

an incomprehensive and always-evolving list of goals & ideals, compiled and organized with little attention to hierarchical organization, with the intention of reducing incidents of possible freak outs, as well as general anxiety and/or hypertension, while at the same time serving as a helpful guide (if obviously incomplete, since trying to get everything you know about teaching into two pages is totally impossible) for first year teachers of first-year composition at Virginia Tech.

EVERYDAY INSTRUCTION

*Plan every class period. Write down what you want to accomplish. Creating even the sketchiest of outlines (with time allotted for each activity, exercise or presentation) will help you stay organized & on track.

*Repeat frequently the goals and purposes of assignments and the course as a whole. Do this—i.e., talk about rhetoric and audience and purpose and rhetorical situation—as often as possible. Even if you think you’ve repeated some aspect of the class too often, it’s possible (if not probable) that you haven’t talked about it enough. Repeating the goals of rhetoric and rhetorical strategy and approaching these ideas in as many ways as possible, while providing a constant narrative about what you’re doing and why will be essential for both student and teacher success.

*At the beginning of each class period, introduce and explain how this particular class period will unfold.

*Wrap up each classroom session by re-emphasizing what you’ve discovered (and perhaps get them to wrap-up by writing a brief summarization of the events of that days’ class and handing it in).

*Show students examples of the kind of genre in which they will write. Give students time to respond on paper then dissect these examples individually, in groups, and as a class.

*Whenever you have the opportunity, encourage students to help you to generate lists: possible messages, potential audiences, potential strategies for reaching and motivating those audiences, various genres they might use to relay a particular message, possible genres and conventions of particular genres, and criteria for measuring success.

*Try to devote some time—somewhere between five to ten minutes per class period—to in-class writing. Writing before discussion or group work (allowing students to explore an initial question, addressing a problem, or even writing about the writing process) can give students the chance to articulate themselves on paper before participating publically.

*As a general principle, giving students more to do in class is better than not giving them enough. Likewise, coming prepared with more than you have time to complete is better than coming with less.

*Remember: the more fast-paced your classroom environment, the less likely students will be a. inactive and b. bored. In order to create and maintain a fast-paced classroom environment, provide students a number of purposeful, yet low-risk assignments (brainstorming, free-writing, responding to questions on paper) that require students to think and perform but don’t assess them based on how much or how complete an assignment is (banish the idea of “finishing” something).

*Big revelation: students like to look at stuff. Also: they like to watch and listen to stuff. So, when possible, utilize technology in order to make this happen. Write or draw (it’s funny, but they love it when you draw, even if you can’t, really) on the chalkboard. Show a clip from a movie. Analyze a website or a YouTube video. Make transparencies of an article and use the overhead projector to show students how to annotate. Show portions of student papers. Use Google Image to find artifacts to analyze rhetorically. Etc.

*“Show and Tell” isn’t just for kindergarteners. Bring stuff (i.e., anything with images or words) into the classroom. Likewise, whenever possible, relevant, and appropriate, ask students to bring text(s) and/or images to look at/ analyze/ discuss. (Often, it helps to ask them to scan a visual and send it via email.)

*Utilize the space of the classroom. Avoid standing or sitting in one space. Walk around. Move.

COMMUNICATION

*Speak up and speak clearly! Try also to be aware of whether or not students can hear one another speak and ask them nicely to repeat what they’ve said—or repeat it yourself. Re-saying (or saying in another way) the things students say can be extremely helpful in constructing substantial and coherent discussions.

*During discussion, generate open-ended questions. Repeat (over and over) that there is no “right” answer (unless there actually is). Once every other class (or every class, really) ask students to write down their responses first. Some of this writing may be turned in with or without their name on it, some might not. But it’s evidence that they’re present, and that they did something other than stare out into space.

*When asking a question, give students ample time to think and respond. Ten to fifteen seconds can seem like an eternity until you get used to it.

*Take time every once in a while to let them write down and submit questions, concerns, & confusions—anonymously. These can be questions about the assignment itself, about the class, about writing in general, anything.

*Know who’s participating and who isn’t. Find ways to involve those who don’t often participate. Pair people up. Put ‘em in groups. Avoid a situation where half the class is doing nothing. Don’t be afraid to call on people or call out certain quiet areas of the classroom (i.e., “We haven’t heard from the back row in a while; does anyone back there have an opinion?”).

*Encourage interaction, both between the students and yourself, and between students themselves. Small group work and working in pairs helps create community.

WORKSHOPS

*Prepare students for workshops by showing them—using the overhead, computer, or other visual aid—how to annotate, respond to, edit, and/or respond in any other way to another student’s writing.

*Provide students with specific instructions, time limits, and achievable goals.

*Take an active role in workshop. Walk around. Gently interrupt them to ask questions, address concerns. Remind them to follow instructions if they lose sight of them.

PRESENTATIONS

*Create criteria for effective presentations (consider allowing the class to help).

Take time between presentations to identify what worked and what could have worked better.

*Review criteria frequently.


[1] By Matthew Vollmer, anyway, who authored this page.

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