10/01/14 Composition Committee Meeting

Minutes: Composition Meeting, 10/01/14

Attendance: John Talbird, John Yi, Mike Dolan, Danny Sexton, Kat Alves, Pete Gray, Robin Ford, Melissa Dennihy, Jean Murley, Vartan Messier, George Fragopoulos, Chris Leary, Tammi Rothman, Joost Burgers, Stephen Tumino, Ben Miller, Aliza Atik, Mark Schiebe, Jean Darcy, Zivah Perel Katz, Tanya Zhelezcheva, James Kenney, David Humphries, Joan Dupre, Elise Denbo

John presented an overview of upcoming meetings. For November 5, Aliza Atik and Pete Gray would discuss diversity in the classroom; for December 3, Jean Darcy and Ben Miller would explore innovative uses of technology. For today, Jim Kenney and Jean Murley would discuss transitions between EN 101 and 102.

To start the meeting, John asked those present to freewrite for five to ten minutes on topics they would like addressed and/or presented at future meetings, for example, classroom pedagogy, effective teaching and group work techniques, any readings or articles they would like to share.

The English Committee website has shifted from the Omega platform to CUNY Commons, which is more user friendly (and free!) and offers a ‘site’ to exchange conversations with other departments. John reviewed how to register and sign-in to the Commons, then search for the QCC English Department database. If anyone wished to have a particular role, such as ‘editor,’ send John an email.

Prior to today’s presentations, John initiated the topic of faculty observations. While tenured faculty would continue to observe untenured lines, Assistant Professors who had been at QCC for at least a year would be asked to observe one adjunct each semester.

Main points about faculty observations were addressed: Why are observations important? What do you expect? Are they working? Observations offer an opportunity for mentoring but also provide a record for reappointment, promotion, and review. As such, it was suggested that observations follow a basic outline and incorporate ‘headings’ to guide assessment and enable full and consistent evaluations. John handed out a sheet listing possible headings that might serve as a template for observations forms:

1.) give an overview of what happened in the class period, materials discussed and activities engaged in during class

2.) describe one aspect of the class that was superlative or very effective;

3.) describe one aspect of the class that could use further work or discussion;

4.) describe the professor’s classroom management style and rapport with students.

A good deal of discussion followed. Jean Darcy commented on a questionable observation she had in the past. Although Jean brought this to the Chair’s attention at the time, she found it difficult to check the ‘not satisfactory’ box. Many acknowledged a similar concern. Most agreed it was important to notify the Chair when an observation was unsatisfactory, but that it was helpful to generate a note in the report that threw light on the problem. This provided a record that could be followed by further mentoring within the department, and when serious, brought to the attention of the Department and College P&B. Vartan commented that maintaining narrative form would provide a record but also offer a supportive means of guidance. If faculty were aware that constructive criticism was built into the template, this would be less intimidating.

Zivah noted the importance of the discussion that followed an observation. Pete pointed out Linda Stanley’s comment: an observation is like looking through a window, taking a ‘snapshot’ of a lesson. Kat asked if students should be told about an upcoming observation, while several suggested it was helpful to tell students that the new person in the classroom was there to observe the professor, not the students themselves. Mike Dolan asked about basic parameters in assessing an observation; Danny suggested listing questions beneath template ‘headings’ as a means of offering guidelines rather than restrictions. Pete commented that varying lesson formats, for example group work, use of technology, group presentations, class discussions and activities offered a nice record for a tenure portfolio. Many acknowledged that not only a teacher’s performance, his/her grasp and presentation of material, but also the use of classroom space plus a sense of trust, respect, and community were important parts of a lesson. Although further discussion was encouraged through email and at future meetings, the two-featured talks were then given.

Jim Kenney first presented an approach to EN 101 and 102 writing assignments. Jim handed out samples of student essays from a 102 assignment (an analysis of a character from the film Closer) that progressed from draft to substantial revision by means of re-scripting a title as an extended metaphor. Such an approach helped students particularize and develop their topic, analyzing a character more clearly by moving from an original title, “Dan, the Confused” to “The Jukebox Love Machine.” Such a method helped students re-see their focus, reinforcing their ‘argument’ throughout the paper by means of paragraph development and effective strategies to fit their purpose and audience. Jim pointed out James Seitz’s Motives for Metaphor as a helpful book in this regard. In EN 101, Jim encourages substantial revision (“shock revision”) by asking students to include an added component to a previous draft, for example incorporating a source within a descriptive essay that adds to and supports material from the earlier draft.

Jean Murley presented a new approach to teaching EN 102, which she referred to as “slow reading,” giving students quiet time and space within the classroom to read a story or text. Rethinking her teaching of 102, Jean had been looking for ways to encourage students in the process of reading, not only inviting their questions and challenges, but also their sense of pleasure in the experience itself rather than just filling in required categories such as ‘setting’ or ‘plot structure’ as the teacher requested. For a four-hour class, Jean had allotted 45 minutes to slow reading, noticing that after a short while students began to pay real attention to their texts. Such classroom space offered students an opportunity to ask questions about vocabulary, content, or other issues that came up as they read. Jean, who read along with her students, would be active during this process, taking time to explain a word or be responsive to any point that arose. Such an approach helped clarify ways students read, offering a means for faculty to learn about and to address reading practices and understanding

Presentations were followed by discussion. Several faculty were interested in how extended metaphor enabled students to use figurative language as a means to enrich the focus and effect of their writing. Many were interested in ‘slow reading’ as an approach to rethink student engagement in this important activity, one that has been affected by internet quick links and ‘sound’ bites. Jim and Jean offered further responses to questions through email.

The meeting concluded with interest in topics that offered approaches to faculty and student enrichment. Future and ongoing conversations were encouraged.

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