Saturday, April 6, 2013

Writing, Week 1

The spring semester officially began on February 25th, and I was thrown into it immediately, as I have an 8:00 am class on Mondays.  (That ought to be illegal.)  I have another right after at 10:00, but by then both I and they are waking up.  

Two of my writing classes are the same as last semester, so we just picked up right where we left off.  With 1105, the class that was Micah's last semester, I did take about twenty minutes at the beginning of class to do introductions and let them know who I was a bit.  I find that, while it seems a bit narcissistic and not actually accomplishing any teaching goals, telling them about myself is helpful in the long run.  Many of the students feel a bit intimidated by foreign teachers, or they lack the confidence to speak out much.  If they feel like they know me, that I want to be friends with them, they are a lot more comfortable speaking in class and less hesitant to ask questions.  Turns out, the students in 1105 are pretty comfortable anyhow, introductions or no.  

There was, of course, one first-week kerfluffle (fun word!); my schedule had an error: it said that my 10:00 students would be coming to the same classroom as my 8:00 class, but theirs had them in a classroom two floors down and two doors over.  I was excited to meet my new class, had everything set up and ready to go.  And no one came in...well, maybe their first class is far away.  Two minutes to the bell.  Something's not right...the bell rings and I haven't seen anyone except one startled-looking upperclassman ducking his head in to see if the classroom was empty to be used for a study hall, then retreating quickly when he saw me.  I texted my Chinese colleage, Anna.  Fortunately, she didn't have a class right then, and she rushed to the computer to check the schedules and quickly got it sorted out.  So, I gathered up all my teaching paraphernelia and scuttled downstairs.  And there they were, sitting expectantly in A203, as their schedules said.  Anyhow, we just lost five minutes, and teacher and students were reunited at last.  

Last semester, we did a lot of exercises with the mechanics of writing: diction, sentences, paragraphs of every sort you can imagine and probably a few you can't.  This semester, the focus is essays.  We had a staff meeting the Friday before (before classes started Monday--they don't do planning ahead real well around here) and worked out the basic syllabus.  First, the writing process, then a short overview of descriptive and narrative essays, and then most of the semester split between expository (explaining) essays and argumentative/persuasive essays, as the last two are more useful for future classes and tests they will have.  

So, week 1: thesis sentences.  I know it seems basic for a college-level class, but the writing style in Chinese is, apparently, vastly different, and so they way we English-speakers are used to organizing our thoughts is something that takes a bit more practice for my students.  The thesis sentence is the most important sentence in the essay; if I can get them to get this right, the organization of the rest of the essay will be easy.  So, over and over, I emphasize--your thesis sentence should tell me the topic, the purpose/position you are taking, and give me an idea as to the organization of your essay (list of reasons/details that will become the body paragraphs).  Formulaic, I know, but clarity and good organization are much bigger goals right now than originality.  


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