Thanks to everyone for doing such a great job in the transition to Canvas. The past few days have demanded extra professional lifting from all of us under stressful and uncertain conditions. It’s been no small thing to get going. Great job!
An extra special shout-out of appreciation for those of you who were already using the platform and who have been helping so generously, assisting colleagues with questions, troubleshooting, and other concerns.
Let’s also remember to pace ourselves as we transition with these new tools, to avoid burnout on many fronts. If you’re already using Zoom or loading videos into Canvas or having synchronous workshops right now (or whenever), go for it. BUT if you’re taking it slower, that is fine, too.
Our collective safety, physical health, and mental well-being are top priority right now. As we wait to see how this crisis will play out, it is OK to ramp up your courses slowly to maintain educational continuity. Many, many of our students will need extra time to get plugged in and to feel “fluent” with all of their class experiences changing modalities.
Going forward, as we find new ways to show up for each other and for our students, it’s also important to consider how you will set friendly and firm boundaries for your “available” time online.
You don’t have to solve everything today. Stay steady. Stay well, everyone. We will get through this.
When I was asked to lead a Community of Practice event, I enthusiastically accepted. Having the chance to reflect on this topic and lead a workshop as an adjunct is something that I take seriously because I know the commitment we make to our students and the desire we have to continue improving our own instruction. As the date approached, however, the familiar anxiety started to creep in. (Anxiety compounded with the sea of papers and midterms! We all know the struggle… We can do this, my friends.) Anyway, as I was saying, when I was a student, I always felt an *almost* debilitating anxiety when I had to write even though I have always excelled in academics. My friends and classmates would shrug it off because they *knew* I would receive high marks, but I never had that confidence, so I worked hard and tried to control my anxiety. I didn’t have a clear understanding of what every professor wanted in my writing, but I wrote to the best of my ability, often in a rushed late-night session. Luckily, it turned out well. (Shhh… Don’t tell my students!) This personal struggle with anxiety and without explicit guidance is something that I discuss with my students, and it is one of the reasons that I spend so much time attending to the affective needs of students while also organizing and developing activities that address critical thinking, personal growth, and the writing process.
For our conversation this month, I chose Raymond
Wlodkowski’s Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for
Teaching All Adults. The text
resonated with me because it takes adult learners seriously and navigates the overlap
between pedagogy and andragogy in a way that makes sense. Malcolm Knowles, the
educator who named and popularized andragogy in the United States in the 1950s,
talks about adults wanting to be “seen and treated by others as capable of
self-direction” (qtd. in Wlodkowski 97).
Our students are adults; they want and have agency, but they also need
direction. Most plead, “Just tell me
what to do!” at the beginning of the semester.
There is a delicate balance between their need for agency and their
desire for strict requirements, and we look forward to hearing how each of you
navigate this balance and what has worked and what hasn’t always worked. When thinking about writing projects, my team
and I considered the larger 1A research paper but also the smaller writing
projects that require research and the in-class writing projects. We also considered how “support” is woven
into this academic conversation.
We all understand the demands that our community
college students carry. Whether we know
about each student’s individual story or not, we need to be aware of how past
learning experiences and financial and familial burdens affect the success of
our students. Most of our students are
underserved, and it is our responsibility to recognize and honor their
commitment and choice to attend our institution. As Luke Woods, Co-Director of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL),
at the RCCD Student Equity Summit last year, “every registration is an act of
trust.” For this reason, we need to
understand what motivates our students, what they want from us, and how we can
get what we and the college want from them.
The skills that we need to hone, according to
Wlodkowski, are expertise, empathy, enthusiasm, clarity, and cultural
responsiveness. Fundamentally, we need
to honor our students’ perspectives and experiences, and we need to be
organized and enthusiastic about our field.
If we cannot inspire the students and clearly articulate the concepts we
need them to learn, they will lose interest. We need to help them see how that particular
essay will help in their life outside of the classroom; sometimes the content
is what might apply to the outside world, while other times it is the writing
skill or critical thinking itself. For
myself, I organize my class around a larger umbrella term of social justice and
identity, and each paper includes key learning outcomes and writing strategies
that slowly build on one another. While
I let my students vote on topics at least two times in the semester, I always
have a vision of what writing and rhetorical strategies I will ask them to
engage with for every larger writing assignment. This helps me address all the skills listed
above to the best of my ability.
A point that I think is particularly relevant to our
discussions around AB 705 is one of the hazards Wlodkowski links to lack of
enthusiasm: “You are having an attack of the good-old-days bug. The learners aren’t as good as they used to
be. The instructional conditions have
deteriorated. You see things as they
once were. You feel depressed. You tell yourself things will not get better”
(76- 77). While we all have debated
about AB705 and what this means in our classroom, his warning should be
heeded. If we begin romanticizing the
mythical good ol’ days, we will project that same distress and frustration to
our students. Just as we need to address
their own negative self-doubts and attitudes, we need to look inward and do the
same with ourselves. These are our students,
and this is our task. We must continue
growing and encouraging our students to do the same.
Students need four motivational conditions in the
college setting: inclusion, attitude, meaning, and competence (102). Basically, our students need to feel that the
classroom is a safe zone for them to express their positions without being
attacked. Related to this idea is the
relationship not simply between the instructor and the students, but also
between the students themselves. In
their journals, students in my classes talk about the friendships they formed
in the classroom and about the peers who helped them understand topics when
they were struggling. (I integrate peer
reviews and discussions from the first week of class to foster the academic and
personal growth of every student in that room.) In addition to often fearing
the professor in the classroom, many of our students are also fighting
loneliness and isolation. This is not
separate from our teaching in my eyes.
We need to attend to the affective needs because if students are
struggling emotionally, they will struggle to prioritize or find meaning in
attending college and taking our English classes.
Students need help with that in whatever form we feel comfortable providing, but they also need to see that what they are doing is relevant and meaningful. For me, this means repeating the rationale behind my prewriting activities and reminding them that they can succeed in this course. (It also means allowing conversations that deviate from the assigned task for a few minutes at the end of class.) I don’t expect the students to understand why I am having them write a reflection when we first begin writing metacognitive reflections. I make that link for all of them the first couple of times, and they slowly start doing that without much guidance with subsequent papers. Wlodkowski says, “New learning often asks them [students] to become temporarily dependent, to open their minds to new ideas, to rethink certain beliefs, and to try different ways of doing things. This may be threatening or difficult for them, and their attitudes can easily lock in to support their resistance” (176). We honor that dependence and trust by being aware of *how* learning happens and what stumbling blocks might appear along the way and modifying our instruction accordingly.
According to Lev Vygotsky, a leading theorist in
social constructivism, there are three zones of learning, and providing
scaffolding and support during our writing projects is how we can tap into and
strengthen this learning. The zone of
actual development (ZAD) is where students have mastered the required skills
and are then in their comfort zone. This
is where some of our independent students are found, and this is where we want
all of our students to be by the end of our classes. We want them comfortable with research, MLA, thesis
statements, essay construction, etc. Their
mastery of the skills makes up our learning outcomes. Most of our students are fluctuating between
the zone of eventual development (ZED) and the zone of proximal development
(ZPD). In the ZED, or anxiety zone,
students are unable to understand our lessons even with our scaffolding and
support. As Wlodkowski asserts, “If the
learning tasks are well beyond their current skills or prior knowledge, people
will not be able to accomplish them, no matter how motivated they are”
(6). What we will focus on is the ZPD,
or the reach zone. Working in the ZPD
entails using a variety of scaffolding techniques. This includes the following:
Providing prompts and cues
Using dialogue and discussion
Regulating the difficulty
Providing a checklist
Using reciprocal teaching and practice. ( Wlodkowski 184- 86)
In order to scaffold learning effectively, we need to
distribute responsibility increasingly on the student. In my own classes, I limit the choices and
structure of the first two essays, and then I invite students to take
initiative. I have explicit and somewhat
rigid guidelines in order to help them feel prepared to take on the writing
task. I don’t want them to struggle with
the writing assignment because they have unclear learning objectives and
requirements. Pre-writing activities
combined with a writing checklist and outline template let them know exactly
what I want them to focus on for each essay.
Later in the semester, while I am covering important rhetorical and
writing skills in class, I let them take more initiative with the writing. Finally,
I link all my writing assignments to the assigned essay and the future research
project that culminates the class.
While we consider our scaffolding techniques, we also
need to be aware of students’ own emotional states. The anxiety that I—and I assume many of
you—struggled with is something I see mirrored in most of my students. It is why I actively and intentionally
explain my rationale for activities in the classroom and the WRC, and why I talk
to students directly when I see them expressing frustration or confusion in
class or in their writing. Taking the
academic and affective dimensions into account, we can begin to discuss how to
support our students through writing projects.
Questions to consider:
do you draw the line or how do you distinguish between coddling and scaffolding
for our college students?
do your students struggle most with writing assignments? What steps do you take for the class as a
whole? How do you direct students to
address their own writing issues on an individual level?
do you scaffold each writing project that you assign? How do you deconstruct
the prompt? Do you slowly provide more freedom for students or is creativity
something that you highlight from day one?
much agency do you give your students with writing projects?
do you ensure that students are understanding what is required in their writing
and that they are improving on those skills?
Additional texts that I read in
conjunction with Wlodkowski’s work:
Darling, Teachin’ It! Breakout Moves
that Breakdown Barriers for Community College Students.
Barkley, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.
Black Male Student Success from Preschool to Ph.D. Edited by Shaun R. Harper and J. Luke Wood.