Friday, June 15, 2012

Process Analysis of a Process Analysis

I haven't been blogging lately, but I've been reading - a lot.  I've got posts upcoming on Rick Riordan's The Kane Chronicles (preview: loved) and Syrie James' The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, which made me want to re-read Jane Eyre, Villette, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall IMMEDIATELY.  I resisted and instead devoured A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (what have I been missing all this time?!), Cut by Patricia McCormick, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher.  Detailed posts to come.

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.
You get the idea.  I knew something had to give, and in a bold move for an English teacher, I let go of the essay.  I reasoned that a well-thought presentation required written and organizational skills of some sort, the final product would just be different.  I also addressed two of the main issues listed above head on.  I banned technology and required old school posters ONLY.  I also implemented a strategy I learned as a teaching assistant, perfected by my friend and fellow teacher Erika, the gallery walk.  On presentation day, instead of suffering through one dry, uncomfortable presentation after another (again not because of topics but because of nerves on the part of the presenter), I split the class in half and station the presenters with their posters at various points around the room.  The other half of the class acts as audience and must visit each presenter.  Therefore, each presenter has to deliver his or her presentation multiple times, allowing for a growth of confidence in delivery and the ability to revise for better content on the spot.  The first semester I implemented the gallery walk it was well-received; the only real complaint was that the presenters didn't get to visit the presentations of the other students in their group - a surprising problem!

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.
And the results were outstanding!  The requirement of the outline and poster ahead of time meant everyone was prepared on the final presentation day and encouraged the drafting and prewriting that most students neglect.  Every one delivered original work, and not one student even read off of his/her poster, outline, or notecards when delivering his/her presentation.  Also, as an added workload benefit, since I had already heard their presentations during conferences, I merely observed students as they interacted with each other and graded on the spot - done! 

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?


  1. How wonderful! It's hard to let go of some of the traditional ways, but it can be so rewarding. Isn't it great to see how we evolve as teachers, and how our students benefit? (tutor of at risk kids, here)

  2. Thanks! That's why I love being a teacher. I went to an AVID summer institute in June and was just making some changes to my curriculum that I hope will yield some good results. I applaud the work you do! Thanks for stopping by!