Regular readers of this blog know that I am an English teacher at a community college. It's hard, but when everything comes together, it's awesome. I had one of those moments yesterday when my students gave their Process Analysis Presentation. This project has matured a lot over the past two years, and I'm just so damn pleased about how it all went down yesterday that I wanted to share with someone other than my husband, who listened politely and then changed the subject.
I teach ENG 111: Expository Writing. What began as an unsavory challenge while I was a teaching assistant at N. C. State is now my baby. I love this class, and I am constantly tweaking it to (I hope) make it better. We teach the modes at my current college, and I have always assigned some form of a process analysis. At first, it was just an essay, but I allowed students to pick topics they are experts at (with my approval!! I learned that lesson the hard way...) and design the document as if it were going in a magazine - color, bullets, photos, etc. It was generally well received, and at the request of my students, who wanted to share their essays with the class, I added an oral presentation component. In keeping with the visual interest of the project, I stated they had to have a visual aid of some sort - poster, PowerPoint, demonstration, etc. (but NOT the essay). I've had students come in and wow us with their musical skills or baked goods, but while the project showed promise, students were not demonstrating the oral communication skills I wanted. Instead students couldn't understand what their presentation should be about or put tons of energy into the essay and minimal thought into the presentation. The presentations themselves, conducted in traditional one-to-twenty format, were excruciating - not because the topics were boring but because the students lacked finesse in their delivery. They continued to indulge in the same presentation pitfalls:
- minimal eye contact,
- no practice/confidence resulting in stumbling, stuttering, umms, and general awkwardness for all,
- hiding behind technology with little to no knowledge as to how to actually use it,
- reading off of slides or posters with no room or desire for improvisation.
Still, I was having problems with students practicing and reading straight off their poster and plagiarism was rampant because I was still requiring an essay. This summer I made drastic changes including the following:
- no essay, but a formal outline,
- a clear no research (not even Google) mandate,
- 20 word maximum on the poster (just enough for the main points - thanks Erika!),
- pre-presentation conferences in which students deliver the outline, poster, and presentation to me one-on-one, and I give them feedback to incorporate into their final in-class delivery.
The more I teach the more I am enjoying this hands-off, activities based approach. In this day and age, I think students need to learn by doing. I am only too happy to answer questions and assist. I will provide all the tools, but it is up to the student to learn how to use them.
Any good activity suggestions out there I haven't considered?