Open communication & curated content
invite students into richer learning experiences
In my experience, students tend to view English courses with a special sense of fear and trepidation. Therefore, especially early in the semester, I like to establish the course as a cooperative experience that we—the students and I—are taking on together. After all, learning is a reciprocal endeavor.
As such, I find a positive rapport and engaging content instrumental ways to inspire involvement, earn trust and create a dynamic learning environment.
To me, good communication means maintaining a tone of professionalism and support, keeping students informed about coursework and related content, providing thoughtful feedback and offering a space to hear their voices.
I find the following strategies helpful for setting a tone of instruction and support:
- Use of inclusive first-person plural (we).
- Framing course as expansive and exploratory, as an experience that will sharpen students’ skill set and add to their knowledge base.
See the two files here for examples:
In which the first-person plural point of view indicates that I, too, will be a part of this portion of the semester.
In which the language frames the course and its work as skill-building endeavors, acknowledges student fears & credits students’ contributions.
I view the announcement feature of LMS platforms as the equivalent of a newsfeed within a course site. And because these announcements are also automatically delivered as emails to student’s school accounts, I also view this function as a push notification service.
Thus, I employ the Announcement feature for oh-so-many things like:
- Deadline reminders.
- Supplemental information like…
- Relevant articles or excerpts.
- Topical profiles related to subject matter.
I also use this kind of push notification for information already posted in the course site, which means the same information is accessible in a few different ways:
- As the full document.
- As an announcement.
- As an email.
Doing so has the advantages of…
- Drawing attention to the fact that the information exists.
- Emphasizing important and/or timely material like readings, instructions, examples, supplements, etc.
- Providing a link that takes students directly to the posted material.
The slideshow below provides many examples of the Announcement feature at work in my course sites:
I provide general and individualized feedback for assignments, particularly essays. Each student receives tailored and timely comments about their own work, and the whole class receives an announcement, like the ones below, with comments that apply to the assignment overall:
Not only do I communicate regularly with students through announcements, feedback and other exchanges, I also build in opportunities to hear from students through assignments like the ones here:
A reader-response forum in which students share how a quote of their choice from an assigned reading resonated with them in some way.
A teacher-student exchange in which students have opportunity to ask questions & share about their status in the course.
Assignments of this nature allow students to take more agency in…
- internalizing the course material,
- formulating their opinions about a topic,
- and assessing their own progress in the course.
Because these assignments are…
- personal and exploratory,
- evaluated on the basis of engagement and thoroughness rather than on adherence to grammar and style rules as with the course’s formal writing),
- offered at regular (often weekly) intervals within the course,
student response has been highly positive, from expressions of increased interest in subject matter to connections with personal experiences to realizations of greater self-awareness.
When collecting or creating materials for course sites, I consider if the content is engaging in one or more of the following ways:
Reflects updated research or relates to
The investigative topic for the ENG 112 Social Sciences Report is how the pandemic has impacted the use of social media for news consumption.
This article blends subject matter with trending notions about the best life now and representation of zombies in popular culture:
Invites students to actively participate
in learning process.
Students compile the questions for then distribute and complete the Google form survey linked below to gather data for the ENG 112 report on the pandemic’s impact on use of social media for news consumption:
Connects students to their personal experiences,
to each other or to the world beyond.
Several course readings cover life-skill topics like procrastination and interpersonal relationships, and reader-response and reflection forums like the ones here create space for students to make their own personal connections:
Pertains to subject matter, learning outcome or other course-specific area and/or to student experience (i.e., life as a college student, etc.).
Most course readings pertain to subject matter in form and/or content. For instance, one linked reading for the ENG 111 classification unit demonstrates the writing mode of classification while also educating about active listening.
The article below shows students that the process of classification is more common than it may seem:
(by type & topic)
Different types of content types address
different learner styles.
Different topics expand knowledge base, address different backgrounds & appeal to different interests.
Topics in ENG 112 range from whale song to Big Data to dystopia; readings in ENG 111 include—among other things—heritage narratives, advice on friendship, a comparison of Civil War generals, an analysis of the psychological effects of social media and an examination of the return of wildlife into urban areas.