Uptake: Participation Agreements as Touchstones for Other Course Activities
Participation in Midterm Check-In
In week five, students completed anonymous midterm course evaluations on the day their class was scheduled to be in the computer lab. We have always used the two questions below, but this year we added “participation” to “learning.”
In order to best facilitate your continued learning and participation, what can I
- Continue to do?
- Do more/less of?
- Do differently?
In order to best facilitate your own and your classmates continued learning and participation, what can you
- Continue to do?
- Do more/less of?
- Do differently?
These questions are intended to remind everyone that both teacher and the student are responsible for the learning space of the classroom. Some instructors used this information to revisit their policies with students.
Participation in the Retrospective Portfolio (RP Essay) for the Final Portfolio
Participation shows up again in students’ final portfolios, which included four parts:
- A five to seven page “Presentation Essay,” a final revision of one of their two essays (both of which had already gone through several drafts), and an abstract for this essay.
- A series of five to seven course artifacts that revealed evidence of the student’s learning and engagement in the course, each accompanied by a brief commentary that explained what it was and its significance to the student.
- A statement about the student’s rhetorical and visual design decisions. Taking our cue from Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 essay “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key,” which was also one of the selections in our course reader, we asked students to demonstrate conscious and deliberate attention to the design of their portfolio, which could be submitted in digital or print form.
- A five to seven page reflective essay we called the “Retrospective/Prospective” or R-P essay.
The R-P essay, as a significant part of their portfolio, then, offered another way participation was reflected in students’ final grades.
In the surveys that Kelly Bradbury and Paul Muhlhauser (this collection) distributed to other teachers, they “wondered whether the participation writing instructors were seeking to cultivate and/or assess in their classrooms was a form of intellectualism—or ‘intellectual participation’.” They also wondered “what intellectual participation looked, sounded, and felt like; how it was assessed, and how it weighed in on teachers’ assessments of their teaching practices.” In the R-P essay, we particularly wanted to see how students would define and describe their “intellectual participation” in the course.
Interestingly, many students did not really address their participation, intellectual or otherwise, in their R-P essays. Most students resorted to the familiar and ubiquitous refrains of “working hard” or “doing all the work,” including coming to class. This question seemed to get lost among the other questions we asked. Perhaps we tried to do too much with this assignment. I wish I could have read Tony Cimasko and Dong-shin Shin’s essay “International Student Participation in a Mainstream Composition Course: Opportunities and Challenges” in this collection before crafting this assignment. Their three questions directed at eliciting the participation of international students are good questions for all instructors: How do instructors create or fail to create opportunities for participation? How do students take advantage or miss opportunities for participation? How do other students foster or block participation for some students? We might have received more specific responses if we had asked students more specific questions rather than simply asking them to “discussing their participation and learning.”
Only occasionally did we find instances of students directly referencing the participation policies they had created or the evaluation questions they had constructed. The following two statements from students in the same class provide a glimpse of the different ways students in one class responded. The first is a statement from one student’s R-P essay. When I read this statement by Nicole Vaughan, I felt encouraged that our beta run of this experiment would prove important for at least some students. However, the same teacher received a rather different reaction from another (anonymous) student on her course evaluations. This student expressed dissatisfaction—not with the policy itself, but with having to spend time creating a policy. Interestingly, both students equated making the policy with “being an adult.” The first student wrote: “Every person was able to have a voice, and that made me feel like an adult.” The second student maintained that because students are already adults “who have been preparing for college for four years,…it was a pointless waste of time coming up with a set of rules that…we all had in our minds.” This student went on to argue that since students are required to follow the teacher’s policies in other classes, they should also do so in English 101. Ironically, this student seemed to suggest that by inviting students to have a voice in how the class works, the teacher is not preparing them for the “real” world of adults, where they are not likely to have such choices.
Participation of Students in Constructing Course-Evaluation Questions
In “Roles and Relationships” in this collection, Kathryn Comer calls the foundational level for student participation in WPA work, “involvement,” observing that “no program functions without students’ contribution of information and feedback.” I suspect a similar principle undergirds the writing class as well. When we asked students to create course-evaluation questions that focused on their learning and participation, we hoped to involve them in the course-evaluation process by inviting them to shift from “critic” to “reviewer.” Comer notes, “The shift in position from critic to reviewer can be accomplished, or at least begun, through adjustments to student evaluation procedures. Asking students to consider their own performance within a course can remind them of the pivotal role they play in the success or failure of their learning experiences.”
Our university’s course-evaluation bubble sheets allow each instructor to add up to five additional questions of their own. Rather than the instructor constructing all five questions, we decided to take Comer’s advice to heart and have students construct some of these questions. Each instructor divided their students into four groups and asked each group to construct one course-evaluation question that was “intended” to focus on their own learning and participation in the course. While most of their questions did address their learning, a number of questions inevitably shifted to focus on elements of the course or the teacher’s instruction. Instructors created a fifth question of their own choosing.
I collected the student questions from each instructor’s class and coded them into different categories or foci. Of the twenty-seven categories I identified, sixteen contained three or more questions. The largest categories of student-generated questions focused on how the first-year writing course might prepare them for course work and writing in other areas (15); students’ participation and learning (13); the usefulness of course assignments and class activities (13); and questions about the assigned texts (11). I offer two examples of students’ questions from each of these top four categories.
 Artifacts could come from any of the work students did in the course: drafts, portions of drafts, informal critical practice assignments, peer response writing, examples of their reading annotations, examples of rhetorical moves they were learning to make, comparisons that revealed how they revised sections of their papers, and so on. [Return]
 Many students created digital portfolios using WIX, Prezi, Wordpress, or other Web site templates. A couple of students incorporated sound and music into their digital portfolios. Other students constructed physical scrapbooks and sculptures out of various objects. Many students submitted their work in clever containers, such as one student who submitted his portfolio in a series of bottles, each containing a rolled portfolio component inserted into the mouth, a “message in the bottle.” Of course, some students made conscious decisions to submit their work using more traditional paper folders and utilized their design choices in the arrangement and the layout of their pages. [Return]
 Nicole wanted her real name to be used in this essay. [Return]
 We are required to use one of the university’s official course-evaluation forms. None of these forms contain questions germane to writing courses. We elect to use a form designed for “problem-solving classes,” but few of the questions provide specific information (http://www.wwu.edu/registrar/faculty/formd.shtml). The forms are, however, accompanied by comment sheets. [Return]