What Worked? (A Best Practices Review)


A lot didn’t.

And I hope you have or are making space for venting and perhaps listing and ceremonially burning on a funeral pyre all of those things that did not go well, and that the group chat will take you back in a virtual hug when you’ve sent your eleventy-billionth frustrated, exasperated, desperate gif capturing all that went wrong.

But this is not that space. We are composing what is possible.

We need to focus on some of the wins – you had them. You learned. You tried things. You regrouped. You tried again. Something worked. Our workshop on May 27 is not a workshop so much as a gathering, a potluck. We are going to stack up our collective wins and share what has worked this year to help your students succeed because though at times it may not feel like it, we have been making progress. Between 2016 and 2020, we have made an increase of 67% in the number students passing English 1A (from 1,984 in 2016-2017 to 3,317 in 2019-2020). But perhaps more important than that overall number is that the number of Hispanic/Latinx male students who succeeded in English 1A has increased by a rate of 96%, Hispanic/Latinx female students by 80%, African American men by 84%, and African American women by 161%.   (Thank you to our Director of Institutional Research, Brandon Owashi, for pulling and interpreting this data!)

In our opening post for this academic year, Dr. Kristi Woods charged us with supporting our students and providing “them with all of the valuable tools they need to direct their energy toward melting the ice of tyranny, oppression, violence, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, classism, misogyny and the soft bigotry of low expectations.” She urged us to “prepare for classes as if [our] future is in the hands of the students in [our] classes—because it is.” She asked, “What will you do to be a partner in their transformation from student to thought leader?” We teach composition – it begins and ends with lifting up student voices. What did you give students the space to speak about? How did you help your students lift their voices, provide them with tools to be heard in and out of the classroom? How did you engage this fire, but also help them to finish successfully? What was your best innovation this year to increase success among your students?

As you consider this and what to bring to our workshop – because that is the ask: BRING WHAT WORKED this year to our May workshop to share – I encourage you to review the work you’ve done rethinking your course as well as some of the conversations we have had here that may have pushed you in positive directions.

Your highest yield changes may have been big, maybe at the level of course theme and design, or small, changing how you organize groups for better engagement; whatever it was, bring it. (Also, please help us organize in advance by thinking about what “category” it goes in: syllabus language, course policy, student engagement and inclusion strategy, accessing campus resources, course reading/themes, assignment, class activity (synchronous), class activity (async), something else?)

I would also encourage you to look back through the posts of the last year and the inspiration and practical suggestions they contain. As Monique Greene, Dr. Dan Hogan, and Dr. Miguel Reid noted in September, emphasizing various principles of validation, engagement, and genuine care, “there is still a need to truly identify which support mechanisms aid in [student] success.” What have you discovered that will, as Dr. Woods said, “allow [students] to revel in their belongingess. Engage their intellects and value them.” As you consider what has worked to engage students, recall also Star Taylor’s October call to “be emboldened and empowered to liberate our students from unclear graduation pathways, unclear and unrealistic assignment/exam requirements, antiquated classroom pedagogy and methodologies, and faculty and staff who make generalizations and tiny racist comments of our colleagues.” If you remain unsure about not how but if or how much to engage in this work down to your individual class, consider again Star’s question: “Why would educators be resistant to making changes in order to implement culturally relevant texts and pedagogy?”

The framework that Rob Hyers suggested in November that he referred to as “critical thinking/critical imagination” will undoubtedly be of assistance. Both Dr. Tammy Kearn and Dr. Audrey Holod returned to this idea in their blogs and workshops. Rob shared this framework as a way to empower students; citing Genevieve Carpio and Juan D. DeLara, he explained Carpio said “’Have your students question why things are the way they are,’ (critical thinking)” and DeLara said “’Ask your students to imagine the way they want things to be’ (critical imagination).” Your colleagues in this community have been imagining the way things need to be for our students to belong and thrive; the critical imagination here has been fired up. In the April workshop, Miguel and Audrey asked us to listen and reflect; I too would encourage you to do that — towards meaningful transformation. Jo Scott-Coe encouraged us in this direction in January, reflecting on our charge and the many times we have been presented with “gaps” in education: “the term [gap] appeared in so many phrases that reflected deficit-minded judgments about students (e.g. ‘achievement gap,’ skills gap,’ ‘readiness gap’). But now, as we look squarely at equity gaps in our classes, we also have to avoid turning that deficit mindset on ourselves.” Emphasizing our capacity to grow, Tammy asked us in March to share “innovative, empowering, meaningful, and memorable assignments that not only make effective use of texts in the classroom, but that act to ‘support Black lives and stand in solidarity to confront anti-Blackness’ as well as to confront all forms of racism, classism, and elitism.” She suggested about text selection that “one way to reimagine possibilities is to ask ourselves what we truly want our students to learn and contemplate—and even act upon” in response to the texts we choose.

This question of texts was one we spent multiple sessions on this year. For some of our students, based on their major, ours may be the only English class they take in college. Knowing that our students may take only one English class, or conversely, that ours might be their first – a gateway course – what authors and texts can we include that will reflect that key feeling of belongingness that Dr. Woods called us to? As Wendy Silva wrote in November about when she first discovered Gloria Anzaldúa: “here was a well-known scholar, telling me … I was allowed to exist in the world as I was. And I have to wonder, how many of my students have had the privilege of feeling this experience of validation? Which have not? And of course, what can I do to make sure that they all do?” Expanding this experience of validation for our students, centering Black, Latinx, indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQ+ authors and validating the experiences of Black and Latinx students may at times be met with resistance. Audrey and Miguel shared strategies with us, rooted in their research, of effective ways to address this resistance, including content that asks “students to confront their own positionality through hearing experiences from multiple voices and positionalities in society,” and that introduces concepts of white privilege and ways to decenter whiteness and emphasiz[e] systematic oppression” through texts and assignments that look at “racial constructs and [their] historical basis.” We have discussed so much this year. Our “umbrella” text has been Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey Malcolm-Piqueux’s From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education. This community of practice has been central for so many of us in the move from talk to walk, but another refrain I have heard this year is that we are weary with talk and words and no transformation or that even when good change is made, it happens in silos. Indeed, McNair explains that “equity work cannot be done in isolation or with a select few. It needs to engage the entire campus community” (16) – from our classrooms, to committees, to the culture of our institution, and right back into the classroom.

To all this wisdom (and do go back and consider again our authors on the blog from this year) I am adding some practical tools:

For myself, and what I have tried that has worked, I know the changes to how I manage deadlines with students, prompted by the pandemic, will become permanent. My final exams have changed because of ideas shared and sparked in this community. My text selections shift and expand from your input and my students’. My asynchronous discussions expanded and improved in quality immediately after deploying Tammy’s metacognitive discussion technique from the March workshop. I’m in progress still about how to grade differently, and excited to learn more about and incorporate the constructivist activities and teaching framework highlighted by Audrey and Miguel. (And I’m already wondering about our conversation next year about the classroom — How will that space be different upon return because of all we’ve both learned and endured?)

The privilege of being a professor is the duty of forever being a student. I look forward to learning more from and with you on May 27 (and beyond).

2 thoughts on “What Worked? (A Best Practices Review)

  1. Janelle Arafiles


    Lots of great thoughts, Kelly. I especially love how you stated “The privilege of being a professor is the duty of forever being a student.” Nothing could be truer. Teachers need to lifelong, passionate learners if we ever hope to rub off motivation and sharpen our craft. While distance teaching has had its positives and negatives, we have to take it with a grain of salt. All courses, face to face or otherwise, can inform our instruction for the better.

    Distance education could be interpreted as a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask. Personally, I loved the freedom and flexibility it had to offer. These factors challenged me to be flexible, understanding, and supportive. When we return in the fall, I fully intend to carry over my measures of grace and communication in the classroom. Regardless of the worldly circumstances around us, our students are human and they deserve a willingness on our part to be understanding when it comes to late work and pacing.

    Currently, I am also reworking my approach to revision. I’ve truly enjoyed my time in the lab as it has granted me regular opportunities to discuss the mechanics of literacy and the art of critical thinking. I really want to provide meaningful discussions to uplift and encourage progressive change for my students. While group, pair and whole class revision and discussion are great tools, I would like to give them some one on one time as well so I can explain my feedback in a way that it can be immediately received and understood. That being said, allowing ample time for rotations is a little tricky, but I hope to configure a plan that is quick and easy to adapt in real time.

    More than anything, I’m eager to hear more from our colleagues! I feel that good teaching is greatly empowered through the unity of faculty and gleaning from one another. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thatcher Carter

    Hi there, thank you so much for your blog post. In thinking about what went well this semester, I can think of a few strategies I will be using as I go forward. Perhaps the most useful has been a strategy of inclusion, a student survey at the beginning of class, sent out before the class starts.

    The questions were extensive (it took them on average 20 minutes to complete), but there was a caveat that they could answer the questions however they saw fit :

    1.What’s your major? What sort of career do you imagine for yourself?
    What do you hope to get out of this class?

    2. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? In your family, what are some important and interesting topics that you talk about at home?

    3. What are some of your racial/cultural/personal identities?
    What are your pronouns and your preferred name? Make sure to change these on zoom if you haven’t already.

    4. What are some of your obligations outside of school? (family obligations, work obligations, etc.)
    How much time do you have to devote to this class each week?

    5. How have the pandemic and the worldwide racial protests affected you personally? How have you dealt with these changes?

    6. Do you have any fears/anxieties/worries about this class?

    7. Please give me your:
    1. gmail address (you’ll need one for our class documents)
    2 cell phone number
    3. home address with street address, city, and zipcode
    I promise not to contact via these avenues except for emergencies and for a couple of postcards through the semester.

    8. Is there anything else you want to let me know that can help me design and facilitate a good course for you?

    I also answered the questions myself (this was right before Fall, I didn’t update it for Spring). If they wanted to click on my survey, the link was included in the prompt.

    1. My major was English, and I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I started teaching English as a Second Language in Pasadena. My students all had jobs, but they showed up for their evening classes having done all their homework. They were the best students, and they inspired me. We ended up playing whiffle ball in the classroom to learn about baseball and had a full Thanksgiving dinner to learn about Thanksgiving. They taught me how fun the classroom could be. I’m hoping our class can be as fun as that one was!

    2. I grew up in Connecticut, went to middle school in Illinois, and then my parents moved to California. After college in Los Angeles, I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic, and that’s where I met my husband. My parents passed away, and my brother moved to Chicago, and my husband’s family lives mostly in Canada, so we are all alone here in Riverside. Even our kids have moved away. Our son works at Great Basin National Park in Nevada, and our daughter goes to Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn. At home, we talk about politics, basketball, food, and what it would be like to move to Canada. We are huge Clippers fans (okay Laker fans, that’s fine, I know you’re the reigning champions), and we are thrilled that the NBA has found a safe way to play. We will be watching every game!

    3. I am a cis-gender heterosexual white female. The Irish part of my family made a living during Prohibition by running alcohol over the Canadian border (illegally), and on the English side of my family, one of our ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Huntington, one of the few signers who did NOT own enslaved people (thank God!). I think of myself as a curious and generous person who is constantly working to improve. I am an avid reader. I read every night, and I go to bed really early because I can’t wait to get back to my book. Right now, I’m reading Julie Orringer’s Flight Portfolio and a book about Robert Moses called The Power Broker. Oh, and I’m writing a novel.

    4. I have never taught a fully on-line class before. I went “suddenly” online in the spring and made it through the semester, but I’ve practiced a lot since then and I have learned a lot about zoom, studio, pronto, screencast-o-matic, wix, e-portfolios, google docs, padlet, and quizlet. You name it, I’ve tried it. I took three major on-line trainings over the summer and several smaller ones. I am in full growth mindset mode!

    5. I don’t have any real obligations outside of school (classes, WRC, English Department, assessment, etc. etc.) except my grown kids and my mother-in-law, but they’re pretty self-sufficient (and live very far away). I also have two dogs and three cats, so there’s that.

    6. The pandemic and worldwide racial protests have affected me profoundly. After spending so much time at home, except for trips to the grocery store and a vigil for George Floyd, I feel like my brain has changed. I’ve fully embraced being an introvert and feel like I could stay home forever. I miss my friends and family, but I’ve adapted to our strange ways of keeping in touch. My daughter has spent a lot of time at the protests in Brooklyn, and we’ve all shifted our perspectives on white supremacy and racial inequality.

    7. I learn best with a nurturing and positive environment and lots of time to process and be creative. On the other hand, I get bored easily, so I dread a tightly controlled learning environment where everyone has to go at the same pace. However, I am open to providing whatever kind of learning environment works best for you. I’m flexible.

    8. Yes, I have fears and anxieties about the semester ahead. I worry that our technology will fail us. I worry that we won’t be able to connect with each other on-line. I worry that I won’t be able to keep up with all the prep and grading. I’ve already had a stress dream where I had to zoom outside in front of a tree that was painted white. That was supposed to be my white board. But my neighbor also had to zoom from that same spot, and there was an enormous chicken-like bird that kept pecking at us. So, yes, there’s some anxiety happening over here.

    But mostly I’m looking forward to getting started, putting this whole semester into action. Let’s do this!

    I’m looking forward to hearing all the best practices on Thursday.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s