The general theme for this observation unit is “Authority.’ Using Lad Tobin’s Writing Relationships model, this unit has been designed with fostering dynamic student-teacher and student-student relationships within the composition classroom. As the observation unit is the first in the curricular sequence, it is incredibly important to develop the relationships that the students and teacher will leverage throughout the semester.
I’ve included both a compact and expanded course calendar, as well as the assignment prompt. In the expanded calendar, I attempt to provide Tobin’s pedagogical rational for each day’s activities. These rationales are demarcated by the * symbols. Of course, as Tobin notes, each student and therefore each classroom is different, so my prodigious use of “will’ and “should’ and other demonstrative verbs ought to be taken with a grain of salt.
PURPOSE: Draw from a variety of observations to gain perspective on how authority is present in the world.
Our course focus is on authority and how it is created. This assignment focuses on observed authority–instances where we see someone, or something, asserting or submitting to authority. What do your observations offer us as a class? (Insight)
We’ll share these essays with each other. Bring 3 drafts to class for Peer Review Workshops on XXX**. How will you set up your scene in order to establish the insight you reached through systematic observation? How will we learn from what you want us to see? (Rhetorical Situation)
Choose a location. This location can be anywhere you want–the middle of the forest, a crowded building, a busy street, the gym, etc.
You may not interrupt the activity of that place. Remember, you are an observer.
Go to your spot with a notepad and a writing utensil and write furiously. Try to capture every aspect of your surrounding–the people, the buildings, the sounds, the smells, the sights, the taste (?), etc. Heck, you could even focus on non-human beings if you’d like.
You may not make judgments or interpretations of the location while you are there. Remember–you are an observer there, not yet a judge.
Reviewing your notes later, ask yourself, “What is the scene I have captured?’
You may not start this process with a point already determined and then back it up with your observational notes. Remember: inductive, not deductive.
Then, compose an essay.
You may not change your insight in order to fit a pre-fabricated organizational pattern for your essay; instead, adapt your organization to fit your insight. Choose inductive v. deductive presentation.
Inductive: Start with the specifics and construct the big picture: SpecificÃ Universal
Deductive: Start with the big picture and use specifics to revise it. UniversalÃ Specific
Author’s Note: This unit has been planned for a T/R class, but you can easily adapt it for a MWF course as most activities should take roughly 45 minutes.
Attention Grabber/Ice Breaker
I imagine this as a moment which serves to segue into a brief conversation about the course theme: Authority. There are a number of possibilities for how this can go.
Burst into the class and immediately start barking orders (“Stop talking. Take out a piece of paper and a writing utensil.’) Once students comply, write on the board: “Why did you follow my instructions?’ Give students 5-10 minutes to write a brief response. Once students finish writing, have students volunteer to share responses. Interpret responses in light of “authority.’
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that at some point during the class period you walk back the authoritarian persona you developed coming into the room.
*This activity builds off of Lad Tobin’s Writing Relationships model. By breaking out of the mundane first-day syllabus distribution mode, this activity allows you to begin establishing a rapport with the students. Of course, the scenario described above might not work for everyone. It’s important to make sure when planning this lesson that you are putting on a genuine performance, no matter what that looks like. If you find yourself out of your comfort zone, then you might consider re-centering yourself (of course, if your performance requires you to be out of your comfort zone to fulfill your educational goal, then go for it)*
Data Collection Cards
Distribute index cards to your students. Have written on the board:
2) Intended Major
3) How do you best receive feedback to your written work?
4) Fun fact
Once collected, attach to the front of your student folders (which you should be keeping in a file cabinet to keep track of everything).
*It’s really tempting to collect these data sheets, read them once, and forget about them forever, but doing so would be a great travesty. Thinking again of Lad Tobin; when it comes time for individual conferences, there are few better ways to start the conversation off than by being able to look down at the folder before looking back up at the student and asking, “So, how’s life with a shrimp allergy?’ While it’s doubtful that you’ll establish an immediate connection, you’ll definitely succeed in breaking the tension inherent in the student-teacher power dynamic, which will allow you to steer the conversation in more productive directions–even if that means continuing to discuss life with a shrimp allergy or other maladies for a few minutes*
Provide a writing prompt. If your university has a list of recommended prompts for you to choose from, then go ahead and grab one. If you are not provided with a prompt, try to come up with a prompt that will elicit a narrative and/or expository essay.
Require students to write continuously for 45 minutes. Instruct them that they can utilize any part of the writing process (drafting, revising, editing) over the time allotted, but that they must be write until instructed to stop. At the end of time period, collect the essays.
*While this writing assignment does not necessarily have to connect directly to the course theme or any stated curricular goals, it serves a significant pedagogical purpose. Drawing again from Lad Tobin’s Writing Relationships, we can view this activity as your first conversation with your students as writers. Take the time to really read these and get to know their voice. The requirement to write continuously for 45 minutes means that you probably have extreme highs and lows present in the same essay. You can also begin to learn their tendencies: Who continued putting new words on the paper the entire time? Who went back and meticulously edited? Who cut out entire paragraphs? Who tried to edit but still missed a lot? Who might you need to keep an eye on? Who should you be reaching out to in the immediate future?
Putting in this effort to begin laying the foundation for your writing relationship with your students will pay huge dividends as the semester progresses*
Student-to-Student Ice Breaker
Teacher’s choice. Try to find something that will get your students interacting with each other in a meaningful way, not just checking off items on a “Get to Know You’ sheet.
I’d recommend Charles Frost’s “Pockets’ activity as it immediately throws the students into each other’s personal lives without getting too personal.
*With this activity, we’re shifting the focus of the classroom’s writing relationship from student-teacher to student-student. It’s important to remember that while the teacher is the one responsible for standing in front of the classroom, so much of the classroom dynamic depends on the people actually filling the seats. Getting them working together will help foster a more collaborative classroom, which will hopefully translate into a more collaborative writing process, which will hopefully translate into enhanced student outcomes. See James Berlin for more on the social nature of writing*
Distribute Unit 1 Assignment Sheet
Introduce the major assignment for the observation unit. Make sure you carefully walk the students through the mechanics of the assignment (Procedure). Tell the students that the conceptual framework for the assignment (Purpose) might not make sense quite yet, but that you will be showing a video during the next class period that should provide clarity.
Inductive vs. Deductive Activity
As so much of the assignment rests on the student’s ability to observe (specific) and then construct meaning/significance from those observations (universal), it would be useful to spend some time discussing exactly what these things look like.
I’ve always found the ladder of abstraction to be useful.
Watch: Stanley Milgram Experiment
Check out the DVD titled Obedience by Stanley Milgram (available UAF Library, Level 4, DVD-6388). Before showing video to class, tell students that they are about to watch a video about authority and that they should take notes on how they see authority manifesting itself in the experiment. Instruct them to pay careful attention to how the experimenters change the conditions of the experiment to elicit different responses from the test subjects. Then, play the video (run time, 45 minutes).
After video is finished, give students 5-10 minutes to free write about the video.
*This free writing provides students with the opportunity to reflect on the experiment and organize their thoughts before the class discussion*
Ideally, have students form large discussion circle. Begin by opening the discussion with an open-ended question such as, “Thoughts?’ Allow students to lead discussion as much as possible, but take opportunities to guide the discussion when you feel that certain threads need further exploration or if the discussion stagnates.
*During discussion, Tobin thinks that we should “promote open and productive competition…and real and full collaboration’ (90). While you don’t want the competition to turn into open hostilities, encouraging your students to challenge one another will help develop critical perspectives. I imagine that the ideal situation would involve a lively debate ending with students continuing the conversation beyond the friendly confines of the classroom without disparaging one another*
Lastly, consider pairing this series of activities with the article: Stanley Milgram and the Obedience Experiment: Authority, Legitimacy, and Human Action by Charles Helm and Mario Morelli, found here. If you choose to assign this reading to either frame or enrich the video, consider limiting the reading to the first four pages of the article as they narrow the focus to explaining the procedure for the experiment and are more accessible (not technical knowledge dependant) than the pages that follow.
What is Workshop?
Tell students that they will be participating in a peer-review workshop during the next class period. Open up a conversation in which students are invited to describe positive and negative experiences they have had with peer review in the past. As students speak, write their ideas/contributions on the board. Once board is filled, discuss what common threads link the positive and negative experiences (positive experiences will generally involve receiving insightful feedback and negative experiences will generally involve lazy/unmotivated peers and feedback that is not instructive). Use this discussion to suggest that students might wish to avoid negative tendencies and rush towards positive traits in their own peer review groups.
Whole-Class Workshop Activity
Provide sample “student’ paragraph (either printed or projected on board). Read aloud with class. Model how you, the teacher, might provide feedback to your peer about this paragraph–essentially, you are narrating your thought process for the class.
Provide second sample “student’ paragraph. Read aloud with class. Invite students to provide feedback. Repeat this process at least once.
Small-Group Workshop Activity
Randomly assign groups. Check out this website if you need help with assigning.
Instruct students to meet with their groups. Provide another “student’ paragraph and have groups collectively workshop the paragraph. Once done, have each group present their findings.
*This sequence introduces students to their workshop groups and attempts to provide the students with an opportunity to model productive interactions for each other (Tobin, Ch. 7) in a low-stakes setting–they are focusing their literary criticism on a paragraph written by an unknown student, which helps introduce each student to the personality of their peers and establishes a group dynamic. Ideally, students will learn what to expect from their peer’s review so that when it comes time for the students to submit their own work, they will be less likely to take offense to feedback–if student X is an aggressive critic of the anonymous student’s work, then when student X is an aggressive critic of student Y’s work, it won’t come as a surprise*
Peer Review Workshop
While groups are meeting for peer-review, I generally try to walk around the class reading as many essays as I can during the time available. This helps me sample where the students are before they turn in their drafts and allows me to make general, yet specific, suggestions to the whole class based on trends I’ve noticed. Ideally, I’ll be able to read every student essay, but sometimes there just isn’t time. I also think it’s important to try to stay as removed from the groups as possible while they are working. This gives the students the space to express their own thoughts and ideas without having to worry about impressing me or being evaluated. Of course, if a group seems to be stagnating, I’ll try to pump some life into them.
Towards the end of the class period, I’ll ask each student to write down a sentence from each of their peer’s papers that they really love. I’ll also ask each student to write down a sentence from their own paper that they really hate. Collect these papers and use them to prepare for the sentence workshop during the next class period.
*Navigating these kinds of interactions can be difficult when thinking about your writing relationship with your students. As Tobin notes, “When and how should we respond to a student’s writing? And how should we deal with the tension that writers and teachers often feel in writing conferences?’ (43). While there is no silver bullet for answering these questions, Tobin provides some helpful advice, “To be effective, conference teachers must monitor the tension created within and between these relationships and strive to keep that tension at a productive level–for their students and for themselves’ (43). Knowing how to deal with these mini-conferences, or informal interactions with your student’s writing, while they are engaging in peer-review can be tricky, but the more you get to know your students and their writing, the more productive you can be when leveraging that tension*
Before this class, you should read through the lists of sentences you collected from your students during the previous class period. Consider selecting a sentence from each student to distribute to the rest of the class (whether you choose to select a “loved’ sentence or a “hated’ sentence is up to you).
Start with a whole-class discussion. Using a projector, or a chalkboard if technology is unavailable, display a student sentence. Ask the author of the sentence to remain silent (you should have a list with the student’s name that corresponds to each sentence, just in case they forgot they wrote it).
Lead a discussion about what the sentence is accomplishing. What does the structure of the sentence convey? What do individual words accomplish? How might the sentence be reorganized? Etc, etc. There will likely be a tendency to gravitate towards mechanics (“There needs to be a comma). If the conversation drifts in this direction, you could take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the implications of grammar (See Errors and Expectations by Mina P. Shaughnessy or Cross-Language Relations in Composition by Bruce Horner et al for various pedagogical approaches on this front).
Once the class has finished discussing, ask the author of the sentence to say a few words about what they were hoping to accomplish with the sentence.
After discussing 3 to 4 sentences as a whole class–if you do many more than this, you run the risk of hitting a serious investment/interest wall–have the students meet in their workshop groups. Put another sentence on the board and have the students discuss the sentence within their workshop groups. After a few minutes, have each group present their thoughts to the class. Once finished, ask the author of the sentence to discuss. Repeat.
*This activity accomplishes a number of goals. First, it allows the class to begin engaging with sentences in a concrete way, which will hopefully spawn a recognition that a lot of choices have to be made when constructing a sentence. Secondly, as Tobin notes, even when we don’t ask students to imitate the style of other writers, they do so anyway. Not only this, but “they also imitate styles of composing and attitudes toward writing’ (118). This sentence workshop provides students with the opportunity to imitate, or resist, the choices of their peers, which enhances the social process of the composition classroom*
Collect Assignments; Author’s Notes
Students should arrive to class with finished drafts in hand. Before collecting the drafts, provide the students with 15 to 20 minutes to write an author’s note. Prompt them to discuss:
How their paper reflects the rhetorical situation of the assignment (audience, purpose).
What risks they took in their composition.
What parts of the paper they are especially proud of?
Which parts are they unsure of or unhappy about?
If given another week to revise, what changes would they make?
Collect the author’s notes with the essays.
*I’ve found that these author’s notes are incredibly helpful when responding to student work. Often times, students will identify the same issues in their paper that I see. Having them implicate themselves in this way allows me to respond more as a collaborator instead of as an authority. For example, if student X writes in his author’s note that if he had another week to revise he would deepen his analysis in the second paragraph by doing Y and Z, my only response might be, “That’s a great idea, you should go ahead and do that.’ This allows my response to recognize and encourage the student’s thought process instead of imposing my own, which will hopefully lead to the student having more confidence and implementing the needed changes before turning in a draft*
After returning papers, schedule conferences with students to discuss the assignment.
*As these are likely to be the first conferences of the semester and quite possibly the first extended individual contact with students, I think it’s important to spend just as much time building the writing relationship with the student as it is to spend time discussing/critiquing the student’s work. Taking time to get to know students beyond the page should help foster a stronger relationship, which will enhance the student-teacher collaborative effort of composing*