Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week 3 - DAZ3D & CONFU$3D & A LiTTL3 BiT ANXiOU$

Our last class has left a real impression on me. During class, I kept starting to write something in the MOO and then I kept deleting it. It was a bizarre little psychosis: I felt so strongly about what we were debating…yet I hated everything that I was going to writeX-S
I don’t WANT to be a member of Grammar Gestapo. The worst feeling comes from being too strict on student work and positively KILLING any passion and life in their essays. Said victims, who want a good grade more than anything, robotically churn out dull, soulless Engfish drivel, and I think, “Oh no. I really did it this time.”
The day after our class (heh heh, mere hours for me), I talked about what kind of teacher I am to a colleague of mine. At first, I confessed to being Grammar Gestapo…but it’s more complicated than that. I appreciate peer-o-gogy via peer evaluation; I reinforce the idea of writing as a recursive process via drafts whenever possible; and I also try to fan the flame when I read passion in student essays. Nothing brightens my day like seeing students taking risks in their essays – calculating and playing with their English language skills. They’re all speakers of other languages, and English is often their 3rd of 4th language, so…more power to them!
So…does that still make me Grammar Gestapo?
Very soon, I’ll begin the tough job of designing a course. It isn’t Composition, but rather an Introduction to Film course. I want it to be completely different than any other course that these Education City students have taken. I want it to be dynamic and invigorating, and I want it to be COOL.
I’m afraid of failing, too. I’m a film buff – as in foreign and indie and a smattering of Hollywood fodder – but I haven’t been trained per se in the film arts. Yet…my students won’t be film experts. Of course, they’ve seen scores of films, but their majors will mostly be in Engineering, Medicine, Computer Science, and Journalism. Therefore, I try to downplay the fact that I haven’t taken so many film courses and that I’m a great admirer of celluloid from directors as diverse as Pedro Almodovar to Ang Lee to Martin Scorsese.
The class will be issued iPad 2s so that they can rewind and re-watch as many times as they like. I plan to somehow employ Twitter. At the end of the semester, their project may entail creating an iMovie or Camtasia project that includes various aspects of film noir, etc. There will be peer evaluations and there will also be pizza and pop.
But what if it sucks?
I know that I DON’T want it to be the environment of my English classes, where I literally run the class like a company and I’m quite strict – with grammar, with deadlines, with lengths of projects. Conversely, I can’t be a slacker because then they’d take advantage of that and try to run all over me.
Ultimately, I know that whatever I didn’t get right in the first round, it would get repaired in the second time I taught the course. I’m a bit of a perfectionist though, and I’d like the darn course to be perfect and enjoyable and organic and right bloody fabulous the first time!


  1. Joseph - every time I see your name I'm distracted because my favorite author on Style is also called "Joseph Williams." Do you have this book? It's great!

    As for teaching film - it's just another form of literature, right? And a monkey can teach literature. ;-) I joke - I JOKE. They are paid like monkeys, though.

    It's interesting that you bring up second-language-acquisition (SLA) and teaching comp. In my undegrad TEFL courses, the theorists and practitioners we read were really down on error correction. There are loads of ways and theories of how to do it without discouraging the student.(Because there are SO MANY errors!) I am a big fan of Krashen's "affective filter" theory. It's a shame that till now, I had little considered how my corrections could discourage L1 students as much as they could discourage L2 students. How bizarre.

  2. Jo-Daddy-O, I felt so much empathy reading your post, I got quite emotional. Setting out to do something new and completely out of your comfort zone is scary and exciting and crippling and fabulous all at the same time. It keeps us young and helps us evolve.

    I'm working on a couple of content management projects that will change 50-year-old business processes and I have no idea whether I can provide a solution that's at least as good or better. I'm winging it at the moment and if I didn't have the support I needed from an army of experts, I would be in deep doo-doo. So here's the thing: I learnt that asking for help is a great mitigation plan. I don't know everything, but I can find people who do. Maybe you have already, but contact folks that you think are amazing that teach film - you'd be surprised how much people really want to help. Good luck, I'm sure you'll rock it!

  3. Dear Joseph,

    Your class will get iPad2s? Really? Where do I sign up? are a dynamic and creative individual and there is no doubt that you will created the coolest class.

    I'd like to respond, but I've never had to teach a class and I've only got my own experiences as a student to draw if you don't mind a suggestion from a neophyte, I'd like to share something Rich Rice said in my recent New Media class at the last Mayinar that has "stuck" in my mind: he said he is a proponent and practitioner of "androgogy" rather than "pedagogy", and that there is a vast difference between the two. When I think back to my favourite teachers, they were all "androgosists", whether they labelled themselves as such or not. In other words, they acted as facilitators and guides to knowledge, and I did the rest (because I'm a grown-up--most days, anyway). Because of the newness of the class, and the prior experience of your future students, perhaps let them help chart the course and co-create it with you?

    From my experience working on a documentation project for a Qatari Ministry, I understand that Qataris tend to prefer a one-to-many communication style...but perhaps your innovative new class can show them that there is another way to learn and shift their paradigm.

  4. Joe, I completely agree with Debbie that talking to other faculty will make your life easier. I think 80-90% of classes are borrowed in one sense or another.

    I also love Debbie’s idea about asking your students what they’d like to do. I have a math faculty colleague who does this with one of his advanced math courses. He builds course goals and a calendar, then asks students what they’d like to learn about. They spend two full class sessions building a syllabus: half the readings/days are from what students want to know, the other half are things that he finds important. The collaboration is a little scary on both sides, so you might not want to try it your first round. But maybe one assignment might not be so scary, like Fred is doing with our class “term paper.”

    As for your anxiety, I’m an admittedly “type A” personality, so I’m always looking to build the perfect class on the first try. When I first started teaching, this gave me no end of anxiety until a very good faculty friend gave me some advice: “Just don’t make them dumber.”

    He has been teaching in the Education program for several decades, is well respected by his colleagues, and (based on accounts from students I’ve spoken to) is a very good teacher. What his advice meant, and what I think has helped him succeed on many levels, is that no matter how engaging, informative, or useful your class is, your students will only retain a small portion of what you teach.

    It’s not necessarily comforting, but it does give us some leeway in our pedagogy. Throw in a smattering of theory, interactive exercises, and activities/assignments that will challenge what your students think of themselves. Hopefully (likely!) you'll give them more than just "not making them dumber"; but if the point of education is to challenge your students and make them think, then you're already achieving your goal based on what you said above.

  5. Oop! My mistake: It was Melanie who noted you should talk to experts. Sorry for the oversight!

  6. No, Joseph, you are far from being a grammar gestapo. If you were, you would not even posit the question. The gestapo has no self-doubts. Grammar is an important part of any writing instruction, but it must be 'intelligent' grammar (we will see with Hartwell) and managed generatively, not just as condemnation. I suspect you handle it more like the former than the latter.