Course Portfolio Memo Two

I am sharing my process of course design via a series of memos I wrote during summer 2012. Below is the second memo in the series.

Course Portfolio Memo 2 English 145

Prediction of Student Learning

Note: Given that this is a new course for me, I have no direct evidence of student learning in this context. However, I am going to use this forum to predict what I think will happen based on teaching methods that I used in English 101. Then, at the end of the term, I can analyze what happened versus what I thought would happen.

Students come in to most classes with vastly different abilities and aptitude. Often, attitude—theirs and mine—determines students’ potential for success, as well as my job satisfaction.  Measuring student attitude is another matter, but it is oft reflected in their cumulative progress.   

I use a qualitative assessment tool to make improvements in my pedagogic approach over time, as well as to analyze student learning.  The assessment, given at the end of the term, has a threefold purpose. First, it helps students reflect on what they’ve learned, which serves a pedagogic purpose. Second, it provides me qualitative research to analyze to make future improvements based on student response. Third, it is akin to the memos of intent that they have completed for each project throughout the semester, so they have little trouble completing this longer report because it is a scaffolded assignment.

The assessment method takes one week of course-time to complete, which is a substantial time investment. I use this in lieu of a formal final examination. It is worth five percent of a student’s grade, but is not graded for formal grammatical structure, citation practices, or fluidity of prose. By removing the high-stakes assessment, I get more honest answers. Students seem to value being a part of the active research process, and I explain my ethical imperatives behind it. I introduce this assessment the first week of class and explain that we will revisit it during the final week.

Throughout the semester, I measure student learning by assessing and giving useful feedback for writing projects, blogs, and quiz grades in order to determine individual student improvements over time.  While grades are a good motivator for some students, I try to promote a greater sense of intrinsic motivation that carries deep learning forward to future projects. This is where the memos of intent are most useful. At its essence, a memo of intent is a self-reflective analytic document that details student understanding of:

•What the project was supposed to do/be

•How they went about completing the project

•Why the project was valuable to them, if indeed it was

•If they think they met the assignment’s goals, and how they did so

•If they feel they failed to meet the assignment, as well as why and how

•learning outcomes (provided) they addressed and how they addressed them

•How/why the project added to or revised their definition of a particular genre of writing

I use classroom assessment activities (Angelo & Cross) to make incremental adjustments based upon student suggestions.  Anonymity is important here, and students take it seriously once they know I’m sincere.

The biggest hurdle is helping student’s improve the general quality of their writing along with critical thinking skills.  One can have a piece of writing that is in form perfect but says nothing.  The memos of intent help students and me understand how and why this occurs. 

The English Department uses a final class evaluation via a scantron form. It is not particularly useful to me, and I don’t know how it is used it to determine my effectiveness in the classroom. It provides numerical data that is “perfect” in form but says “nothing” to me about how to improve.

Future Improvements

Based on my past experience with English 101, I might expect the following challenges.

In the beginning, the students will be hesitant to accept that all of the projects are not standard five-paragraph essays. Asking them to switch genres might be difficult for them. When that layer of complexity is introduced, their basic skills will likely regress but rebound to better effect, eventually. They might have difficulty adapting to different technological interfaces used for different rhetorical purposes.  In the past, this has been a psychological hurdle because they have a narrow definition of “writing.” They may find my assessment techniques complicated.

I don’t have student feedback for this course, yet. However, based on former feedback from English 101, I plan to implement the following:

•Provided sample documents along with major project assignments for analysis by students

•From these analyses I will create grading rubrics for future use

•I will use ReggieNet as the primary technological interface

•I will ask students for better feedback about their Julia Visor center experiences

•I will ask for feedback about group dynamics



Course Portfolio Memo Review

In the next couple of posts I am going to share my course portfolio memos that I designed during summer 2012 at Illinois State University’s Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology summer institute workshop–Developing a Course Portfolio. The workshop was designed to help faculty that wanted to plan or revise a course that they teach or were planing to teach in the near future. The idea behind the summer-long workshop was to help instructors set benchmarks for course design and “check its pulse” throughout the semester.

The end goal is to compare and assess an ideal instructional practice with the “reality” of the teaching/learning experience in order to make a course more effective for both students and faculty. For me as graduate student instructor of record, this was an opportunity to learn from more established faculty that work across a number of different disciplines. They were gracious and helped me revise my plans as the summer progressed.

Below I have posted my first memo as a “work in progress” document, so readers can get the gist of workshop memo components. The book we used in the workshop is Making Teaching and Learning Visible by Daniel Bernstein et al. (Anker Publishing, 2006, San Francisco, CA. Print.)

Course Portfolio Memo One for English 145

Personal Goals for the Portfolio

My goals for developing this portfolio are twofold: 1) I am in the process of clearly articulating and developing my teaching philosophy, so I need to better understand what students learn from my courses and my teaching methods in order to make improvements in the future, 2) I seek a consistent structural framework for longer-term documentation of the “intellectual effort” of teaching in all of the courses I teach. The overarching goal is to analyze how I teach and what students learn with more accuracy. Right now, this is about self-reflection and analysis, so I can respond to students’ learning styles and needs with greater flexibility.

Course Description & Student Profile

English 145 is an intermediate writing course for students farther along in their university studies. It fulfills a writing requirement for undergraduate students in a number of programs across the university—excluding business and government majors and honors students who take 145.13 or 145.12, respectively. English 145 is taught every semester and English 101 is the prerequisite course. Throughout the semester, students engage in original research methods, develop critical analysis of reading and writing in their academic disciplines, and gain transferrable skills necessary for success in the academy and beyond. Teaching a course like this that is applicable to so many disciplines is a challenge because I do not have expertise in all of the subject areas. However, this offers some advantages because the students are the “experts.” This helps build their confidence, and they have to research and explain their discipline’s genre to others with clarity, approachability, and accuracy in order to be successful. After completing English 145, students will have a deeper understanding of their individual disciplines and grow their potential for success within that discipline. They gain awareness of disciplinary differences as well.

Description of Resources

There is no formal textbook for the course. However, students are required by the English Department to purchase the Grassroots Writing Research Journal (GWRJ). This publication is a semi-annual peer-reviewed journal produced in-house from articles submitted by professionals, graduate and undergraduate students primarily affiliated with ISU. While the content is focused on the concerns of undergraduate writers, the journal content varies from semester to semester. To supplement the required resource, I have selected readings from a number of sources that help students move from observation to more abstract analytical skills. On the one hand, for example, an early project focuses on how to develop professional interview questions and the skills necessary to write about the interview results. One reading explains in detail how to do this in a professional setting, i.e. what questions to ask, how to ask them, and so forth. Another reading explains how to write for a specific target audience. I also selected readings on effective “note-taking” skills, and a more theoretical text about reading body language. On the other hand, a project that spans the entire semester requires that students select a nonfiction book from a list of popular titles provided them. They write a book review at the semester’s end based upon their note-taking, reading, writing, and research skills that they have gained throughout the semester. Each major project is scaffolded and sequenced to help students develop critical thinking and deeper analytical skills as the semester progresses. Incrementally, students move from writing “practice” to the study of “writing” as a process.

The class meets Monday and Wednesday for 75 minutes in Stevenson 221A. This is a computer classroom with a “lounge space” on one end of the room. The lounge space has 5 plush chairs on casters. This space is used for small group engagement when appropriate. In addition to an instructor projector station, there are two wall-to-wall dry-erase boards. There is a black and white printing station in the room, but it is not always reliable.

Specific Goals

Successful students are able to …

  1. critically review their own work to improve writing ability
  2. analytically evaluate readings, writings, and communications in their discipline.
  3. effectively collaborate and appreciate team-building skills and leadership potential
  4. feel increasingly competent in their disciplinary trajectory
  5. realize potential ethical implications of their work and discipline  

Overview of Teaching Method

Writing in the Disciplines (English 145) is an active-learning course designed to introduce students to genres they will experience in their majors and careers, as well as provide historical knowledge to ground their understanding of those disciplines. While it is a writing course, it covers more than the traditional research essay that has become commonplace and rote in the academy. Students are expected to be able to write proficiently in a number of genres. However, before they attempt to write in a genre’s style students need to be able to explain what a genre does and why, understand its historical underpinnings, and demonstrate why it is accepted as a form.

Therefore, the course is student activity-based with limited lecture time. Instructor contact time is devoted to guiding interactive discussions, answering and posing questions about course and student selected readings and activities, directing group work, and facilitating in-class writing and peer-review sessions.

Typical Class Session

Each Monday’s class session, unless it is an off-site field trip, begins with a student reading from her/his blog post, a peer-to-peer exchange of a written blog response with a prompted reader’s-guide, or an instructor review of the prior week’s “Classroom Assessment Techniques” (from Angelo and Cross’s book of the same name). Wednesday’s class sessions begin with a review of the online ReggieNet (CMS system) quiz on the reading they are to complete before class begins. These serve as a review of the assigned readings and are also discussion prompts.

Major project descriptions and assignments are introduced in conjunction with two student-writing samples in the genre I assign: one good and one poor. In small group settings, students form a list of the genre’s conventions that they deduce through rhetorical analysis of the samples. When we convene as a whole, students transition to a discussion of the methods required to write effectively in the genre I have assigned. Then, students will be provided with two more student-writing samples of a memo of intent that demonstrates how the students created the final products. Again, one is and exemplar and one is poor. The poorer examples usually garner a great deal of discussion, i.e. what not to do is as important as what to do.

These student activities are followed by an instructor-led demonstration of how one might approach the writing assignment, where one might find sources of information, what topic might be appropriate, who might be a useful guide, when things need to be completed, and why it is beneficial. Students work in small groups with peer-partners throughout each project. Small group settings foster the familiarity that is necessary to build a student’s confidence incrementally.

Assessment Methods

Module Assessment – Short Assignments

Students use the ReggieNet interface for assigned out-of class weekly readings, reading responses, and quizzes. ReggieNet “Modules” allow for sequential release of reading content that allows me to track student progress in quiz assessments and blog responses—all of which are linked to the ReggieNet gradebook and feedback features. These tools provide students with immediate feedback on their work and enable them to track their course grade with ease. ReggieNet’s electronic drop-box feature allows me to collect all student work efficiently, and students appreciate not having to spend money on printing.

Project Assessment – Long Assignments

There are three major course projects, each consisting of four phases, culminating in four written components: 1.) proposal 2.) research notes, 3.) final product, 4.) memo of intent

The proposal is completed in phase one and is a formative assessment reviewed by the instructor to help guide the student’s project. The research notes are compiled throughout the four phases and are informally assessed by the instructor and reviewed by peers to help give direction to the project. The final product is completed during phase three. The memo of intent is completed last.

The final product and memo of intent are assessed with an instructor-created rubric based on the “exemplar” and “poor” student samples that the students analyzed when the project was introduced. In addition, the student explicitly states in the memo of intent how s/he completed the project, what research methods s/he undertook to write in the genre, what worked, what didn’t work, and what s/he can do to improve the final product if s/he were to revise it. Finally, the student demonstrates evidence of their original research in the form of informal research notes that they have collected and shown the instructor throughout the project’s duration.

Each project is graded as a whole at the end of the phase progression. The proposal and research notes are not assigned a formal grade, as they are formative assessments. The final product is worth 75 points and the memo of intent 25 points. Each 100 point project is worth 20% of the final grade. The ReggieNet modules (quizzes and blogs) complement and clarify the larger projects and are worth 20% of the final grade. The remaining 20% of the final grade is contingent upon group presentations and participation.

The process of rhetorical analysis and revision is important in this course. Reading and note-taking skills are crucial to the success of the final written product—the skills are inseparable, to my mind. I use peer-review as an initial method to help students during the research and revision process; however, it takes a considerable amount of time to train students how to do this well, and not all students contribute their fair share. As a result, I now require students to go to the Julia Visor center for a review of their work prior to submitting it to me for grading. This eliminates the peer-to-peer reticence, but still improves the overall quality of student writing.

Students submit all work, with the exception of their research notes, via ReggieNet’s file drop. I grade and comment with “Track-Changes” in Word, or, if students submit some other kind of project, I use the feedback and/or comments options in ReggieNet. Grading a writing intensive course is no mean feat. Nevertheless, I am not a prescriptive grammarian. Although grammar basics are important, I look for evidence of critical thinking first. I tried using a rubric the first semester I taught, and the students and I hated it.  I abandoned it and opted for the “good/bad” examples instead, but I think a combination of the two will help me be more consistent when I grade student projects.

Memo Two  will be on the next post.