Initial Comments for the November 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

I have been offered two classes for the November 2018 session, ENGL 112: Composition and ENGL 135: Advanced Composition. I’ve taught the latter before–during the current September 2018 session, in fact–but, while I’ve taught first-semester composition any number of times at other institutions (as noted here, among other places), I’ve not yet done so at DeVry. It is the only class in the main writing sequence at that school I’ve not yet taught, so it will be good to get that course under my belt and get a full view of what DeVry asks its students to write.

This would be a nice classroom to have.
Image from University Business.

It will have been noted, I hope, that I have resumed generating examples for my students to follow. I do not think I will do so for ENGL 135 quite yet again; I’m presently in a cycle of doing so, anyway. But I will doubtlessly do so for ENGL 112, partly for the reasons I’ve tended to do so in the past, and partly to help me get a feel for the course cycle expected of my students. (Too, I feel compelled to put materials into this webspace, and doing so for my students helps with that.) I also mean to continue my practice of posting class reports, although the timing on them will shift to reflect the fact that I have an actual class meeting schedule this time around.

To wit, the ENGL 112 class will meet on Wednesday evenings at the San Antonio campus; the ENGL 135 is another all-online section. Both classes begin on 28 October 2018 and run through 22 December 2018. I am happy to have the opportunity to teach once again and put the skills I have theoretically developed through more than a decade of teaching and more than a decade of study to use one more time.

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Sample Assignment Response: A First Draft of a Researched Paper for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Continuing on from earlier work (here, here, here, and here), I mean to narrate my process for putting together a draft of the sort students are asked to compose in their fourth week of the session. As before, I’ll not explicitly use the template provided by the University, though I will be including the prewriting students are asked to submit (and about which I have some comments, below). The results should still be similar enough to what the school requires that they will be useful for my students–and I hope they will prove useful for others, as well.

For reference, the band I’m in.
Image taken from the Hill Country Community Journal.

For the assignment, students are asked to present an introduction and an argumentative section incorporating previous research, as well as a title page and references list. Content should come after the University-determined pre-writing, which students are also expected to submit under their title page. Formal sectional division is encouraged but not required; more important is that the draft present a sound beginning and a solid thesis, and that it move smoothly forward from that thesis.

As in previous exercises, I began by formatting my document, setting my typeface to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman and inserting running heads as appropriate. I also stubbed out spaces for the prewriting, the main text, and the references list–as well as setting up the half-inch hanging indentation required of reference list entries. That done, I copied over relevant materials from earlier portions of the project, since my title should largely remain in place, and my references entries should already have been in order. Such adjustments as I needed to make to suit the specific exercise were made–converting “Annotated Bibliography” to “First Draft,” for example.

That done, I brought over the prewriting questions from the University’s template, leaving myself space to answer them. I did what I could to keep the formatting from the template in place. The prewriting itself is not part of regular APA formatting, so its inclusion need not adhere to the standards promulgated by that body–though concerns of usage should remain consistent throughout the document as much as possible in any case.

Prewriting framed in–I did not begin with completing it for reasons I lay out below–I moved on to composition, working directly from materials I had already compiled for earlier exercises. The proposal and outline offered sound initial materials, although I did adjust them slightly to offer a more conversational narrative introduction before moving on to incorporate materials I identified in earlier exercises as offering useful context for discussion. Owing to concerns of audience, I sought to keep my paragraphs relatively short–an average of 125 to 150 words seemed a good target. (In the event, I tended to exceed that length more than to adhere to it.) I also worked to keep the reading level of my paper in and around the high school level for the same reason. (I often overshoot audiences.)

One thing I made sure to do as I moved through composition was to insert entries into my reference list as I made references to items. I have heard many students–and other writers–say they compose their references last; I have had to assign many students lower grades or begin academic dishonesty proceedings no few times because of that practice. It is not a pleasant thing to do; to avoid it happening with my own work, I make sure to build my references as I go. I commend the practice to others’ use.

As I compiled my first paragraphs, I did go back to the ostensible prewriting, filling in items that had become clear to me. I believe I have noted in this webspace that I do not compose linearly, the less so when I move between composing multiple documents as narrating my processes obliges me to do. It will not work for all, to be sure, but I appreciate the flexibility doing so offers me, as well as the authenticity it lends to my accounts. And while I did so, I made sure to align my terminology to what the school’s materials uses; I call things by different labels at times, but since the example is supposed to serve my students, it needs to follow what they are asked to follow.

After getting my introduction in place, though, I hit a bit of a snag. I found myself with a clear idea of where to take my rebuttal and refutation, and I had some means to get back into my central argument from them (and I made such notes in my prewriting materials, as well as stubbing out space for later development). I did not, however, have a clear idea of how to proceed with the direct support of my argument past that point. I imagine the situation is similar to that which my students face, and so I tried to put myself in my students’ position. As I did, I noted that the draft does not need to be a complete paper; there is more to be added in the next assignment given to the students. Knowing that I did not have to generate a full eight- to ten-page paper all at once offered some relief, though the impulse to delay unduly showed, and it was and is one that needs to be fought.

The realization in place, I proceeded to flesh out the rebuttal and refutation, working from the notes I had made and from earlier exercises. I also filled in more of the expected prewriting. I may not adhere to it as the exercise continues, but it will be useful to have something of a framework as I move ahead. And I would note the same to my students. They are not bound by their outline; it is a guideline, not a rule, to follow as needed and not otherwise.  I was at ease, then, setting up the informal sections I had ready and leaving the rest for another time.

With the content compiled and directions for further development set, the formatting was re-checked to ensure ease of reading. A review of content for style was conducted, as was proofreading. All that done, the document was rendered into an accessible format, presented here: G. Elliott Sample First Draft September 2018.

I note above that I have some comments about the prescribed prewriting. To be sure, I do a fair bit of prewriting when I work on projects of my own, and I do expect that students who want to write well will do some sort of prewriting. The specific form, however, is not something I am happy to regulate, and I have noted to students previously that they are free to use the school’s form if it helps them–and that they should back-fill it from their draft if it does not. I understand assigning a grade to the completion of the prewriting as a way to get students even to attempt such a thing. And I understand restricting options both as a cost-saving measure and as a means of easing assessment burdens. But none of that means I think it is an ideal teaching practice.

Your help will still help. Please give.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 15 October 2018

Continuing on from the previous week, students were asked in discussion to present a draft of their presentation for peer review. They were asked to revise the previously submitted second drafts in light of instructor and peer comments, as well, improving upon the earlier materials and generating said presentation.

The course roster showed 14 students enrolled, a decline of four from last week; 13 participated in online discussions during the week. An online office hour was held on Tuesday, 9 October 2018; two students attended, albeit briefly

Students are reminded that the next office hour will be today, Monday, 15 October 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 20 October 2018:

  • Discussion Thread: APA Workshop (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Discussion Thread: Project Design (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: Final Draft (due online as an APA-formatted Word document)

Sample Assignment Response: An Annotated Bibliography for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Continuing on from earlier work (here, here, and here), I mean to narrate my process for putting together an annotated bibliography of the sort students are asked to compose in their third week of the session. As in earlier posts, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will again be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I still continue to hope that my remarks and the resulting document will be helpful for my future students and others’.

AnnBibScreenshot
As might be guessed from the screenshot, I’ve done some annotated bibliography work.

For the assignment, students are asked to develop an introduction and five three-part annotations; the annotations are expected to consist of an APA-style citation, a summary of the cited source, and an assessment of that source’s usefulness to the project. Annotations should be alphabetized by citation, and the sources they treat should be secondary (that is, talking about a thing rather than being the thing itself) sources of a scholarly nature. The introduction does well to note the thrust of the overall project and the methodology and rationale for source selection.

As in previous exercises, I began by formatting my document, setting my typeface to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman and inserting running heads as appropriate. I also stubbed out spaces for my introduction and annotations, since the formatting should shift within the latter; citations take a hanging indentation, while paragraphs such as the introduction, summaries, and assessments take a first-line indentation (half an inch in all cases). I also inserted a blank line between annotation-stubs to make future reading easier. Titles and running heads were inserted as usual and appropriate, as well.

Because I had already done some work establishing a thrust for the project and laying out search methods, I worked first on my introduction. Since the project is a continuation of work already done, I brought over what I could from previous materials, incorporating the earlier work without comment. (This can only be done ethically if the carry-over is within the development of a single project, as in ENGL 135. Carrying work form term to term or class to class–say, from ENGL 112 to ENGL 135–requires citation.) Although I had cited and summarized two sources, however, I felt I should not bring them over; the idea is to find more information, rather than to re-hash information already obtained.

As such, I re-ran my initial search to bring up the results I already knew I had, and I looked again at those I had not already incorporated into the project. One such source focused on instrument maintenance, rendering it useful for other purposes than mine; another served only as the front-matter of a journal, making no argument. The third, though, looked at the decades-long endurance of one organization, suggesting that it might speak in some way to support; I read it, finding a small amount of useful material in it. As such, I drafted its citation, summary, and assessment, incorporating each into my bibliography. (Note that the citation omits database information, following current APA guidelines reported on the Purdue OWL.)

Annotating the source, however, exhausted the resources from the initial search, so an expansion of search parameters seemed in order. The first such was to open the search to articles dating back to 2008–ten years prior to work on the project and after several of the significant cultural events that continue to influence the project-present. Three more articles emerged, of which all three promised some use; all three were reviewed, and those that were found useful were included in the bibliography. As they were, notes were added to the introduction to account for the expanded search method and rationale. Further notes were added to account for an article revealed in the references of another, as well as an outside piece resulting from an additional search.

As notes and annotations were finalized, formatting was adjusted to ensure that citations were not abandoned by the rest of their annotations. A review of content for style was conducted after, as was proofreading. All that done, the document was rendered into an accessible format, presented here: G. Elliott Sample Annotated Bibliography September 2018.

I could use your help to develop better teaching materials and practices. Please give.

Sample Assignment Response: Proposing a Project for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

Following up on an earlier post in which I begin to enact the kind of project I expect my students to do (itself a follow-up on a yet earlier post), I mean to narrate my process of developing the second of the required course project assignments: a proposal and outline. As in the earlier post, I’ll not be using the template the University provides its students, although what I do produce will be remarkably similar, as the University’s template works in APA format. I do have some remarks about the assignment itself, which I include along with my resulting document, and I continue to hope that they will be helpful for my future students and others’.

Related image
Proposals have a long history.
Image from Quora.com, with an original source not as clear to me as I would like.

Students are tacitly asked to give a brief introductory paragraph before offering a formal outline for their paper. The outline takes four parts, numbered with capital Roman numerals: Introduction, Evidence, Conclusion, and References. The first two parts are divided further: the introduction treats topic, context, and audience; evidence looks at already-gathered and yet-to-be gathered information. Each part, save references, has accompanying questions to guide response; the references are directed to be in APA format. (When I set up my document, I did not copy them over.)

As in the previous exercise, I began by formatting my document, setting the typeface, spacing, running head, and page numbers as I mean them to be. Since I already had a title in place (again, from the previous exercise), I was able to insert it as appropriate, as well.

Indeed, the title was not the only thing I was able to pull directly over–and since the proposal is explicitly a continuation of the same project begun in the topic selection, doing so is expected. As such, I pulled over my references from the earlier exercise, inserting them as appropriate into the current one. Answers to such questions as I had available–partial answers for the questions of the current exercise–also got transferred over without comment and amended as necessary.

Because I had my document stubbed out, with the school-determined parts already in place, I did not feel bound to compose my responses in order. I typically do not do so, in fact, moving around projects as I have specific ideas and inserting them where I think they are appropriate. I did so in composing the proposal, the references data giving rise to what evidence I would gather and moving thence to the called-for conclusion; the conclusion, in turn, prompted me to add to my understanding of what research I need to conduct to make my case most effectively.

Only after bringing over materials and working on the end-goal did I back-fill the earlier parts, and I did not treat them in linear order, either. Secondary audience got treated early (and with recourse to my over-arching project of producing useful examples for my expected future students). Context received treatment next, with me moving back and forth between justification and my personal ethos with the project. Afterwards, I formalized my research question, working thesis, and statement of angle, revising them from parts of earlier materials in light of what I had developed in filling out the rest of the proposal.

After I had filled out the numbered parts of the proposal, I spend some time away from the project before turning to the overall introduction. I had thought that it, too, would benefit from some copy-over from my earlier work, but, as I reviewed the earlier piece, I found that it did not have what I needed. Instead, I decided to use the introduction to the project proposal to draft some work towards the overall introduction to the project as a whole (knowing as I did so that the work was provisional and might need to be discarded utterly in future iterations of project work).

Content completed, I reviewed my document for formatting and style before proofreading it for what my amid-composition corrections missed. The formatting review occasioned some adjustments, since I did not want to leave headings orphaned at the bottoms of pages. The proofreading obliged a few minor adjustments, including at least one instance of my most common typo: confusing form and from. And I took the time to adjust my title slightly, as the project had shifted a bit while I was working on it–as projects are wont to do.

With the review done, I put the file into an accessible format, which I offer here:
G. Elliott Sample Project Proposal September 2018.

I do not always favor working from a static outline; I rarely do so in my own work, although I do commonly stub out sections of projects and make notes of ideas I want to pursue at specified points in the papers I write. The problem that inheres in doing so is that, by offering a framework as a standard, such constructions often prompt writers–including, if not especially, student writers–to act as if the putative standard is the only way to organize, as well as to act as if the organization, once set, is immutable. Different projects require different organizational strategies, but the way issues are framed in standardized curricula tend to blind students to that requirement. Too, writing has to be flexible to be authentic, and, again, standardized curricula tend to keep students from seeing such truths.

At the same time, the kind of grading demands placed on instructors who teach such courses–most who do are contingent labor, working more than one job, and are teaching classes that enroll far more students than should be the case while having it demanded of them that they work toward total uniformity among sections of the course–make such measures almost obligatory. And it is the case at public colleges and non-profit schools as well as at for-profit institutions, at least in my experience, so it is not only a matter of for-profit money-making strategies (though it is among the money-making strategies, to be fair). Thus, while I conduct the present exercise, and I do expect my students to do the same (because I need my paycheck, after all), I do so with some reservation.

It remains true that my teaching doesn’t make much. Care to help support instructional quality?

Class Report: ENGL 135, 8 October 2018

Continuing on from the previous week, students were asked in discussion to present a draft of their course project for peer review. They were asked to revise the previously submitted first drafts in light of instructor and peer comments, as well, improving upon the earlier materials.

The course roster showed 18 students enrolled, a decline of one from last week; fifteen participated in online discussions during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 1 October 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that the next office hour will be tomorrow, Tuesday, 9 October 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 14 October 2018:

  • Discussion Thread: Presentation Peer Review (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: Presentation (due as a narrated PowerPoint or similarly accessible presentation)

Sample Assignment Response: Selecting a Topic for DeVry University’s ENGL 135

In an earlier post, I note that I ought to follow the pattern my second-semester composition students are asked to follow and work through selecting a topic and several other assignments to the generation of a conference-length paper. Doing so continues to sound like a decent enough idea, so, even though I will have to make some emendations to things in the interest of not doing students’ work for them and to keep materials that are the school’s where the school wants them, I mean to press ahead. And that means I will begin the current series of exercises with that expected of students at the beginning of the session: topic selection. After providing some context for the work, I’ll write through my process of generation and, at the end, append the resulting document, hoping that it will prove useful to my students and to others’.

Picking a topic sometimes feels like this.
Image from Giphy.com.

In ENGL 135, students are asked to work from four broad headings: Education, Arts & Culture, Technology, and the Environment. For topic selection, students are asked to first develop five questions about one of those four headings before expressing their stake in their chosen area of inquiry. They are then asked to cite and summarize two sources that offer differing views of their topic before proceeding to identify an audience to which to direct their efforts. Finally, they are asked to develop what amounts to a working thesis for their project so that, in the following weeks, they have a direction for their research to follow–even though that direction may well change in light of additional information found. The whole is to be presented in a template provided by the University; a pre-formatted Word document awaits them, and all they need do is fill in the required information in the indicated locations.

Given my worries about documentation, I’ll not be using the template provided to students. I will, however, be following the standard formatting for their assignments; DeVry University operates in APA style, so I will adhere to it as best as I am able for formatting, citation, and writing style–in the documents I prepare. (My writing in this webspace will continue to follow my usual patterns. It is explanatory rather than demonstrative.) Because I want to make sure I do that correctly, I’ll set that up first, setting my document’s type to 12-point Times New Roman, typing a title page, and setting up my running head and page numbering as appropriate. (Students are given a tutorial for how to do it, and I’ve given pre-formatted templates any number of times. Still, they have problems. I do not understand why.)

The document formatted, I then proceed to address the questions posed, taking them from the template provided to students. Working with how I tend to work, I copy the questions over from the student template and stub out spaces for my answers; I benefit from having a framework, although I deliberately keep my conceptions loose, as I expect that my ideas will change as I go through doing the work. I also make a few adjustments to formatting in the interest of easing reading. (Again, I am not working form the student template, so I have to make changes.)

With my framework in place, I then begin mulling over my possible topic. As a scholar in the humanities, my inclinations are initially towards education and arts & culture as broad headings. As a long-time educator, I have done a fair bit of work looking into how to teach–indeed, the current project arises from my desire to return to a best practice I well know. I am concerned, however, that doing a project meant to serve as an example of best practice on best practice will, in its meta-educational nature, come off as a bit awkward–particularly if my research ends up suggesting that my practice is not among the best. (If it is, it is a thing I need to know, of course, but I am not certain that this would be the appropriate venue for the revelation to be made.) So perhaps that is not the best path for me to take.

Instead, I might focus on one of the other parts of my life, the participation in the community band about which I’ve written. I know that one of the purposes of that ensemble is to help those of us who used to play and miss playing to play again; I know also that one of the things that is happening in that ensemble is that high school students who fill out the sections are benefiting from the experience of the more senior members of the organization. Because there is benefit accruing in more than one direction, it occurs to me that questions of support are relevant–and so I begin to have questions to brainstorm and fill our my self-created template.

Having developed an initial raft of questions, I move on to consideration of my own stake in the overall field. Rather, I move back to it, because my selection of the general heading and of the specific topic preceded my coming up with questions to ask. I am a member of a community band, so questions about its representation and support bear in on my membership and participation in the ensemble.

With questions and my involvement established, the time is come to get a feel for the field. Using Academic Search Complete through the school’s library, I search for “community band” in full-text peer-reviewed journals, limiting myself to a few document types (articles, book chapters, and case studies) published since 2010. Only five articles appeared, which tells me that there is much to do in my area of inquiry (and that future research will need to take a broader view–though I note there is an International Journal of Community Music that might continue to be a useful resource); I reviewed and summarized the two that seemed most amenable to the present purpose.

That done, I moved to considerations of audience. It occurred to me that there are two potential threads of discussion my paper might follow: support and representation. They will speak to different audiences. Concerns of support would be addressed to members of my local community and community groups that are in position to offer support. Concerns of representation would be addressed most likely either to the general readership of my blog or to the more academic readership of such publications as the International Journal of Community Music. The latter will rely more upon documentary information and logical development of argument than the former; the former will take more of a pathos appeal and a less intricate presentation. And such information found its way into my topic selection document.

At that point, I had almost all the content needed for the exercise, and I moved to fill out the last part, addressing my specific issue and angle. If I work on the issue of support, I will do so with an eye to getting support together for the community band in which I play now. If I work on the issue of representation, I will do so with an eye towards maintaining or enhancing the authenticity of representation. I am still not sure, though, the direction the project will take–although I tend to think that the issue of support will be more amenable to treatment than that of representation, at least within the terms of the course project I expect my students to complete. As I progress through the process through which my students are moving, I will decide more fully, but that seems the direction to start moving in.

Having made such notes in my document, I reviewed my text for overall style, glancing over it to make sure paragraph length is as it should be and vocabulary reflects the project being conceived and the materials treated so far. I also looked for typographical errors, making one or two final passes from my usual amid-writing corrections. That done, I saved the file in an accessible format, the which is included below:

G. Elliott Sample Topic Selection September 2018

I expect I will be continuing to work on this project, leading perhaps to a document I can use as a basis for other work–but, more hopefully, to a series of piece I can use to help my students do better in successive terms.

Teachers still don’t make much. Care to help offset some more of that?

Class Report: ENGL 135, 1 October 2018

Continuing on from the previous week, students were asked in discussion to present the first paragraphs of their first drafts for student critique and to analyze sample arguments. They were also asked to draft and submit first drafts of their papers for instructor review.

The course roster showed 19 students enrolled, a decline of two from last week; all but one participated in one or more online discussions during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 24 September 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that the third office hour will be tonight, Monday, 1 October 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 7 October 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: Course Project Peer Review (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: Second Draft (due as a Word document in APA format)

More about My Teaching

I have not exactly hidden the fact that I am continuing to teach despite my certainty that I will never have the kind of full-time teaching job I expected to have either as an undergraduate or a grad student. Many of the posts I make in this webspace are devoted to that end, in fact, such that listing them would be folly; they are easily enough found. And of the classes I have taught, the one I most often find myself teaching is second-semester composition, whether as a traditional English 102 or under some other name used by one school or another for purposes that are not always clear to me. Indeed, nine of the last twenty-one classes I’ve taught since returning to Texas (including the course in progress as of this writing) have been of such sort–more than any three other courses in that time combined.

A Site of Writing
The image is mine from several years back.

Teaching such classes takes up a fair bit of my time (though far less than it used to) and perhaps a larger part of my thoughts than it should. And some of those thoughts run back to when teaching was my primary job and I thought I’d be doing it as a career. Then, I made a point of writing samples of the assignments I asked of my students, offering them models to follow in putting together their own work. I’ve not been doing so in the past year or so, partly because I already have quite a few examples developed, and partly because, well, teaching’s a part-time job for me at this point, and I’m not sure I have anything better–or even else, really–to offer my students now. That I don’t still do so sometimes nags at me. I am still doing the work, and I still want to do well all the work I do; not working alongside my students seems somehow to be an admission of deliberately doing badly. Too, I feel my own skills in researched writing are decaying somewhat; I do not do much scholarship of any sort any more, tending more towards ruminations like this or my commentaries on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. And because that makes me less good at what I’m teaching, it makes me less good a teacher, which sits ill.

I suppose the answer is to follow the course sequence my second-semester composition classes are facing, working through a nebulous topic selection process to generate a proposal and tentative outline before producing an annotated bibliography and generating three drafts of a paper and a presentation based on it. And I suppose my students would benefit from having not only the embedded model to follow, but also my comments about my process in putting such a paper together. It looks like I will be teaching second-semester composition again before the year is out, so even if it is late to help the students I have now, it may well be of use to those who will follow after them…

Teachers don’t make much. Care to help offset some of that?

Class Report: ENGL 135, 24 September 2018

Continuing on from the previous week, students were asked in discussion to practice annotated bibliography entries and to discuss presentations of ideas. They were also asked to produce a brief annotated bibliography and to submit a final pulse-check.

The course roster showed 21 students enrolled, a decline of six from last week; all but two participated in one or more online discussions during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 17 September 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that the third office hour will be tonight, Monday, 24 September 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 30 September 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: The First Draft and Analyzing a Sample Argument (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: First Draft (due as a Word document in APA format)