[It was delayed by a week (leading to the cancellation of Spring Break), and its format may well change by the time this series airs (as of this writing my four regular classes will be hybrid, as they were in the Fall), but a new semester starts this week nonetheless. So this week I’ll preview some of what’s different and what will be the same in my Spring 2021 courses!]
On deadlines, process, and teaching writing during a pandemic.
As part of my Fall 2020 reflections series, I wrote about my choice to do away with late paper penalties of any kind (and thus with deadlines; I still had them, but obviously this change meant that there was no requirement for students to meet them) in my Fall courses. As I noted there, I believe this policy change was the correct one, not only during these extreme times but in general given the realities of my students’ lives, and I plan to carry it (or at least a modified version of it) forward into the Spring semester and likely beyond. But as I also highlighted in that post, the change brought with it some not unexpected and less than ideal results, and at the top of that list was the fact that a not-insignificant number of students turned in all of their papers right at the end of the semester, making it impossible for them to incorporate any feedback from me into their work. That problem was particularly apparent with my two sections of First-Year Writing I, for which the five papers are explicitly designed to build upon one another (more so than with any other type of class I teach).
This Spring I’m teaching one section of First-Year Writing II (a section in this case specifically for our Honors program/students, but it’s the same basic class), which has its own five-paper sequence, one that parallels my Writing I syllabus but with much more of an emphasis on research. That latter emphasis (one shared by all Writing II courses at FSU, as we in the English Studies department have defined the two-course sequence over the years) makes it even more important that the papers build on one another, especially in terms of the students’ work with sources and with the vital skill of putting their own voice and analyses in conversation with those they’re finding. Paper 5 is a full-blown research analysis essay, and in my experience the variety of skills and layers that go into such a paper require that multi-part process and development to work as well as possible (and thus, and more importantly as far as I’m concerned, to help the students practice work that they will then carry forward into other classes and settings across their respective majors and educational arc).
So how to balance these respective needs? That’s the kind of question I’m asking about every Spring 2021 class, and I’m likely to leave the last paragraph shorter in every post this week as I’m mostly both a) still thinking about it and b) hoping to hear your thoughts as well. As I wrote in the Fall reflection post, I do plan to have somewhat more rigid deadlines this time around, still more flexible than usual and with no late penalty, but not simply “by the end of the semester”; that might be particularly the case for Writing II, in order to achieve that goal of feedback/development at least in part. But is that enough? Are there other ways to balance flexibility and fairness with process and scaffolding? How do we best teach first-year writing during a pandemic?
Next Spring preview tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Spring courses or work you wanna share?