Thursday, September 25, 2008

A New Assignment's Final Evaluation

The verdict is in, and I’m pleased. My new essay assignment asks students to define the audience for a website (I let them choose off a list of four; I found good choices by searching Google for popular websites—choices abound). As a teacher of writing, I try to emphasize to my students that they must consider the audience of their writing in their word choice, in their reasoning, and in their examples. I designed this essay assignment to put them through that process backwards, in deference to the non-linear nature of their generation. Their essays hearten me.

Not every student has gotten it, of course. Some students have advertised the websites, writing a piece to seek an audience for the site. However, their mistakes are tangible, and I’m hoping with some redirection from me, their revisions will be on target. What pleases me about the nature of this assignment is the sweet spot it hits between analytical and concrete. It requires critical thinking, but the examples, the reasoning, the argument itself, are pretty accessible for students in the first quarter of an English class. My former first essay assignment asked students to write about themselves; it created a problem for students who used vague or insufficient reasons to support their points because students sometimes struggled to understand how I could challenge their authority on the topic of themselves. This assignment resolves that issue.

I’ve always allowed first person in the first essay of the semester, too, and I did in the directions for this audience essay as well. An unexpected benefit has been students self-selecting third person, choosing to edit away the “I think…” at the fronts of their sentences because they felt their discussion “sounded better” without it. I don’t recall having students modify their writing choices in response to their own audiences so early in the semester before. Next week, I start lessons on third person voice, and to have students already leaning towards it creates an unanticipated and delightful preparation.

I’m not given to self-adulation, but as much as I believe in a reflective teaching and curriculum development process, I also believe in self-acknowledgement when things go well. I’m going to continue to work hard to find strategies that are less linear, and this one is going in the “use again” pile.

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

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