Because I Can't Help Myself: Using Canvas Discussion to Practice Style and Grammar

When I began teaching E316K, I was disappointed but not particularly surprised to find that by and large, my students couldn’t write well. Sure, there were a few outliers who turned in clear, dynamic prose; overall, though, I could be administered a vaccine for redundant sentences and clunky syntax. Often, I’d catch myself wondering, “Who let you get this far without teaching you how to write?”

On Making Your Class Mad: Some Pros and Cons

There’s nothing quite like having twenty-one angry people gathered in a small windowless room—especially when they’re all angry at you. Now I know to expect (and to look forward to!) just such a class day when I teach Jamaica Kincaid’s 1988 essay A Small Place

What to Do When Students Want to Talk in Class

Three students sitting at desks with their hands raised

I’ve been feeling very invigorated this semester as a teacher for several reasons: I’m teaching RHE 309S for the first time, incorporating more digital writing and texts into my syllabus, and the kids I’m teaching seem pretty invested in the material. In fact, they love to talk in class. Managing the class discussions, then, has presented a new challenge for me as a teacher.

The Shock Factor: Using Heavy Content in Class

Photograph of three small statues

This semester I’m teaching The Rhetoric of Documentary Films, and I have a very engaged group of students who have various levels of familiarity with the course topic.  In fact, one of my challenges in this course is devising class activities that are enlightening for both the person who has seen only one documentary (usually one of Michael Moore’s films) and the person who has seen dozens.  One of the ways I have approached this challenge is by showing clips from a wide variety of films: I figure that I will be opening some minds to the diversity of the documentary genr

Mitigating Silence

Speech bubble with an ellipsis inside

I’ve never been able to hold a silence in class. There’s lots of talk about how long you can let a question hang in the air--there’s a swagger in these discussions, a sort of teacherly way of one-upping one another. And I’ve heard boasts about a minute or two and stories about those rare masters that can hold the three, four, five minute silence (we can, in this regard, look toward John Cage as having raised the long silence to an artform).

Getting Students to Disagree

Chalkboard drawing of stick figure with text Formula for English Class Discussion

I am teaching 306 for the first time this semester. Apart from the typical anxieties and uncertainties of teaching a new format (and a lot of content that had thus far been foreign to me) things are going pretty well. More important, they seem to be going better every week. Of course there are still many things I struggle with. One of the most important ones to me is getting a decent group discussion going.

Class Discussion and Writing Due Dates

New Yorker cover featuring a blurry drawing overlaid with a graphic indicating the image is loading

This semester I’m teaching a composition class centered around The New Yorker magazine. The impetus for this course was that I wanted my students, who grew up with the immediate culture of the internet, to spend hours musing over longer arguments, and then try and rearticulate those arguments in a critical manner. This is a difficult task when one’s being bombarded with tweets and texts all the time from friends, as I know most twenty-first century students are.

Learning to Let Go: My Friday Non-interference Pact with my Students

Waterskiing cat soaring above the water

I think virtually every newcomer to collegiate teaching realizes early on, with varying degrees of dismay, that “teaching” and “parenting” are closely related functions.  I find my students often find it hard to think outside of a kind of parental relationship: they are legitimately shocked when I tell them, for example, that I don’t care why they missed class, or that their C (or B, or A-, even) is neither a reflection of my personal feelings about them nor assigned punitively but rather my best assessment of their performance on an assignment ruled against some form of index.  B


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