A Blog About Teaching

I frequently dislike teaching freshman composition. It’s not that it’s a freshman course, or that it’s a writing course and students are frequently underprepared, though the latter is frustrating when I’m trying to teach writing in 18 days on the block. It’s difficult to get students over grammar/punctuation/spelling issues in that time. They have to dig deep to make that happen.

No, the reason I frequently dislike teaching the course is that in order to do it well, it requires a theme or a subject. In other words, they need something to write about. In the past, over semester courses, I developed an amazing and very successful method involving human rights research. Students engaged well with it, researched deeply, and wrote good papers. Can’t do it on the block. There simply is no time to do the research, assimilate and internalize it, and then write multiple papers.

So I’ve gone back to trial and error, trying to find books or ideas to help focus the writing, and I’ve had success, but nothing like what I’d like. But I may have found my mojo.

I’m going to focus this class on Critical Thinking and Identity. This is particular perfect given the political ads and speeches that work so hard to convince people who they are, who they are not, who they should be, who they should not be, and what fears to have, beliefs to have, and so on and so forth.

It starts with this, which is a plank of the Republican Part of Texas platform:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Essentially, they flat out say in their platform (and this is a quote from it) that they do not want anything to happen in school that might cause people to critically think.

Whoa. That is idea contradicts on every level what I think school should be. But it’s where our discussion will start. My goal is to have students become aware of logical fallacies and to get them, you guessed it, thinking critically about what they believe and why. If they say, “I believe it because God tells me so,” then I’m going to want them to go to their Bible or religious document and read it for themselves. I do not want them accepting what other people say as truth. If they say, Mitt Romney is lying about X, then I want them to find some proof. Or reason through it. I don’t care so much What they believe, so much as they believe for a reason beyond that’s what they’ve been told. I want them to find out for themselves and then I want them to write about it and communicate it effectively. I want them to think about their words and consider them carefully, along with what they are implying along with what they are actually saying.

I’m feeling excited about this. I’m thinking about making The Daily Show and The Colbert Report assigned watching. Or maybe we’ll watch in class.

Of course we will watch this answer to the Texas Critical Thinking plank: Colbert Report: The Word

One Comment

  • Paula Porter

    Hi Di! Of course I had to write about freshman comp since I teach it so much! I have to do 16 weeks in four 4 hour classes one day a week, plus online stuff. I like your idea of them all working on one topic and making it relevant to their lives. Because I have 4 hours to kill, I do a lot of cooperative writing. I like to do a freewriting exercise where I give them 20-40 random nouns or action verbs and they have to write a cohesive paragraph. I get some good stuff out of this! I also do a lot of persuasive writing because they don’t know how (and I won’t even get into the grammar stuff!). I assign them to groups and they have to do some quick research on a topic (they draw the topic) and provide the pros; another group provides the cons. Nothing earth shattering, something like pros and cons of a dress code in college. Hard to keep them engaged and learning and lord knows I hate to lecture! Love to the man and kiddles!

%d bloggers like this: