Hey English Teachers and Writers, any suggestions for a class that looks like this?

When I begin to write a syllabus for an upcoming class, I usually first think about the course’s goals and what the assignments should be.  Once that’s decided, I try to plan a schedule that will help us reach the objectives.  As I began this process for my upcoming summer courses, I was feeling kind of bummed out thinking about diving back into that same old work.  Class never ends up much like my ideal writing day, and so I’ve decided to mix up the structure for how I think about planning a course.  I’m starting with what is closer to an ideal writing day for me, and using that routine to give the class structure.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Daily Course Structure for Prof. Torg’s Composition Class

For me, to be a writer and thinker means to live within a mass of habits. I believe there might be as many ways to write and think as there are people engaged the acts.  By living in this routine three days a week for six weeks, I hope you’ll begin to think about how to craft your own routine for thinking, or it might be that you’re more of a person who will create an anti-routine.

(20 minutes)    Writing Studies / Annotating a Text

Let’s see what other people have to say about writing.  When I say annotate, I mean that I want you to try and have a conversation with the writer on a copy of their text.  After that, let’s practice using MLA guidelines to integrate the thoughts of others into our own texts.

(5 min)           Warm Up with Rich Language (I provide or you choose?)

Read something that will challenge your intellect, the sort of text that might introduce you to a new word.   Log the word, the context, the title of the work and the author into your daybook.  I think I’ll start you with Poetry magazine.

(10 min)          Teacher as Text.

This is like the first twenty minutes, but you’ll do this on your own with a text of your choosing.  Read something that you’d say is among the best of the sort of text you are trying to write.  I recently adapted my novel and so early each morning I tried to challenge/inspire myself by reading from Alan Ball’s American Beauty and Diablo Cody’s Juno. Look for one writerly observation of which you might make use.  Log the example in your daybook.  Make sure you take good enough notes that you could quote from this text and cite it in a works cited entry for your Writer on Writing Paper.

(20 minutes)    Write a Draft of Something you Need to Write.

Most, if not all of us, write on a computer screen with lots of distractions.  Here, we’re going to try something different:  we’ll write on paper ignoring our cell phone, instant messages, and the latest email to come dinging into our inbox.

(20 minutes)    Small Group Workshop.

Here’s something you might not be used to:  a real audience.  You can share what you just wrote or something that you’ve written and brought in.  It’s best that we all have a copy, but it is also fine if we don’t.  Readers should annotate the text:  underline phrases that get your attention, challenge the thinking, explain what you learn, and ask questions of each other and the writer.

(10 minutes)    A Lesson From Prof. Torg. Usually, there’s something coming up that I need to explain.

(10 minutes)    Work on Your Group Technology Project.

Your group is to make a movie and write a paper that focuses on one aspect of writing studies.

(5 minutes)      What happened worth mentioning today?

Let’s hear from a couple of the writers in the room.  What happened today that you can share?  Is there something you’ve written or read that you are willing to read to us?

(10 minutes)    Prof. Torg on a Text for Grade.

For this portion of the class, I want to show you the best I can what goes on in my head as I read a text written by someone I’m going to have to give a grade.

(10 minutes)    Research at Work.

I’m going to show you clips from a variety of documentaries and/or the work of previous students.  I see these films/texts as examples of those who are asking meaningful questions and pursuing answers.

How Would I Improve Public Education?

How Would I Improve Public Education?

Exhausted and frustrated, five years ago I quit public education.  In the years that have followed, I’ve tried to think about ideas which might have improved the situations within which I worked.  I mean for this to be a catalyst for conversation, and I’m happy to have these ideas refuted and/or debated.  I realize I am a person offering suggestions for a field I have departed, but the students in my writing courses are often future teachers, and I am in continued professional conversation with those who work in the public schools

  1. All of the professional staff in the school should be in the classroom teaching students. It’s too bad that just about anyone who displays ambition in public education, anyone who wishes to get a substantial raise in pay, must leave the classroom.  If all administrators (from assistant principals to superintendents) were required to teach, class sizes could be reduced and those who have become administrators because of their dislike for teaching or working with students might be driven from the field.
  2. Decision making power should be given to teachers with the most experience. How should money be spent?  What meetings should be held for what purpose?  What should the curriculum be?  These are questions that teachers should be working together to answer.  When I taught in Charlotte, all of my classes had over thirty students enrolled and in one class many of the students had previously failed the course.  I had a thick grammar manual and literature anthology neither of which was a very effective tool for engaging students who were not very interested in reading and writing.  How much did those textbooks cost?  What else might I have done with the money?  Too often those who had advanced degrees in something besides English Education were driving my curriculum.
  3. Teachers should be the highest paid employees in education. In many of the places I worked, it was too easy to get the job of teacher.  Although some of the smartest and most admirable people I have ever met are teachers, I also worked with people who frequently missed school, wouldn’t bother the students if they didn’t bother them, and were in education because they couldn’t find anything better.  There were times when the school year began and the school was still looking for a warm body with a degree to fill an empty position.  Teachers are often not paid and treated with the respect accorded to other professions, and so those professions continue to draw the smartest and most dedicated people.
  4. School should be process and project oriented. Standardized tests murder students’ passion for learning.  What rewarding job is like taking a multiple choice test?  The more school requires students to sit quietly in their seats working their way through multiple choice tests, the worse off its students will be.

These are ideas I hope to develop, refine, or altogether change, and I’d appreciate your perspective.