The Value of a Writing Class

5818134689_781773b3ddThere is an incredible wealth of writing resources available for free on the internet.

Aside from the ability to earn credentials (certificates, degrees, etc.), what do college ESL writing classes offer that is more valuable than the freebies?

Here are three strengths of in-person writing courses, such as ones I’ve taught and assistant-taught at various community colleges:

A Cohort

  • other students at approximately the same level going through the same difficult class provide cameraderie
  • people to brainstorm, develop ideas, and debate with
  • peer review exposes students to each other’s styles and scaffolds self-editing and metacognition in writing

A Teacher Who Knows You

  • teacher provides direction, assignments, accountability
  • teacher available during (and usually after) classes for in-person questions, plus emails
  • teacher provides individualized feedback on assignments

“Free” Services From The College

  • writing centers
  • tutoring centers
  • libraries with access to hundreds of electronic databases and full of academic librarians to help with research, citation, etc.

 

So What?

I was a decently successful college student. This was due in part to my fluent English, and also my strong academic background, with some luck and some sleepless nights thrown in. It really had nothing to do with my intelligently using course and college resources, including all of the ones listed above. That wasn’t even on my radar.

From casual observation of many students over the years, it doesn’t look like these elements of the class are on their radars, either. But of course, our students aren’t fluent, often have interrupted educational background, and have not enough luck and way too many sleepless nights as it is. As a group, they really need support.

So I think that we as the leaders and assistant leaders of the classroom should make sure that this support is front and center.

Including it on the syllabus and mentioning it in passing on the first day is not sufficient.

 

Some specific action items coming up on Thursday.

 

Photo Credit: POP on Flickr

You’re reading The Value of a Writing Class, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

An Adjunct’s Reply

Several of the colleges I’m affiliated with (for work past and present) email faculty teaching tips every so often.

One of these colleges sent the following two articles in the last month:

  1. A Simple Request: Please See Me!
  2. Getting More out of Exam Debriefs

Both of these articles extol the benefits of teachers scheduling one-to-one meetings with students to take place outside of class hours.

After receiving the second of the above messages, I drafted a reply that I feel compelled to publish here. Being an adjunct is one facet of what teaching ESL is for me, and so it will be one (small) facet of this blog.

Dear _____,

I appreciate your sending out articles from Faculty Focus. They are consistently lucid, well-researched, and interesting.

The most recent two of these excellent professional development emails arrived about two weeks apart and shared a theme: the quantifiable value of professors meeting with students outside of class. Both articles lay out logical, engaging, research-based narratives emphasizing the importance of such meetings. Indeed, the articles frame this time outside of class, even if “brief” (both articles were vague as to the actual time spent per student), as a major factor in students’ ability to master material and pass classes.

I am pleased to see that we all agree that students need their instructors to be available outside of class hours. However, it needs to be acknowledged that adjunct faculty are only compensated for in-class hours.

This is a conundrum. The college relies heavily on adjuncts to teach its courses, and the college pays them for very limited functions. Yet the college itself just forwarded two articles in as many weeks that convincingly argue that the paid functions of adjuncts are not sufficient to ensure student success. There is conflict here between the college’s mission and its hiring practices. This is an institution-wide, leadership-level quagmire.

A cynic might wonder if by emailing the adjuncts about the effectiveness of meeting with students outside of class, the college intended to recast a deficiency in faculty compensation as a deficiency in the faculty themselves.

Happily, I am not a cynic. I believe that this was a simple case of one person identifying good content and sending it out in good faith to her usual stakeholders. It was to be sure a bit of a faux pas to send this theme to the adjuncts at all, let alone twice in one month. But as they say, if we never accidentally offend anybody, it’s because we’re not doing anything at all.

Kudos to you for all that you do to support all faculty. And extra kudos if you would kindly forward research about the importance of increasing student-instructor interactions not only to the instructors, but also to those who fund them.

Many thanks,

Emily

 

In fairness, the issue I raise is not unique to this specific college, but is widespread in all forms of higher education institutions across the USA.

In case you are interested in the topic of adjuncts in higher education, one mild narrative piece is O Adjunct! My Adjunct! (New Yorker). For a very readable and organized summary of how things currently stand, I was impressed with the sections I read of The Role of Adjuncts in the Professoriate (AAC&U).

For more impassioned/inflammatory reading than anything you’ll find here or in the above links, Google “adjunct crisis.”

You’re reading An Adjunct’s Reply, originally posted at learningtoteachenglish.com.

 

 

Looking Back at College

Lifehacker and The Simple Dollar have been posting more content than usual geared toward college students, and it got me thinking about my own college experience.  It was a great one.  I worked hard, but I didn’t work smart at all, and because of that I’m not sure I lived up to my potential.

This isn’t intended to be a list of regrets.  I’m reflecting on a path I set out on when I was 17, and my perspective on it from my mid-twenties is understandably a little different.

What I Wish I’d Done In College

Basically, I wish I’d scheduled my time as though college were my 40 hour per week job.  Mind you that when I was in college I’d never had such a thing as a full-time job.  Still, I don’t think it would have been beyond me to:

  • set a regular (reasonably flexible) work schedule, planning to spend about 8 hours a day either in class or involved in studies;
  • spend time at the beginning of each semester marking not just mandatory class times on my calendar, but also project due-dates and my own draft due-dates;
  • make it my business to go to each prof’s office hours at least once;
  • treat class time more seriously (like it was a meeting or a conference) by taking notes and behaving in a more openly friendly way to my classmates.

I also wish I’d done a few less serious “school is your job” -type things, such as:

  • joining a club that would take me off campus on a regular basis;
  • sleeping more consistently;
  • spending more than one semester taking a karate class.

And honestly, I can’t help but wonder if taking a year or two between high school and college and doing AmeriCorps or some such work would have made the above wishes realities instead.

Again, no regrets.  I took interesting classes, did respectably well in them (except chemistry), made incredible friends, enjoyed participating in music programming, and reached out to some profs and acquaintences I hope I’ll still be acquainted with years from now.  I was also introduced to life in the Twin Cities and have continued living here since graduation.  I think of it all as a success.  And I’d have a different kind of success if I started it in September 2009 instead.