Monday, May 21, 2007


How does anyone teach comp? I don't know!

Not that I've started thinking about my syllabi for the fall, or anything. Because I haven't. It's 1 AM and I'm just back from the bar. But hey, I need to teach a lot of comp next year, and I claimed to know what I was going to be doing, and yes, I have some ideas, does this teaching thing work, exactly?

Actually, ever since it dawned on me (back in '01) that I was going to have to teach people actual things one day, I've had this feeling that teaching is a sort of mystical enterprise that I could never possibly understand. Like, you stand in front of a room and somehow manage to fill a certain block of time--never visibly spacing out, never seeming to get tired--and lead people to think a certain thing that they didn't think before. How does that happen? I suppose I've done it (either that, or I've wasted a whole lot of other people's time), but lately it's been hitting me that I'm going to have to do it for about 12 hours a week next year, and I'm flabbergasted.

Composition has me a little more stunned than the actual lit courses, I confess. Because I can babble on about literature pretty much endlessly, if I have to (I'm not saying it's interesting, or informative, but the time gets filled). VerySLAC does not have a set comp curriculum; in fact, everyone structures the class pretty much however they want. Which is nice, in a way, but at this stage in my career I'd really like some guidelines. (Guidelines are, apparently, forthcoming. However, I'm not convinced that they will be detailed guidelines; thus, some worry remains.)

So I ask my question again, knowing that it's vague, knowing that it's huge and impossible to answer, and that at this stage a Google search will probably yield my best results:

How on earth does one teach comp?


Fretful Porpentine said...

With lots of examples of what to do and not to do, mostly. And ideally in a classroom that lets you project from a laptop, so you can put a sample paper up on screen, ask students how they'd revise it, and make the changes right in front of their eyes.

Comp is actually a lot less energy-intensive than lit, since you can spend much of the time doing small-group stuff like peer editing. Other group activities that tend to go over well include:

-- Argumentation: bring in copies of the letters to the editor from the local paper, and have students spot examples of different types of argument, unstated premises, logical fallacies, etc. "in the wild."

-- Research: print off three or four different types of sources about a given topic (like, say, a scholarly article, a newspaper article, a Wikipedia entry, etc.) and pass them around to the groups. Give the students about five minutes to rank the sources in order of their reliability, and have them explain how and why they made their choices. You can also send them off to the library for a scavenger hunt where they have to locate specific pieces of information.

You get the idea -- lots of hands-on activities and real-world examples.

heu mihi said...

I've heard of doing the thing with Wikipedia, actually. It seems like a really good way to accomplish two things at once: to give them a model of a piece of expository writing, obviously, but also to get them thinking critically about internet sources.

These are good ideas: they'll go into my budding collection, and I will use them! Thanks!

Sisyphus said...

Ah, group work _looks_ like it is less energy intensive than lecturing, and you can even get comments to that end in your evaluations (we did all the work and she just sat there and talked to the groups!) but it requires more setup planning before they go into the classroom and debriefing afterwards. It's very hard to "wing it" on group work unless you have a real gift for it. Working up handouts or sets of questions for each group, or a list of instructions/guidelines that you pass out for them (like peer review instructions) helps you plan and helps you _look_ like you planned, which makes students feel like they're getting their money's worth and could potentially learn something.

But this is a good topic, and you could call for a Comp Carnival to hear everyone else's ideas!

heu mihi said...

Yeah, I've had group work utterly fail in some lit classes, and that was probably because a) the course I was teaching was required, and none of my students were lit majors, and b) I was using it as a time-filler. But I think in principle it can be good for a comp class. For example, peer review (much as, I expect, some students hate it) can actually be a pretty effective way of learning how to diagnose problems with one's own work. Or so I assume.