Fashion Blogger Rebecca Moore Howard

Full circle

Like most compositionists, I taught writing for the first time as a graduate student. Like many, I taught a common syllabus that the course director had designed. Like many, I learned how to teach from that syllabus; from the textbooks chosen for the course; and from the weekly staff development meetings run by the director.

That was in the 80s, when one-on-one conferencing was new and when the Diederich scale was still commonly used for evaluating students’ written texts.

Lots has changed since then, including me. Every time I teach introductory writing, I change my syllabus and my methods. If I ever become complacent about how I’m teaching, I’ll know it’s time to quit. But there are constants—individual conferences and peer review, for example.

This semester, however, I’ll be returning to a model that I only used in that externally imposed syllabus in the early 80s: a workshop day every week. I’m teaching intro writing on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule this fall, and every Thursday will be a workshop day. Some of these Thursdays will be in-class peer review. Some will be online peer review, conducted through the amazing peer review system that Paul Banks and his colleagues at McGraw-Hill have designed for their Connect program. Some will be face-to-face individual and small-group conferences with me. Some will be online conferences with me, probably through something as simple as a chat program. And some will be written dialogues, on the model that my partner developed for a WAC component in his Western Civ-ish courses at Colgate, where he provides a prompt for critical and creative thinking on a thorny philosophical problem; the students write a one-page answer; he responds to that; they respond to his response; and so forth. How the conversation unfolds depends on each student. In some cases my partner winds up talking about baseball with the student; in other cases, Plato. The idea is the written conversation, not some “end” that he has foreordained.

Regardless of what activity I choose in any given Thursday, what will be interesting for me this fall will be to have 50% of the class contact time devoted to workshopping. Over the past few years I’ve moved away from my earlier immersion in process pedagogy and more toward an in-class dialogic model. But the last time I taught intro comp, I felt as if my dialogic model had become too top-down: there was too much of me telling rather than students figuring out. So now I’m swinging back to 50% workshopping. It will definitely give me some deja vu.