Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quick workers

I didn't used to have a textbook.  Before I started teaching online, everything the students learned was from lecture.  Most of the textbooks I reviewed* were dreck, and expensive dreck.  Eight to twelve hundred pages, with very little text, and huge, glossy pictures.  Lots of bullet points.  No real explanation of what went into a paper, nor how to go about putting one together. 

Yes, I am talking about composition textbooks. 

For the spring semester after I had the imp (Spring '09), I expanded my lecture note outlines into a textbook, complete with explanations of what goes into a paper, and how to draft one.  My textbooks explain about how to determine what purpose a paper serves, and how to stay focused on the topic, and how to stay organized.  My textbooks explain what goes into a well-developed paragraph, and how to structure it. 

I've come to find out that, while no textbook is better than a bad one, one that's designed to do exactly what students need is better than the best lecture, because then, the teacher can focus on teaching students to apply the knowledge. 

And what brought me to this conclusion is this: today, my average class managed to power through the thesis statement and organization of their papers, then asked to move on to development.  They have all read the material in my textbook that covers paper construction, so needed help, not explanations, in applying it to their own ideas.

Thursday will consist of a freewrite day (where they write their papers during class time, either in class with my help, or with having emailed me that that's what they were going to be doing, at a place of their choice, during class time).  Thursday will be easy, if long--I won't have any lecture, but I will still have to hold my minimum office hours.

*Composition textbooks out there for sale are truly awful and useless, with one notable exception: They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing is an awesome resource that I can't recommend highly enough for high school and college writers.  I've got a copy that I'm planning to use to teach my kids how to write persuasively when they get older.

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