Filming credit: Jennifer McCauley
Today I taught a segment on the components of a thesis statement for a classical argument essay. This was drawn directly from Week 1: Friday of my group’s Classical Argument unit project. My segment came after a discussion on how to shift a Problem Significance Issue question (PSI question) to a working thesis statement. Using Allyn & Bacon’s chapter 18, “Composing and Revising Closed-Form Prose,” we discussed how a good thesis statement is like a map for navigating the rest of the essay. The reader knows what to expect, and the author can use the thesis statement to stay on track when writing the essay. I asked students to remember what composed a thesis statement for a surprising reversal informative essay. “Surprising reversal language” and “points and particulars” were the two major parts included in an informative thesis statement. Next, I asked students to remember from Wednesday’s class what the structure of a classical argument entailed (thesis/supporting evidence/opposing views/conclusion). Using the body requirements of an argument essay, I added “opposing views” to the list of things required of a detailed thesis statement for an argument essay.
I asked for a volunteer to read the short thesis on the “Strategies” chart in Allyn &Bacon pg. 596, and asked them if it included all three of those things. Students confirmed that was negative. I then asked them to compare the detailed thesis on the same chart, and to identify all three parts of a proper thesis statement in that example. We then discussed the tension of a surprising reversal using language such as “despite/although/whereas” to indicate both surprising reversal and an opposing view. Then I offered them a sample formula for an argument essay:
Although most people believe X, this paper asserts Y because of points A, B, and C.” X is the opposing view; Y is the claim you are trying to make; A, B, and C are the supporting points. Since that day’s homework included bringing in a draft thesis statement, I then asked students to break into pairs and test each other’s draft thesis statement for all the components of a strong argument essay. They were to offer feedback not only on what was missing, but also how the author might specifically improve a short thesis to a detailed thesis. Can the reader forecast what will be in the essay just by reading the thesis statement? In addition, they were to discuss what information the author might need as evidence to support the “points and particulars” of the essay body.
I would have preferred a live audience of at least 10-20 students. I believe in active learning, and find that students are best engaged when they interact with the instructor, the material, and their peers. Therefore, I chose this segment to showcase how they might interact with all three within a single class. Because my camerawoman was also my volunteer “audience,” it was extremely difficult to accurately duplicate how I might teach a class. I would also have liked to use more multimedia (perhaps a powerpoint, or images), but again, a lack of audience and limitations when filming made it difficult to fully utilize my resources.
However, once I started speaking, I was not nervous. In fact, I felt very comfortable and energized during the mini-lecture. One characteristic I have is enthusiastic energy for teaching any topic, which I felt showed in my presentation of the material. Moving around the classroom, using the document camera and whiteboard, all seem to keep students engaged. I always sense when a professor loves their topic; somehow, it always shows. As a professor, I may be required to teach a freshman composition class, but it is only my own prejudices that keep me from understanding and loving the material myself. Therefore, I would like to maintain the goal of always loving what I teach, no matter how mundane it might seem to the average person. This love of knowledge might spread to a few students somehow.
I was aware that I was talking a bit too quietly and too fast, which could negatively affect how some students process or respond to the information and myself as a teacher. I also said a lot of “so/ah/ok/all right,” which could easily be resolved if I slowed down a bit when talking. When I get excited about a topic, it is difficult to remember to pace my words a bit. I forget that my voice does not project as well as I might think it does. Ideally, this would be asked in the beginning of the semester so I could figure out very quickly at what volume I need to use.
My back was turned to the class at certain times when writing on the whiteboard. This could be easily resolved by a PowerPoint with the information already on a slide, rather than having to write fresh. However, I do find that when students know that something they said went up on the whiteboard for all to see, they tend to be more interested in volunteering answers, so it is a pro-con debate of personal teaching style. In the future, I would like to try both methods, and integrate various types of media to see how students of varying backgrounds respond.
Because of the training I received this semester in Professor Harrison’s pedagogy class, I would feel confident going into a classroom to teach. I have had experience teaching my own class of 24 students before, so I feel comfortable delivering material, conference, and offering written feedback on essays. However, there is always room for improvement, which I think will come from real-classroom experience with a full roster of students giving evaluations throughout each semester.
All in all, I enjoyed it. I think it is important to enter a classroom enthusiastic and full of expectation for students, with the realization that you might have to adapt your lesson plan on the fly if students did not come prepared with readings and assignments. That is just one more exciting facet of being a teacher that keeps you on your toes, constantly evaluating the engagement level of the classroom, and constantly striving to remain humble enough that you are not afraid to try something new that might work better than what you had planned.