Personal Qualities Not Measured by Tests

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Personal Qualities Not Measured by Tests

I’m not sure what the original source of this is, but it’s meaningful to my pedagogy and therefore has a place on the Snow of the Universe. Thank you, universe, for this one. Listed in no particular order…

Personal qualities not measured by testing.

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Resilience
  • Motivation
  • Persistence
  • Curiosity
  • Inquiry
  • Humor
  • Endurance
  • Reliability
  • Enthusiasm
  • Civic-mindedness
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-discipline
  • Empathy
  • Leadership
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Sense of Aesthetics
  • Sense of Wonder
  • Resourcefulness
  • Spontaneity
  • Humility
  • Bravery
  • Courage
  • Conviction

Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 1

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

DISCOVERe: Day 1 Reflection

My underlying framework for figuring out how I can “harness the power of mobile devices to redefine teaching . . . and create student-centered environments” so far is the extended ability to incorporate formative assessment. I am also thinking about project-based learning in general and considering how it might touch on the ARCS model for motivation.
With regard to formative assessment, I see DISCOVERe and mobile technology potentially offering new ways to engage in formative assessment. In the past after discussing a new concept in the classroom, I would ask my students to show me on their hands how well they’re understanding the new concept on a scale of 1 to 5—1 being “not at all” and 5 being “confident.” While I will still use formative assessment techniques like this, I believe that observing their written labor in real time through cloud-based word processing apps like Google Docs will offer new insights into how my students are processing new concepts and ideas. Furthermore, having these insights in real time may allow me to touch directly on the ARCS model, specifically on (C)onfidence, if I can give either praise or gentle corrections as they’re working.

In a different area of the ARCS model, I’m considering both (R)elevance and (S)atisfaction with project-based learning. I believe that if I can create a project that’s framed by a real-world concern that is particularly important to my students, they will be intrinsically interested through its relevance to their lives, and if they know that they will be publishing their labor for an audience to consume, there’s a great chance that they will feel a sense of (S)atisfaction. If my suspicions are correct, this framework should invite a great deal of motivation in my students which will lead them to take even more ownership of their own learning.

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Trends in Education Technology, Journal #9

Although I have been a teaching associate with my university’s first year writing program for three years now, we all have an orientation at the beginning of each academic year. During my orientation this fall, one of my colleagues presented an altered curriculum—or rather an altered approach—to teaching English 5A/5B. The most significant alteration was that her course was part of a larger faculty cohort across the disciplines that is piloting the university’s DISCOVERe program—an initiative to run classes 100% through tablets. Throughout her presentation, she kept referring to this idea of the “flipped” classroom, and while I found the term fuzzy at the time, I got the sense that it was something of a colloquial term for a constructivist approach to instruction—an approach that redirects or “flips” the emphasis in the classroom from the teacher/lecturer/professor/master to the student/learner. While my intuition was close, further investigation in the 2014 Horizon Report neatly bridges the gap between the idea of a “flipped” classroom and a constructivist approach to instruction.

The idea of pointing learners to objective knowledges outside of the classroom is not new to me. Jordan Shapiro (2013) talked about this in his article on forbes.com when he shares how instead of delivering the materials for objective knowledge inside of the classroom, he “flips” this paradigm by delivering those materials digitally and outside of the classroom. This enables us to redirect our face-to-face energy from ingesting material to digesting material. In the reading and writing classroom, for example, instead of focusing our time on reading a text together, we do stuff with texts together—together as collaborators, teachers and learners make meaning. As Johnson, Adams, Estrada, & Freeman (2014) explain, this paradigm “[enables] students to spend valuable class-time immersed in hands-on activities that often demonstrate the real world applications of the subject they are learning” (p. 36). So “flipping” the classroom is essentially a move toward a constructivist paradigm, utilizing digital technologies as a mediator to serve instructional materials to learners outside of the classroom.

Flipping the Classroom Word Cloud

Johnson et al. (2014) points to a resource on flipping the classroom which I have found particularly useful. Jennifer Demski (2013) offers a list of 6 tips from experts on how to flip a classroom. One thing she points to which I believe takes considerable skill and energy on the part of the teacher is to anticipate what students need during the first moments of class, letting the students decide what the particular foci will be during class time. She offers some strategies from Robert Talbert—professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University—including having students use clickers to take a quick quiz at the beginning of class. This is essentially a quick kind of formative assessment, one that requires a certain flexibility and agility in class planning. To be successful with this strategy, instructors must have the ability to respond to their learners needs at a moment’s notice, and if they teach the same course more than once concurrently, different groups of learners may have different needs on any given day with any given topic, adding even more demand from a teacher’s curricular agility. The benefit here, though, is that you always enable students to pursue not what you think they need but what you know they need. Because they tell you exactly what they need. This approach is not without its perils and pitfalls, however.

Unless curriculum and assessment has built in to it a way to value and evaluate the labor that must take place outside of class, this flip is destined to flop. Flipping the classroom depends on student labor outside of the classroom, so if they show up to class not having done the assigned labor, they’re not able to do anything because they do not have the foundation on which to do anything. Suddenly we’re back to the classroom and lecture being the point of delivery of instructional materials. Essentially, if students have not been motivated to do the labor outside of class, they are not likely to do it. This is why I believe implementing a grading contract is crucial. Grading contracts nudge evaluation away from the product and put it on the process; it asks the question, “Did you do the labor (outside of class) to the letter and in the spirit in which it was asked?” and so long as you construct that labor as something that is assessable, i.e. have them turn something in electronically in advance of the class that’s scheduled to do something with that labor and attach that labor to their grade for the course in some way, students will be motivated to do the labor they need so that we can collaborate and construct meaning with those materials in class.


References

Demski, J. (2013, January 23). 6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom. Campus Technology. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Shapiro, J. (2013, August 26). We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom. Forbes. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Accessibility in Mind with Curriculum Design

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #8

As a teacher of composition and rhetoric, I feel as though I already have a special affinity for the concept of universal design for learning. In the composition classroom, we spend a lot of time and energy with unpacking our attitudes and assumptions we have about the things we hear, see, and read; along the same lines, we spend equal amounts of time and energy in developing tools to unpack (i.e. detect and question) attitudes and assumptions held by the writers of texts that we encounter. This is a major piece of my curriculum on analysis. Additionally, as my teaching is aligned from a rhetorical perspective, I’m always urging my students to be conscious and considerate of their audience when they compose something. The only way they can give their audience what their audience needs is to first know who their audience is and what their needs are. It only makes sense that as a teacher I do the very same thing: I must be aware of who my audience is (i.e. my students) so that I can figure out what they need from me. To that end, I completely identify with Lewis & Sullivan (2012) when they assert that when students encounter barriers with the curriculum just as those with disabilities encounter problems accessing a building, it’s not the fault of the student or the disabled but of the curriculum and the building (p. 348-49). Curriculum that fails to acknowledge the diverse needs of its audience is not the audiences’ problem, it’s the curriculum’s problem. As such, curriculum must be revised in order to be more universal for learning.

One thing I have been doing recently to make my class more universal is making sure that every single electronic document I generate meets accessibility standards (as assessed by the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker)—this insures that all of my documents can be read accurately and efficiently by a variety of eReaders and other assistive technologies. Just as Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest, I find that I save quite a bit of time designing those documents with accessibility in mind rather than having to revise old documents where I did not have accessibility in mind (p. 348). I also quite like the way it forces me to think about accessibility and my audience as I generate materials for class consumption.

In my ongoing interests in the conversation of whether or not to incorporate tablets into the classroom and beyond, this chapter helped me realize that tablets have the capability of decreasing the both the learning distance and the social distance between disabled students and non-disabled students. Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest that in addition to assistive technologies being expensive and bulky, they can often alienate or distance the user from the rest of the students not using assistive technologies (p. 349). Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of doing the same things that a variety of assistive technologies can do. So not only are they multi-function devices in the sense of having a multiplicity of assistive features: they’re also the same devices that everyone else is using. That being said, I can only conclude that tablets, being a universal technology, would eliminate the problem of “assistive distance.”


References

Lewis, J., & Sullivan, S. (2012). Diversity and Accessibility. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

The Media Debate is Fresh

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

The Media Debate is Fresh

Trends in Educational Technology, Journals #6-7

Initially, Richard Clark’s (1994) argument seems to be in line with my own argument regarding Fresno State’s tablet initiative. Clark writes that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22). This is exactly what I mean to point out and is at the heart of my critique of DISCOVERe thus far: there’s too much focus on the grocery truck and not the nutrition itself. But the core of this argument is that the wide variety of media carries with it no distinct effects on learning; in other words, regardless of the type of vehicle delivering the groceries, no one type of vehicle alters the groceries in a way that’s different from any other vehicle (p. 22). With the technology and media available during the 1980s when Clark first argued these points, I find myself on board with this, though readily admit having very little literacy in Clark’s work. However, my initial reaction from a 2014-15 perspective is to think about Moore’s Law and the exponential increase of technological power over time. Today, the smart phone in the palm of my hand is exponentially more powerful than the most sophisticated computers from the era of Clark’s original arguments. So in light of the vastly more complicated spectrum of available media and technology (along with new ways to interact with that technology and media), I’m not so sure that we can say that there isn’t a single media that doesn’t have its own unique effects on learning.

The Media Debate has had a weighty impact on my ideas of high technology and its relationship to learning. Though I’m partly finding myself in agreement with Clark—that media is merely a delivery device for instruction—and I find his metaphors of the grocery delivery truck not affecting the nutrition of the food it’s delivering and the form of medication not affecting the healing power of the medicine rather convincing, I believe that metaphor is now past its expiration date (p. 22, 26). Decades after the initial media debate, high technology has become exponentially more powerful—the delivery trucks of 2014 are so vastly different than those of 1994. Clark’s metaphor struggles to keep pace for the simple reason that today’s delivery devices are no longer single-function devices.

This is the new media debate: high technology of the new millennium alters learning experiences altogether. Personal computing devices such as smart phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers are multi-function devices that are changing the landscape of learning. They search for and find data; they consume data; they manipulate and interpret data; they record and generate new data. These are new trucks whose functions both include and transcend mere delivery of goods. Additionally, as Dempsey & Van Eck (2012) suggest, the Internet highway is an altogether new highway on which these trucks may drive (p. 281-82); as such, the rules of the road have evolved. So when it comes to this business of whether or not we should implement new technology in curriculum, the response cannot be as easy as the “mere-delivery device” arguments of the past. Multi-function devices are more than mere points of access for instructional materials. Thus I share Dempsey & Van Eck’s (2012) view when they claim that “we are not just ‘adding’ technology; we are changing the very nature of the learning experience” (p. 284).


References

Clark, R. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.

Dempsey, J., & Van Eck, R. (2012). E-Learning and Instructional Design. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #5

I believe that assessment is about more than merely providing a kind of currency-value to students’ learning—assessment and evaluation should also be used to help teachers and instruction designers assess and evaluate themselves and their own curriculum so that they can revise it. Formative and summative assessment are tools that I’m already familiar with, and since I became aware of these assessment methods during my time in English 270 back in 2012, I frequently use them as tools to tweak my curriculum on week-to-week, unit-to-unit, and course-to-course bases. Of course we need ways to assess and evaluate what our students are doing—we are subject to educational structures that demand an accounting of students’ learning, but if 100% of our evaluative focus is on something as slippery as “student performance of learning outcomes,” we miss critical opportunities to see that if students are failing curriculum, there may be problems with curriculum. To that end, Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation has given me something to think about.

Evaluation and assessment of instruction design and curriculum should take into consideration each piece of Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation, but I would extend that strategy to be even more reflective. Scriven (1991) defines evaluation as a “process of determining the merit, worth, and value of things” (p. 97). So in terms of curriculum design, we must figure out a set of learning objectives or outcomes and have a way to assess the degree to which learners are able to perform those objectives over time. What I particularly like about this model is that designer’s should think about the merit of those learning outcomes. Indeed, learning outcomes should be those things which have intrinsic ed-u-ca-tion, evaluation, assessment value within a given system. And in my own thinking, I believe that another important step in this process of designing and revising curriculum should be to constantly ask the following questions: Why do we value these learning outcomes or objectives? What is the nature of their merit? For example, Stufflebeam’s CIPP Evaluation Model calls for an evaluation of context, “the assessment of the environment in which an innovation or program will be used to determine the need and objectives for the innovation” (Johnson & Dick, 2014, p. 97). I would take that a step further and suggest that we must ask why that environment (context) has those particular needs. Concerning my post-structuralist analysis of these evaluation models, the same thing holds true for Rossi’s Five-Domain Evaluation model. The first dimension of that model is the needs assessment: “Is there a need for this type of program in this context?” but that question neglects an equally important question: “WHY does this context have this particular need to begin with, and is that need justified based on value systems that are of intrinsic value and benefit to everyone?” In other words, we should constantly seek to understand the underlying structures that attempt to justify the connection between a thing and that thing’s merit. This is especially crucial if we think about how those structures change over time or how the objects within those structures change over time.

Absolutely vital to the design process is Stufflebeam’s input process in the CIPP Evaluation Model. It calls for an accounting of all resources that are required to make a program’s goals attainable (Johnson & Dick, 2012, p. 98). Growing from my experience in having to teach the Early Start English program in summer 2014, this is definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future. One of the reasons why I believe this program failed is because it failed to deliver on what was agreed upon during the program’s input process. During the input process, we were promised specific spaces and equipment, thus we designed our curriculum and it’s learning outcomes with those spaces and equipment as a key component thereof. When the university failed to deliver on that space and equipment, the curriculum could not adapt. Ultimately, if the input process fails, an entire program could also be destined to fail.


References

Johnson, R., & Dick, W. (2012). Evaluation in Instructional Design: A Comparison of  Evaluation Models. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

An Open Letter Concerning the Tablet Initiative at Fresno State

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Dear President Castro:

We are now just over a month in to your new tablet initiative here at California State University, Fresno, and—with some reservations and stipulations concerning the university’s focus on diffusing this technology to faculty and into its classrooms—I am writing to urge you to continue to invest time and resources into this program. However, I believe that the initiative’s current incarnation—at least with as much that has been made available to the public—is potentially problematic. Presently, as reported by Associate Vice President for University Communications and Integrated Marketing Shirley Armbruster (2014), the guiding question of the tablet initiative seems to be how can we accommodate new technology (i.e. tablets) in the classroom, (p. 22).But I think the question we should be asking is how can we evolve pedagogy and curriculum to leverage the meaning-making potential of new technologies in (and out) of the classroom. So far as I can see, there are already hints of strategies to address the latter question coming to the surface, and I believe that continued faculty support in terms of evolving curriculum and especially pedagogy will be absolutely crucial in getting this new technology to be successfully adopted, diffused, and put to constructive use throughout the university. Certainly, as Troy Tenhet’s (2013) dissertation An Examination of the Relationship Between Tablet Computing and Student Engagement, Self-efficacy, and Student Attitude Toward Learning reveals, we should not take for granted that just because students have tablets in their hands means they’ll automatically engage with tablets academically. With this in mind and to the means and ends of using tablets in the classroom constructively, let me explain some of my aforementioned reservations and stipulations more fully.

The biggest issue I see with incorporating tablets into the classroom is in having faculty transition from a direct instruction approach to teaching to a constructivist approach to teaching because, as I will explain shortly, leveraging the power of tablets in the classroom requires a constructivist approach to teaching. Of course this is not an issue for those faculty who already embrace a constructivist approach, but not all faculty share in this pedagogical framework. While the general troubles of a direct instruction approach are beyond the scope of this discussion, I believe the relationship between direct instruction and high technology is relevant. According to Reiser & Dempsey (2012), direct instruction is teacher-centered learning where the teacher acts as the “sage on the stage” who fills students—seen figuratively as empty vessels—with knowledge (pp. 45-46). It is the teacher who has access to knowledge, and students only have access to that knowledge through the teacher. The trouble with this approach in relation to high technology is that the technology becomes nothing more than a digital notebook for students to take dictation from the “sage,” something they could do with the technology of a $2.00 spiral-bound notebook and any number of low cost Pilot G-3 gel pens. At best, direct instruction would leverage high technology’s ability to help students drill on material they need to memorize in order to pass an objective test, but that task could also be easily accomplished with a buck’s worth of flash cards. So suddenly there’s quite a contrast between a pen and paper budget and a tablet budget which Armbruster (2014) reports to be to the tune of $850 (p. 23). Fresno State Tablet CaseSo in terms of classroom use, $850 worth of high technology becomes roughly an $847 investment to majorly glorify what ink and paper can already do or, at least, dress what a cheaper laptop can already do with new designer clothes for the 2014 iFall Fashion Season. Now in all seriousness, I don’t mean to suggest that tablets do not have a place in the classroom in particular or in education in general: tablets have a great deal of potential to allow students to work on solving real and meaningful problems (i.e. problems that matter to them) but only if a teacher is able to structure their class in such a way that fosters that kind of learning. I grant that supporting faculty in the physical use of tablets and mobile computing applications through faculty expertise is important—though I’m quite interested in knowing more about specifically who these faculty experts are (“DISCOVERe”). Too, the support through TILT and through LEAD workshops is also important. But I believe it’s equally if not even more important to support faculty in making the shift from learned based off of teacher-centered, direct instruction to learning that is constructivist, putting the students on center-stage. Therein lies the greatest challenge to get this technology to be successfully diffused, adopted, and put to meaningful use where student learning that persists beyond the classroom is (or at least should be) our antecedent purpose.

There exists a well-established framework for the adoption and diffusion of new technology theorized by Everett Rogers (n.d.) which asserts that there are five qualities of new technologies that are determining factors as to whether or not and how expediently that technology will be adopted. I’m certain that the Tablet Task Force, headed by Provost Lynette Zelezny, has already come up with a diffusion strategy that discusses the 1) relative advantage of tablets (over previous technologies like paper notebooks and laptops) and 2) the simplicity and ease of use of tablets, and the faculty cohort established earlier in the year demonstrates the task force’s way of addressing 3) the trialability of this innovation. I’m certain that other organizations have piloted similar programs, so there should be available a set of 4) observable results, but I have not yet seen references to any studies or outcomes presented by you or the university in support of this initiative—this is something I urge you to keep in mind as you move forward, for if both students and faculty have no way of accessing any observable results from this innovation, they will be less likely to embrace it. The fifth item from Rogers’ list is by far the most contentious item for our purposes as it serves as a sort of cross-section between both the new technology and the pedagogical framework required to leverage the new technology.

Rogers (n.d.) suggests that in order for a new technology or innovation to be adopted and diffused throughout an organization, it must also be compatible with existing values and practices. For faculty who are not presently in the camp of constructivist pedagogical practices—which I’ve submitted as absolutely necessary to take advantage of tablets in the classroom in a meaningful way (i.e. activities that are full of meaning-making potential)—there will be a significant conflict with the existing values and practices of direct instruction. This is not just about adopting tablets and new software applications in the classroom but about adopting a whole new way of operating within the teacher-student dynamic; therefore, investing in and implementing faculty programs to urge and support a transition to a constructivist framework for teaching and learning is absolutely crucial if we want this technology to successfully diffuse throughout the university and not be a waste of money and resources.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that a support system—albeit perhaps indirect—is not already in the works, but as a graduate student who is outside of the opaque Tablet Task Force and not a part of the faculty cohort, it is difficult for me to make any of these determinations outside of what is released to the general student body and public. When, for example, I see a series of Learning for Excellence and Development (LEAD) activity workshops throughout October that are centered around topics like “How to use Google Drive,” “Docs and Sheets,” an introduction to Lynda.com (the lessons therein generally of a direct-instruction nature), etc., my perception mirrors the overall point of this letter: I’m happy to see such an investment in faculty support for new technologies, but I’m apprehensive that these support programs are too focused on the technology itself rather than how to shape instruction to leverage the meaning-making potential of these technologies. As your tablet initiative moves forward, I hope you will also include a forward-thinking support system for faculty needing to make the transition from direct instruction to a constructivist approach to pedagogy and curriculum design. President Castro, you were quoted in an article as having said that one of your goals for this tablet initiative is to “build a sustainable program that keeps the cost of attending Fresno State affordable” (Schaffhauser). Without the support for the aforementioned transition to a constructivist framework, this program will not be pedagogically sustainable nor will students really save money or learn any better than they presently are: this expensive technology will be nothing more than an $850 drop in the bucket where a $3.00 trip to Dollar Tree for school supplies would suffice. Letting technology drive pedagogy and curriculum is like putting the cart before the horse. Instead, let’s create a sustainable system that privileges meaning-making in the classroom and thus make meaning-making drive the technology.

Sincerely,

Jeremiah Alexander Henry
California State University, Fresno
MA Literature Candidate
Teaching Associate
President, Sigma Tau Delta


References

Armbruster, S. (2014, Spring). Fresno State’s DISCOVERe Tablet Program. Fresno State Magazine. Retrieved from California State University Fresno University Advancement website: http://www.fresnostate.edu/advancement/ucomm/magazine

DISCOVERe — Fresno State Tablet Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from California State University, Fresno President’s website: http://www.fresnostate.edu/president/discovere

Reiser, R. A., & Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Rogers, R. (n.d.). Diffusion of Innovations: Part 1. Retrieved from Iowa State University Department of Sociology website: http://www.soc.iastate.edu/sapp/soc415Diffusion1.html

Schaffhauser, D. (2014, August). Fresno State Intros Tablet Program with Device Grants for Students. Retrieved from http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2014/08/21/Fresno-State-Intros-Tablet-Program-Supplies-Device-Grants.aspx

Tenhet, T. (2013). An Examination of the Relationship Between Tablet Computing and Student Engagement, Self-efficacy, and Student Attitude Toward Learning. n.p.: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing.

Jeremiah Henry – Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

I heartily accept the motto that writing is a process of self-discovery. Deep thinkers write their way toward understanding and generating meaning from what they see, read, hear, and experience—I feel that as a teacher it is my responsibility to foster this sense of discovery in my writing classrooms. Further, I believe that both reading and writing are processes of self-discovery: we truly learn more about ourselves and our relative positions in social groups—ranging from the smaller family units that make up our primary discourse to broader civic units that make up our secondary discourses—through reading and writing. Reading, writing, and an acquisition of literacy in these various discourse communities enables students gain the power to position themselves within conversations that happen in those discourse communities so that they may communicate with confidence their views all while being aware of the shared values and beliefs that compose who their audience is. Furthermore, reading and writing also become processes of understanding the views of others’ in relation to the views of the thinker; thus, I encourage my students to seek first to listen to the texts we read—to find common ground with them and then to respond to them in the context of their own views. My students take an active role in their learning during our processes of reading and writing, so they soon see me not as a conduit to hidden branches of knowledge but as a invested collaborator in their own learning wherein they are empowered to plant their own trees and harvest their own fruit in light of whatever their academic goals might be. In short: I am a constructivist, and I regularly sow in the minds of my students that reading and writing are tools that they will use throughout the university and throughout life, and the greatest part of my labor in convincing my students the truth of this is two-fold: I make reading and writing relevant to their own interests and goals; and I let them use reading and writing to help figure out what their goals are to begin with.

In my first year composition classes, students deconstruct their own attitudes and assumptions about social and cultural issues through reading, writing, language, and discussion, and this includes their attitudes and assumptions about what reading and writing is. They learn that often times, attitudes and assumptions about issues in the public sphere are often handed down to them through their primary and early secondary discourse communities. As university students, however, my students learn to question their inherited attitudes and assumptions and to look at new ideas with a mindset that is curious, inquisitive, and open to new possibilities. In acquiring a new secondary discourse—namely the discourse of academia—they learn that good readers and good writers become good by doing reading and writing. This, in my view, makes strong moves toward undermining the precarious paradigm that good writing merely means demonstrating formal rule acquisition. In essence, writing is a performance of thinking that takes place in a social context, and my students experience this through every major writing prompt in my curriculum: they discover that writers write when they’re compelled to respond to something; their responses have an audience; their audience has certain needs they need to be aware of; their audience has a chance to accept the truth-value of their responses if they address the needs of their audience; and their responses actually matter in the world beyond the writing classroom and their English teacher.

My attitude for collaborative learning and having an awareness of one’s position within their various discourse communities grows out of my time as a reading and writing tutor at Fresno City College, a campus among campuses in terms of ethnic and cultural diversity. Often tutoring students of different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds who were all taking the same composition courses as each other, I was espoused to the notion of looking at issues from a wide variety of perspectives. My time as a reading and writing tutor allowed me to frequently work one-on-one with students whose backgrounds differed from my own in a variety of ways, and I can say truthfully that they taught me just as much as I taught them: they helped me realize my own position in social constructs along with my own attitudes and assumptions about societal and global issues. In helping me be aware of my own primary and secondary discourses, they enabled me to critique those discourses and truly unpack my own attitudes and assumptions about societal and cultural issues. In a sense, this multi-cultural experience is what I want to give back to my students as their teacher.

I generally facilitate this approach to learning through my writing prompts which in truth serve as both reading and writing prompts; this helps my students see reading and writing as inextricably linked processes, and it helps them be aware of and enter into a conversation of ideas about a broad topic; therefore, they begin to enter the genre of scholarly, academic writing by treating their writing as a critical response to what other people are saying about their topic. For example, the penultimate unit of my English 10 course introduces my students into a conversation about culture, race, and ethnicity in the United States. In reading a selection of texts from a variety of authors, I ask students to summarize the views of what those authors are saying within this topic. Once students discover the specific branch of the overall conversation they wish to know more about and eventually join, they learn research skills that will be expected of them during the rest of their time at the university. They continue on this track that sparks their initial interest by doing further independent research all while gaining literacy in issues important to 21st century America, academic discourse, and scholarly research. Some students choose to focus on economic issues, some on social issues, some on political issues: it is truly up to them, and making those decisions, to me, is just an important of a process as is the production of the final essay. The readings for the unit and the discussions we generate in class allow for a wide variety of potential points of focus in order for them to construct a conversation of shared ideas and for them to respond to those ideas. Most importantly, this entire process does not neglect valuing and evaluating just that: process.

More specifically—and this is true for every unit in my English 5A, 5B, and 10 courses—I have my students keep track of and evaluate their labor as they work through their projects on a weekly basis. The basic prompt is three-fold: What went well with the labor? What didn’t go well? What can be done next time to make the labor even better? This labor journal allows my students (and me) to keep track over what labor is being done and how it is being done. When students bring their labor habits to their consciousness by having to articulate it through language and then evaluate and assess that labor, concrete ideas for growth and development are a natural result. Another process-oriented task my students do are blogs in which they enter into a conversation of ideas about the texts that they’re reading in real time—and I frequently require students to respond to each other’s posts. Although the blog itself is a product, it’s another product that forces students to be mindful of their process as the prompts require them to be actively engaged with their reading while they’re reading. Finally, since my students must keep an active log of their reading throughout each unit, they are able to make meaning through their responses and through sharing their responses with their colleagues thus demonstrating to them that learning is an active process that happens both individually and communally.

In short—seeing as though all iterations of reading and writing begin with a sense of confusion—I facilitate my students’ movement toward clarity and self-discovery through collaboration with the texts they read, with each other, and with me. I see myself as a facilitator of their own meaning making, not as an authoritative source to some hidden branches of knowledge. In my classroom, it is my ultimate goal that my students—regardless of their roots—leave with the ability to make their own fields fertile and to reap everything they therein sow.

The Euphony of Pedagogy and Curriculum

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

In retrospect, this was the class I was waiting to take. This was the class that allowed me not simply to get my feet wet with teaching—it allowed me to dive right in and swim with the rest of the school. What made it all come together for me is something I’ve come to understand as euphony. Strictly speaking, euphony is when something sounds pleasing to the ear. In terms of literature and teaching, however, I think the idea of euphony goes beyond language that simply sounds good. In poetry, for example, euphony occurs when the sound of the language matches the mood or the scene that the language is attempting to paint: “But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, / Retreating, to the breath / Of the night-wind…” from Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” is a perfect example of poetic euphony (24-27). Here, the sound of the language precisely matches the intent of the language. There is no way one could read the line “Its long, melancholy, withdrawing roar” quickly without being silly. The line must be read slowly and with melancholy; the language itself is built that way. All of this isn’t to say that my idea of good teaching is to use with my students language that is at once beautiful and matches my intents as a teacher, yet it is almost that. Graff and Birkenstein are no strangers to this concept: the vast majority of their book They Say, I Say is written with the euphony of concept and material. More specifically with regard to teaching and the idea of euphony, what has come to be most important to the formation of my pedagogy is the unison of what I teach and how I teach.

On the front end of the semester, I knew I was going in to the classroom with certain advantages, not the least of which being several years’ experience as a writing tutor at Fresno City College. I may not have realized it at the time, but our modus operandi as writing and reading tutors at FCC was from a rhetorical position. We always left the control and direction of the conversation in the hands of the students, and it was our task to help them figure out their own purposes in writing chiefly by responding as readers. I may not have known how to name what it was that we were doing at the time, but that was certainly it. There have been a number of transitions from tutor to teacher, of course—some of which I shall detail below—but for the most part it has been business as usual for me. What is key, however, is that I now know how to name the things I’m doing which gives me opportunities for reflection and, subsequently, growth as a teacher and learner.

Directly responding to student writing in the form of written comments on their papers is something that, as a tutor, I left (and was instructed to leave) for the big fishes. In my first semester of English 5A, these were still uncharted waters for me. So one of my chief concerns was how to effectively respond to student writing within the larger scope of our program’s rhetorical pedagogy. Most of my experience with comments both as a tutor and receiving them as a student was with comments that were prescriptive and directive. “Move this here,” “unclear thesis,” or “Change your thesis this way and it will be better,” on top of a lot of a lot of “VT,” “SVA,” “Frag,” and “CS” marks. Needless to say, I became fairly sharp with grammar because it seemed like that’s what teachers were wanting from their students, and it was my job to help students get to the level their teachers wanted them to be. But good writing isn’t about having perfect grammar, right? We’re supposed to be teaching our students the idea of Conversation as Curriculum, that their writing is a response to social situations that are important to them, so it only makes sense we engage in the same rhetorical mode of teaching as we’re asking our students to do in their learning and writing. Euphony. Knoblauch and Brannon helped tie a lot of this together for me in Chapter 6 of their book, Rhetorical Traditions and the Teaching of Writing.

One of the keys to understanding responding to student writing is in how we name the exercise itself: it is a response. In order to respond in a way that is constructive and meaningful to the student, our first task is to identify the conversation in which our student is responding; our second is to respond in a way that can push the student further into the conversation to which they’re attempting to respond. The point of caution here is to not let the conversations from our own backgrounds that may be incompatible with the student’s conversation interfere with generating feedback that can actually be meaningful and helpful to the student (118). Knoblauch and Brannon make it clear that the real concern of teacher responses to student writing should be to discover the intent of student writing, perhaps help the student discover their own intent, then use that as a platform for response (121). Ergo it is our charge to respond to student writing as a sympathetic participant in the student’s Discourse while at the same time—I would add—help the student acquire more and more fluency in academic discourse through a gradual yet immersive process. Euphonic teaching does not stop at responding to student writing, of course.

I have mentioned purpose several times already: we want students to write with purpose as a response to a social situation; therefore, in order to teach with euphony, we ought to construct our curriculum with a clear purpose in mind, and that purpose should be clearly communicated to our audience i.e. our students, just like we expect our students to do in their own writing. Generating curriculum with this in mind has been beyond the shadow of any doubt the most helpful aspect of English 270. When I think about what I expect from good student writing, I think about things like purpose, focus, audience awareness, goals, logical flow of information, etc. A student essay that possess all of those things would certainly meet of not exceed expectations in English 5A, 5B, or 10, so I’m left asking myself a simple question: why should the formation of my curriculum be any different? Shouldn’t I have a clear set of purposes and goals for my students? Should I not be aware of their needs? Should each class—like each paragraph in an essay—not have a logical flow from one to the next? In this sense, a well-written unit is just like a well-written essay. Again, it’s all about euphony between what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching.

There are certain classic philosophical strains that persist in my mind and serve as resistors to the emergence of my pedagogy, and this mostly has to do with different modes of reasoning being at odds with each other. The two modes of reasoning here are deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the mode of reasoning where you start with a general, widely accepted truth and come to a specific conclusion using the general truth as proof (this often happens in the form of syllogisms: all men are born good; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates was born good). Inductive reasoning takes the inverse approach where you start with a specific example of something and then attempt to arrive at a general truth. You can see danger here—it essentially boils down to the idea that one rotten apple can spoil the bunch. Traditionally, deductive reasoning is the mode of reasoning that has received the most rhetorical credibility in argumentation whereas inductive reasoning is often cut down because of the inductive leap needed in order to come to a general conclusion. Now in terms of the formation of my pedagogy, I’m really excited about the idea of generative learning. It’s not too different from the immersion process of language learning in which we engage when we’re children or working with Rosetta Stone as adults. We work with various specific examples and use our intuition to arrive at general truths after we’ve recognized patterns. At first glance, my privileging of deductive reasoning and my teaching through immersion (generatively) are philosophies that are at odds with each other. I’m still working through this, but for now I am content to conclude that Aristotle’s Rhetoric and teaching rhetorically are false analogies or that inductive reasoning is sound as long as one experiences enough specific examples to safely arrive at a general truth.

All of this is to say that English 270 has definitely made me more consciously aware of the things that I am doing as an educator and even as a writer. (It has also made me endlessly thankful that I decided not to teach secondary school a long time ago). Knoblauch and Brannon had it right in one of our first readings for the class, that teachers ought to be aware of what they’re doing and constantly reflect on what it is that they’re doing in order to determine the effectiveness of their curriculum and pedagogy (2). A teacher who regularly engages in that sort of self-assessment can only grow and march toward a euphony between who they are, what they teach, and how they teach.