Probably the most important thing I want my students to take away from 1106 is how to make choices—choices about their research and choices about their writing. I want a truly student-centered classroom where my students work together to learn. My 1106 class is the best way I know to do that.
My 1106 is project-based. Each student chooses a topic to research throughout the semester. Then they chose how to convey that topic to three different audiences in three different genres. One genre must be written for an academic audience, one must be written for a public audience, and one must include a strong focus on visuals. All of this is submitted at the end of the semester in a portfolio. The advantage of this course is that it puts a lot of responsibility on the student for his/her own learning. And students who pick topics that truly interest them often produce amazing work. The disadvantage is that it can be difficult to know what to do in class when everyone is going a slightly different direction, and I often feel like a mini-thesis advisor for each of my students.
The Course Sequence:
The first time I did this, it was a little too wild and free. But the second time, I divided the course up into three units: Doing Research, Writing for Academic Audiences, Writing for Public Audiences, and Writing with Visuals. We started with a lot of discussion about choosing a research topic and had conferences to determine topics. We went over how to use the academic databases and the differences between a popular source (like Newsweek) that might be acceptable for writing for a public audience, and an academic journal, which would be preferred by their academic audience. We also talked about how to conduct fieldwork and different types of fieldwork they might do, such as surveys or interviews. Everyone’s project had to involve both fieldwork and library research, but they could chose to focus more heavily on one or the other.
The first thing that students had to submit was a proposal. This proposal went over their topic choice and included an annotated bibliography as well as a plan for fieldwork. This was graded separately from the portfolio so that students would have an initial grade and because I did not feel they needed to revise the initial proposal later in the semester.
The first time, I had students present on different genres from the Call to Write textbook. I asked the students to find examples of the genres they were writing in and show these to the class. However, the second time I presented instead and gave the class some initial examples. For example, I presented about literature reviews and fieldwork reports during the unit on academic writing. As a follow up, students created a wiki where the class made pages for different types of writing. They were required to add a substantive contribution to one page during each unit. So, once they had seen an initial example from me, they added more examples on the wiki and more links. I was really impressed with the materials they found online to help them write. They could also add other genres that I hadn’t gone over in class. That way I didn’t feel like I had to be an expert in every type of writing, but the students were developing a resource for the whole class about writing.
Peer review and drafting were also very important to this approach. For years I’ve struggled with peer review and have created a long list of questions for students to answer during peer review. In these sessions, since students might be writing in different genres, they had to guide the peer review more themselves. So, each group read the papers outside of class and came prepared with a letter for each of their group members. They then met and discussed each paper as a group. They were graded on the letter and their participation in the class meeting, and that seemed to work really well. In many cases they really got to know and care about each other’s projects. Student presented their final portfolio to each other at the end of the term.
I also collected drafts and provided extensive feedback on them. This part was essential to making the portfolio work. Students get nervous about not getting a grade until the end. So, I would update them with their current peer review grade and wiki grade as each draft was due. I also did a mid-term review where I asked them to write about their progress in the class, and I responded.
Some Examples of Student’s Final Projects:
Topic: Children’s Reactions to TV.
Research: This student observed children of different ages watching TV and asked them questions afterward. She also read multiple academic articles on the topic.
Genres: She created a fieldwork report about her observations, a magazine article for parents, and an illustrated children’s book for the children themselves. The book drew on the research to warn children not to copy what they saw on TV.
Topic: Same-sex v. Co-ed Dorms
Research: This project focused on field research including surveys and interviews conducted at different dorms. However, the student found some good academic sources on dorm life.
Genres: A fieldwork report on her surveys and interviews, a magazine article for teens on choosing dorms, and a brochure for in-coming freshman at VT about choosing dorms.
Topic: Nutrition and Athletes
Research: This student did a lot of library research about nutrition and athletic competition and also surveyed athletes about their pre-game meals.
Genres: A textbook chapter for a health class, a Seventeen magazine article complete with “Which Carbohydrate are You?” quiz, and a recipe book with information on why certain foods are good before or after a competition.