The school year is started back up, and we’re already nearing the end of week two. I’ve been teaching online for the past year, and that can be fun and stimulating in its own ways, but being back in a physical classroom is invigorating. There’s something energizing about planning lessons and then physically putting them into action in a classroom. After classes #1 and #2, I felt feelings of accomplishment, success, and gratification (footnote: a philosophy professor once told me that gratification is one of the most powerful human feelings, and I often think back to that statement and consider the strong, motivating influence of gratification in my life- how about yours?). It feels good to create lesson plans that include unique activities that engage students, and I’m going to spend the rest of this post talking about two of those activities that I have planned for tonight’s class: 1) A class constitution, and 2) A crossword puzzle quiz.
My class spent the first week reading some of America’s founding documents- the Declaration of Independence, “Common Sense,” the Constitution, and “The Age of Reason.” We analyzed them as both literary and historical texts, and their ideas will provide a framework for many of the readings we’ll do the rest of the semester. In the spirit of democracy, I came up with the idea of a class constitution, complete with a list of rights for each student (from “the right to voice an opinion” to “the right to be absent three times before it affects one’s grade”). The key is that it will be the students who will create the document. My hope is that this will instill in them a sense of investment in their work and participation, a sense of accountability to the standards that they themselves created, and a sense of appreciation for the difficulties and complex thought processes behind the creators of America’s founding documents. I’ll be there to provide some scaffolding and to moderate, but I plan to leave the rest in their hands.
Similarly, I will have the class democratically create the rubric by which their oral presentations will be graded. The criteria, the point values, and the specific wording will all be created by students. This idea came from a course I took with Peter Khost for Stony Brook’s advanced graduate certificate in teaching composition and rhetoric. We did something similar in that class, and I can say from experience that it forces students to think in new ways. I’ll create a follow-up post in a few weeks to report how things went!
Crossword Puzzle Quiz
I was just cleaning out my little accordion-portfolio binder with all of my old teaching papers in it, and I found a quiz from a Writing 101 course I taught in the Spring of 2016. The course was mostly for international students whose first language was not English, and while that seemed slightly intimidating to me at first, it turned out to be a fantastic class. The students were eager to learn and improve and needed no help in the field of motivation- my office hours have never been so crowded. But the class was also fun, for them and for me alike. Their drive to learn made it possible for the class to be less formal without there being a concern of losing the pedagogical thread.
The quiz that I found from this class was in the form of a crossword puzzle. I had forgotten about the crossword puzzle quiz until this re-discovery a few minutes ago, and now I remember how enjoyable it was for the students. (It also made lesson planning more enjoyable for me). It was a simple quiz, assessing writing issues we’d been covering, and most students did pretty well on it.
Since I’m currently teaching a literature course with relatively easy daily quizzes to make sure students are reading the assigned texts, I’m going to bring back the old crossword puzzle quiz…early American style! I recommend you try it out as an assessment tool or reading comprehension check as well- it’s a good way to find out where your students are at without making them feel “quizzed.”