On This Page
- Notes from the FWS Classroom | #teachlikeabear
- 1.14.21 | Fall 2020 FWS Student Referral
- 1.1.21 | Knight Institute Prizes and Awards Fall 2020 Deadline: January 4, 2021
- 12.21.20 | Submitting GRADES
- 12.1.20 | Hold Strong that Pencil: ProTips for Writing Through a Pandemic Semester
- 11.24.20 | Academic Integrity & Preventing Plagiarism
- 11.16.20 | Until Instruction Resumes
- 11.12.20 | Antiracist WAC Toolkit
- 10.30.20 | If/How to Acknowledge US Election Week 2020
- 10.21.20 | Reading & Responding to Challenging Student Writing
- 10.19.20 | Midterm Considerations
- 10.7.2020 | Teaching Research in FWSes
- 10.12.20 | Resources for International Students; Supporting Students Residing Abroad
- 9.30.20 | Revising for Clarity: Focus on Structure
- 9.28.20 | Helping Students in Distress
- 9.26.2020 | Facilitating Discussion Ideas
- 9.19.20 | Peer Review Ideas
- 9.18.20 | Tips for Creating an Inclusive Classroom for Multilingual Writers
- 9.12.20 | ScholarStrike Activity for FWS Instructors
- 9.8.20 | Expecting, and Accepting, Fluctuating FWS Enrollment
- 9.4.20 | GoogleDoc Workarounds & Alternatives
- 9.1.20 | First Days & Icebreaker Ideas
- FWS Instructor Resources
- Share your Ideas
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Notes from the FWS Classroom | #teachlikeabear
Welcome to KNIGHTLYnews, an online forum for FWS instructors and other teachers of writing to swap and share ideas for best classroom practice.
Throughout the week, faculty at the Knight Institute meet with dozens of FWS instructors who have just left the classroom or are soon on the way. In these scheduled and impromptu encounters -- as we debrief, troubleshoot, plan, and celebrate discrete teaching and learning moments -- we exchange so much rich and useful information with colleagues. The notes we compile here capture and relay these weekly highlights.
The posts are, by design, brief and tightly focused. Our goal is to replicate a five-minute chance meeting in the hallway or over the water cooler -- because, as we all know, in such spontaneous encounters, we can and often do find the very serendipitous spark that can help us solve a problem, imagine a new possibility, or perhaps less tangibly, though no less powerfully, energize our teaching.
More specifically, weekly posts are designed to help teachers develop lesson plans and writing assignments, and respond to classroom challenges by introducing new teaching tools and sharing emerging pedagogical ideas. Posts also direct readers to program and campus resources that support teaching and learning, and provide opportunities for peer collaboration and mentorship.
Moderated by Tracy Hamler Carrick, PhD | Writing Workhop Director & Graduate Writing Service Director
1.14.21 | Fall 2020 FWS Student Referral
This is the last post of the Fall 2020 Edition of the KNIGHTLYnews. Be sure to check back soon for our Spring 2021 Edition.
Two weeks ago, we asked you to think about students who reached beyond your course learning goals and expectations in interesting and surprising ways and to nominate exemplary student writing for the Knight Institute’s FWS prizes and awards. Thank you for your support!
Tomorrow, students will begin submitting their ballots for Spring semester First-Year Writing Seminars. My colleagues and I need your help identifying any students who may have struggled in their Fall First-Year Writing Seminars, so that we can offer guidance on spring-term course selection.
Please take a few moments to reflect upon last semester. Did you have any FWS students:
• who performed unevenly and/or stumbled over the same kinds of problems?
• who were less able to manage the course reading load and/or maintain high-level reading comprehension?
• whose writing agility seemed to stall as assignments and intellectual challenges became more complex?
• whose work was consistently weak, earning below a B-?
• who needed more time and support than your FWS could offer, who might have benefitted from more one-on-one time with a tutor or instructor?
If any students come to mind as you ponder these questions, please email their names and contact information (email, Net Id, or student number) to me: email@example.com. You might also share with me their final essays.
Over the next few days – ideally before the balloting process concludes on January 21 – we will contact students directly and invite them to meet with us to talk about their ballot selections and the kinds of courses and supplementary writing support the Writing Workshop offers.
We will begin reviewing referrals on Friday, January 15.
1.1.21 | Knight Institute Prizes and Awards Fall 2020 Deadline: January 4, 2021
Happy New Year! As the semester comes to an end – gentle reminder, Fall 2020 grades are due on Thursday, January 7 – I write today to express my deep and sincere appreciation for this very special FWS community. I am so grateful for each of you and hope that you will join me in celebrating – with a toast or a treat – all that we have become as a writing program, all that we have reached for and achieved, during this unusual time. Happy, happy New Year to you!
On Monday, January 4, 2021, my colleagues and I will begin reviewing submissions for our many First-Year Writing Seminar prizes and awards. Committee members are eager to read your and your FWS student submissions and to dwell in the creative, generous, and persistent choices you and students made each and every day of the semester to teach and learn together.
To be sure, these selected writing assignments, lesson plans, essays, and writing process portfolios showcase some of the boldest, most exceptional performances of the semester, but they also make visible the brave teaching and brave learning seen widely across First-Year Writing Seminars, those represented in submission pools and well beyond. Your and your students’ brave efforts and engagements define our writing program, especially this semester, and we celebrate you. Congratulations to all!
Follow this link for more information about the Knight Institute’s FWS Student and Instructor Prizes and Awards.
To read essays written by past prize and award winners, follow this link to Discoveries.
Deadline extended to Monday, January 4, 2021 (unless otherwise noted)
- Knight Award for Writing Exercises
- James Slevin Assignment Sequence Prize
- Spencer Prize
- Spencer Portfolio Award
- Elmer Markham Johnson Prize
- James E. Rice, Jr., Prize
- Spencer Prize
- Spencer Portfolio Award
- Neil Lubow Prize
- Adelphic Award
12.21.20 | Submitting GRADES
Congratulations! You did it! This was no ordinary semester, and despite the many, many challenges, you and your FWS students lifted each other up – and wrote like BEARS! Like our mascot, our FWS students began this trying semester with fearless enthusiasm, and, despite those characteristic inelegant or clumsy moments, they persisted – fiercely.
It is ALMOST your turn to exhale…Over the next couple of days or weeks, you will sit with your gradebook to calculate and mull over final course grades. As you do, I hope that you will consider the brave learning you witnessed (and inspired) this semester.
It is likely that students missed deadlines, participated unevenly in class sessions, or failed to consistently reach learning outcomes, but when and how did they surprise you? Might one day of bold leadership and especially strong engagement in a discussion about a course reading offset a week of silence? Might exceptional feedback on a peer’s research paper compensate, in some way, for underperformance in the student’s own research paper? Might a student who does not technically follow assignment guidelines be given leeway, especially if the resulting essay engages with a pressing current event or issue and, ultimately meets the FWS’s broad learning outcomes?
WHEN AND HOW TO SUBMIT FWS GRADES
The University Registrar opened the Grade Roster today (Monday, December 21). You can enter student grades between now and Thursday, January 7. Although the deadline to submit grades is not until January 7, 2021, students can see their grades (almost) as soon as you post them. Grades entered by 2:00pm EST will be viewable on Student Center by 5:30pm EST.
Here are some useful links in case you have never done this before, or, if you are like me, and need to be reminded of the details each semester.
- Submitting Fall 2020 course grades | Cornell's Grading website
- Course grades are submitted in Faculty Center.
- Due by Thursday, January 7, 2021,
- Entering Grades for Your Classes | This CalStateFullerton site provides visual guides for each of the steps outlined below.
- Log in to Faculty Center.
- Click on the grading icon next to the class you want to grade.
- Use the drop-down menu to select a grade for each student.
- Click on Save to save the grades you have entered.
- When you have finished entering all grades, click on the Approval Status drop-down menu.
- Change the Approval Status to Ready for Review. Click Save to finalize your grade roster.
- Calculating final grades in Canvas Gradebook is NOT enough.
- You can import a CSV file (from Canvas Gradebook or spreadsheet). If you want to upload your grades, please follow this link: Using the Grade Upload Feature in Faculty Center.
- Given the small size of FWSs, I think it is quicker to simply enter each student’s grade manually.
- Guidelines for assigning an Incomplete | For additional details, visit this site: Grading Guidelines @ Cornell
- The grade of incomplete is appropriate only when two basic conditions are met:
- the student has substantial equity at a passing level in the course with respect to work completed; and
- the student has been prevented by circumstances beyond the student’s control, such as illness or family emergency, from completing all of the course requirements on time.
- An incomplete may not be given merely because a student fails to complete all course requirements on time.
- The grade of incomplete is appropriate only when two basic conditions are met:
- Guidelines for Adjusting Grades
- Once grades have been posted, changes can be submitted through the online grade adjustment system (OLGAA).
- Student Data Safety Reminders
- Grades are protected by FERPA and university policy.
- Grades should never be posted or made public.
- Email should never be used to communicate or discuss grades.
- If grade rosters, reports, and other confidential material must be distributed within the university, use the Cornell DropBox. Student information must be stored on a secure, password-protected server.
12.1.20 | Hold Strong that Pencil: ProTips for Writing Through a Pandemic Semester
For so many reasons, the literal and symbolic pencil with which I write can feel too big, too heavy to wield right now.
To be sure, many of us are struggling with that lift – the cumulative physical, emotional, and cognitive lift of this unusual pandemic semester.
If you are like me and the fifteen-year-old with whom I live, your brain and body are sometimes – and unpredictably – operating differently than they have before. Perhaps you cannot maintain focus for typical lengths of time and get easily distracted by low-priority activities, or perhaps you get tired more quickly and become irritated more easily when you are wrestling with a new or complex challenge, or perhaps you lack the will to start or finish a task. Rest assured, we three are not alone.
Now returned from a two-week instructional break, though, we have a unique opportunity to hit the refresh button and to plan and strategically compose a successful semester conclusion. Consider reading and sharing with your FWS students Dr. Deborah J. Cohan’s recent Psychology Today article, “Ending the Pandemic Semester Successfully: A professor offers advice for students.” Dr. Cohan’s kind and encouraging tone is soothing, motivating, even emboldening, especially when coupled with her pragmatic advice about the kind of perspective necessary to cross this extraordinary semester’s finish line. Consider here her final paragraph:
A pandemic semester is different than a regular semester because it's less about the sprint to the finish line in a marathon. This is more like an ultra marathon requiring different stamina, surrender, resilience, humor, grace and a sense of the world as so much larger than we are. It's one grade at a time. It's one class at a time. It's one semester at a time. As I tell my own students, it's not about the grade you earn that you will remember in years to come; it's the process you'll remember and what you learned about yourself and the world around you. Tomorrow is a new day.
To complement Dr. Cohan’s piece, I have recast her advice to more directly target the needs and realities of writers, Cornell First-Year Writing Seminar students in particular. The resulting “ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic” (linked below in two formats) offer a series of recommended activities – together with links to campus and online resources – that can help FWS students hold strong that pencil as they complete final writing assignments in your FWS and beyond.
- Hold Strong that Pencil: ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic (link to the Knight Institute website)
- Hold Strong that Pencil: ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic (link to GoogleDrive for a printable 3-page handout)
11.24.20 | Academic Integrity & Preventing Plagiarism
In the final weeks of the semester, FWS students typically work much more independently to complete writing assignments. This transition is especially true now given our unique semester calendar. For many students, their final writing projects involve at least some independent research – whether they are charged with locating a single source to build upon course readings or building a robust bibliography to support a full-scale research paper.
I’ll note that is not too late to connect with a librarian. Cornell Libraries offer superb instructional support for FWS teachers and students. In my FWS, librarians have
- Run synchronous, online sessions;
- Customized materials to assist my students asynchronously, such as videos, library research guides, or self-guided tutorials; and
- Held one-on-one research consultations with students in my FWS.
- Follow this link to Request Class Instruction
I require FWS students to conduct independent research in my FWS for many reasons – the most compelling being that I am inspired by their curiosity and enjoy seeing how they use writing to deeply explore a question or idea seeded in course material and class discussion.
Educational researchers Thomas S. Dee and Brian A. Jacob found in their study, “Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism,” that students who completed an anti-plagiarism tutorial before submitting scholarly papers were substantially less likely to plagiarize. If nothing else, please consider assigning one or both of the superb options below. I work with students in class to complete the CAS Plagiarism Tutorial and then assign Indiana University’s Certification Test for homework.
- Cornell University College of Arts & Sciences Plagiarism Tutorial
- Indiana University’s How to Recognize Plagiarism Certification Test
For more ideas on teaching research, follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | Teaching Research in FWSes to learn more about these topics and for lesson planning ideas and resources. Join other FWS instructors to post ideas for additional classroom activities and instructional tools that you have tried or are considering.
11.16.20 | Until Instruction Resumes
Today we begin a two-week instructional break – classroom instruction is on hold so that students can take semifinal exams, depart campus, and enjoy a few days off (perhaps to celebrate the US Thanksgiving holiday). When instruction resumes on Monday, November 30, students will access their courses remotely.
Many FWS instructors are concerned about what they can reasonably expect from students – and what students should expect from them – during the semifinal period. We cannot hold classes, nor can we require students to attend class related activities. But we should consider how we can keep students engaged in the work of the course so that when instruction resumes in two weeks, they are poised to complete the semester with confidence.
Things you COULD do during the instructional break:
- Assign low-stakes writing assignments such as outlines, drafts, annotated bibliographies, and/or proposals to help make incremental progress on final writing projects.
- Offer to meet with students for individual or small group conferences.
- Offer to provide an extra round of written feedback on drafts.
- Encourage students to meet with tutors at the Cornell Writing Centers.
- Facilitate peer response with classmates.
- Assign guided reflections that enable students to take stock of their progress, name achievements, and set learning goals for the last weeks of the semester.
- Assign asynchronous activities – watch and respond to films or instructional videos, and/or rewrite previous essays for different audiences or purposes.
- Offer extra credit opportunities.
- Require students to submit a few assignments using new online platforms or digital tools in case they or classmates are only able to engage in course activity asynchronously when instruction resumes.
- Gather information from students about where they are going (time zones), and their anticipated work/study environments, internet quality, and technology access.
- Consider adapting this FWS Student Survey from Spring 2020.
- Use this information to help students establish learning/study/writing groups (perhaps grouped within time zones) so that when instruction resumes, students have peer support as they finish up writing projects and other final assignments.
11.12.20 | Antiracist WAC Toolkit
Please waste no time in checking out this superb resource just released by colleagues at Syracuse University's Writing Across the Curriculum Program.
Antiracist WAC Toolkit | Genevieve Garcia de Mueller, Ana Cortes, and Ezikio Lopez (Syracuse University)
The toolkit includes
- Antiracist Assessment Strategies | explanations, resources, and examples
Community rubric building
Labor-based grading contracts (with materials from Cornell Writing Centers Director Kate Navickas)
Collective class research
Peer review activities
Antiracist WAC Syllabus | readings, assignnments, and resources
Readings on antiracist pedagogy
Organizations to follow
Resources on accessibility and wellness
Resources on antiracist work
10.30.20 | If/How to Acknowledge US Election Week 2020
Over the last several days, many FWS instructors have asked us if and how they should acknowledge and address the US 2020 election in their courses, so we have compiled here some resources and strategies for teaching during this trying week of the semester.
Preparing Students for Tough Conversations
Cornell University’s Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) presents “I“ Statements, a podcast where complexity, vulnerability, and curiosity collide. In each episode people with different identities come together to share their own beliefs, experiences, and perspectives, demonstrating the power and possibility inherent in communicating across difference.
A companion guide to IDP’ “I” Statements podcast, the guide includes brief descriptions of the episode and links to transcripts; discussion questions; writing prompts aimed at stimulating reflection on one’s own experience and beliefs; and related readings that can add additional perspectives and relevant information.
We have important societal problems to solve. To find the best path forward, we must have open and honest discussions about sensitive topics. In Beyond Bigots and Snowflakes, sociologist Ilana Redstone offers tools and techniques to begin the tough conversations necessary for more open dialogue across divides.
In a recent FWS Instructor Workshop, we explored the many ways that class discussions can help FWS instructors build collaborative, inquiry-based, student-centered classrooms; engage with wider a range of academic communication skills; create adaptive and inclusive learning environments; and better assess student learning. Many of the teaching ideas shared in this forum, particularly those focused on how to support students during tough conversations, may be useful for developing US Election Week 2020 lesson plans. Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | Facilitating Discussions Idea Swap where we have collected ideas for facilitating discussions in online seminars.
Teaching During US Election Week 2020
This guide includes recommendations for educators to assess their own readiness to talk about the election with students, reflect on the responsibility of educators to be aware of the issues surrounding the election and the power dynamics associated with them, and acknowledge the biases and assumptions they may be holding about their students. The remainder of the guide provides concrete suggestions on different levels of engagement with students on the election, ranging from just mentioning the election at the start of a class or event to one-on-one and group conversations about the election itself. It also includes complementary resources from other institutions. We hope this guide will help you communicate effectively across difference, bring people together in times of social and political distress, and strengthen our Cornell community. Access the IDP 2020 Election Guide
This guide suggests ways to engage and support students while teaching during the 2020 US Election and provides strategies for: acknowledging the moment and possible impact on students; recognizing that students may come from a range of perspectives, experiences, and countries, all affected to varying degrees by the US election; and providing structure for discussion. Access the CTI Guide for Teaching During the US Election
This Canvas site is intended to serve as non-partisan information, resources, tools for you to learn and share information with your students around voting. Please browse the pages and resources that have been developed for you to quickly access, promote, and encourage voter awareness, registration, and participation. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with the Public Service Center at 607-255-1148. Cornell Votes Canvas Course
10.21.20 | Reading & Responding to Challenging Student Writing
In a recent workshop, Brad Zukovic, Kate Navickas, and I talked with FWS instructors about the pedagogical questions we ask ourselves when we read through a stack of student papers, especially those questions prompted by a paper that falls short of our expectations: How do I respond to an essay that is so laden with error that I find it difficult to read and understand; that is syntactically garbled, unclear, and/or unfocused; that lacks complexity on the micro- and/or macro-levels; that does not fully or at all address the prompt; that reflects significant misunderstanding or misrepresentation of course material; that I find offensive or that I worry may offend other members of the class?
We found that, often, a strong response to a paper that falls short of expectations is to address concerns by revising lesson plans so that all students can benefit from the teaching and learning that happens between a student and instructor in the margins of a paper. Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | FWS Instructor Workshop | Reading & Responding to Challenging Students Writing Idea Swap to see strategies for:
- helping students stay more focused on text/course materials
- deepening classroom engagement
- motivating students
- responding to specific writing challenges, like garbled syntax and papers that lack focus
Join other FWS instructors to post additional ideas for responding to the issues that emerge when we read student writing.
10.19.20 | Midterm Considerations
We are currently in Week 8, just over the mid-term peak. This is a great time to ask your FWS students for feedback, to consider how you might support a student who is struggling, and to start planning for the end of the semester when campus transitions to fully remote learning.
- FWS MID-TERM EVALUATIONS | You will find, in the Indispensable Reference for Teachers of First-Year Writing Seminars, a sample FWS Mid-Term Evaluation that asks students to consider what they find most and least successful, interesting, effective, and pleasurable about the course. Here are some ways that you might collect such information from students:
- Students “take stock” together in an open whole class discussion (possibly preceded by a free write and/or small group/Breakout Room discussion)
- Students take stock together using a real time poll (Zoom Poll, Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter)
- Students complete an anonymous survey (Canvas quiz/survey tool, Survey Monkey, Qualtrics)
- Students write a reflection and submit as an Assignment (just for you) or on a Discussion Board (shared with all class participants)
- STUDENTS OF CONCERN | FWS instructors often are in the best position to notice and respond to the signs of a student in distress: spotty attendance, subdued or evasive affect, obvious sleep deprivation, a sharp decline in the quality of work or contribution. In some cases, a conversation with the student, an extended deadline, or some additional writing conferences can help the student get back on track, but FWS instructors should also reach beyond these accommodations and contact the student’s Academic Advising Dean and submit a Student of Concern/Early Intervention Report to ensure that the student is more fully supported
- The KNIGHTLYnews recently posted on this topic: Helping students in Distress
- Cornell Health has developed several online resources for instructors:
- A video titled "Notice and Respond: Assisting Students in Distress" presented Catherine Thrasher Carroll and Katherine Goldberg.
- A Canvas course for members of the Cornell community. The course takes approximately 30 minutes. To enroll, follow this link: Notice & Respond: Assisting Students in Distress.
- A companion course (10 minutes) can be found here: Cornell Health Overview Fall 2020 Edition. Together these short courses will orient you to the best approaches and resources available in the current environment.
- A quick reference guide to share with students (or post on your course Canvas site) is available here: Resources for Student Mental Wellbeing & Health.
- REMOTE ACCESS AFTER THANKSGIVING RECESS | On November 25 and possibly before, residential students will begin transitioning to home residences away from campus. Whether you are currently teaching online or in person, you should anticipate changes in student access to your classrooms and course materials.
- Gather information from students about where they are going (time zones), and their antipated work/study environments, internet quality, and technology access. Consider adapting this FWS Student Survey from Spring 2020.
- Begin learning and practicing online platforms and digital tools that can help you meet course learning outcomes if students are only able to engage in course activity asynchronously.
- Help students establish learning/study/writing groups (perhaps grouped within time zones) so that students have peer support as they finish up writing projects and other final assignments.
10.7.2020 | Teaching Research in FWSes
When designing their courses, many first-year writing instructors contemplate if and how they should introduce first-year students to the rich research opportunities at Cornell, if and how they can seize this unique opportunity to escort first-year students through the Cornell Library gateway where they can explore one of the world's most outstanding research libraries: its vast search engines, abundant print and electronic collections, and precious special collections and archives.
So, what does it mean to teach research and research writing in a FWS? Naturally, we see wide variation across FWS course offerings -- from courses that spend the entire semester building up to a capstone research project to those that layer in discrete research activities that support engaged, critical reading of course texts, from courses in which students conduct and write about independent research topics to those in which students locate one or two sources to push their thinking in response to a particular assignment.
When helping FWS instructors to prepare for and get excited about teaching research in FWSes, my colleague, Cornell Writing Centers Director Kate Navickas, offers the four questions below as a structured way to think about the challenges associated with teaching research to first-year students:
- How can we create writing assignments that require a manageable amount of research? What can we expect from students in terms of the amount of research they can accomplish in a given time period?
- What are some options for how we can introduce research and teach students how to locate sources?
- What are some class activities that support student’s use of research in a writing assignment?
- When we are responding to research-writing (whether when grading papers or responding to drafts), what should we focus on and why?
In a recent workshop, Kate addressed these questions by focusing on the following areas: Building Assignments, Class Time & Homework, and Responding to Research Writing.
- BUILDING ASSIGNMENTS | When building assignments, less is more.
- If you are new to teaching research, consider just asking students to locate one or two sources.
- If you are nervous about helping students locate sources, teach them how to locate sources in a more precise location.
- CLASS TIME & HOMEWORK | Give students the time and space to do good research:
- Don't assign much or any additional course reading.
- Build in class time for students to share research and research strategies.
- Create class resources and encourage students to share sources.
- Ask students to write about their sources.
- Make sure that students have committed to and engaged with sources before they start writing their essays.
- The more class time and homework you assign around locating, evaluating, reading, and analyzing sources, the less likely students are to feel stuck and plagiarize.
- RESPONDING TO RESEARCH WRITING | When responding to research writing, be clear and explicit.
- Make sure that students what you expectations are and what they will be graded on.
- Provide feedback focused on:
- Does the writing explain the source with enough specificity that you understand it without having read it? (providing some summary and context for evidence)
- Does the writer establish clear connections or relationships between sources that are explained?
- Does the writer connect evidence and sources back to their main claim?
- Does the writer explain and analyze all evidence?
Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | Teaching Research in FWSes to learn more about these topics and for lesson planning ideas and resources. Join other FWS instructors to post ideas for additional classroom activities and instructional tools that you have tried or are considering.
10.12.20 | Resources for International Students; Supporting Students Residing Abroad
No single description can capture diverse experiences of our first-year international students, particularly those who are currently residing outside of the US. Many have shared their difficulty across the board (not only in First-Year Writing Seminars) with attending online class sessions that, for them, meet in the middle of the night. We know that at least some FWS instructors have received requests from such students to stop attending class meetings and participate in an exclusively asynchronous mode. We offer here some guidance on how you might respond.
According to a recently-reiterated university policy, students cannot be required to attend synchronous class meetings between 10:30 pm and 8:00 am, their time. The remedy, however, cannot be merely to ask more of instructors, by making up the deficit with individual tutorial meetings or with additional asynchronous lesson-planning that might only deepen rather than diminish these students’ sense of isolation and disadvantage.
The Knight Institute strongly advocates a programmatic rather than an individualized approach to this challenge, even though individual efforts, cooperation and creativity will be required. We offer here some ways to begin thinking creatively about how to strike an imperfect balance between student equity and instructor workload, and to transcend the unproductive binaries of “synchronous” versus “asynchronous” participation, “video on” or “video off,” either working with other students during class or interacting solely with an overtaxed instructor outside of it. With smart, relatively low-impact pedagogical interventions, we can shift the emphasis away from mere “attendance”—a video tile in Gallery View—toward the much more meaningful concept of engagement.
There are no ready-made solutions, depending on the number and circumstances of international students in any given seminar. The Knight Institute can provide advice, resources, and backup for both you and your students. If you have not already done so, please complete this Qualtrics survey to help us gather information about your students and direct them to appropriate Knight resources.
Some concrete pedagogical suggestions follow. Just a few examples must suffice, none of which are meant to imply that instructors are not already making heroic and compassionate efforts:
- We encourage instructors to have frank, empathetic conversations with their international students, who may be reluctant to raise their concerns or ask for help. These discussions might include not only guiding students toward untapped resources that will be detailed below, but also agreeing to hold occasional or periodic office hours at unusual times, such as the early morning or late evening EST, to accommodate time-zone differences. Small gestures can go a long way to making students abroad feel recognized, supported, and rewarded for their efforts.
- Instructors might reinvent and emphasize pedagogical strategies that foster text-based interactions among students. For instance, a series of Canvas Discussion posts and replies could allow dialogue among far-flung students beyond the synchronous Zoom meeting, and still engage the crucial language practice that multilingual learners need.
- Such exchanges could include audio and video postings, to add face-time and an oral dimension.
- Simply watching a recording of other students sharing their ideas in discussion cannot substitute for the opportunity to share one’s own, but perhaps an international student could post a brief audio/video commentary on a recorded class discussion (or portion of one), responding directly within a short time-frame to some minimum number of their classmates’ contributions. Alternatively, a student abroad might offer a written comment or series of questions ahead of a class discussion, which the instructor could represent and integrate into the recorded meeting.
- If two or more international students are enrolled in one seminar, these individuals might be tasked with joining one another on Zoom at specified intervals to discuss or collaborate and then report to the instructor, perhaps even recording and posting their session.
- Some of your Ithaca-based students might be incentivized—they might even volunteer, if given the opportunity—to meet with their international classmates in the late evening on the East Coast for short, focused discussions on assigned material or a prepared itinerary of questions, again having the international students record and post their session or report on it in writing. Both sets of students could benefit thereby.
The Knight Institute faculty welcomes you to consult with us; if you are a graduate student instructor, we urge you also to consult with your course leader and departmental advisors, to brainstorm innovative approaches to further engaging international students beyond the limits of Zoom meetings. Happily, these efforts—which need neither inflate your workload nor undermine your autonomy—can result in increased engagement for every student, whatever their status.
Below is a list of resources that the Knight Institute can offer to you and to your students:
- If students would benefit from individual attention, direct them to the Cornell Writing Centers. You might even consider requiring them to attend a certain number of tutoring sessions, and to write a 1- to 2-page reflection after each tutorial in which they describe both what they did during the tutoring session (paragraph 1) and the work that they completed after the session (paragraph 2), and then reflect on how their work with the tutor has helped them to refine their drafting process more generally (paragraph 3).
For more information and to schedule appointments: Cornell Writing Centers.
- As another option, you might encourage students to seek out a steadier system of support with the KNIGHT WRITERS Mentor Program. Students meet with dedicated writing tutors for up to two hours per week on their FWS reading and writing assignments. After assessing each students’ needs and circumstances, we will place them with undergraduate or graduate writing mentors, multilingual writing specialists, or Knight faculty writing consultants.
For more information and to apply: KNIGHT WRITERS Mentor Program.
- International students might also benefit from working with peers in other First-Year Writing Seminars in small, weekly writing groups facilitated by Knight’s multilingual writing tutors.
For more information and to sign up: Mutlilingual Writing Groups.
No one could have fully anticipated the dilemmas our international students face; planning and teaching a writing seminar is hard enough without the obstacles of a global health, humanitarian, and human-rights crisis. In these times, the solidarity of colleagues and a sense of shared purpose can offer a respite.
9.30.20 | Revising for Clarity: Focus on Structure
Most first-year writers (indeed all writers) need reliable strategies for strengthening sentences and paragraphs. My colleague, Multilingual Writing Specialist Jessica Sands, observes that many multilingual writers have trouble writing clearly in English because of two common problems:
- Their sentences are difficult to read because there is an interruption of flow between the subject and the verb.
- Their paragraphs are difficult to follow because of unclear connections between previously stated information and new information.
In a recent workshop, Jessica addressed these challenges by introducing two useful principles to make writing more clear:
- Principle One | Put the verb near the beginning of the sentence
- Principle Two | Put known information before new information
Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | Revising for Clarity: Focus on Structure to learn more about these principles and for lesson planning ideas and resources. Join other FWS instructors to post ideas for additional classroom activities and instructional tools that you have tried or are considering.
Note that while these activities presented in this forum are especially useful for multilingual writers, ALL writers, no matter their experience or skill level, will benefit from this kind of micro-level attention to their writing. Consider using these activities in your FWS and then providing more individualized attention to those writers who may meet more practice and support.
9.28.20 | Helping Students in Distress
Under normal conditions, FWS instructors often are in the best position to notice and respond to the signs of a student in distress: spotty attendance, subdued or evasive affect, obvious sleep deprivation, a sharp decline in the quality of work or contribution. Students are a little more likely to open up to an instructor who knows their name and sees them as an individual in a small, intimate seminar.
Pandemic conditions multiply the stressors; the online environment makes these signs harder to detect—Zoom flattens our intersubjectivity—and makes campus resources harder to access. In person, masks and distancing have similar effects.
There are no easy solutions, but here are a few starting points:
- Recognize that you are not alone, any more than is the student. None of us is obligated or even qualified to solve all students’ problems. We know that it is sometimes uncertain whom to contact. The answer is, anyone. Reach out to anyone for help: your adviser or course leader, your department chair, a member of the Knight Institute faculty. There are no inappropriate moves here. Follow this link to The Indispensable Reference for Teachers of First-Year Writing Seminars where we offer some protocols and procedures to follow if you notice a student who seems to be in trouble: Students of Concern: Protocols and Procedures.
- Without other evidence or context, don’t automatically assume that a student who turns off video in Zoom meetings is in distress. (See separate posts here on “video on/off” policies.
- Reaching out regularly to students need not be either intrusive or overly time-consuming, and it’s just good pedagogy in online teaching. A quick e-mail check-in or a 10-minute Zoom meeting, on a personal rather than teacherly note, can provide insight to you and a lifeline for a student.
- If these invitations are refused or you sense deeper issues at stake, you will always find a sensible, reliable first resource in contacting the advising/student services office in the student’s college. If they are struggling in your seminar, they are likely struggling elsewhere (in larger, more impersonal classes), and it remains the case that you will have been the first to notice. The advising office is best positioned to see the larger picture and help the student holistically, with both academic and emotional support. You will find the student’s college listed in your course roster; the contact information for student services in each college can be found here: Students of Concern: College Contacts.
- You should also submit a confidential Student of Concern/Early Intervention Report. You can access this form from your Canvas Dashboard by selecting the ? at the bottom of the left bar menu.
When the "Help" pop-up window appears, select "students of Concern" at the bottom of the menu.
- Cornell Health has developed several online resources for instructors:
- As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, David Faulkner, at email@example.com, or to any member of the Knight Institute faculty.
9.26.2020 | Facilitating Discussion Ideas
Class discussions can help FWS instructors build collaborative, inquiry-based, student-centered classrooms; engage with wider a range of academic communication skills; create adaptive and inclusive learning environments; and better assess student learning.
Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | Facilitating Discussions Idea Swap where we are collecting ideas for facilitating discussions in online seminars. Join other FWS instructors to post additional ideas for classroom activities and instructional tools that you have tried or are considering.
9.19.20 | Peer Review Ideas
Establishing a strong writing community in a First-Year Writing Seminar is an essential and complex challenge -- especially in online or socially-distanced classrooms. Peer review activities are one way to initiate and deepen students’ commitment to each other as writers.
At their best, peer review activities enable students to:
- refine and develop specific drafts;
- refine and develop more sustainable/agile ways to navigate the writing process;
- learn how to give and receive constructive feedback;
- engage in collaborative learning that reinforces course learning outcomes;
- practice interpersonal communication; and
- build community with structured, writing-focused activities.
Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | Peer Review Activities Idea Swap where we are collecting ideas for designing digitally-mediated peer review activities. Join other FWS instructors to post additional ideas for classroom activities and instructional tools that you have tried or are considering.
9.18.20 | Tips for Creating an Inclusive Classroom for Multilingual Writers
- Include a statement on your syllabus about multilingualism and inclusivity. Describe the classroom ethos you wish to cultivate, to which you expect students to contribute. Emphasize your commitment as an instructor to fostering a congenial, collaborative, and respectful environment for all students, and reiterate that commitment verbally at the start of term. Use this space to also highlight the additional resources available to multilingual writers and international students. (Sample statements at the Knight Institute's Indispensable Reference for Teacher of First-Year Writing Seminars website.)
- Find out early in the semester what language skills are present in your classroom. Include a question about languages spoken/read/written on a start-of-term questionnaire which students share privately with you. Have students write a discussion board post to the entire class introducing themselves and talking about their language and writing skills and goals for the course. Questions about language skills may also come up naturally in seminar discussions (see item 3).
- Actively draw on the range of language skills your students have. Especially for courses in the humanities and the social sciences, your students’ knowledge of different languages can be a resource that benefits the entire class during discussions and presentations. Give students an opportunity to volunteer their knowledge of different languages in a range of venues—discussions (e.g., exploring etymologies), presentations, papers and written assignments.
- Wait for it…Multilingual writers for whom English is a second (or third or fourth) language may need a little more time to process questions and formulate responses in a seminar setting. If students are slow to respond when you pose a discussion question, give them time to think before hurrying to fill the silence.
- Build opportunities for thinking about and responding to discussion questions in advance into your syllabus/lesson plan. Have students write discussion board posts or reading responses in advance of class discussion. Carve out free-writing time during class before a discussion, allowing students to formulate their thoughts on paper before participating. Have students discuss their ideas in small groups before opening up a class- wide discussion in order to build confidence before speaking in front of the entire class.
- Avoid making assumptions. (This holds true for all of your students, but especially multilingual and international ones!) Do not assume your students’ knowledge of certain writing and language skills. Different educational backgrounds and experience mean that students will be familiar with a range of writing styles, genres, and rules. Conversely, don’t assume a lack of knowledge of certain writing or language skills. Better to get a sense early in the semester of all of your students’ past writing experience (again, a start-of-term questionnaire is a fantastic place to start), and continue to check-in and gauge students’ levels of writing and language expertise throughout the term.
- Incorporate sessions on diction, grammar, and mechanics into your lesson plan (for FWS instructors especially). Chances are, many students—not just international or multilingual ones—will benefit from going back to basics and learning the standards specific to your field or course.
- Remind students of the writing resources available to them. Encourage students to make use of office hours and multilingual writing support from the Knight Institute. Direct them to the resources page on the Knight website where handouts and advice for multilingual writers can be found, and/or share specific handouts or online resources with them.
- For more ideas. check out Global Cornell's website: Teaching International Students: Tips for Online Instruction and this video recording of a panel discussion hosted by the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity: Mentoring and Supporting International Scholars.
9.12.20 | ScholarStrike Activity for FWS Instructors
Inspired by the bold efforts of the WNBA, NBA, and Colin Kaepernick and other athletes, UPenn Professor Anthea Butler and Grand View University Professor Kevin Gannon this week organized Scholar Strike:
an unprecedented action, where highly-skilled and well-paid workers withheld their labor, reflected not only the athletes’ solidarity, but the failure of our governments—local, state, and national—to reckon with the tragic enormity of racist violence besetting, in particular, the Black community in the United States.
On Tuesday, September 8 and Wednesday, September 9 college and university faculty, staff, graduate students, and administrators across the US and Canada chose to opt out of professional activities to think about or engage directly in anti-racist work and to advocate for racial justice for BIPOC.
My goals in this post are to bring more people into the conversation and to bring people more deeply into the conversation.
The organizers of Scholar Strike have quickly mobilized to compile resources, develop teach-in/teaching materials, and create opportunities for collaboration. I have included links to some of these resources below.
I have also included a 60-minute guided activity designed to prompt FWS instructors and other teachers to think and write about equity and justice and anti-racist pedagogy in higher education and in First-Year Writing Seminars specifically.
- What is #ScholarStrike?
- Cornell #ScholarStrike call
- Faculty, Graduate Students and Staff for an Anti-Racist Cornell, 2020 Demands
- Scholar Strike for Racial Justice Teach-In Videos
- "Teaching for Equity: A Place to Start" David Gooblar, Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University
- Respond: Spend 5 minutes reacting to and writing about each of the following:
- the video
- the image pasted above
- anti-racism/anti-racist pedagogy
- Apply: Spend 15 minutes writing about the following questions:
- Look at your FWS materials and identify one way in which your course enacts principles and practices of anti-racist pedagogy.
- Look again at your FWS materials and think about one way in which your course can (better) enact principles and practices of anti-racist pedagogy.
- Now do some writing: How is teaching for equity/justice a unique opportunity for FWS instructors?
- "The Cultivation of Writerly Habit is a National Emergency" by Stacey Waite
- Consider how Stacey Waite can prompt you to affirm, refine, or reimagine your teaching philosophy.
- What, if anything, might you do differently after reading Stacey Waite's teaching reflection and pedagogical charge?
Let’s work together to keep the momentum sparked by Scholar Strike going and make the choice, each day, to carve out time for anti-racist work.
9.8.20 | Expecting, and Accepting, Fluctuating FWS Enrollment
Why Do Students Switch Around? Students switch from one FWS to another for many reasons. Some may have to switch for scheduling reasons: a lab or section associated with another class shifted, so they have to change their FWS. Some are turned off by the first day, or intimidated, or decide they have too much to do and they’d be better off taking the class another semester. Some would rather take a class in the morning, or the afternoon, or the evening. Some found that a spot in their first-choice seminar opened up.
Fall 2020 will not be like any other semester: the variables our students face are unique. But enrollments will fluctuate this semester, as they always do.
Moving between FWSs during the fall semester is not easy. FWSs tend to be very full. But it happens. In the spring it’s easier to move, and students do. I teach a popular FWS. My seminars are always at or near capacity. I get letters every semester from students trying to get in. Despite this, I expect, in any given semester, that 25% of the students who ultimately take my class will not be there on the first day. How do we deal with this?
- Don’t take it personally. If someone drops the class, it’s probably not about you. And if it is, there’s not much you can do about it now.
- Accept fluid enrollment. Build flexibility into your course plan. And if you didn’t, build around it once classes are underway.
- Be accommodating. Students have a right to join during the first two weeks. It may be frustrating if someone joins late. But they have a right to be there. (Of course, you have a right to expect them to catch up. More on that below).
- Check your roster regularly. Students who join your class late should contact you. But it’s also ok for you to contact them. It will help them feel part of the class more quickly: chances are they won’t mind the personal touch.
- Communicate. Check email regularly and communicate with your students, old and new, in these opening weeks. Keeping in touch is especially important when students join right before a long gap between classes (e.g. right after a Thursday class that won’t meet again until Tuesday).
- Give students opportunities to catch up. You have a right to ask students to make up work they’ve missed. But you should also be compassionate about giving them time to do so. Remember, they switched into your class as part of larger set of fluctuations in their schedule. They may be anxious or concerned about falling behind (especially if they are first-semester college students).
- Consider multiple entry points into your opening assignments. As you figure out how to help late joiners catch up, consider where in a given assignment sequence students can pick things up. For example, if students were initially assigned a draft and a revision, can a latecomer just do the revision? If the class already finished working on a early reading assignment, is it important that the latecomer read it? If students engaged in an informal writing task, should the make-up version be identical to the early version or should it be adapted to suit the moment?
- Set priorities. This is a sub-set of the “multiple entry points” point. Students can become part of the learning community most quickly if they do their work in parallel with other students. Consider encouraging them to do the immediate work first, and letting them make up the earlier stuff later.
- Stick around after class. Whether you meet in person or on zoom, announce you will be available after class to answer questions. Invite latecomers in particular to join you.
- Be clear about attendance and other policies that might affect a final grade. Consider how you can fairly enforce any attendance policies for someone who missed one or more classes at the beginning of the semester. (Will you grant amnesty for early absences? Will you expect more perfect attendance later on?) Whatever you communicate to your students, keep in mind the mandate to be compassionate and accommodating (within reason).
- After two weeks, you’ve got your class.
- Plan for next time. If you figure out a good strategy for dealing with fluid enrollments, make notes, and implement them next time you teach.
Remember that this is one very stressful circumstance for your students, plunked down in the middle of a lot of other stressful circumstances. It’s always important to be compassionate, and flexible, and accommodating. Any move is going to be very stressful for your students. Multiply the usual stress by many factors, and you’ve got Fall 2020.
9.4.20 | GoogleDoc Workarounds & Alternatives
Not surprisingly, many FWS instructors use GoogleDocs to support teaching and learning. No other free platform makes collaboration so easy, and the fact that this platform functions in nearly real time makes GoogleDocs an especially appealing classroom tool now that so many FWS instructors are teaching exclusively online. Thank you to my colleague, Dr. Kate Navickas, for her recommendation, guidance, and encouragement. I only use GoogleDocs for in-class activities, as detailed below, but some FWS instructors also use this platform to provide commentary on writing assignments and to conduct peer response/review activities.
In the classroom, online or in-person, shared GoogleDocs can serve as virtual chalkboards upon which instructors and/or students can take notes on class discussion; they can also function as virtual bulletin boards for students to post work completed individually or in small groups. And because the GoogleDoc platform operates in nearly real time, a synchronous text-based discussion has the potential to move more smoothly and efficiently than a live Zoom discussion. Imagine the possibilities when both occur simultaneously!
Using the GoogleDoc platform in the classroom does carry risk, however. Among many possible worries (privacy and security among them), the most pressing and unsettling for teachers at this moment is access.
If you are using or intend to use GoogleDocs, you might consider how a workaround can support students who are attending your course remotely from countries with Google bans in place (see "Guidance for Faculty: How to Get and Stay Connected with International Students," Michelle Cox, English Language Support Office Director) or even students who are living on campus but do not have the technological capacity to run Zoom and GoogleDocs at the same time.
- Create a GoogleDoc to anchor a class session on Zoom.
- Enable SHARING so that all students have the ability to edit the GoogleDoc.
- Put the GoogleDoc on a Zoom Share Screen.
- Take notes on the GoogleDoc (consider note-taking options below).
- Instructor takes notes to document live Zoom discussion.
- Assigned student takes notes to document live Zoom discussion.
- Students and instructor build notes together.
- Students who cannot access the GoogleDoc can contribute using Zoom Chat and designated peers can copy and paste from Zoom Chat to GoogleDoc.
- After class, download the GoogleDoc and post as Microsoft Word doc or PDF on your course Canvas site.
- NOTE: GoogleDocs can be integrated with course Canvas sites using the Collaboration tool.
- Canvas Discussion Board Tool | This discussion forum enables participants to post informal responses to a question or prompt and/or reply to others' posts. Unfortunately, this tool does not operate in real time (Participants need to hit the refresh button to see new posts.), and so can be less appealing for use in a synchronous class.
- Canvas Pages Tool | This Canvas tool is simply and literally a blank page. Instructors and students can build on it as they would a GoogleDoc. Unfortunately, this tool does not operate in real time (Participants need to hit the refresh button to see new posts.), and so can be less appealing for use in a synchronous class.
- Office 365 / Canvas Collaboration Integration | Office 365 shares many features with GoogleDocs, but, though promising, at this time, the Office 365 suite cannot reliably compete with the real time functionality of the GoogleDoc platform. Further, this relatively new Canvas integration can be challenging to set up (for students and instructors alike).
9.1.20 | First Days & Icebreaker Ideas
Getting a small writing seminar up and running is an exciting and complex challenge -- especially in online or socially-distanced classrooms.
Typically, instructors present the syllabus at the first class session as a way to introduce students to the course. Consider instead sharing essential course information in bits and pieces over the course of the first two weeks in several 20-minute classroom activities that creatively weave together the following teaching and learning goals:
- describing course content;
- presenting course assignments, expectations, and logistics;
- engaging the intellectual work of the course/discipline and scholarly habits of mind;
- building community with icebreakers and other collaborative activities.
Follow this link to a real time GoogleDoc | First Days & Icebreaker Idea Swap where we are collecting ideas for starting the semester. Join other FWS instructors to post ideas for additional classroom activities that you have tried or are considering.
FWS Instructor Resources
For more comprehensive support for your FWS teaching, please check out the Knight Institute's other resources:
- FWS Instructor Sandbox Find here pedagogical resources that can help you develop an online platform for your FWS -- whether you are interested in building a remote-access, fully online course or in simply developing a robust Learning Management System (LMS) to support multimodal instruction for an in-person or hybrid course. You'll find start-up tips and guidelines for recommended digital tools, links to campus and Knight Institute resources, videos of teaching demonstrations and workshops, and detailed lesson plans and activities that you can import directly into your FWS Canvas site.
- Resources for Online Teaching website Find here details about our Fall 2020 FWS Instructor Workshop Series, archived videos and handouts from previous workshops, links to campus resources, and a bibliography of current websites, articles, and pedagogical and scholarly sources.
Share your Ideas
To share your ideas, contact Tracy Hamler Carrick.