Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wrapping up

The Fall 2012 semester's nearly at its end. Today is "reading day," so things are a bit quiet over here in the Honors Program offices. So far I've spent the morning reading over my HON 179 students' latest daybook writings, including their illustrations of their personal writing processes (more on those in a minute), their lists of characteristics of a liberal arts education, their reflections on the lasts couple of chapters of Ong's Orality and literacy, and their "final thoughts" for the term.

These final thoughts are surprising ones. Quiet as many of the students are (it's one of those classes where I've had to say, not infrequently, "anyone not named 'X,' 'Y,' or 'Z,' please chime in!"), it's been hard for me to judge just how they've felt about our readings, our conversations, our world cafés (more about those in a moment, too). Overwhelmingly, though, the final thoughts suggest solid engagement, satisfaction with the way the course has gone, and great strides in learning and self-awareness. I'm gratified!

About those process drawings: Libby, one of my awesome colleagues at East Carolina University, introduced me to this activity a couple of years ago when I went to ECU to take part in the "WACademy" faculty development series she's been running down there for a few years. Respondents are asked to draw their writing processes in pictures: what is it they do when they set themselves up for a major writing project? What's the next step, the next, the next, and the last (if a last step really exists)? (Incidentally, Libby's also the one who first turned me onto daybooks. Many thanks, Libby!)

I loved my students' responses to this in-class activity! Of course, they are Honors students, so they're bright and inventive and yadda yadda yadda, but wow! were these process drawings incredible. Some were little more than sketches with sparsely-drawn stick figures, heavily annotated with explanatory text (including "Cheez Its," "brain," and "blank document"). Others were highly elaborated cartoons of world-making wordsmithery. Some students offered strongly constrained step-by-step processes, and others were more amorphous, one "step" blending into another seamlessly. The variety was fantastic. I hope to gain some of the students' permission to repost their work here.

About those world cafés: I've been involved in a few of these events in the past and have always gotten a lot out of them (enlightenment, amusement, and new friendships), but until this term I'd yet to use them in class. However, I ran two in HON 179 this term (the first on truth and proof, the second on the nature of a liberal arts education), and both seemed to go well. In particular, the conversations the two generated were more open and robust than those occurring in any other class meeting. The world café format got the students' juices flowing. I'm definitely going to use the method in all future classes (math classes included!).

For now, I'm going to get a start on reading the final drafts of the HON 179 students' research papers. Writing on the roots of Ebonics, the benefits of restorative justice, the parallels between epic heroes and comic book superheroes, and many more topics, these papers have proven fascinating.

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